EARLIER this year the ‘Donegal News’ reported on Raphoe, one of twenty-two towns across the country that was losing a branch of the Ulster Bank.
The latest round of cuts saw people from the local community, business and education representatives, as well as local politicians and councillors turn out in force at public meetings to vent their anger.
A typical rural Irish town, its residents were battling hard to keep the town’s community spirit as the last bank (there used to be three in Raphoe) prepared to close for the last time.
Fast forward six months and Raphoe is a town that is fighting back.
It’s home to two secondary schools, two primary schools and two pre-schools. It still has a post office, a big Centra supermarket, as well as a recently opened high-end hair salon, a new butcher’s shop and an opticians – which is also new to the town.
In the coming weeks, an indoor artisan market will open for three days each week while the Gatehouse Lane Luxury Apartments have also come on stream in recent times.
Raphoe’s population has deviated little over the past couple of decades. It recorded a population of 1,089 in the 2016 census. In 2006 it was 1,065 while in 1991 it was 1,090.
Earlier this week, Raphoe picked up a bronze medal in the National Tidy Towns competition as it continued to move up the ranks by four points to 314 out of a potential 450.
You can see their efforts in the tidy streets, the freshly painted shop fronts and the neat window boxes of flowers.
“As a community we have to make the effort to show the Government that places like Raphoe are worth saving. Some people were saying that the closure of the bank would signal the deathknell of the town but we’re a resilient bunch,” Mr Edward Coyle said.
Proprietor of the local Centra Supermarket, Mr Coyle said he was delighted to announce that four new businesses had opened in the Diamond area of the town centre in the last few months.
“People in business have responded by working even harder following the closure of the last bank in the town. Existing businesses have refreshed their premises and are offering even better deals which, ultimately, can only be of benefit to the customer,” he said.
Ciaran’s Butchers (Ciaran and Ryan McCullough), Louise Masterson (Optician) and Johnston’s Take-away have just opened in the Diamond together with Rachel Leeper (hair salon).
“The message from Raphoe is quite simple: We’re not going to lie down. We’ve all invested too much time and effort into the town to throw it all away. We’re working hard for custom and we’ll continue to work hard,” he said.
Situated mid-way between Letterkenny and Stranorlar access to car parking remains one of Raphoe’s unique selling points.
“People don’t have to waste time looking for parking spaces like they do in these other towns. You’re able to get in and out of Raphoe without all the hassle. It’s our biggest asset,” Mr Coyle said.
Last week, thirty Italian tourists based themselves in the town for their walking and hiking holiday in Donegal while the nearby Oakfield Park with its gardens, railway and restaurant attracted more than 10,000 visitors last year.
The new businesses have brought in ten additional jobs to Raphoe with more promised through the Artisan Market.
“You can buy produce there that you don’t get in a supermarket or shop and will also provide local farmers with an outlet for their goods,” he said.
The town is made up of over 500 homes and 1,000 residents.
“It’s a large agriculture area and it’s a busy, vibrant place. We’re open for business and there’s a vacancy now for a bank. We once had Ulster, Danske and AIB branches in the town and we’ll gladly support whatever bank would like to open in Raphoe,” he said.
Mr Coyle also paid tribute to Donegal County Council staff for their ongoing work around the town.
“We’ve had trouble with floods in the past but the council are working hard to keep the drains clear with the promise of more investment to come,” he added.
The next challenge coming down the track is Brexit.
“That won’t be an easy one but we’re well versed in trying to stem the losses to the area. We’ve suffered enormous setbacks in the past while we were clobbered during the recession. We have had our fair share of hard knocks over the years with job losses, but people here are resourceful,” he smiled.
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