Clonakilty, County Cork
Category: The Great Town Award
Date of visit: August 2016
Assessor: Michele Grant

Learning Moments

1. Town architect in the community model – innovative and effective approach to collaborative urbanism
Clonakilty uniquely has a town architect responsible for developing and implementing the Development Plan for the town with the localcommunity including through monthly planning surgeries. This has resulted in a collective understanding and participation in urbanism. The town is an outstanding example of what the ‘architect in the community’approach can achieve. There is a strong integrity of place.

2. Systems and structures that encourage and support creativity and entrepreneurialism
Suite of groups, retention of local mayor and city architect creates a joined up flexible approach that can tackle urban issues and support local schemes and initiatives in a joined up way.

3. Clonbike scheme
Volunteer and sponsored bike hire scheme that operates across the town and to the coast. Effectively taking the Boris bike concept and redesigning it for a small town.

4. Refurbishment and repurposing of buildings to meet changing social trends and sensitive infill
One impressive example, is the infill housing behind Emmett Square in an old orchard. The housing is designed for elderly residents in a quiet location but minutes from the town centre. Sensitive and lush landscaping makes this a peaceful, green and beautiful space. Each resident has an apple tree in their garden space keeping a reference of the original use.

5. Asna Square and Pearse Street – shared space in narrow streets
Highly successful, well-designed shared space that demonstrates use of modern street furniture in keeping with the historic setting of the street. Interventions demonstrated good urbanism and how to create spaces for people to linger while still allowing car access.


Clonakilty is a market town in County Cork with a population of 4,200 and located 40 minutes from Cork airport in a valley bowl.The town originally manufactured linen and cotton. The Georgian and Victorian architecture reflects the town’s growth in 18th and 19thcentury. The town’s industrial past is visible in the mills, breweries, warehouses and quay walls which are now reused for housing, offices and retail. Coastal trade was important to the town but the silting of the harbour meant it never fully developed its potential as a port town. Clonakilty went through a period of decline in 1960s with high numbers of vacant and rundown buildings. The closure of the West Cork railway made the town remote and cut off from Cork City. Today, Clon, as it is known locally, is recognised as the beach centre of West Cork. Tourism, agriculture and service industries are the main employment sectors.

The vibrancy and vitality of the town and its community stand out. Good leadership and integrated delivery structures have resulted in a positive cycle of creativity and investment.

In 1960s, County Cork was unique in Ireland in having a town architect whose role is to establish the Town Development Plans and to deal with planning applications working closely with the communities in each town.

In the 1970s the city architect introduced planning clinics which not only gave advice on applications but encouraged local people to become actively engaged and take responsibility for what their towns looked like and made them more aware of planning opportunities. As local authority structures evolved the role of the town architect diminished. Only Clonakilty retains the role of the town architect and the monthly planning surgeries.This service has built a strong sense of collective urbanism and civic pride. It has also created a very democratic decision-making process. Clonakilty is an outstanding example of what the ‘architect in the community’ approach can achieve. The model is now being looked at by other counties. A strong community working with the town architect approach sits at the heart of Clonakilty’s success.

Also although Ireland no longer has town councils, Clonakilty has informally retained a town mayor, that is a visible symbol of the community’s commitment to leading and directing the future of its town.

The focus of the Clonakilty Development Plan has been to create a thriving town centre with a strong commercial and social function with a policy to consolidate the town rather than encourage sprawl and dispersal. That has been achieved through sensitive restoration of buildings, including small local shops that conserve their traditional shopfronts, repurposing historic buildings and investing in a high quality pedestrian friendly public realm including plenty of attractive spaces where people can gather socially. Clonakilty is proud to be one of the few towns in Ireland without traffic lights and with free parking. It is the only town in Ireland with a church reused as a post office.

Over time, Clonakilty has attracted new people and ideas which has further supported the town’s creative approach, broadened the town’s horizons while maintaining a strong sense of history and place. The town is particularly welcoming, and embraces new ideas and concepts wholeheartedly.

The town centre comprises independent shops and restaurants, many selling locally produced food and crafts with residential on the first floor. The quality of the town centre and the town’s location close to the sea and beautiful beaches, makes it an attractiveplace to live, do business and visit. Clonakilty is a good example of those three elements coming together in a sustainable way that celebrates local distinctiveness, tradition, entrepreneurialism and a strong sense of local pride.

The quality of the design and maintenance of the public realm is exemplary. Of particular note is the main street with its bespoke paving features and street seating. The restoration of this street took advantage of the drainage works being undertaken to reduce threats of further flooding to create an opportunity to redesign the street at the same time.The works were extensive but undertaken in close consultation with the local businesses who celebrated the completion of the public works with a street party including a sit down meal in the street.

In Emmett Square reclaiming and redesigning the square to a very high standard including the introduction of sculpture, fountains and seating has encouraged the restoration of the Georgian buildings around the square. Michael Collins House has also been recently renovated and reopened as a museum including a contemporary building extension which blends comfortably into the Georgian fabric of the square.

Clonakilty provides a range of learning across the award criteria in particular for leadership & governance; local character, amenity, commercial success & viability and community, health & wellbeing.

Post Your Thoughts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.