Mayor of County Cork is Fermoy native, Noel O'Connor
The new Mayor of Cork, Noel O'Connor is a native of Fermoy, having grown up at 37 Patrick Street where his father had a bakery. "I have strong connections with Fermoy and I'm proud of that connection," he says. As the newly elected mayor of county Cork, Noel, who lives in Mallow, is looking forward to representing his native town and environs.
With a number of vans on the road delivering fresh bread, from Ballyduff to Ballyhooly and every town and village in between, and operating the very successful Patrick Streety bakery shop, Noel's father Michael (more affectionately known as 'Chappie') was a very well known figure in the area. His mother Eileen (nee Noonan) who came from a family of teachers, was from Mitchelstown.
Noel's brother Pat, who still lives in Fermoy, continued the popular bakery business until his retirement while his two other brothers, Ciaran and Michael, also still live in the town. Both are very involved with Fermoy Cycling Club - Michael's a former All-Ireland champion. Both are also very involved in music and are well known ballad singers. Their sister Marie, who lives in Derry, has maintained her ties with home, using her training as a linguist to work as a translator with the Fermoy-Ploemeur twinning group during visits to France. Their other brother, Brendan, is deceased.
A teacher by profession, Noel taught maths and economics in Davis College in Mallow for over 20 years. He also had special responsibility for adult and continuing education in the college. He served as chairman of the VEC and is a nominee of theirs on the board of Coláiste an Chraoibhín in Fermoy. "I'm delighted to be on the board, it gives me a connection with Fermoy," he says. "It's a great school. It and Youthreach are very important and make a valuable contribution to the town," he added.
Noel has been a member of Cork County Council for the past 11 years but has been involved in politics for over 20 years, since first being elected to Mallow Town Council. Serving the Mallow area primarily, he's delighted with the opportunity the role of mayor now gives him, to represent the wider Cork region.
When it comes to allegiances, Noel says he's had difficulty sometimes when Mallow were pitched against Fermoy in football matches! "I still wouldn't like to see Fermoy beaten by much," he laughs. His son Michéal, known as Mickey, used to play for Mallow and, he says, he'd ask him 'not to be too hard on Fermoy' when they played them!
Noel is somewhat unusual in that he gave up teaching when he went into politics, so that he could devote himself full-time to the work involved.
He says he's glad to see Fermoy 'in a good place' and mentions the flood relief works progressing well. "There's a lot of positivity going on," he says.
"WE ARE THE CHANGE . . ."
Noel is conscious of the scale of the job he has taken on. Already, since being elected in June, he's been busy attending functions and events around the county. He was in Conna last Thursday night for their Gathering event and says it was lovely to be able to attend and speak there. He complimented Pa Barry and John Hogan on their history talk and said it was also great to meet up with Willie Kearney and Gerard O'Mahoney there, as both had been a year or two behind him in school. Complimenting the Conna festival organisers on the event, he used a quote from President Obama in his address, telling them: "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
It's a creed he strongly believes in and it shows in the goals he's set himself for the year ahead. He says he'll be focusing in his year as mayor on job creation in the county.
"It's important to continue to seek to create an environment for employment in North Cork," he said, stressing that the area has 'a lot going for it'. "It's sad to see people, especially young people, having to leave to go abroad." Noel's own son Michéal is one such person. He has relocated to Boston.
SPORT IS KEY
But how to create the right environment for job creation? With a lot more people these days interested in a healthier lifestyle, Noel sees a tie-in with areas that excel in sport. Mentioning Fermoy Rowing Club and the Blackwater Triathlon Club, he feels their annual regatta and upcoming triathlon respectively, as well as other sporting events in the town and area, could and should be marketed to generate a tourism economy. As a starting point, he says, a plan should be drafted with an annual calendar of such sporting events compiled, so that competitors and interested parties can see what's organised and plan accordingly. "It would help if we had a co-ordinated plan," he pointed out.
He mentions too links between Mallow, Fermoy and Conna and areas in between in terms of the racecourse and horse trainers. "These links are very important. They're not just co-incidental," he says, stressing that 'tourism generates jobs'. The sporting sector needs to be developed to drive tourism, he believes. "There's great off road cycling and pony events here too," he explains.
Another priority is setting up a disability forum. It's Noel's intention to look at how the county treats the disabled, the elderly and its youth and to explore ways in which it can bring their issues to the fore and make their lives more meaningful and fulfilled. As regards the disabled, he feels that, with people experiencing more difficulty generally in these recessionary times, the hardships of the disabled have less impact on them. He hopes, with the co-operation of the county council management, to set up the special forum for the disabled with representation from a wide variety of groups. He anticipates such a forum holding two to three initial meetings and, having identified particular issues facing the disabled in their day-to-day lives, coming up with a plan of action. He'd be delighted to hear from anyone interested in getting involved in such an initiative. People can contact him by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He envisages such a forum getting underway in September.
Noel also plans to examine the health services provided in the county and ensure that changes being introduced are an improvement on what was there previously and that they are sustainable.
It's going to be a busy year, Noel knows. Cork County Council's boundary has a population of some 400,000 and an area of 2,880 sq. miles (7,459 sq km), 11% of the total area of Ireland. It has over 2,000 employees. Its turnover in 2011 was e460M. As mayor, he will head up the 48-member council and represent it at all functions and events. He's under no illusion as to the importance of the position and the time it'll require from him. It's been a busy start and the pace isn't likely to flag. While the council is in recess during August, Noel still has a busy schedule. Still his parting words are to wish everyone "a lovely August, a lovely holiday season!"
Tuesday 13th August 9:24am