Michael Fisher  Northern Standard  Thursday 1st December p.1


Current Carrickmacross Lace Gallery, Market House  Pic. Michael Fisher

The approval of funding for a new Lace Gallery in Carrickmacross could provide a major boost for tourism in the south Monaghan area and help to open up the town. That’s the view of Bill Cotter, chair of the South Monaghan Tourism Forum and honorary member of the Lace Co-op. The former Fine Gael TD said the tourism group had been working actively to promote Carrick and the grant was long overdue. The development of a lace centre in what used to be a branch library in Market Square would give the group confidence to continue their efforts to bring in visitors from different parts of the world, he said.

Mr Cotter was reacting to the announcement on Monday by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Heather Humphreys TD, that the sum of €100,000 had been approved to develop the Market House site for multipurpose use including a new Lace Gallery, and to develop enterprise sites. Clones is also to receive funding as a heritage centre under the €5.3 million REDZ (Rural Economic Development Zones) initiative. (see separate story). The programme aims to stimulate economic development in rural towns and their hinterlands. The money is being spent on 41 projects nationwide, with €1.9 million going to projects in the northern and western region.


Elizabeth Daly, Chair, Carrickmacross Lace Gallery  Pic. Michael Fisher

The good news reached the Lace Gallery Co-op Chair Elizabeth Daly on Tuesday afternoon. She said the members of the group were absolutely delighted at the prospect of moving to an enlarged and far superior display area next year. It would help to put lace at the forefront of tourism in south Monaghan.

Looking at the visitor book in the small unit that the gallery currently occupies, the entries range from Ireland (Dublin, Sligo, Glenties), Hillsborough and Bangor in Co. Down, England (Cambridge and London), France (Carhaix), Australia and several from the USA. The Co-op continues to receive orders from visitors and online. An order for a long lace veil for a wedding was recently completed for a bride from Virginia in the USA. She collected the finished work (which took seven months to produce) just in time for her wedding in County Wicklow.


                 Elizabeth Daly, Chair, Carrickmacross Lace Gallery Pic. Michael Fisher

Almost 3000 people have called into them this year. Moving across to the other side of the Market Square and with more space to display their craftwork and range of gifts could potentially treble the number of visitors annually, according to the gallery. At the moment, a coach tour of fifty people has to be split up into small groups of six or seven if they want to visit the display. The larger area will enable them to handle the larger groups and to enhance the display of Carrickmacross lace, with its five special characteristics such as loops.

The Co-op began in 1984 and the first share was purchased by a St Louis nun Sr Cronin who had been involved with the promotion of lace at the convent in Carrickmacross. “Your mission is to keep this skill alive”, she told them. Elizabeth Daly now teaches lace-making and has organised a series of workshops in recent years. The new location will hopefully provide room for the classes.


Carrickmacross Market House  Pic. Michael Fisher

The Co-op was originally situated in the old Shirley tollhouse but moved to the opposite side of Main Street in 1990. The renovation of the Market House building which dates back to 1861 was approved by Monaghan County Council in June last year. The idea is that the square should become a central focus for tourism in the town, where more walking trails are being developed. The nine-bay central section has a large gabled carriage entrance which will be transformed into a foyer between two large units. The one of the right which used to house a branch library will become the new Lace Gallery. The unit on the other side is earmarked for a shop and studio. The public toilets will be re-arranged and windows and doors will be refurbished with the objective of securing the preservation of this site of architectural and historical interest.

The Cathaoirleach of Carrickmacross Castleblayney Municipal District Cllr Aidan Campbell said he was delighted that the money had come through for the project. He looked forward to seeing the development started in the New Year and said it was very timely. He pointed out that Castleblayney had benefited in the past year from the same scheme, which had enabled buildings to be painted and new signage erected.

Announcing the funding, Minister Humphreys said: “The REDZ scheme aims to improve links between rural towns and their hinterlands to stimulate activity at a local level. It is one of a number of schemes which my department has been rolling out to boost economic activity and improve living standards across rural Ireland.”

“This initiative encourages local authorities to work with local communities, Chambers of Commerce, business interests and other state bodies, to identify areas of greatest economic need which can make better use of their local assets to generate economic activity. This is all about the regeneration of rural towns and villages and empowering local communities to provide local residents with local opportunities”, she added.

