Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

The Co Antrim town where nothing's as it seems

...but 'fake shops' project brightens up Bushmills, claims council

Fake Bushmills shop fronts include a barber shop
Fake Bushmills shop fronts include a barber shop

IT'S shopping in a bygone era – when an old-fashioned grocer's shop sold spirits and your shoes were fixed by a cobbler.

Or is it?

It used to be that the only stickers associated with Bushmills were the price labels on bottles of its world-famous fine Irish whiskey.

But in recent times the quiet village, famously perched on the Causeway Coast, has been spruced up with stickers, photographs and artwork similar to those that caused such a furore during the G8 summit in Enniskillen.

In an effort to fight the economic downturn and boost tourism, the Brighter Bushmills Project was set up last year to brighten up derelict shops and houses in the area, which is a gateway to the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland's only Unesco World Heritage Site.

The idea of giving the impression that business is booming here made headline news when a similar initiative was trialled ahead of a meeting of G8 leaders at the Lough Erne resort in June.

Stickers and artwork were applied to windows in areas near the luxury golf resort, to take a bad look of derelict building, but some felt the bizarre cosmetic enhancements made us a laughing stock in the eyes of international onlookers. It led to one US journalist branding Enniskillen a "fake town".

But the same striking transformation has been used to great affect in other towns across Northern Ireland, with the latest being Bushmills.

Around a dozen vacant units in the have been transformed into fake businesses, including an old-style cobblers, a bakery, a barber shop and bookmaker's.

If you believed your eyes, you'd have to shoo a goose out of the way to pop into the grocer's.

Windows and doors have been painted on to empty houses, and there's even some people and farmyard animals thrown into the mix.

If farmyard animals were spotted coming out of shop doors in the real world, it wouldn't be long before health and safety officials would scramble to launch an investigation. But as the animals that have popped up in Bushmills are not the real deal, there is no such worry.

Aidan McPeake, director of environmental services for Moyle District Council, said two of the shops brightened up with art are no longer vacant.

"Being a tourist village, there was quite a lot of emphasis put on trying to bring about an uplift and see could it be the catalyst for further economic development in the town," he said.

"That seems to be the case now, the village has been very popular this year. It's been very successful.

"Obviously locals would much rather see the properties filled and in use all the time but this is definitely the next best option."

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