New Chamber President Cáitlín McConn on the challenges and opportunities facing our county town and environs…
Cáitlín McConn, the new President of Roscommon Chamber of Commerce, has said that the entire community must stand up and promote ‘Brand Roscommon’ in order for the town to reach its full potential.
Cáitlín has been running JJ Harlow’s with business partner Brian Mugan since August 2010 and said the support of the business community has been a major factor in the bar’s success.
“I’m speaking as a person whose family are from Roscommon and who go back generations on my dad’s side in Athleague. I found it an amazing town to come back to and to set up a business in because the support was phenomenal.
“I would hope that someone moving to Roscommon but not from the county would get the same reception”.
The new Chamber President said that there have been both practical and unexpected benefits to returning home.
“Not having commutes to and from work would be a major thing, it takes me ten minutes to get to work and if I’m stuck five minutes in traffic on Circular Road it seems like heavy traffic!
“I learned a lot about my family history having returned too. A history I would not have known at all. My grandfather, Charlie McConn, was one of the men involved in setting up Roscommon Mart. I knew he was a farmer but I didn’t know there was an entrepreneur in him too. There were six of them involved in setting up the mart originally and he was one of those.
“He would have adored it if he was alive now and I was running JJ Harlow’s. I was only about 18 when he passed away so I never knew him as an adult and I really wish I did. From what I heard from his peers he was a real character,” she said.
Cáitlín admits that while young people can be lured away by big city life, opportunities and happiness can be discovered right here at home.
“I always thought I wanted to move away, as most students do – move away to the big city and the bright lights and run a business. I didn’t really think I’d come back to Roscommon.
“As you get older you appreciate different things like enjoying your job and having somewhere safe to live and having a nice community. I think Roscommon is brilliant for that, we have everything and we’re still so close to the likes of Galway and Dublin and Knock Airport. I just find it a great town and I see that most of my friends have moved back here once they’ve started settling down. Roscommon is a great town to raise your children in and a great town to work in”.
She admits that work needs to be done to enable the town to reach its untapped potential however and she believes tourism is a good place to start.
“I think Roscommon needs a bit of a confidence boost. I’ve seen tourists coming to Roscommon, whether it’s to trace their family’s heritage or just to stay in a central location and avoid the big cities.
“We’ve got amazing heritage sites in Roscommon like the castle and the Abbey and the old jail here in town and Rathcroghan, Mote Park and St. John’s Wood further out. I’d like to see them marketed a bit better even in terms of signage when you get off the motorway”.
As for business in the town, Cáitlín said that while lowering rates would attract new businesses and make life easier for existing ones, there was a good buzz on Main Street.
“Of course I’d like to see more business coming to the town. It would be nice to get a big company that would employ two or three hundred people, of course, but smaller businesses make a big difference too.
“On the plus side, there’s a good buzz around Roscommon and as rural towns go, the Main Street is doing quite well.
“I think people are coming to Roscommon town from neighbouring counties due to the fact that shopping in the town is so convenient. The free parking is huge and it’s up to businesses in town to keep on-street parking freed up. If parking is freed up it could mean ten or fifteen or twenty customers because it becomes far more convenient for people driving through town,” she said.
As for the Roscommon Chamber, the new President would like it to be a forum for all business people in and around Roscommon town and a source of support for the wider community.
“There are over 200 businesses here in town and I want it to be a forum for all those businesses. I would really like to see all businesses getting involved. Membership is really low, it’s only €100 a year and it’s for businesses to have their say. I want the business community to be really strong and to get together and to be a resource for each other.
“I want younger business people to get involved too. It’s for everyone, not just the businesses you see on Main Street, but for people running businesses from home or people providing services in Roscommon”.
She added that involvement was key and that those offering their time would be accommodated.
“If people show up for meetings they won’t be given jobs or put on committees. I’d like them to get involved with ideas or events that interest them and to sit on sub-committees and drive those ideas.
“I heard it from people in Westport when they were trying to push their brand that businesses came together to promote ‘Brand Westport’. That’s what we need to do here; we need to push ‘Brand Roscommon’”.
Cáitlín was quick to praise groups such as the Town Team, LEO, LEADER and Roscommon County Council for their continued hard work in supporting business in the town.
“LEO, for example, are working really hard with new businesses and young entrepreneurs and it’s fantastic. It’s something I love being a part of and I would love to get into the schools. The hope would be that when young people leave for college that they’ll see Roscommon as an entrepreneurial town and that they’d love to come back”.
Annual events such as the Roscommon Lamb Festival, Easter Parade and Christmas are a boost to the local economy and Cáitlín believes there’s room for even more.
“I think the Samhain festival for me is something that’s always had a natural fit for Roscommon because of the connection with Rathcroghan and they think it’s where Halloween started so I feel it’s natural that Roscommon would have a Halloween festival”.
So, the President of the Chamber believes the potential is there to push ‘Brand Roscommon’. The new Chamber also offers evidence that Rossies are returning to their roots and this can only be a good thing for the future of the town.
“I moved back here to set up my business, Brendan Allen (Vice-President) moved back here to set up his business, Cáit Gleeson is involved in her family’s business, Michelle Fallon who’s the PRO has also moved back here to set up her business.
“These people are investing in their children’s and grandchildren’s futures and they see that we are competing with every other town in the country and we need to promote ourselves, to stand proud as a group and fight for improvements together”.