The north Longford town of Granard, like many of its size and ilk, has consistently been forced to punch above its economic weight.
That challenge is one its citizens and business community have endured in the face of a much changed post Covid fiscal arena and without any mainstream financial institution to call upon.
In November 2014 Granard was among 15 locations to see its Ulster Bank branch cease trading after over 140 years of service. Seven years later Bank of Ireland withdrew from the town.
The exits have thrown up a good deal of resentment within the local business sector.
“For any of us in the town, it means going into Longford and into a bank,” says long-serving drapery owner Pat Sheridan (76). “That’s not simple because you find yourself wasting a long time going in and coming out. It’s a hell of an inconvenience for everyone.”
He and his family have been a permanent fixture in the town’s commerce since 1932. “We had been dealing in the Ulster Bank, my father before me too and when they moved out of the town I opened an account with Bank of Ireland. But the next thing was they went and we were left high and dry,” he said.
Sheridan brushes aside suggestions the closure of both of Granard’s former lenders and the closure of Ulster Bank’s remaining 63 branches nationwide on Friday were indicative of a move towards a more cashless and digital form of modern day banking.
Instead, he suggests the move has compromised previously steady footfall levels.
“That’s nonsense, people still use cash and people still use cheques,” he says. “Fair enough, there are people using cards, but not everyone does. It’s hard to judge [footfall] that but at the end of the day if people have to go into Longford to do banking they are gone from the town and they are likely to do their shopping in there.
“It’s very hard to say what we are losing but we are hanging in there. But it is certainly a major disadvantage not having a bank in the town.”
They were sentiments local councillor PJ Reilly endorsed. The long-serving Fianna Fáil politician has been an ardent critic of both banks in their decisions to withdraw from the town, leading him to recently table a notice of motion at local political level to try to entice Permanent TSB to the area.
“There are two ATMs in the town to serve the whole population of the town and country areas, and most weekends on a Saturday they are not in service,” he says.
“It means that people have to travel 26km to the larger towns to use banking services and, due to the ageing population in country areas, who do not use online banking, the facilities are very unfair.
“There are household and big businesses located here, such as Pat the Baker, Kiernan Milling and Mannok. When you add in the general traders, pubs and two large supermarkets, none of them are provided with day-to-day banking facilities.”
For others, the removal of both mainstream lending institutions has attracted a more upbeat appraisal. Local postmaster and An Post board member Pádraig McNamara says that although some may view the dearth of heavyweight financial hitters such as Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland negatively, he has embraced their absence with gusto.
“Businesses would see it when banks pull out of any town: that it had lost its status to a degree,” he says. “But I don’t agree with that because as time moves on and things evolve and changes are coming for all of us. We are doing the business that the banks had been providing and it is keeping the post office going.”
McNamara says he has seen a 25 per cent upturn in his own business.
He says those figures, and having a multimillion euro tourism project in the Knights and Conquests Heritage Centre, were indicative of an urban centre holding its own economically.
“Granard has an unbelievable amount of things going for it,” he says, referencing this weekend’s three-day Booktown Festival.
“I was at a national [Irish Postmasters’ Union] meeting last week and they couldn’t believe how we did it. We are a fantastic town and we are always punching above our weight.
“It’s hard work, but we are getting there.”