Other initiatives recently introduced by the government as part of this programme include the new €10 million Town and Village Renewal Scheme, the approval of almost €7.5 million to support rural recreation infrastructure, the establishment of a national taskforce to identify practical measures which can be taken in the short-term to improve broadband and mobile phone coverage in rural areas, and the establishment of two regional broadband action groups to prepare for the roll-out of broadband under the National Broadband Plan.

Carrickmacross is well known for the attractive lace bearing its name. The lace is worked in an individual style, devised by Mrs Grey Porter, wife of the rector of Donaghmoyne, who introduced it in 1820. When she left the district the teaching of lacemaking was continued by Miss Reid of Rahans, but it was only after the 1846 famine, when a lace school was set up by the managers of the Bath and Shirley estates at Carrickmacross as a means of helping their tenants, that the lace became known and found sales.

In the last decade of the 19th century the Sisters of St Louis founded their own lace school to revive the craft, and this was quite profitable for several years. Although the outbreak of the 1914–18 war marked the virtual end of commercial production of hand-made lace in Europe, the lace school kept the technique alive throughout most of the 20th century. Carrickmacross lace also featured on the late Princess Diana’s wedding dress.






Princess Victoria Disaster Memorial in Larne   Photo: Michael Fisher

Travelling recently through Larne (where the Granuaile was working on servicing buoys and harbour lights) I noticed the memorial at Chaine Memorial Road on the shoreline. It was erected to commemorate the victims of the Princess Victoria disaster. This weekend, 63 years on from the tragedy on January 31st 1953, they were remembered at a ceremony led by the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim. The annual event is organised by Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. The Belfast Telegraph carried a report on the event.


Princess Victoria Disaster Memorial in Larne Photo: Michael Fisher

A total of 133 lives were lost in the tragedy, which at the time was the UK’s worst peacetime disaster at sea. The Princess Victoria ferry was crossing from Stranraer to Larne and sank after being battered by monstrous waves in the North Channel. Only 33 passengers and crew survived. The loss of so many lives sent shockwaves through Northern Ireland. It had a particularly strong impact on County Antrim and the Port of Larne with 27 of the victims coming from the town.

On Saturday, the Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Billy Ashe led tributes to those who perished in Larne with William McAllister who is the only living survivor of the of disaster, when he was 17 he was a galley boy on the ship.

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Plaque on Memorial at Larne (edited) Photo: Michael Fisher

Allan Preston report: The courageous story of a forgotten hero from the Princess Victoria disaster has been revealed more than 60 years after his death.

A total of 133 lives were lost in the tragedy, which at the time was the UK’s worst peacetime disaster at sea.  It happened after a ferry crossing from Stranraer to Larne sank after being battered by monstrous waves in the North Channel. Now it has emerged that Len White, the ship’s second officer, who lived in Ballygally with his family, sacrificed his life while trying to put women and children on a lifeboat.

On the morning of January 31, 1953, the Princess Victoria set off at 7.45am despite warnings of gale force winds. When conditions at sea grew unbearable and it became clear the ferry would sink, Mr White was placed in charge of getting women and children to safety. As he lowered a lifeboat, he was swept to his death when a huge wave dashed the small vessel back against the Princess Victoria’s hull.

Mr White, a war veteran originally from Portsmouth, settled his family in Ballygally near Larne after the war to work in the Merchant Navy. He normally served on the HMS Margaret, but he volunteered as relief on the Princess Victoria that day because another officer was unable to sail. His body was later recovered by the crew of the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat, which was based in Donaghadee.

Mr White’s daughter Susan Crampton was nine years old on the day of the tragedy. “After all these years, I remember him as a quiet man and a loving father who seemed happiest when he had his family around him,” she said. “I can remember the bewilderment I felt as a nine-year-old and the impossibility of receiving satisfactory answers to my questions. My mother was very brave and she worked hard to restore a normal family life, but we all missed him terribly.”

Susan’s husband Fred, who also grew up on the Ballygally coast, remembers hearing when news of the maritime disaster broke. “I would have been 13 on the day of the tragedy, so I remember him very well,” he said. “(He was) not a very tall man, smoked a pipe, very family-orientated. He loved that area – he loved the Antrim coast. I looked out from the window straight at the sea. I remember going down to the shop and it was an awful job even walking home because of the terrible gales.”

Fred recalled how, when the devastating news came through, the community rallied around the family. “Sue’s mum and her sister had great support from everyone in the locality,” he said. “But it wasn’t just them, there was so many people in the locality who lost that weekend.”



