Traditional Shop Fronts to make a comeback by James Reddiough

 In History

A new scheme has been introduced by the Ballina Municipal area in north Mayo known as the Traditional Facades Grants Scheme.  The aim of the project is to provide funding to businesses that opt to return to the old style shop fronts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in order to enhance the tourist potential of the towns around the Ballina district of north Mayo.  Such shop fronts where they still exist are part of the architectural heritage and this has been documented in photographic format by Graphic designer Trevor Finnegan who looks for the story behind the front too building up a history of the commercial life of the area and information about the craftsmen of the place who designed these shop fronts. They were simply yet effectively designed by say the local carpenter for example.

Once shop fronts had a traditional look to them of timber and glass with the name of the business over the door in either Irish or English and this would add greatly to the character of an area and capture the curiosity of the area and the village and the town.  Bonniconlon is one of the north mayo villages to be proposed for the enhancement and the local councillor there is one John O’ Hara.  Councillor O’ Hara told the Mayo papers that he was amazed when he saw the shop facades in Kerry whilst on holiday there during the Summer and felt that similar plan could be put in place in the area.

Bonniconlon had a few shops and larger merchants in the nineteenth and in particular in the twentieth century, the oldest public house there was built and opened by the Loftus family in the year 1877 and they had the traditional shop front and the name in Irish Munitir Ui Lachtnain over the door.  The other major merchants had their facades too and they were built in 1901 and 1912 respectively.  Lawrence’s now The river Inn was built in 1901 and Martin Bernard Durcan’s now the Village Tavern was erected in 1912.

Outside the Ballina Municipal area there is Westport where the traditional shop fronts never fail to impress the people and this is true of other Mayo towns and indeed towns throughout the country.  The importance of these signs and fronts to the heritage of the areas is recognised by the creation of a blog site or sphere on the World Wide Web under the address irsihshopfronts.ie and also there is a delightful 48 page booklet on the shop fronts of Mayo that is on sale in the Castle book shop in Castlebar.  These web sites and print sources add greatly to our knowledge and understanding of the traditional shop fronts that were the mainstay of commercial life at one time in our history.  The Mayo Shop Fronts book discusses and illustrates the shop fronts can be found in County Mayo and its environs and focusses on the principal towns of Ballina, Castlebar, Westport and Claremorris where there are numerous examples of these fronts.

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