2007 was a year of mixed fortunes in Strokestown. On the economic front there were a number of key events which indicate a new vibrancy, including the continued success story which is the Percy French Hotel in the ownership of local man Leo Cox and the opening of a number of new businesses in the town, but for many people from the area, the defeat of the local GAA team at the hands of St. Brigid’s, who later went on to compete in the Connacht Club final, was a defining moment of 2007.
Strokestown has not undergone the population explosion experienced by many towns in recent years, but a number of homes have been built in the town or are in the process of being completed. These homes, allied with a large number of homes being built in the rural area, have ensured that the population decline in the area has been stemmed and the future for the region now looks brighter.
One man who has noticed the resurgence in the town’s fortunes as the population decline is stemmed is local businessman Pat McHugh. Pat owns a gift shop, pub and funeral directors business in the town and is well placed to review the changes in Strokestown’s fortunes in recent years.
“All of the many houses being built in the area are full and a small number of new houses are being built. People are coming to live in the town and the population in the rural area is increasing. We would be holding our own in terms of population. There are a lot of new people living in the area and they are working locally.”
Redevelopment work on the roundabout in the centre of the town is ongoing, and the roundabout will be made smaller as a result. However, Pat and his fellow business people in the town are still waiting on the resurfacing of the streets in the town and are hoping to see that work completed early in 2008.
EDA Cox, the construction firm owned by local man Leo Cox and his family, has been responsible for much of the development which has gone on in Strokestown in recent years. Indeed the firm now owns the local hotel The Percy French and the redevelopment of that facility has been a major development for the town, as any town needs quality hotel accommodation if it is to attract or stage major events such as the Strokestown Poetry Festival.
For many people in Strokestown, the defining moment of 2007 happened not in Strokestown but on the St. Dominic’s pitch in Knockcroghery. That moment was the slotting home of an injury-time penalty by St. Brigid’s Karol Mannion, which took St. Brigid’s into the semi-final and left Strokestown supporters disappointed and disillusioned.
Pat McHugh recalls, “Strokestown were pipped by St. Brigid’s in a very dramatic game in Knockcroghery. It was a tight game, the hardest game they (St. Brigid’s) had was against Strokestown in the County quarter-final.”
But it was not all bad news for sporting enthusiasts in Strokestown this year, there were many positive developments. At the moment, a new football pitch is being laid in Strokestown and development is also ongoing at the soccer pitch at the back of the community centre.
Advising local people to familiarise themselves with what is going on at the GAA pitch, Pat said, “People in the area should take time to look at it. It will be ready for next year and is a big undertaking by the local GAA.” He also noted that the community centre is being well utilised at the moment and it is a busy spot with various groups.
Another sporting venue which is being redeveloped is Strokestown Golf Club and much positive work has been carried out at that venue in 2007.
Pat is upbeat about the shopping available in town, noting that the town has fine supermarkets, gift shops and flower shops and the only facility which is lacking is a ladies clothes boutique. A coffee shop opened in the town this year.
On the agricultural front, this year’s Strokestown Show was a major highlight on the local calendar. The show was held in the magnificent grounds of Strokestown Park House. “The show this year was one of the best shows of the year,” said Pat, who paid tribute to the hard work of the local committee and people from neighbouring parishes who also helped out. It was the most successful show in Ireland last year and was blessed with good weather in a year when many shows fell victim to inclement weather.
One small downside to the new vibrancy is that fewer and fewer families are living in the town centre, preferring to live in detached houses at the outskirts of the town as opposed to the traditional method of living over the shop or business.
Overall, Pat McHugh has noticed the beginning of a new vibrancy in the town and hopes to see that continue in 2008.