In a normal year one of Ireland’s most scenic towns, Kinsale, Co Cork would start to welcome ever growing numbers of international and domestic tourists. Coaches would roll in too, filled with visitors on day excursions from Cobh to the east, whose deep water harbour has become a favourite stop off port on cruise itineraries.
Instead, here on the Wild Atlantic Way, the historic town’s streets were left ghostly quiet. The pandemic lockdown shuttered the gift shops and boutiques, art galleries, bars, cafes and restaurants so dependent on tourism, food and leisure sectors. Over the centuries Kinsale has faced many a crisis, surviving wars, blockades and hardship, denying defeat to rise like the phoenix. Now Ireland’s culinary capital is determinedly charting a course to post Covid-19 recovery.
A bold new plan backed by the Chamber of Tourism and Business could see Kinsale back on the map as a largely pedestrianised town. When early in the pandemic the scale of the challenge, facing a town so heavily reliant on tourism and hospitality became starkly clear, work on a campaign for a recovery strategy began.
Plans drawn up by its Comeback Campaign envisages that Kinsale would be all the more attractive and accessible while social distancing could be maintained through pedestrianisation of narrow medieval streets. A brave new world envisages a continental vista of outdoor pavement cafes, street furniture and awnings over premises. Outdoor spaces could also include novel enclosed street pods, as shown here.
The designer of the Street Pod Dr Marc O’Riain from Kinsale explains “COVID-19 has made us all very aware of our own personal space and after restaurants, cafes and bars reopen many of us will want to go out for dinner, have a coffee or a drink with our intimate friends and family”. “The problem is that many of us are afraid to, and if we do some other people may come up and join us inadvertently putting us all at risk”.
A huge headache for many of Kinsale’s atmospheric restaurants and cafés looking to re-open at the end of June ,and for other businesses nationwide is that they may be too small to ensure adequate social distancing. The restaurant Association of Ireland has recommended a 1 metre distance between each diner in an intimate group and 1 metre away from the next table.
Street pods provide additional space to cafés and restaurants in a car parking space, allowing 1.3 metres between diners in normal conditions, in an enclosed space and separate from other diners, explains Dr O’Riain who lectures at Cork Institute of Technology’s Department of Architecture.
Watching the arrival of a prototype pod to Ireland’s foodie hub Tom Kay of the popular Supper Club restaurant on Main Street told Travel Times “It’s a fantastic idea but practicalities would need to be solved before the Pods become a reality; as things stand up to 50 per cent of restaurants here would probably be unable to satisfy the strict requirements on physical distancing; it would not be viable for some of us to continue in business”. His widely praised restaurant’s weekend takeaway service is doing well and bringing “some normality back into our lives”. “It keeps our name up there and customers are delighted to enjoy a treat with someone else cooking for a change while they are stuck at home with everywhere shut. But you don’t make any money out of doing it”.