Enterprise Train at Belfast Central Station

The refurbished Enterprise train was taken off the Belfast to Dublin service owing to safety concerns about its doors. The doors are reported to have opened on two occasions when the cross-border train was still moving.

The first of the newly-refurbished Enterprise fleet went into service on the Belfast to Dublin line in November. The £12.2m upgrade programme included an extensive safety approval process but issues around the doors saw the first train removed from service.

Update: On Wednesday (13th January) Translink said a detailed technical investigation and review of the door mechanisms by its engineering team, specialist door contractors and the train door manufacturer had been carried out and the train was now back in service.

Ian Campbell, General Manager, Engineering with Translink explained: “When these incidents occurred, all the appropriate safety and operational procedures were carried out. We immediately addressed the issue, removed the train from service and reported the event to the relevant safety authorities.  “We would strongly reassure our passengers and the wider public that there was no imminent danger for our customers travelling on board as a result of these two unrelated door faults.”

In light of the door faults, the Railway Safety Commission had banned the trains from operating in the Republic. Translink said it had satisfied the Irish rail authority’s concerns and the upgraded train would be returned into service.

“We will continue to collaborate with the Railway Safety Commission as we work to bring this significant Enterprise train refurbishment programme to fruition which will ultimately provide a much enhanced quality of service to passengers travelling on this important cross border route,” they concluded. The RSC said it had finished a review of evidence submitted by NI Railways and was satisfied that the circumstances which gave rise to the prohibition notice had been remedied.

A news release in September 2015 from the Special EU Programmes Body said the first newly refurbished Enterprise train had entered the ‘testing and commissioning phase’ of Translink NI Railways’ train upgrade programme which has received £12.2 million funding from the EU’s INTERREG IVA Programme. The major service overhaul will improve the cross-border rail experience for customers travelling between Belfast and Dublin as well as ensure the long-term reliability of the service for the next 10 years.

The refurbishment programme has been financed through the European Union’s INTERREG IVA Programme managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) with support from the Department of Regional Development and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS) in Ireland.

Chris Conway, Translink Group Chief Executive, said: “The project continues to progress well as we enter this important ‘testing and commissioning’ phase in which this first fully refurbished train will be checked to ensure it complies with all necessary safety regulations and technical specifications. This will include ‘on-track’ testing of important new features such as passenger information systems, seat reservation systems and CCTV, as well as ensuring the reliability of all the train’s management systems.”

“Following successful completion of this important project phase and all necessary safety approvals, the first train can then be introduced into passenger service so that our customers can enjoy an all-new Enterprise journey experience with an emphasis on comfort, service and value. We would like to thank the European Union, Department for Regional Development and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in Ireland for essential funding to deliver this project.”

“We would also like to thank our customers for their continued patience and support as we work hard to complete this major rail project. We look forward to welcoming them on board their new Enterprise service and delivering passenger growth on this important route,” said Chris.

Paul Boylan, Programme Manager at the SEUPB which manages the EU’s INTERREG IVA Programme, said: “Developing cross-border transport infrastructure is a key facet in the INTERREG IVA Programme, which aims to enhance co-operation for a more sustainable cross-border region. The improvements being implemented by the Translink NI Railways train upgrade programme will bring a wide range of social and economic benefits to people living and working along the Belfast – Dublin rail corridor and we look forward to the programme’s successful completion.”

On November 17th the first refurbished Enterprise set made the journey between Belfast Central station and Dublin Connolly, passing through Newry.


NI Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen MLA and Chris Conway, Group Chief Executive for Translink chat with customer Edna Murray from Belfast as the newly refurbished Enterprise train left Belfast for Dublin in November

Transport Minister, Michelle McIlveen said: “The Northern Ireland Executive has invested significantly in railways and trains over the last decade with 43 new trains at a cost of around £200million in total. This has resulted in a tremendous growth in passenger numbers with a doubling of rail passengers in the last decade. Last year alone nearly 13.5million rail journeys were made in Northern Ireland.”

“I am confident that this major improvement in the Enterprise trains will encourage even more growth in rail passengers along this key strategic rail link.”

Welcoming the launch, (then) Finance Minister Arlene Foster said: “The Enterprise service between Belfast and Dublin provides an important infrastructure link for passengers travelling between the two cities. This delivery of this project, supported under the EU’s INTERREG IVA programme, will deliver social and economic benefits for citizens in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which will in turn contribute to economic growth and prosperity.”

