Omagh: A thriving town ready to face the challenges ahead
Twelve years ago the rural market town of Omagh was flashed up on television news bulletins across the world.
A 500lb Real IRA car bomb ripped the heart out of the Co Tyrone town, killing 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins.
In a moment Omagh became geographical shorthand for mass murder.
While the painful memories of August 15, 1998 still linger — the glass memorial that stands at the bottom of Market Street marks the spot where the bomb exploded — the town has slowly rebuilt itself.
It is now a thriving economic centre, situated along the A5 road, the main corridor connecting Londonderry to the south.
Millions of pounds of investment have been pumped into the town in recent years.
The regeneration of Omagh has been boosted by the £30m-plus that has been pumped into retail development — and it’s not finished yet.
The £350m Opportunity Omagh project — including a hotel, office space and cinema — will help further stamp the town on the economic map.
There are also plans in place to revamp the site of Lisanelly Army barracks — with a cross-community education village the preferred option for the 170-acre site.
And it is hoped Omagh will have achieved city status by 2025.
One of its landmark buildings is the multi-million pound Strule Arts Centre, which opened in 2007.
Last night it played host to the seventh of eight Tell Us About It roadshows, which are being held to mark this newspaper’s 140th anniversary.
Earlier in the day our reporters spoke to people around the town to find out the big local issues.
Some young people out around the town during their half-term break from school and college criticised the shortage of activities in the area.
Aideen Traynor, who was in Omagh with her friend Ciara Devine, said there were few shops for young people and suggested building a bowling alley in the town.
Others voiced fears over the economy — west Tyrone has one of the highest rates of unemployment and neighbouring Strabane once had the highest unemployment rate in the EU.
Barry Kelly, a taxi driver from the town, said the industry was becoming more competitive around Omagh because other unemployed people are turning to the trade.
The future of the Tyrone County Hospital — where acute services have been stripped — is another major concern for people in the community.
So too crime, with many people concerned about violent incidents in the town.
The rebuilding of Omagh continues, but the challenges still remain.