Keeping it local in the county town


TOWN CENTRE All businesses located on the Main Street of Castlebar will be hoping for busy times once all lockdown restrictions are lifted. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Community spirit and local loyalty will be key factors in helping Castlebar bounce back

Town Focus
Ger Flanagan

IT will be difficult to imagine a whole summer in Castlebar without the county GAA grounds on MacHale Road being a hive of activity around big championship games.
MacHale Park has played host to some huge inter-county fixtures in recent years. Some lucky escapes out the back door, disappointing defeats to the noisy neighbours east and south and some famous Super 8s victories.
Those big games attract huge crowds, which ultimately results in enormous economic benefit to almost every business in the county town. But right now, the state-of-the-art facility is almost desolate in comparison, being utilised to combat the coronavirus that has struck Castlebar right in its heart.
“I’ve always said that the GAA in Castlebar is invisible tourism,” Michael Baynes, Tourism Officer for Castlebar, told The Mayo News. “The amount of people it brings in every year to the town is massive. Last year we had Mayo and Donegal. Two years ago, Ballintubber and Breaffy brought 10,000 people to the town on October night. Where would you see that? It’s unbelievable. Then you consider some of the back door games that we were lucky to have, it’s massive. But right now we just have to deal with it and the main thing is we look after ourselves and our families.”
Although not openly perceived as a tourist destination, Castlebar does still see its fair share of visitors during the summer months. Many businesses are now looking forward again with the roadmap to recovery from the government now available to the public but the footfall on town’s streets is likely to be down. Baynes and his colleagues at the tourism office on Linenhall Street closed the doors at the end of March, but instantly set about finding ways to try and help the many local businesses that would have relied so heavily on tourism.
“From our point of view, we realised tourism was going to stop, so we set about trying to see what we could do to help the community and the businesses,” he said. “Some community organisations contacted us for help with fundraisers and promotions, and we were able to operate their online campaigns.
“We also sent out a message to all essential businesses still operating and put together a one-page website where people could come and see what’s still open and it got a huge reaction.”
Baynes has been encouraged by the positive attitude of business owners in adapting to the new normal in the early stages of the lockdown and is proud to see them fighting back.
He singled out Al Murettos and Bistrot 1798, who he says are step-by-step getting back into full operation, and he knows that the publicans and hairdressers are ‘itching to get going’.
The tourism landscape will change dramatically, but he’s confident that the likes of Turlough House museum and Lough Lannagh can attract domestic customers.
“Irish people are always great for bouncing back and this time will be no different,” he commented. “This will be a slow recovery but we will get through it.”

Chamber help
FOR John Mulroy of Mulroy’s Bar and Bistro on Main Street, getting back into operation will be about adapting and changing business structures going forward. As part of his work as President of the local Chamber of Commerce, he believes rallying behind each other is what will get things up and running again.
“We’re having weekly meetings with LEO (Local Enterprise Office) and the other chambers in the county to see what we can do,” he told The Mayo News. “LEO is doing great work and there’s grants out there for setting up websites, so what we’ve been doing is trying to put it out there that there is help.
“Sometimes business is lonely, so just pick up the phone and ask for help, or if you’ve a question to ask, don’t be afraid to do it. It’s great that the Chambers of Mayo are coming together and helping each other out, educating on how we can move forward.”
As well as a busy hospitality and tourism industry, Castlebar has established itself as a powerful retail hub, with local and international businesses flourishing in the town before Covid-19 struck.
According to Mulroy, plentiful parking and lesser traffic issues than cities, make Castlebar and attractive option for shoppers. He say he’s been talking to a lot of ‘disheartened business owners’ in recent weeks and his message is simple: shop local to beat the pandemic.
“The main retail hub is in the middle of the town and we’re lucky,” he said. “The big international stores bring crowds to the town, but the smaller ones provide the services that they don’t, so it really works.
“We have some strong anchor tenants in this town and I know from my own work and talking to my customers, that people from all over come to Castlebar. The likes of Mayo on Ice brings people from all over the country.
“We’re going to miss the busy time of the year for businesses, where they make most of their money. So I’m really hoping that the local people will come and support us. I have to say I’m very proud of the way our town and county has come together so far, it has really showed the character of the Irish people.”

THAT appreciation for the local area is something Fine Gael councillor Ger Deere has come to notice too. He’s been busy volunteering with groups such as the voluntary social services, the Tidy Towns and the Castlebar Community Sports Project, and has noticed a real rise in community spirit.
He’s seen an willingness from people to take stock and appreciate all the good aspects that the Castlebar area has to offer and a sense of pride returning during times he describes as ‘like something out of a movie’.
These are positives he wants to see being carried forward into the future and hopes the local people will do everything they can to help each other.
“One good aspect that’s going to come out of this is the great sense of community we have right now,” the Fine Gael councillor said. “Where I am out in Snugboro, you have people tidying their local areas, working on vegetable patches and gardens and we are appreciating nature that bit more.
“I hope that the next government put in plenty of support for the businesses and the smaller ones, who have really done their bit during this crisis difficult situations. But we can all say that the government can be doing this and that, we also have a role to play in this ourselves to help our local businesses, to support the little shops that are the real backbone of this community. So my advice is simple - shop local.”