By Carla Speer
BALLYCASTLE SDLP councillor Donal Cunningham has called for swifter action on the sale of the Marine Hotel in the town.
Councillor Cunningham was speaking after he said it was discovered that the hotel is not to feature in the distressed property auction in September as had been previously reported.
He said: “Even if the sale were to have been in September, the Marine Hotel would have been closed for over nine months at that stage and Ballycastle without any hotel provider for the summer.”
He called on the administrators to work without delay to bring the property to a position of sale.
“Ballycastle has a lot to offer visitors with its wealth of history, the natural beauty in and around the town as well the Glens, Rathlin and the Causeway. As a seaside town, Ballycastle has excellent bed and breakfast establishments but now lacks quality hotel accommodation.
“The local economy needs people to stay over in the town, to shop in our local shops, eat in our restaurants and to drink in our pubs and clubs.
“There is a market for increased stay-over provision within the town for both visitors and business people.
“Our community needs action to be taken to develop this hotel as earlier as possible,” said the councillor.
The Marine Hotel, for years has attracted many people both young and old alike to the area.
The establishment was closed last Christmas and then went into receivership.
The Chairperson of Moyle District Council, Cllr Padraig McShane (Independent), said the absence of the hotel is a great loss as far as tourism is concerned.
However, Mr. McShane describes the closure as a new opportunity for a new development to the area.
He added: “As anchor tenant as far as tourism in Ballycastle, this is a real opportunity for someone to take it over and build upon it.”
Cllr McShane says the location of the Marine was fantastic, but it provided so much more. “It could cater for around 350 people for events such as weddings, GAA functions, parties and fundraisers - there are no facilities in Ballycastle now to cater for that.”
This proves difficult for the economy in the area.
The loss of the Marine Hotel certainly has, and will have a major effect on the economy to the seaside town. Paul Cochrane from
Ballycastle Chamber of Commerce said.
“As a tourism town, your hotel is your flagship, both business and socially wise. I think because of the poor economy, it is not good for any business.”
He says there has been “some great potential of the hotel, there has been some great work done by the Chamber of Commerce and the council to look fantastic. We have created the window-box project. There has been a lot done in the background to preserve the seafront location of the hotel. When the Marine is sold, it will be a final piece in the jigsaw.”
Mr Cochrane hopes that someone will have a vision to go forward. “The position on the seafront area is perfect, it is one of the nicest positions in the country, all it will take is someone from the hotel industry to take it and he will most definately get the full support both business and community wise.”
On a social level, Paul says it is a massive loss to GAA and football clubs, the Chamber, local groups and those wishing to hold parties and weddings there. However, he says there is great potential there for business, all it needs is someone with money to invest, as the assests are there.
Eammon O’Hartghaile, former manager of the leisure facilities at the Marine, spoke to the Times about his thoughts on the closure.
Mr. O’Hartghaile worked at the leisure centre for 16 and a half years. He describes the closure having both a negative and positive side to him. “The negative side is that I no longer have a steady income, the positive side is I have opened a new gym called Funk Fit gym and I am loving it.”
However, one thing that Eammon says that is a major loss to him are the people who he worked with.
He told the Times that the people he worked with on a daily basis are “falling apart.”
“We worked with the seniors to keep them mobile in the water, they are now going down hill. From a general community point of view, it was so different from any other place that I have worked in.”
Eammon has worked in Belfast, London and L.A. and he said nothing compares to working at the Marine Hotel in Ballycastle. “If the seniors didn’t turn up for their daily lesson, we would ring them to see if everything was ok, where else in the world would this happen?”
Pauline Speer, visited the Marine Hotel religiously every Sunday when the weather was good.
Pauline vividly recalls many fond memories she had at the Marine.
“Every Sunday, I would go for a summer stroll along the seafront, and in the evening we would have a nice cup of tea and watch passers-by out of the window. The Marine for me, was a great meeting spot, I shared stories with many people I met there.”
Mrs. Speer said the closure of the hotel is a major loss. “It was a great draw for holidaymakers or daytrippers to the area. It was ideally situated with spacious accommodation that could cater for a lot of people. It was the type of place that you could sit down and relax after trawling through the crowds during the Lammas Fair. Every year during the Lammas Fair, if you didn’t get to the Marine you felt that you were missing out.”
Local resident Roberta Brooks said the closure of the Marine Hotel has been a terrible loss.
Roberta used to work at the Primary School on the Quay Road before she retired. After school she went to the gym and used the leisure facilities.
When she retired she went to the swimming pool, where she did water aerobics, and used the sauna. Ms. Brooks says it was like a social occasion, everyone who attended the activities became like one big family.
“I cling to the hope that someone will get it open again. Everyone is devastated, and still missing it. It has caused a big gap in our daily lives, for us retired folk, it was a focus for us, And a big chunk of our week has gone.”