The manager of the Balor Arts Centre has forcefully challenged the new Director of the Arts Council’s description of Ballybofey as “a place of little character”.
Orlaith McBride was quoted as making the remark in a recent interview in The Irish Times.
Conor Malone, who moved to Ballybofey from Dublin eight years ago, said: “I was a wee bit taken aback when I read her brusque and dismissive depiction of my adopted home whose character I’ve come to appreciate and admire”.
He asked how many towns with a population of 4,500 people “can boast a gleaming new arts facility like The Balor built without recourse to the public purse?
He noted that artists of the calibre of Bell X1, Lisa Hannigan, Tommy Tiernan and Fishamble Theatre had performed at the theatre and that an “astonishing” amount of local acting talent had come through the Balor schemes over the years, including Charlie Bonner, Dessie Gallagher, Frank Laverty, Paul McGlinchey and Cathleen Bradley”.
More than 2,000 customers paid into the centre in the last fortnight alone. “There’s many an arts venue in bigger centres of population that would be delighted with those figures,” Mr Malone commented. “Of our patrons, 70% travel 10 miles or more to get here and 30% cross the border from Northern Ireland. What attracts them here, if not our character?”
Apart from the Balor, Ballybofey also boasts McElhinney’s Department store, “a trio of fine hotels” and is the “epicentre of sports in Donegal”, with the GAA county grounds, the Finn Valley Athletic Club and Finn Harps football club.
A new 6,000 seater stadium, swimming pool and enterprise centre are all on the way for the town as well.
“All these initiatives are being undertaken successfully in the teeth of the current recession. These achievements are the result of many factors - hard work, determination, organisational ability and, most important of all, character,” Mr Malone insisted.
“Maybe the Ballybofey of Orlaith’s schooldays was a different Ballybofey to the one I see today. Maybe I just see the Twin Towns through the rose-tinted glasses of a blow-in. If that’s the case, I’ll be happy to give her a loan of those glasses for the day so she can see Ballybofey the way I see it. Hopefully she will appreciate its character,” he concluded.