Frontline Workers: 'Parks are up there with health and education in terms of importance'

"The jackets protect us," park ranger Eamon Donovan said. "When people see the two-metre warning sign on them they stand back and disperse."
Frontline Workers: 'Parks are up there with health and education in terms of importance'
Eamonn Donovan, Cork City council parks supervisor. Picture: Eddie O’Hare
Eamonn Donovan, Cork City council parks supervisor. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

"The jackets protect us," park ranger Eamon Donovan said. "When people see the two-metre warning sign on them they stand back and disperse."

Mr Donovan is one of 80 park rangers who were pulled from other services in Cork City Council to patrol 17 public sites across the city.

They monitor social distancing and advise people on the Government’’s public health guidelines.

Although they do not have legal enforcement powers, they can call the gardai for back-up if people break the rules.

"I felt it was important to keep the parks open for exercise and for people’s mental health. But to do so we had to comply with the Government’’s social distancing measures," said Liam Casey, Senior Executive Parks Superintendent with Cork City council.

"The park rangers have been a big success and people are finding it helpful.

"Some people live in an apartment in the city and they need to be able to get out for a bit of exercise and fresh air. Keeping parks open really is critical for people’’s health and mental health," Mr Casey said.

"The public appreciate what we’re doing," Mr Donovan agreed.

"The council is disinfecting footpaths, walkways and park entrances whenever needed. We powerwash the area with water and disinfectant  - that’’s another new job the lads have been doing since Covid."

Mr Donovan said that his park rangers have only required garda back-up once - for unruly cyclists - because overall, the public has been respectful and compliant.

"It seems to be working so far," he said. "If groups do gather outside of families we approach them, and that’’s usually enough to make people separate.

"Overall, people have been stepping up to the plate."

The coronavirus has ironically fast-tracked Mr Donovan’’s career, seeing him promoted to park ranger supervisor.

"I’m in the Council nearly 27 years. I’’ve always wanted to be a supervisor. This was my first chance and I love it.

"I was a driver, I worked in road maintenance, fixing potholes, draining roads, helping with flooding. You’’d have paint on your legs all day every day!

Cork City Council Park Rangers Steven O'Sullivan and Kieran Hennessy
Cork City Council Park Rangers Steven O'Sullivan and Kieran Hennessy

"We’’re lucky that at this time of year there aren’’t many potholes, there’’s less wind and rain and frost. So we can keep going with what we’’re doing here in the parks for now.

"I’ll definitely miss this."

Mr Donovan now supervises four parks with four park rangers in each, in Ballinlough, Loughmahon, Ballybrack Valley in Douglas and Harbour Greenway in Rochestown.

"Before, I was working on the roads, other park rangers were librarians, working in offices, in corporate affairs, painters - we’ve come from all different parts of City Hall. Everyone’’s putting in the effort to help."

Liam Casey said that the service has proven so popular that, budgets permitting, some park rangers may be retained post-pandemic.

New parks may also be planned - with large public parks mooted for the north west and north east of the city.

"Parks are now being considered up there with health and education and I think they’’re there to stay. People really want and appreciate the service now," Mr Casey said.

Park rangers have been forging connections with the local community, providing a friendly face and word with people locked up alone in their houses all day and even helping park-goers celebrate major milestones.

One man surprised his wife on their 40th wedding anniversary with the help of a park ranger who put balloons and gifts at a certain point on their daily route through the park.

And Mr Casey anticipates the new service lasting for some time to come.

"The government’s Roadmap to Recovery indicates that non-essential travel may be lifted on June 20 so we hope to keep the service going at least until then but possibly up to August or September."

And, if the demand continues to come from the public to retain them, park rangers could be around a lot longer, he said.

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