Heritage centre is a ‘golden opportunity’

 IT will be ‘unforgivable’ if the historic Milltown House, located at the old Strabane Academy site, is not saved for generations to come by transforming it into a heritage/visitors’ centre.
Strabane History Society raised the matter at a committee meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council recently when they called for councillors to support their idea to transform the site into a heritage/visitors’ centre.
Addressing the councillors Pat McGuigan explained, “We propose to transform Milltown House and part of the site into a heritage centre to allow the story of the Strabane area to be told. We require guidance on how to achieve this in a viable and successful way and that’s why we require council’s input.
“We understand we will require funding and goodwill from many sources, but we feel confident that a heritage/visitors’ centre is very much not only needed but is welcome in Strabane. The important thing about it is that we feel the story of Strabane has not been told by anyone and this will be the start of it. Every town, every village, every city has a story to tell so this is the beginning of our story here.
“We have a great history and we have lost quite a number of iconic buildings, whenever we heard rumours to the effect Milltown was being vandalised and was maybe going to be knocked down this petrified us and spurred us in to doing what we’re doing now.”
Gordon Smith, fellow historian added, “I believe this is our last chance to save one of our historic buildings in the town. It was the home of renowned hymn writer Cecil Francis Alexander. She was 15-years-old when she came to Strabane and she would spend the next 17 years doing her writing and charitable work here and she deserves to be recognised.
“Strabane needs a bit of pride and a heritage centre would go a long way to achieving this. Next time in your own place of worship when you hear one of her hymns being sung (All Things Bright and Beautiful, There is a Green Hill Far Away, or Once in Royal David’s City) you should turn to your neighbours and say ‘do you know that song was written in Milltown House in Strabane and I helped to save it’.”
The proposal received support from the Sperrin councillors present in the chamber.
Michaela Boyle said this was a very ambitious project and she was glad it had come to the council’s attention at this time as the Education Minister had indicated he wanted to retain the site for educational purposes.
She asked the members of the History Society, “It’s a big ask of council and a big undertaking. What other contact have you made –  for example with the Heritage Lottery Fund, or are we the first?”  Mr McGuigan said the council was the first port of call.
Independent councillor Raymond Barr said, “This is a golden opportunity for council to create a sustainable cross-community, cross-border project which will benefit all sections of the community and at last give the area an attraction which can be showcased all over the island to attract visitors to the district.  It would be unforgivable if this opportunity was missed by the council to create this”.
The SDLP’s Jason Barr added, “It should not be tumbled especially for housing. I welcome and support this proposal to show visitors the rich history Strabane has to offer. I also believe it should be used as a multi-purpose venue, it’s a great location for a youth facility, and has land to create a park and outdoor walking area.”
Following discussion council has agreed to engage with the Strabane History Society and other interested parties to see how the project could be progressed.

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