Speaking at Belfast Central Station ahead of the train’s departure to Dublin Connolly Station, Translink Group Chief Executive Chris Conway said: “This is great news for our customers. The service looks and feels like a modern new train with the emphasis on comfort, service and value.”

“Customers will first notice the train’s striking modern new look with a stylish purple, red and grey livery. Stepping on board, the transformation is incredible with vibrant, eye-catching new colour schemes, attractive seating with power sockets, plush carpets, new tables and lighting. Once all trains are completed we will also have our new electronic seat reservation displays operating.”



How I reported the closure of the Bose factory in January in The Northern Standard Photo: © Michael Fisher

Northern Standard  Thursday 7th January 2016

Michael Fisher looks back on some of the main stories of 2015:


It was the first major story I wrote for the Northern Standard when I began covering the Carrickmacross area on a temporary basis a year ago. The news came out of the blue, creating shockwaves in Carrick that are still being felt.

In a statement of 290 words issued by a public relations company in Dublin, Bose Ltd. announced it was closing its County Monaghan facility with the loss of 140 jobs. It was probably just a coincidence that the news was released on a Thursday afternoon, the day on which this weekly newspaper is published. So the coverage had to wait until the following week. But this was a decision that had been taken some time beforehand at the company’s headquarters in the United States, where a plant in South Carolina was also being shut down.


Workers at the BOSE factory in Carrickmacross react to news of the plant’s closure Photo:  Michael Fisher

What offended the workers most was the way the news was relayed to them. They were called into the canteen at 4pm that black Thursday (22nd January 2015) and by video link were addressed by the company President. They thought it was going to be part of the usual quarterly update on company performance. Instead they were being told they would be made redundant in April.

After lobbying by union representatives and local politicians, the date for the shutdown was postponed until the end of May, in the hope that some workers might be able to find alternative employment. Some like Pat McNally had been with the company since it was established by Dr Amar Bose in July 1978. The plant provided final assembly for select home cinema systems and Wave radios for the European market, and some remanufacturing for the region.

Councillors pressed the IDA to find an alternative employer but so far no replacement has been found, although some clients have viewed the premises. In the aftermath of the closure it was discovered that the factory premises was now owned by a private group, following new arrangements regarding IDA leases.

The last day at Bose (May 29th) was sad for all concerned. The workers came in small groups to collect their redundancy payments. The car park gates were locked and a few days later, the plant and machinery inside the building were put up for auction, bringing to an end a 37-year history of production at the site.

As they left the plant, the workers again pointed out that this had been a profitable operation for Bose, and their Irish base in Europe had never been affected by industrial disputes. They said they had always shown their loyalty to the company and had generally been treated well by their employer, until the founder of the company Dr Amar Bose had died two years ago.

In the words of the Carrickmacross-based Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy, the closure of the plant was devastating for the local economy and community who felt they had been let down by the government. It was the end of an era and a huge blow forthe whole of South Monaghan and beyond.


Minister for Arts, Heritage & Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys T.D. congratulates Frances Treanor on her winning self-portrait Photo: Michael Fisher


In April an art student from County Monaghan won the overall prize in the Texaco Children’s Art competition. A great achievement by my neighbour, Frances Treanor from Drumdart, Tydavnet. The 18 year-old was rewarded with a trip to Tokyo to represent Ireland in an international art exhibition, along with a cheque for €1500. Her self-portrait drawing done in black ballpoint pen was part of the 16th International High School Arts Festival along with some other Texaco award winners. Back at her home in Tydavnet she told me about her experiences in Japan, a country she said she would return to if she got a chance.

Her five days there introduced her to Japanese food such as tempura (fish and rice) for which chopsticks were used. She was served dishes of sushi and sukiakki and also got time to do some sightseeing. This included areas such as Harajuku, the Meiji shrine and Takeshita-dori street. Frances also visited a rural area a few hours outside Tokyo and saw a red panda being fed in the zoo. She noticed that the streets were very clean, as well as being busy and hectic. Everyone was carrying an umbrella, Frances told me, and there were special holders at the entrance to the museum where visitors could leave them.

The winning self portrait was completed by her in two weeks and was described by the chair of the judging panel, Professor Declan McGonagle, as having been executed “with the skill and delicacy of a master”. The talented Frances had featured among the prizewinners in 2012 when she won second place in her age category for her work “Lighting Up the Imagination”. She is one of seven children and is studying art at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, alongside her twin sister Maeve.

Frances was keen to thank her former art teachers at St Louis Secondary School in Monaghan, Teresa Mahony and Stephen Penders, who she said had always encouraged and developed her talent.


