The inclusion of Youghal in east Cork by Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys in a list of towns for regeneration funding has been welcomed by local political and business leaders, who view the move as having the potential to start a rebirth of the town.
Announcing a total of €75 million for 23 landmark projects around the country, Ms Humphreys revealed that just over €4 million will be allocated to Youghal for the development of a new library on North Main Street.
Local Cork East Fianna Fáil TD James O'Connor welcomed the announcement, saying investment in the new library will also provide a community hub with remote-working spaces.
Mr O'Connor said that Youghal historically had been an important manufacturing town. At one point in the 1980s, over 4,000 people were employed in companies such as Youghal Carpets, Couristan Carpets and later Kodak Eastman and Artesyn Technologies and Tytex.
By 2000 most of these manufacturers had closed or moved their operations to countries with cheaper labour costs, sparking a downward spiral in Youghal, which left its mark in a North Main Street that became increasingly pocked with vacant and derelict buildings.
There are a number of historic features in the town, including its old walls, almshouses, and old churches including St Mary's which was founded in 1464, and Myrtle Grove, where Sir Walter Raleigh reputedly first smoked tobacco in Ireland.
In 2016, following a €750,000 refurbishment, the historic Clock Gate Tower was reopened as an interpretative centre, telling the history of Youghal from the 1400s.
Mr O'Connor is hopeful that a recent decision by Fáilte Ireland to provide funding for a maritime museum in the old courthouse will add to the tourist offering in Youghal.
"The entire library project will be €4.6 million, with Cork County Council providing €600,000 to go with the €4 million from the department – the building will house a library but also provide remote-working spaces as well as a serve as a community hub with spaces for community groups."
Mayor of Cork County, Cllr Mary Linehan Foley is a native of Youghal and is equally enthusiastic about the new library project, saying the town had been waiting since Cork County Council bought the old Collins Bakery on North Main St over 15 years ago.
“Youghal is on the up – we recently got funding for a new sport activity facility at Claycastle Beach with new changing facilities and showers and toilets and a café and Phase II of the Boardwalk is due to open soon, while the Midleton-Youghal Greenway should open in 2023,” she said.
Local B&B operator and a former mayor of Cork county Barbara Murray is equally upbeat about Youghal's fortunes.
“Cork County Council has been very proactive – the Clock Gate Tower was refurbished and now it’s a tourist attraction and investing in a new library right in the heart of town can only be good for businesses in the area. I know people talk about West Cork but we have a gem here in Youghal.”