'There's a sense the town has turned a corner'
FEW Irish towns endured the economic maelstrom that Mitchelstown has suffered since 2007.
The north Cork town's largest employer virtually halved in size, the unemployment rate soared to be amongst the highest in the country and shops suffered as income dried up.
One in four retail outlets slashed their workforce, moved to smaller premises, or else shut up shop.
In 2009, Mitchelstown was chosen to illustrate a special TV3 programme on the depths of Ireland's retail recession.
But proof of Ireland's tentative economic recovery is now evident on Mitchelstown's main street, where traders believe that finally, after six long, hard years, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Joe Walsh of Core Computers moved to their current premises on George's Street in 2000.
"Business is literally out the door for us at the moment," said Mr Walsh.
"We had 19 people working here in 2005 but we are up to 49 staff now. We have hired 12 people alone over the past 18 months."
As for other Irish IT firms, securing skilled personnel is now the problem.
"There is a shortage of trained people in the Irish IT market so we have five different nationalities working here now as well as Irish workers. I think that is testimony to how strongly the economy is recovering."
The town's new brewing company, Eight Degrees, is also expanding fast.
"We have doubled our workforce over the past 18 months, we have doubled our brewing capacity and it is fair to say the future looks very bright indeed," said a spokesperson.
Businessman John O'Connor opened his Market Place restaurant in November 2011 on Mitchelstown's main square.
"I suppose I couldn't have picked a worse time to open," John said.
"It was really, really hard for the first two years. We were fighting very hard for business. But, thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel now.
"People are going out, they are spending money but they are still looking for value for their euro."
Robert and Eileen Mullally operate The Hunter's Rest, one of Mitchelstown's oldest pubs and restaurants.
"There is a sense that the town and country have turned the corner," he said.
Una Fitzgerald opened her flower shop on Lower Cork Street 26 years ago and recently moved into a large new outlet.
"We have fantastic display windows and it has been an absolute revelation for us. There is a definite buzz on the main street at the moment. Shops are opening and expanding," she said.
"I think there is confidence in the future for the first time in years. It is wonderful to see because it was very, very tough in Mitchelstown for a number of years," she added.