Wednesday 30 March 2022

Home Town Revisited-Dungannon

 It is estimated that over 500 historic buildings in Northern Ireland are at risk of falling into a state of wrack and ruin beyond repair. On a recent visit to my hometown of Dungannon I saw this at first hand. Perry Street completely gone to wrack and ruin and the historic Saint Patrick's Hall where we performed our concerts and celebrated our Feis Festivals now faces onto derelict wasteland and is  boarded up, graffitied and dying on its feet.

Dungannon was once the capital of the O'Neill dynasty who dominated most of Ulster and built a castle on the hill overlooking the town. After their defeat by the English Dungannon became a plantation town.With a current population of over 63,000 its population growth of 11% is 6% higher than the average growth rate in Northern Ireland. It is now the fifth most dangerous town in NI. And from what I saw not much investment is going into it.

A three year pilot scheme set up and launched by the Dept of Agriculture, Environment, Rural affairs and the Dept of Communities in 2019 aimed to restore four of those 500 derelict buildings referred to above and put them back under community care.

Neil Galway, a lecturer in Queens University has rightly said," If you come from a place that is blighted by dereliction, by vacancy, by lack of investment, that impacts the identity and perception of local residents."

Let's hope the pilot scheme was successful and that further investment is made into those other 496 buildings that so badly need it and that Dungannon gets its share of restoration.

My experience of growing up there in the 60s was one of tension. Violence seething beneath the surface of our everyday was soon to erupt

A snippet from my as yet unwritten autobiography....




It was a mean spirited town. At its heart the burnt out remains of O’Neill’s Castle  smouldered, a scorched earth policy employed throughout history to leave our epicentre razed. Centuries later and the town cry was still, “No Surrender!” 


Buildings had eyes. As I stood at McAleer’s corner eating Pagni’s chips out of vinegar sodden Irish newspaper and watching cats in the family hotel basement window, I felt their presence. Panoptic surveillance emanating from the RUC barracks at the top of the Square, bolstered by the Ulster bank beside it, and higher up the British armoured watch towers, iron clad, cube shaped  set up to observe the occupied.


In 1968 the town was a battle ground flanked on two sides by council housing estates: the Ponderosa and the White City, pebble dashed rows and blocks built at right angles to each other on low lying bogs, inhabited by the poorest of both denominations who qualified for these after doing time in the vacated POW camp out the Moy Road.  Working class protestants occupied more salubrious zones to the south, Mill town and Moygashel where red brick industrial cottages nestled at the foot of the Windmill hill or around the linen factory, Dungannon’s industrial sector.


Bigotry ran deep in the runnels, in the rills, in the streams, and the air we breathed would soon smell of metal and burning flesh. The town was like a skipping rope strung slack between two hands, Irish Street on one side and Scotch Street on the other. And we waited for one of the players to tighten grip or loosen hold.


 Copyright 2022 Cathy Leonard All rights reserved


1 comment:

  1. Definitely want to hear more of your autobiography. Your depiction of Dungannon certainly will put off any tourists who think it might be a nice place to go for a weekend!!