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The Vacuum Issue 2 spacer Issue 2
Faces of Aughnacloy
Story by Daniel Jewesbury - Photos by Ursula Burke
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Almost at the centre of the province of Ulster (9, not 6) is a small town in south Tyrone. Turn south at Dungannon, drive over the drumlins towards Monaghan and a mile before the border you'll find Aughnacloy.
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And so we went, to the heart of Ulster, to find the heart of Aughnacloy.
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The streets were quiet. Strangers in any town are always apprehensive, but this was unnerving. We didn't know what sort of town it might be. In the window of the Abbey insurance we did see one face, but it was four foot high and made out of cardboard.
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We looked a little further. From a side street a view emerged of a looming hillside; we wondered whether the legendary 'Beast of Aughnacloy' still stalked these hills and dales. We thought it safer to stay on the main street.
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In the veterinary supplies store, amongst treatments for fluke and ringworm, we asked where we might find the heart of the town, but our subject was not herself a native Aughnaclovian. She thought, however, that perhaps we might find the heart of the town up the road in the butcher's shop. Perhaps we had come too late.
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Indeed we did find many hearts in Wayne Murrow's shop. Wayne was born and bred in Aughnacloy, and opened his business just a few years back. Small family-owned businesses like his still thrive here, although the opening of a third supermarket this month must be a source of worry. Aughnacloy, he points out, has a large, well-stocked chemist and a traditional cobbler along its main street (see 'Clogman of Aughnacloy') Business is good but was hit, says Wayne, by the Euro; customers just over the border are convinced that the forty percent difference between the currencies means they're getting a worse deal when they come north. All the same, the the town is doing well, with families moving in from the larger towns of Tyrone, and motorists passing through to avail of the cheap fuel across the border.
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Two girls back out on the street suggested that the Old Mill might be the heart of Aughnacloy. Noting their directions, we retired to a nearby hostelry to consider these competing claims and to discover whether we might not find some heart therein.
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Aughnacloy beats not with one heart, but with many; here we found a thriving town in which friendship and community have been nurtured and fostered, even during the hardest of times. It warmed our cynical urban hearts to find here so many who were ready look into themselves (into their hearts) and welcome amongst them two strangers, two seekers after truth, wherever it may lie.
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Yorkshireman Nelson Bailey, a cobbler for some 43 years, moved to Ireland three years ago, first living in Belfast and Dungannon before settling in Ballygawley. In May 2002, Nelson set up shop on the main street in Aughnacloy. The last shoemaker's shop closed down around 26 years ago, says Nelson. His business is good, particularly since he's the only shoe repairer for nearly 20 miles around. Not only does he offer repairs and bespoke cobbling, he's also Ireland's only traditional clogmaker. "A clog is a wooden sole with a leather top. Once you explain what a clog is and show them, people who work on the land quickly see the benefit: the soles are over an inch thick, and the leather's as thick as a pound coin, and waxed. There's no stitches to rot because it's all nailed."
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Does he like it here? "It's lovely, for miles and miles around. What makes this place distinct is the spirit of community, the friendliness, the helpfulness. The honesty is overwhelming. I hope to be here till I cobble my last pair of shoes."
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Faces of Aughnacloy
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Faces of Aughnacloy
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Faces of Aughnacloy
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Faces of Aughnacloy
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