Bunbeg, once pretty, now disfigured

Once pretty, Bunbeg is looking more and more like a toothless old hag.

Derelict spaces, decrepit ‘For Sale’ signs and boarded up, empty and run-down buildings have pockmarked its once thriving main street.

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The iconic, century-old Seaview Hotel, which employed over 108 people seven years ago (talk of Cayman Islands and meat debts has no place in this blog), stands empty and forlorn this week , joining a heap of other ‘deadwoods’ on the street  – a once popular restaurant opposite and three other nearby hotels, The Errigal View, the Ostan Gaoth Dobhair and The Brookvale, as well as a mix of shops, bars and cafes, all now closed and crumbling.

Ironically, one of the few buildings to be renovated and opened on the main street is the constituency office of Fine Gael TD and former Gaeltacht, Arts and Tourism Junior Minister Dinny McGinley, the man who proudly pronounced this week, “We’re on the cusp of a new golden era of tourism.”

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Talk about poor timing.

Not to mention poor positioning. McGinley’s office lies a mere 50 yards from the deserted Seaview Hotel, first established in 1904.

News this week of the Seaview’s demise is a stark reminder of the abnegation by Udaras, the area’s main economic regeneration group, of its prime responsibility for creating  jobs, including those in the hospitality sector, with Gearoid O’Smaolain its main tourism development officer.

Eamon McBride, former President of the Gaoth Dobhair Chamber of Commerce, put it simply: “the area is crying out for more attractions.”

Job losses, lack of transparency

Aside from the 35 jobs, both full and part-time, lost at the Seaview this week, hundreds have been lost at other Udaras-sponsored businesses such as Largo Foods, Nuance and Sioen Apparel over the last few years. In fact, the Udaras Donegal office has performed consistently worse than any other Gaeltacht region in Ireland in terms of its job-creation record.

Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty this week called on the Government to immediately publish the findings of a delayed report by a working group tasked with examining job creation in the Gaoth Dobhair area. One hopes he will demand the same of the local Udaras office. Only then, can the organisation be properly analyzed to ascertain if the public is getting ‘bang for its buck,’ or if drastic changes need to be made internally if it is found that employees lack the skills-set necessary for the important task at hand.

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Gaeltacht disintegration

The intriguing part of the sad saga surrounding what is, in effect, economic mismanagement of the Irish-speaking area, is that while towns within it, such as Gortahork, Falcarragh and Bunbeg, are literally peeling apart, both economically and physically, Dunfanaghy, just outside the borders of the Gaeltacht, is riding a wave, with bars and cafes enjoying a boost in trade, especially at weekends – without the benefit of public funding of any kind.

While Udaras Donegal announced this week it will release proposals for economic development, observers say this is more a cosmetic exercise aimed at organisational survival than a serious attempt at strategic innovation and staff revision – that it has not even hosted a single open public meeting to ascertain the views of ordinary people, the very people who pay for its running costs. Interestingly though, while widespread job losses have occurred in Udaras-sponsored companies in Donegal, no such losses have occurred within the local Udaras office itself.

Based on its operational history (see above graph), should we accept as normal that out of its seven million euro budget for this year as announced by Udaras officials, two-thirds go towards salaries, pensions and expenses, and the remaining one-third only to economic and language development?

Is it not long past time this organisation came under closer public scrutiny and thus be made more accountable?

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3 thoughts on “Bunbeg, once pretty, now disfigured

  1. A great article, we’ve just returned from touring this entire area and I found it very difficult to find places as the signs for village names are in Irish only and some of them aren’t really like the English versions. We got lost and found it extremely frustrating to get around because of the signage. The areas were beautiful but dying due to all sorts of financial problems. Maybe they don’t want to be found by tourists. The ‘Irish only’ stance is pathetic. This is like an Irish joke but alas, the joke is really on the locals.

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    • Yes, John, Donegal as a whole and northwest Donegal and the Gaeltacht in particular, present simply stunning, picture-postcard landscapes, a rich tapestry, not just of physical features, but also in terms of culture, whether that be the Gaeilge language, traditional dance, music or song. No doubt, parts have become run-down and, with unemployment and emigration, there has been a massive ‘brain drain’ but some efforts are underway to change that, with more environmentally-friendly tourism projects that could blossom and grow. Most signs are bilingual so it is most unfortunate that you faced the difficulties you did. Getting ‘lost’ among the lanes and byways of Donegal can be a glorious way to spend a sunny day, but can also be frustrating if you are unfamiliar with the area and trying to get to somewhere quickly. I hope you do come back and give my adopted homeland a second chance. It deserves it.

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  2. An excellent yet sad article. I have fond memories of this area as I owe my successful career in part to an early Sunday morning job ( 3AM start from Derry), delivering the Irish Sunday newspapers in this area, the income from which helped finance my student days at The Northern Ireland Polytechnic from 1972 to 1974. The Late Matt Bonner’s shop, ( still run by his daughters), was my Bunbeg stop, always smiling and offering a welcome cup of tea if I was not behind schedule for my target of being at the Dungloe Chapel gates before the end of morning mass. Then in the mid 1980’s I was a computer engineer for Digital Equipment and a Printed Circuit Board design company moved from Ballyferriter to Bunbeg and I again had the opportunity to visit Bunbeg. I cannot remember the name of the company but I remember the chief design engineer was called Leo. If anyone remembers the company’s name please write a comment. Now coming to the end of my career I am lucky to have a second home in the Dunfanaghy / Fallcarragh area and make a point of buying my Sunday Newspaper in Matt Bonner’s shop on my home from church in Carrickfinn.

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