A new centre for a Gaeltacht community

Carolyn Farrar


Carolyn Farrar

The new Ionad Fáilte, the Welcome Centre in Burtonport, links old and new in a project that would not have happened without the support of the community and of local businesses and agencies.

The new Ionad Fáilte, the Welcome Centre in Burtonport, links old and new in a project that would not have happened without the support of the community and of local businesses and agencies.

The new tourist information centre, set inside the front door, features enlarged colour postcard images and photographs of scenes from the port village. The Cope sign still hanging at the front of the building evokes the supermarket that had served the community on the same site until 2006.

The new welcome centre also includes a coffee dock and exhibition and workshop space.

“This was all done by a volunteer work force,” said Frank Green, secretary of the Burtonport Action Group, a group of area residents who were behind the project.

“There were just so many people coming in her asking, ‘What can we do?” Frank said. A plumber gave them two days of labour. Another man built the coffee dock as well as the benches that sit outside the front door. People donated the indoor seating. And loads of people did the cleaning, painting and decorating that transformed the former supermarket into the new welcome centre.

Frank said the group has received strong support from Templecrone Co-operative Society Ltd., The Cope; Údarás na Gaeltachta; and Rionscnamh Forbartha Pobal na Rosann, and from local businesses.

“We’ve had great support from companies but also massive support from individuals,” Frank said.

Last Friday a crowd filled the centre for the opening of the first Burtonport Arts and Crafts Group festival, launched by artist Brian Byrne. The weekend festival featured work by local artists and crafts people.

The Burtonport Heritage Group has installed a series of prints along the far wall of the centre, each numbered to correspond with a description of those moments in Burtonport history depicted in the prints. The heritage group also organised a guided heritage walk over the festival weekend.

There are exhibition cases and shelves in the main room that display arts and crafts by local artisans, available for purchase, and further down the walls are filled with paintings by local artists that are also available for sale.

In the middle of several painted seascapes, a flat-screen television -- also donated to the centre, Frank said -- shows on continuous loop video shot by members of the local diving club that depicts sea life in the waters off Burtonport. And donations keep coming in. For example, Frank said, someone brought 36 donuts to the centre on Saturday when, coincidentally, there were 36 children there to hear storyteller and illustrator Paul Howard. Outside the centre sits a boat, donated by the family of Timmy Boyle, that has been painted and refurbished, and will be filled with flowers and placed at the top of the road leading into the village.

“You don’t know what’s coming through the door,” Frank said.

He pointed out a figure of a young man, drawn in anime-style, that was painted on a door in one of the exhibition-space walls. It was painted by a young man, Ciarán McCann. “That’s the art of today,” Frank said. He is delighted to see it.

“It’s the young artists saying, ‘We’re here’,” Frank said. He said later, “We’ve got to engage the kids”. Toward that end, there was a children’s art contest during the festival weekend as well. The young artists who took first, second and third prize were Aoife Crean, Orla McGready and Jordan Gallagher.

There is still work to be done and further plans for the space, but the centre is well up and running. Last Sunday afternoon there were adults and children milling about the centre, looking at the exhibitions, just having the craic or sitting outside on benches in the sunshine.

The project “is really, really well supported by the local community, which is what it is all about,” Frank said.

Mario Cafolla, action group chairperson, said that last year he and Frank said the action group would aim to bring life and colour to the village. But Mario said that when he saw the local people at the launch on Friday night, he thought to himself, “They are the life and colour of the village.”