All roads lead to Collins Centra Drimoleague

How we shop is in some ways connected to how we live. Do we spend our money to benefit far-off places? Or do we spend it so that it circulates in our own community? West Cork People visits Collins Centra in Drimoleague to see how a shop plays a vital part in its community, it’s region and in ways that go beyond economics. 

Pride is defined as a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired. How a community feels about itself is very much connected to this feeling about itself. 

Collins Centra employs almost 50 full-time and part-time employees. Sitting on the cross-roads, with a large carpark at the front, it is impossible to miss in Drimoleague. In over 100 years, it has seen many changes, innovations, and thousands have worked here. It is a central part of the community. Players from Scorchers, support for the local Pitch and Putt Course, hampers for raffle, and sponsorship for the local scouts. Jim Clarke, the manager, showed us around and talked about how they work to bring not just customers in, but how they strive to bring more local producers and their products into the shop. As we walked one aisle, it was hard not to notice amongst the bigger brands homemade jam sealed with elastic bands – Enid’s Homemade Jam, Dunmanway – Rhubarb and Date. “If it’s good quality, we’ll sell it.” 

When you come in the front door, you are greeted with the fresh aroma of breads from their in-store bakery. Racks of soda breads, sour-dough breads, batch loaves, whites and browns. Tim’s Table, their own in-store brand, is a mouth-watering array of hand-made prepared meals, soups and sauces. The sign proclaims their heritage. 

“Our family shop opened it’s doors in 1909 with Tim and Mrs Tim at the helm. We are proud to carry three generations of tradition with our Tim’s Table range. Still made fresh in our store everyday to recipes passed down through the generations.”

“From all over the county,” says Jim as we move through the fresh vegetables. “Carrot and vegetables from Michael Moore in Bantry. More fresh veg from Peter Ross in Drimoleague.” A long queue moves along the deli counter. Rolls, sandwiches, curry pies, steak and kidney pies, popcorn chicken and their own quiches are ordered. Some to go, some to sit in the café area at the front of the shop. A good place to watch the world come and go. 

Each year, they sponsor and host the Mizen Loopers Charity Cycle in aid of the West Cork Down Syndrome Support Group. “It’s either a short 80km or a long 130km. A great cause and it goes from here through all the beauty of West Cork to the Mizen and back.”

Born in Dublin, Jim has worked in retail for years before coming to West Cork. “When I started here, I couldn’t get over the amount of people who would say hello to me and who made me feel really welcome. You don’t get that in Dublin! I’m not even sure you get that in many places. But that’s Drimoleague and West Cork.”

West Cork is becoming known for good food and festivals like ‘A Taste of West Cork’ and restaurants with Michelin stars do a lot to promote the region. But there are the smaller producers who are busy stocking the shelves – the local honey from Denis O’Brien in Castledonovan, Coolcower Meats in Macroom, Allshire’s at Caherbeg Free Range Pork, Hillcrest Preserves in Drimoleague – all of these producers make high quality foods, employ local people, and keep money circulating throughout West Cork in multiple transactions. There is genuine pride to be found here. Walking through Collin’s, you can see that people shop local because the quality is so good and the names and places the produce comes from are known and recognised as being deeply West Cork in origin. 

“We can’t obviously produce everything here but to anyone who is making quality products and they are not on our shelves, come see us. We are always looking to expand our local lines.” 

Drimoleague was once the major junction where the Cork railway line split, with trains going onward to either Bantry or Skibbereen. These days it’s Mizen Loopers in the Summer who set off South and it’s where all the great producers of West Cork can be found. Still a junction of sorts. 

“We’re looking forward to a busy season ahead,” Jim says. “The roadworks is almost finished and in mid-October, we’ll be celebrating with a host of special offers. So, keep an eye out. We’ll be treating everyone to something special.”

Before we leave, we get one of their famous Apple Pies. Why are they famous? You’ll have to see for yourself at Collin’s Centra in Drimoleague. One hundred and ten years young – still local, still a hub for community, and still doing things the right way. 

Mary O'Brien

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