Church of the Immaculate Conception, Barrack Street, Strabane
|Population||13,172 (2011 Census)|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Dialling code||028, +44 28|
Strabane had a population of 13,172 at the 2011 Census. It lies on the east bank of the River Foyle and is roughly equidistant from Omagh, Derry City and Letterkenny. The River Foyle marks the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. On the other side of the river (across Lifford Bridge) is the smaller town of Lifford, which is the county town of County Donegal. The River Mourne flows through the centre of the town and meets the Finn to form the Foyle River. A large hill named Knockavoe, which marks the beginning of the Sperrin Mountains, forms the backdrop to the town.
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The locale was home to a group of northern Celts known as the Orighella as far back as the fourth century when the territories of Owen (later Tír Eoghain) and Connail (later Tír Chonaill - mostly modern County Donegal) were established, and Orighella were assimilated into the Cenél Conaill. With the arrival of Saint Patrick, a mission established a church in the area near Castlefin, and having visited the Grianán Aileach for the conversion of Owen, returned along the Foyle river, establishing a further church at Leckpatrick (the name means 'the flagstone of St. Patrick'). A later church was established at Lifford/Clonleigh by a mission headed by St. Colmcille. In AD 586 St. Colgan established a monastery at Camus [from whence the parish of Camus-Juxta-Mourne gets its name]. Other monasteries and religious sites were established at this time at Urney, Ballycolman, Donagheady, and Artigarvan.
The Middle Ages
Vikings arrived at Lifford in AD 832 and maintained a presence on the Foyle until AD 863 when they were expelled by Áed Findliath. The regional seat of power was to be the Grianán Aileach until 1101, when it as destroyed by the O'Briens of Thomond, and was then moved to Urney, three miles outside Strabane. In 1243, the seat of power for all Tyrone and the O'Neill dynasty was moved to Cookstown. It was during this epoch, in AD 1231, that Franciscan friars established a religious foundation on what is now the old graveyard at St. Patrick's Street, Strabane.
The town was settled by Scottish families in the 1600s, an action that preceded the Plantation of Ulster. In 1608, during O'Doherty's Rebellion, most of the inhabitants fled to the safety of Lifford following Sir Cahir O'Doherty's Burning of Derry, as it was feared that Strabane would be his next target.
In 1920-22 Strabane became a border town following the partition of Ireland.
In the late 20th century, during the height of The Troubles, Strabane garnered the dubious distinction of the highest unemployment rate in the industrial world. It is one of the most economically deprived towns in the United Kingdom. Huge economic damage occurred when much of the town centre flooded in 1987.
In August 2005, a Channel 4 television programme presented by property experts Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer named Strabane the eighth-worst place to live in the UK, largely owing to unemployment. Strabane had been moved out of the top 20 in the 2007 edition.
As a result, the Strabane Community Unemployed Group, was founded to find solutions to long-term unemployment and combat the causes for unemployment. Sister Mary Carmel Fanning, a retired Catholic girls school principal who had been awarded the MBE for her services to education in 1997, became a director of the Group the following year.
Sitting directly astride the border, Strabane suffered extensive damage during the Troubles from the early 1970s and continuing throughout much of the 1990s, with bombings and shootings commonplace; Irish Republican paramilitary groups, mainly the Provisional Irish Republican Army, regularly attacked the town's British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) bases. Strabane was once the most bombed town in Europe in proportion to its size and was the most bombed town in Northern Ireland.
Many civilians and members of the security forces were killed or injured in the area over the course of the Troubles. Many British Army regiments from England, Scotland and Wales served in Strabane at various times during the Troubles in the barracks at the locally named "Camel's hump" beside Lifford Bridge. As a result of the Good Friday Agreement, there is no longer any British Army presence in the town. Strabane became involved in the Ulster Project International, sending Catholic and Protestant teenagers to the United States for prejudice-reduction work.
The Irish gauge 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) Londonderry and Enniskillen Railway (L&ER) reached Strabane in 1847, Omagh in 1852 and Enniskillen in 1854. The Great Northern Railway (Ireland) took over the L&ER in 1883.
The Finn Valley Railway (FV) opened from Strabane to Stranorlar in 1863. The FV was originally Irish gauge but in 1892 it merged with the 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge West Donegal Railway (WD) to form the Donegal Railway and was reduced to the same narrow gauge for through running. The Donegal Railway opened its own line to Derry in 1900. In 1906 the GNR and Northern Counties Committee jointly took over the Donegal Railway, making it the County Donegal Railways Joint Committee. The 3 ft (914 mm) gauge Strabane and Letterkenny Railway opened in 1909 and was worked by the Joint Committee. The narrow gauge lines made Strabane one of the most important railway connections for County Donegal.
