Nothing much happened on the 10th and 11th of June and I settled into a quiet routine at home which I found quite relaxing. Apart from reading everything I could lay my hands on and spending time with my Father I was keeping up this journal which is proving to be time-consuming. Time is not a problem at present but I do wonder how practicable it will be when I go travelling again. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
It is one thing writing all these entries but it is another to actually publish them. As I believe I explained before I have no internet at my Father’s home and due to its physical position I cannot access wi-fi. I don’t even have a mobile ‘phone signal there. I had briefly toyed with the idea of getting myself a few carrier pigeons to keep in touch with the world but then settled on an alternative solution. I had discovered that my local, the excellent Montagu Arms aka The Monty has got wi-fi so that is where I go to get online. Not that I need one but it is as good an excuse as any to go to the pub!
On my way to the Monty on the afternoon of Tuesday 12th June I decided to have a wander down the town to see what was what and was pretty depressed by the sight I was greeted with although not at all surprised. It has not got a lot worse since last time I was here but it certainly has not got any better. I keep hearing and reading about the massive international investment in Northern Ireland but as I have mentioned before it never seems to get too far outside greater Belfast.
I walked past the Monty where the restaurant has been closed for some time. It used to be a good place for a meal and served for a few years as a decent Chinese restaurant but it has not been open for a while. A few yards further on I passed what used to be the video shop – closed and shuttered. Turning the corner I came to the Ballymore pub which is the only other pub left open in a village where I remember six.
The Paddock and the Huntsman (Francie Cullen’s) are long gone and more recently the Castle (Ivan’s) which I remember drinking in just a few years ago. It was good for live music at the weekend too. When I was a younger, fitter man I even did a few shifts as a dooprman in the Huntsman. Since the last time I was home Jokey’s (Joe Cullen’s) has closed.
As far as I know, all four premises are still on the market with apparently no interest being shown.
Pubs all over the UK are closing at a terrifying rate and it is a subject I have an interest in and not just because I like going to pubs. In many smaller rural communities the pub was the social hub and as such performed a useful function. Couple this with the mass closure of smaller bank branches (the bank in Tandragee closed a few years ago), Post Offices and small local shops that cannot compete with huge shopping centres and the heart is just being ripped out of so many country communities. Urban areas are not faring much better.
There are many reasons for the pub closures which I won’t go into here but I have it on good authority from a friend who is well-placed in the drinks industry that at one point a few years ago there were 36 pubs closing per week in England and Wales alone. Add Scotland and Northern Ireland in and the UK figures are as staggering as they are depressing. The rate has slowed considerably now, presumably because there are not many left to close. The problem is very well documented on the excellent Lost Pubs website to which I have contributed.
Before Virtual Tourist was so needlessly and callously culled I had a small “travelogue” there concerning closed pubs near where I live in the East End of London. The criteria for inclusion in this piece were they should be in the E1 postal district which is about a mile and a half square at most (I think that is equivalent to a zipcode in the USA) and that I had had a drink in it. By the time VT was killed off I had 28 entries and a few more pending that I had not got round to posting. It really did make for depressing reading.
When I eventually get back to London I may well go for a walk round again and revisit the sites for an entry here or even construct a separate “chapter” or whatever it may be called. Again, this is the joy of having my own website now as I can publish anything that interests me without the constraints of having to stick to a particular subject. I do hope I don’t drive my small but undoubtedly select readership mad with this scattergun approach so let’s get back to Tandragee on a pretty overcast Tuesday afternoon. I told you the heatwave wouldn’t last.
Another few yards, and I mean no more than about 30, I came upon the hoarding in the image above which is there to cover an unsightly patch of wasteland that has lain unused forever it seems. I cannot even remember what used to be here. An indication of how long it has been derelict is the foliage of the flora clearly visible at least seven feet high. It must be a complete jungle in there. In the background of this image you can see a street running off the Main Street and things do not get any better there.
The street mentioned is Cornmarket Street although it is hard to believe there was ever a corn market here, now there is nothing but further dereliction. The image above is fairly self-explanatory and is the former premises of the Municipal Offices, again long closed, boarded up and with nobody around the village knowing what is planned for the building. This facility was part of the local Government apparatus of Armagh District Council and even that has gone since I was last home. In yet another round of cost-cutting and centralisation it is now part of “ABC” which stands for Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon and covers a huge area geographically and is administered from Armagh City which is nowhere near being central. In terms of population it is the second largest Council area in the country after Belfast.
It is a sign of the somewhat depressing times that even the public conveniences adjacent to the offices have long been closed and decaying.
From what I would call the start of the village proper at the Armagh Road roundabout I had walked no more than three or four hundred yards at most and I have described to you the scene. I was slightly heartened by a glance across the street which showed that the excellent local butchers is still going strong but I was not even half way down the Main Street and I had seen enough. I turned around and headed back to the Monty by way of the charity shop, which continues to flourish and where I almost inevitably bought a book, an Ian Rankin that I don’t think I have read which is unusual.
A few pints with some mates and then a quick stop in my little local supermarket where what had been a slightly depressing day in some respects took a massive upward turn right at the end. I am going to be a bit of a tease now and not tell you what happened as I have a little piece planned for the next entry to introduce you to a Northern Ireland institution so stay tuned and spread the word.