Electricity pylons beside SONI/NIE sub-station in Co. Antrim  Photo: Michael Fisher  


EirGrid has begun a fresh attempt to get permission for a second North/South electricity interconnector. It would involve the erection of over 400 pylons carrying a 400 kV high voltage cable across five counties from Meath to Tyrone, including Monaghan. There has been strong opposition to the plan, with over 900 submissions to An Bord Pleanála since the new planning application was submitted in June. The Board is expected to make a decision later this year on whether to hold another public enquiry into the plan. More details of the EirGrid response to the submissions and objections can be found on p.14 and the Northern Standard will continue to report on this controversial issue in the coming months.


DSC_1202New Year 2016 was rung in with friends at Glenmalure Lodge in County Wicklow, where I met a former colleague from RTÉ who works there in a senior position. After a meal in the dining room, it was time to listen to the band in the Michael Dwyer Bar and take part in the festivities. When they played Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl I felt I was back in Belfast!

A year ago my father Desmond Fisher died so the family was in mourning over the New Year period 2015.


New Year 2014 Walk from Holywood along North Down Coastal Path near Seapark  Picture: Michael Fisher 

New Year 2014 was spent in Belfast. The day itself was marked with a walk along part of the North Down Coastal Path starting in Holywood and going towards Cultra, finishing with a drink at the Dirty Duck.


Lagan Towpath Walk New Year 2010  Picture: Michael Fisher 

A previous New Year 2010 was also spent in Belfast with the same group of friends. A walk along the Lagan towpath took us past the Lock Keeper’s Inn, before it became famous!



Former Forge in Aughrim  Picture: Michael Fisher


I passed through the village of Aughrim in County Wicklow yesterday and stopped at the hotel beside the bridge for a coffee. It was pouring rain and not very scenic. But when I visited in August it looked really well with lovely floral displays. One of the buildings I noticed was an old forge: or did it possibly have a connection with a former railway line?


Irish National Foresters’ Hall in Aughrim  Picture: Michael Fisher

There is also an Irish National Foresters’ Hall and a memorial to the pike men of the 1798 rebellion led by Michael Dwyer. The stone is surmounted by a ‘crown’ fashioned from bronze pikes. Kiltegan is not far from here, where St Patrick’s Missionary Society is located.  All pictures from August.


‘Crown’ of Bronze Pikes on 1798 Memorial in Aughrim Picture: Michael Fisher





Michael Fisher in Tyrone GAA jacket borrowed at the secret training location in Co. Wicklow

EXCLUSIVE! A New Year exclusive from fisherbelfast news! I have been on a secret mission today and have been shown the mountain hideaway where the Tyrone GAA senior footballers have begun training since St Stephen’s Day in their mission to win the Sam Maguire Cup. I am under strict instructions not to reveal the exact location in case of infiltration by spies from Kerry and Dublin. A full report will however be provided on request for Monaghan GAA whose supporters accompanied me this afternoon on an 8km walk in the pouring-rain.


Section of the Wicklow Way from Glenmalure to Moyne

The two hour trek led along the Wicklow Way up a mountain, Slieve Maan. But in the pouring rain and wind there was in the end no evidence of a Red Hand. The only one in sight was on the jacket I borrowed from the legendary Frank Quinn from Pomeroy. He even leaves copies of his beautiful Sam Maguire book with his photos of historic places such as Knockmany and Carleton’s cottage as an inspiration for all who make their way for wilderness adventures to deepest Wicklow, not far from the Glen of Imaal where the Irish army trains.


Sam Maguire book edited and with photos by Frank Quinn

Asked to compare his native ground around the Sperrins with the likes of Lugnaquilla, Mr Quinn, whose adventures to the Antarctic Circle featured in the Irish News a few years ago, replied: “sure the Sperrins are wee buns compared to the landscape we have here!!” Memories of the 1798 rebellion all around. So be prepared for a new wave of Tyrone football as the McKenna Cup gets underway in the coming weeks. It remains to be seen whether Wicklow GAA footballers will head Northwards for their training…….!


Sam Maguire Cup at Knockmany near Augher Photo: Copyright Frank Quinn

Update: Obviously this extra training over New Year at the secret location in County Wicklow has already paid dividends for the Tyrone team. Their first outing in the Dr McKenna Cup was on Sunday (3rd January) and this was the result at St Enda’s Park in Omagh:

Tyrone 3-17 Queens University 0-11