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Another final key turning in Ballinrobe

South of the border

Another final key turning in Ballinrobe as Ulster Bank closes


“IN the long term the bank will succeed best whose system is best suited to the wants and habits of the public.”
We’re revving up with the above quote attributed to James Carr in 1872. James was one of the co-founders of Ulster Bank. Obviously James’s vision of what best banking practices should be hasn’t passed down to his more recent successors.
On Friday evening next, staff at Ballinrobe’s Ulster Bank will balance the ledgers for the last time. The vaults and safe will be as empty as Mother Hubbard’s old cupboard. Last one out will switch the light off and they’ll turn the key in the door for the final time.
What will happen to the building nobody knows, but right now there are as many theories as there are theorists. Someone even went as far as saying he had it on good authority from a reliable source that it’s going to be sold as ‘a going concern’.
Let him off. Hopefully he’ll start learning.
What is sure though is that another Ballinrobe institution will soon be no more. A town battling for survival is already looking out on a fair few empty premises as it is, and now has another to add to the continuing list. Across the road is the abandoned old courthouse and, when it closed, Mayo County Council also disconnected the power to the clock on the spire. Local businessman Peter Costello put it best (as only he can) when he remarked: “Mayo County Council won’t even give Ballinrobe the time of day now.”
The Ulster Bank was a town landmark. Sometimes a blind ‘accidently bumping into corner’ for pedestrians and a regular pick-up rendezvous point too.
You know by Pat Synott’s attire whether it’s Mayo or Ballinrobe that are playing as Pat propped up the gable wall, waiting patiently for his lift. And never again will the old neon light that served as a town beacon be visible from the bottom of High Street.
It’s the end of an era and another example of Corporate Ireland’s scant regard for the ordinary citizens of this country. Banks don’t have time for customers anymore and it’s not today or yesterday they adopted that approach. We’ve become prisoners of progress.
The Ulster Bank first opened its Ballinrobe branch on August 3, 1876.  Charles James was the first manager. Others who followed were L Pearson, J Clegg, C Cochrane, T Leary, R Carson, G Morrow, SE Fair, Robert Morrison, W Griffith, W English, Bill Hynes, Robert Holmes, Mr Bannon, Seán Smyth. Jimmy O’Donnell and Tony O’Donnell.
Back then there was accommodation over the office and an official crossing the road to Loughrey’s VG for a few slices of ham or a couple of tomatoes for his evening tea was a regular Ballinrobe sighting.
Since word spread of the impending closure there were many plusses highlighted in praise of the service Ulster Bank Ballinrobe provided. And foremost among them was its longer trading hours and staying open for lunch. But it wasn’t always so.
Time was when the three members of the staff were committed anglers and the prospect of a good day’s fishing on nearby Lough Mask meant the branch closed with immediate effect. And spare a thought for the poor junior clerk. His duty was to act as boatman for the manager. You wouldn’t get a handy number like that now.
It underwent three currency changes. And like any self-respecting financial institution it was raided. Donegal native and footballer, Tony O’Donnell, was manager when thieves struck for an armed robbery in 1985. For their trouble they left with the sum total of one bag of 20p coins. Days later some wag quipped to Tony: “Jesus, they say it’s hard to get money off you Tony. . . It must be true if it took three armed raiders to get a bag of twenty pence pieces from you!”
I wonder what James Carr would make of Ulster Bank’s attitude to the wants and habits of a Ballinrobe public now. And would they even care.

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