The partition of Ireland in 1922 turned the boundary with County Donegal into an international frontier. This changed trade patterns to the railways' detriment and placed border posts on the Joint Committee's FV and S&L lines and on the GNR line to Derry. Stops for customs inspections greatly delayed trains and disrupted timekeeping. Over the next few years customs agreements between the two states enabled GNR trains between Strabane and Derry to pass through the Free State without inspection unless they were scheduled to serve local stations on the west bank of the Foyle, and for goods on all railways to be carried between different parts of the Free State to pass through Northern Ireland under customs bond. The Joint Committee's Strabane-Derry line was closed in 1954, followed by the remainder of the narrow gauge system in 1960. In 1958 the Ulster Transport Authority took over the remaining GNR lines on the Northern Ireland side of the border. In accordance with The Benson Report submitted to the Northern Ireland Government in 1963, the UTA closed the former GNR line through Strabane to Derry in 1965.
Little trace remains of Strabane's railways except for one old railway building that survives in the town. The nearest railway is operated by Northern Ireland Railways and runs from Londonderry railway station via Coleraine to Belfast Central railway station and Belfast Great Victoria Street railway station. The strategically important Belfast-Derry railway line is to be upgraded to facilitate more frequent trains and improvements to the permanent way such as track and signalling to enable faster services.
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In 1792, the 4 miles (6.4 km) Strabane Canal was built from the tidal waters of Lough Foyle at Leck, to Strabane. It fell into disuse in 1962. In June 2006 the Strabane Lifford Development Commission awarded a £1.3m cross-border waterways restoration contract. The project was launched by President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, in Lifford and involves the restoration of 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of canal and two locks to working order. Work was due to start on the Lough Foyle side of the canal in the summer of 2006. This work was begun but was done to a very poor standard to the extent that the water in the canal is now very dangerous. It was reported in the Strabane Weekly News that a dog went into the canal but fell ill and died as a consequence.[when?]
On Census day (27 March 2011) there were 13,172 people living in Strabane (5,123 households), accounting for 0.73% of the NI total, representing a decline of 2.2% on the Census 2001 population of 13,456. Of these:
- 23.00% were aged under 16 years and 13.19% were aged 65 and over;
- 52.32% of the usually resident population were female and 47.68% were male;
- 91.57% belong to or were brought up in the Catholic religion and 7.22% belong to or were brought up in a 'Protestant and Other Christian (including Christian related)' religion;
- 56.03% had an Irish national identity, 33.54% had a Northern Irish national identity and 12.03% had a British national identity (respondents could indicate more than one national identity);
- 36 years was the average (median) age of the population;
- 17.43% had some knowledge of Irish (Gaelic) and 3.49% had some knowledge of Ulster-Scots.
As of 2015, Strabane and Derry councils joined together, and have a strong nationalist majority. At the local elections in May 2011, members of Strabane District Council were elected from the following political parties: 8 Sinn Féin, 4 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), 1 Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), 1 Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and 2 Independent Nationalist. The council chairperson and vice-chairperson for 2013-14 were Ruairí McHugh and Michelle McMackin (both of Sinn Féin). The Strabane District Council area covered an area of 861.6 km² and according to the 2001 Census, the council area had a total population of 38,250.
Since 1997 Strabane has been part of the United Kingdom parliamentary constituency of West Tyrone, held since 2001 by Sinn Féin's Pat Doherty. From 1983 to 1997 it was part of the Foyle constituency, held during that time by the then-SDLP leader John Hume.
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The local Gaelic football team, Strabane Sigersons, and the hurling team, Strabane Seamrogaí, are expanding. Owen Roe O'Neill's GAC, Leckpatrick, can also claim part of Strabane with the North part of the town following under their parish umbrella. The Sigerson Cup, the all-Ireland colleges cup for Gaelic football, is named after a native of the town, Dr George Sigerson. Strabane Cricket Club and Fox Lodge Cricket Club are members of the North West Senior League. Strabane also boasts several local football teams that play in various leagues. The most senior is Strabane Athletic F.C. of the Northern Ireland Intermediate League.
The town has three golf courses. Strabane Golf Course is an 18-hole parkland course set in the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains, 1 mile south of the town. Strabane also has a large number of road runners. The local 10k race which is run in July is well supported by local athletes as well as those from farther afield. Strabane also hosts the Tyrone Titans, a new franchise in the historic IAFL. The River Mourne, River Finn , Burn Dennet River, Moor Lough and Lough Ash are all within easy access of the town, therefore, providing many opportunities for fishing.
A common greeting in Strabane and the wider North West is "What's the bars?" This means "What's the news?" or "What's the latest gossip?" This may derive from Irish, from the phrase "barr nuachta," meaning "titbit," referring to a tasty piece of news.
