CASTLEBAR NEEDS CHANGE Entrepreneur Niall McGarry.
Dearth of social outlets in Castlebar highlighted on St Stephen’s Night
With no night club in the county town open on one of the biggest night of the year, St Stephen’s Night, revellers in Castlebar had to make do with either a late bar in Cox’s or a one-off disco in the Castlebar Celtic clubhouse on Pavilion Road.
As if to underline the problem, the disco at Castlebar Celtic was closed down early by gardaí at 1.40am due to the large numbers who had gathered at the venue.
The situation underlines many of the problems mentioned by Castlebar native Niall McGarry on social media last week. Mr McGarry is the owner of successful websites Joe.ie and Her.ie and was out in Castlebar on St Stephen’s Night.
He highlighted how, less than 20 years ago, Castlebar had the biggest social scene in the county by some distance with a range of late night venues available and busses coming from Westport to Castlebar.
Now, with no night club and a much quieter pub scene, those buses go in the other direction.
He claimed that what happened in the mean time is down to a combination of bad planning and management of Castlebar by local authorities and described it as ‘shambolic and infuriating’.
“I could not believe the amount of people who were in agreement with me. If everyone is in agreement well then surely there is a big issue here that needs addressing,” Mr McGarry told The Mayo News on Tuesday.
“To give an example, I was staying in a B&B on Stephen’s Night and the landlady said she read my Facebook post and was in full agreement. She says she has a hard time now saying how great a town Castlebar is anymore because she cannot stand over that statement and she wants to be able to say that her town is great. Herself and her husband feel let down by what the town has become.”
The town’s two traditional hotels and night club, The Travellers’ Friend and The Welcome Inn are both currently closed due to difficulties both businesses found themselves in, in recent years.
It is, Mr McGarry says, partly the economic recession and the lack of investment and jobs in the town that is to blame but he cites a malaise in the town as being equally culpable.
“There is a certain amount of economic problems but towns of similar sizes like Athlone, Ennis and Tullamore have many of those problems but have a much more vibrant social scene.
“Westport is cleverly portrayed as a mini Galway. The businesses there collaborate. Aesthetically it is a nice town but Castlebar is not an ugly town.
“Castlebar needs to be better and compete with Westport. When I was growing up Castlebar was a great place and was punching way above its weight. All that entrepreneurial spirit has been lost,” he said.
Mr McGarry argues that developing the town’s lake (Lough Lannagh) as part of the town’s social scene ought to be a long-term strategy for the town.
“The long term view I would take here is to look at developing the lake, to make it part of the town centre in a tasteful manner. It could be fantastic. It is grand for walking now but we are not making the most of it. Imagine it lit up at night with pubs and restaurants on the water? Kinsale is a great spot because it is on the water. We’re a great location on the water too that we don’t make the most of.”
He also made a number of suggestions for the town centre in the short term and is willing to support it financially.
“No one was talking about this before now but it really seems to have hit home. I would suggest setting up a task force to enhance the social scene and have incentives and not blockers to pubs and restaurants.
“Main Street should be long pedestrianised by now. It is redundant as a main street with so few businesses. There are ghost venues all over the town. Create incentives for opening pubs - for instance give a rates write off for the first three years, there are so many other things that could be done too. “Plan a festival for the summer and get all the entertainment entrepreneurs working together, everyone behind it. I’d give €5,000 or €10,000 worth of free advertising on Joe.ie and Her.ie to help promote it.
“Anyone who has come to Castlebar in the last ten to 15 years will have the universal opinion that nothing is happening here. We have to change that.
“In the short term make Main Street a social hub. There’s no point in having Castlebar as a shopping venue that is open from 9-5 but it effectively closes at 5pm.
“And whatever the issues that are there with the TF is nearly besides the point. It is an unbelievable venue, the Royal Theatre there, one of the best in Ireland. It is too good a facility for the town to be closed. Again, it’s about making the most of what we have.”