Catriona O’Brien and Kathleen McMullen.

Cootehill braces for latest bank closure

BLOW Town had three banks 10 years ago

Kathleen McMullen and Caitriona O’ Brien share a wary but knowing glance through the plexiglass hanging from the ceiling above the counter at M.J’s Mini Market in Cootehill.

M.J’s is only two doors up from the soon to shut Bank of Ireland (BOI) located on the town’s Market Street. The shock closure is all anyone is talking about.

“When Ulster Bank closed and when Bank of Ireland only started doing cash every other day, you saw where people would only come into town at certain times. It wasn’t everyday any more,” reflects shopkeeper Kathleen.

“Definitely,” adds Caitriona, owner of the cosy Side Street Cafe. Like Kathleen, she fears the knock-on economic impact of the removal of the last commercial bank from the town.

“Our town is suffering enough without this happening,” remarks Caitriona. “It’s another example of not paying attention to the needs of the people of rural Ireland.”

For Cootehill, in banking terms, the fall from grace has been rapid. Just 10 years ago it had three fully operating branches- BOI, Ulster Bank and AIB.

But AIB was the first to close up shop in 2012. Next was Ulster Bank in 2017.

Like Ulster Bank four years ago, as part of its restructuring programme, BOI is closing its branch in Arva as well. Kingscourt is also on the chopping block, leaving the nearest BOI branch to Cootehill 16 kilometres away in Co Monaghan.

Only BOI branches in Bailieborough and Cavan Town, Carrickmacross and Monaghan Town are to survive the cull.

John Foy of Foy’s SuperValu described Monday’s announcement as a “catastrophic” blow.

He said the loss of the bank will hurt businesses in the town. “People who had a reason to come into Cootehill because of the bank will now just go somewhere else, or worse still, not at all,” said a dejected Mr Foy.

According to a published survey, almost 4,000 people travel to Cootehill from around the county for work, with tangible economic spin-offs derived from that.

John says there was an “identifiable” drop in footfall after Ulster Bank closed. He grimly expects the same to happen again, as he struggles now to see what it’ll mean for the future face of retail in Ireland.

“Just to close 100 branches, it’s unbelievable, and after Ulster Bank as well. It’s very hard to see what the landscape is going look like in years to come.”

On the street, the mood is equally sombre.

Out walking his dog ‘Nifty’ is Trevor Bury. He’s succinct in his thoughts on the matter. “You don’t have a bank, you don’t have a town really. One is synonymous with the other. Cootehill was a very vibrant town before the recession, and being honest, it hasn’t really recovered since. Look up and down the street, every second building is nearly empty, and now the banks will be gone.”

Connie Whelan is assistant secretary of the very active Cootehill Chamber and, despite the prevailing sense of doom and gloom on Monday, she’s anxious to chime a more positive note.

While BOI has agreed a new partnership with An Post to offer customers retail banking services at more than 900 An Post locations across Ireland, Connie is hopeful Cootehill Credit Union will “step up to the mark” and also mitigate the loss.

Additional services such as current accounts and ATMs will be needed, believes Connie.

“We have a thriving Credit Union here and the push will be on to encourage people to support that even more,” she says.

Conor McCrystal is another member of Cootehill Chamber. He also owns and runs the centrally located McCrystal’s Pharmacy.

Like others, the planned closure by September has been occupying his mind too.

His concern quickly stretches to the “older generation”, especially those already left behind in the drive to embrace online banking.

“They’ll probably be left behind by all this. Inevitably the temptation then might be to keep money at home now, and that could lead to its own problems down the line,” surmises Conor.

He too looks for the positives. “The post office, the Credit Union, hopefully they can take the bank’s place. [The loss of banks in the past] meant businesses had to adapt, and we’re going to have to see that happen again.”