Jim White - Person of the Year
With his properties in the background, Jim White accepts the beautiful Waterford Glass eagle from Margaret Gallagher
Our Donegal Times Person of the Year 2001 is Jim White who obtained the majority of votes from our readers. The reasons given for nomination ranged from the amount of off-season visitors Jim buses into town to the major investment he has made in the area.
On being informed of his winning Jim said I am honoured and humbled to receive this award and would like to thank the people who voted for me and especially the Donegal Times. I was very happy to do a deal for the two hotels, first the Abbey and then the Central. As a group we feel honoured to have these two hotels and it is a pleasure to bring people from Europe and Britain to Donegal Town. My son was up from Clare the other day and said the Donegal people are the Salt of the Earth, and I agree.
James White first commenced business in Donegal Town when he purchased Collins shop from Willie Collins. He is a trained supermarket manager, having served his time in London with Allied Suppliers (Liptons) and spent his 21st birthday there, living in Earls Court. He came home to take over his fathers grocery shop on The Mall, Ballyshannon and then expanded the wholesale business all over Co. Donegal.
On one of his sales trips he called into Willie Collins (now Marys) trying to sell him groceries. Mr. Collins told him I am not buying anything as I am putting my business up for sale On the spur of the moment James White asked how much and Mr. Collins reply was £6,000
This conversation took place on Monday and they arranged a meeting for the following Friday with the late Jack Sweeney. Jim left the shop and went next door to the A.I.B. Bank where and he told the manager he needed a loan of £10,000 - £6,000 to buy the shop and £4,000 to stock it. On the Friday this loan was agreed and the deal completed. Collins Shop became Foodland Supermarket with two directors, namely James White and Joe ORourke.
When James White entered the Dail in 1974 he gradually withdrew from this business and Joe ORourke bought over his shareholding in Foodland Supermarket.
Whites & Associated Hotels is the sales and marketing office based at Danby, Ballyshannon, which employs ten staff and this office controls the sales team. They have three people selling from their German office based in Frankfurt and two sales managers in England. They also have two sales people in Ireland. Most of the 1000 groups that arrive to Whites Hotels in Ireland are organised through this Central Office where their entire itineraries are put together - including ferries, flights, visitors centres, hotels, coaches.
Whites & Associated Hotels market thirty hotels all over Ireland, including one in Belfast - twelve hotels are owned by the Group while the rest pay an annual marketing fee and in return groups are then sent to their hotels through two companies, Irish and English Tours and the White Hotel Group.
In 1998 the Jim White Consortium purchased the Abbey Hotel in Donegal and two years later followed up by acquiring the Central. With these purchases and the amount since invested in developing the properties, it is estimated that the White Group has pumped at least ¤20 million into Donegal Town.
Among others who received nominations for this award were Collie McCrea for his charity work; Bridie McCauley for contributions towards the promotion of social, emotional and personal development of young people in the area; Sean Dunnion Jnr. for his outstanding work in promoting Four Masters, including charity lotto, website, programmes and decorating the town for Co. finals; Mary Gallagher, Tullynagrena, for her love and care for handicapped children whom she looks after in her home to allow their parents take a well deserved rest; Paul OSullivan for his voluntary work in the Mountcharles community; Tony McDermott for his confidence in the town shown by his investment in the Mill Park Hotel; Mary Coughlan for her elevation to the ministry.
Donegal Times congratulates Jim White on his well deserved award and to each and every one who was nominated - you are a credit to your community.
Let us leave division behind and all move forward in 2002
The first days of 2002 - a year that promises to be an exciting one for Donegal Town and environs. Hopefully this is the year that will see work begin on our new sewage and water scheme - with an election due in May, wait for the announcement. Also the year in which a beginning should be made on a roundabout to replace the Tullyearl junction - but dont hold your breath on that one. And an advertisement that appeared in the national papers in mid-December seeking tenders from contractors to build the new fire-station at Drimlonagher seems to herald the start of the Christopher Bennett development there. This, combined with the Keeney project at Revlin which should also commence in 2002, could signal a new beginning for the whole region, with Donegal Town becoming the shopping and commercial focal point for the population of South Donegal and beyond. But to prevent these developments which straddle the by-pass prospering to the detriment of the town centre will require the traders in there getting their act together. Quite simply, to avoid people just travelling to the outskirts of town to shop and socialise, the town proper must project itself as an attractive alternative - a customer friendly entity in its own right capable of drawing the punters in.
The biggest impediment to this is still the lack of parking. Until more space is made available for cars and buses, Donegal Town has a major problem. On any moderately busy day it is impossible to find anywhere to pull-in, a situation in which you can imagine the magnetic attraction of peripheral developments where parking is not a difficulty. It is still not too late for traders on the North Diamond and Main Street to come together and allow unused lands behind their premises come into play for the good of the town.
The other big lack in town is any form of bad weather facilities for visitors. Towns around us are vigorously developing these type of amenities while we sit back complacently. Take Bundoran - as well as having Waterworld, bowling alley, adventure centre and cinema, it is now working towards a big amusement park just outside town. Donegal is not even at a preliminary phase of planning for any such developments. The whole Bosco Centre, old railway station, CIE garage and running track area are lying under-utilised - yet the one plan drawn up to re-vitalise this wasted space is gathering dust. Successive Bosco committees in particular stand indicted - they have, for more than 20 years, been sitting on a massive asset that in any progressive town would by now be pulsing with life and activity - instead it is lying practically in decay. A master plan is needed for this area, a plan that should also incorporate privately owned assets such as Jim Donaghers old gas-works buildings and the Cleary School. This is a massive area in the centre of town - an area that needs a developer of vision to put together a plan that will bring the best out of this valuable site - then a mix of private and public investment to make it happen. Indeed a scheme such as Treasury Holdings have produced for the centre of Sligo would be the ideal.
The other area in town that should be developed for recreational purposes is the at present privately owned land behind the Castle. This should be acquired for developing as a small town park - its situation beside the river makes it the ideal site. Also it should be possible to link this development with the old Abbey by a promenade along the Eske and under the bridge.
But who is going to supervise and co-ordinate all this development? Last month Donegal Times happily threw its weight behind an appeal by the Community Chamber for all businesses in town to contribute towards a town manager on the premise that within days collectors would be on the streets to get the necessary paperwork signed. Has this happened? Certainly with the amount of full-time effort that is required to get this town back to mainstream success, a professional executive approach is the only answer. If the Community Chamber fail to progress this initiative immediately, the town will continued to bask in mediocrity, while out-of-town developments and other more go-ahead communities will pick up the slack and provide the facilities we lack.
The year 2002 is just getting going - let our community leaders do likewise.
The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland
Tel: +353-73-22860 Fax: +353-73-22937