‘People won’t have a reason to come hear anymore’ – what happens when Ulster is the last bank in town

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It is the last bank in town. Business owners say they have only to look at the fate of nearby urban centres to see how devastating its closure would be on trade.

Ballyconnell and Ballyjamesduff, both bustling towns in Co Cavan, had been in the enviable position of each having their own branch of Ulster Bank, a fact which pulled in much knock-on trade.

But now the future is uncertain, with the bank’s announcement that it is to pull out of operations here. Many of the businesses in these two towns warn that nearby Belturbet and Kilnaleck each suffered a noticeable decline with their loss of bank branches some years ago.

Bernie Cahill, of MacManus’s Pharmacy in Ballyconnell, says that if theirs similarly closes, it would have “a huge impact” on the town.

“We have a shop in Belturbet and when the bank closed there in the last couple of years it definitely had an impact on people coming into the town,” she says.

“People wouldn’t have a reason to come to Ballyconnell if they weren’t coming in to the bank. You’d drive on to Cavan and do your business.”

“Having our own bank here definitely affects the flow of people in, particularly with pensioners coming in on Friday morning and then doing their bits and piece around the town – going to the shops and the butchers.”

The pharmacy is directly across the road from the bank in Ballyconnell and Bernie says it is constantly busy – but she has long been concerned at how she sees the bank has been winding down. “They put in a cash machine outside and you can see the elderly people there and staff showing them how to use it. But it’s very hard for them,” she says.

“From a security point of view, if the bank goes, you’d have nowhere to lodge the takings of the day so you’d have to put them in the car and drive to a bank elsewhere. You can’t even pop over to get change. It would have a huge impact.”

In Ballyjamesduff, Larry McGinn of McGinn Printing says he is a loyal customer of Ulster Bank and would be very disappointed to see it go.

“There are probably six or seven staff there and I would know them by name,” he says.

Running a small business, quite a few customers still pay by cheque and he would have “nine or 10 cheques” to lodge each week. “It’ll be a case of where do I want to go now,” he says.

“It would not be good news for Ballyjamesduff. It’s a thriving town – we have Liffey Meats, the mart, there are a few good factories. With the bank gone, it would be huge. We’d have a big immigrant population who would use the bank branch very regularly and they mightn’t have the transportation to go elsewhere.”

“And for the people of Kilnaleck who lost their bank a few years ago, they’ll have to travel in to Cavan town now. It’s a good distance.”

As a regular user of the bank, Annette Barkey of Cavan Marquees has similar fears for the future of the town. “There wouldn’t be much point going to it because there’s little else as it is,” she said.

“The post office is still there but it’s on the way out. There’s nothing there for anybody. No bank would be devastating for the town. And as a business person it would definitely be less convenient.

“We’d have to go into Oldcastle. It’d be the next closest place for us. But my mother is 75 and she’d go into Ballyjamesduff very regularly so I don’t know where she’d go.”

For Melissa O’Neill, an accountant at Howden Tools and Garage Equipment, the loss of the Ballyconnell branch would not come as a surprise. “We bank with them but we knew for a while it would be closing,” she says.

“There’s only one person working behind the counter – they’ve been winding it down for a while.”

The fact that it is a busy bank does not seem to matter, says Brian Kennedy, who owns the Spar in Ballyconnell. “The people making these decisions aren’t worrying about the people in Ballyconnell or in Cavan for that matter,” he says.

He warns the loss of the bank would “take the life out of the place”.

“You don’t want to see it close because it will probably never open again. It’s not like shops coming and going. Once a bank closes, the chances are you’ll never have another bank coming into the town.”

He says when the bank pulled out of two neighbouring towns, Killashandra and Belturbet, in 2013, people started going to alternatives like Ballyconnell. “The town here would’ve gained a lot from it,” he says

The nearest alternative would be Cavan, which is a half-an-hour drive away

In Ballyjamesduff, Fine Gael councillor Trevor Smith, who also runs a minibus and hackney business, describes the news as “devastating”.

When the bank in Ballyjamesduff installed an ATM to accept lodgments, he figured the bank was safe. “It went into Ballyjamesduff and not Ballyconnell so we felt safer,” he says.

“We all depend on the bank to keep the town afloat. When it goes, the town goes into decline.”

When the bank closed in ­Kilnaleck small businesses suffered, Mr Smith says.

“Talking to some businesses affected, their trade went down by about 50pc when the bank went.”

Vincent Conaty, owner of James Smith Butchers in ­Ballyjamesduff, also fears for the future.

“The way things have gone with Covid, we’re trying to bring people into the town, not take them out. This won’t help. It’s not good for any town to lose their bank.”

Source: Irish News