Music and arts
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CRAIC (Cultural Revival Among Interested Communities) a cross-border, cross-community group provides music lessons to both adults and children on a voluntary basis in the local Irish language Gaelscoil. The Barret School of Irish Dancing has produced some of Ireland's best Irish dancers, and the local theatre group, The Puddle Alley Players, has won several awards over the years in amateur dramatic competitions.
In 2007, the Alley Arts and Conference Centre (designed by architects Glenn Howells and AJA) opened to the general public, offering a 270-seat theatre, art gallery, tourist information centre and cafe-bar. The Alley was Northern Ireland Building of the Year in 2008, and won the Allianz Arts and Business Award 2009 and The Green Apple Award 2008. The venue has hosted the All Ireland Confined Drama Finals (2008) and is the current home of the North West Music Festival, The Stage Write Schools Drama Festival, Sounds Like Summer Music Festival, Strabane Drama Festival, and the Johnny Crampsie Music Festival.
Strabane plays host to a Saint Patrick's Day Parade each year. One of Strabane's most notable features are five 20 ft (6.1 m) steel structures on the banks of the river: two dancers and a fiddle player on the Lifford side, a flute player on the Strabane side and a drummer in the middle. Designed by Maurice Harron, they were placed close the site of the former British Army base at the Tyrone-Donegal border. The sculptures were originally called "Let The Dance Begin" but have since become known affectionately as "The Tinneys".[why?][clarification needed]
According to the 2011 census, 91.57% of the residents were from a Catholic background and 7.22% were from a Protestant background. There are a number of places of worship for the residents of Strabane and surrounding district. The three main Catholic churches are the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Barrack Street, Sacred Heart Church, Derry Road and St. Mary’s Church, Melmount Road.
The main Church of Ireland church is Christ Church, Bowling Green. The main Presbyterian Church is located on the Derry Road while the main Methodist Church is located on Railway Street. There are also a number of smaller churches.
There are two secondary schools in the town: Holy Cross College and Strabane Academy. Holy Cross College was created in 2003 with the amalgamation of Strabane's three Catholic post-primary schools, the Convent Grammar School, St Colman's High School and Our Lady of Mercy High School. The College had been operating across the three sites until its £29 million state-of-the-art new building opened in September 2009, catering for 1,400 pupils. Holy Cross is a co-ed bilateral college, which means it offers grammar status education within an all-ability school. It is regarded as a blueprint for the future of education in Northern Ireland because it caters for both academic and vocational paths. The other secondary school is Strabane Academy which was formed in 2009 when Strabane Grammar School merged with Strabane High School.
Places of interest
In 2014, two Palestinian murals were painted in the town, one in the Ballycolman estate and one in the Head of the town. One mural, in particular, received international media attention, this was during the Israeli assault on Gaza. The murals were painted during a large pro-Palestinian campaign in which Strabane saw white line pickets, camps and protests.
It includes a 305.5 metre (1,002 ft) high guyed steel lattice mast, which is the tallest structure in Ireland. The transmission antennas surmounting the structure are contained within a fibreglass cylinder. Constructed in 1963, it came into service on 18 February of that year.
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- Paul Brady, singer-songwriter
- William Burke, 19th century serial killer, from Urney, a Strabane townland
- Sir Guy Carleton, Governor of the Province of Quebec & Governor General of British North America
- Declan Curry, BBC One correspondent
- Ryan Dolan, singer for Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest 2013
- Brian Dooher, member of the 2003, 2005 and 2008 All-Ireland winning Tyrone Gaelic football teams.
- Hugo Duncan, popular entertainer and BBC Radio Ulster presenter
- John Dunlap, printer of the United States Declaration of Independence
- The Freshmen, one of four Irish showbands featured on a special set of commemorative stamps issued in September
- Andrew Frederick Gault (1833–1903), merchant, industrialist, and philanthropist known as the Cotton King of Canada.
- Matthew Hamilton Gault, financier and politician at Montreal
- Matthew Holmes, New Zealand runholder and politician
- Annie Russell Maunder, astronomer
- Pearse McAuley, IRA member jailed for the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe
- Flann O'Brien, best known pseudonym of Brian O'Nolan, 20th century bilingual (but Irish-mother-tongue) satirist and humourist. He also wrote under other pseudonyms, most notably Myles na gCopaleen
- Stephen O'Neill, member of the 2003, 2005 and 2008 All-Ireland winning Tyrone Gaelic football teams.
- Rory Patterson, Football striker currently playing for Derry City F.C in the Irish League of Ireland.
- Dr George Sigerson, Gaelic activist; namesake of the Sigerson Cup
- H.G. Simms, Chairman of the Shanghai Municipal Council (1922–23)
- Robert Welch, photographer and conchologist
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