Belfast Telegraph

The only gay bar in the village: Northern Ireland pub subject of Channel 4 documentary

Strabane's renowned gay bar - The Central - is to feature in a short documentary for Channel 4.

The bar opened as a gay establishment in April 2008.

And - as the documentary explores - the watering hole has become more of a regular hunt for the locals of Strabane, rather than solely for the Co Tyrone town's gay population, or what there is of it.

Featured is bar owner and father-of-four James McCarron who talks of his experiences running what was thought to be Ireland's first gay bar outside a major town over the past eight years.

Stephen, a resident of Strabane, also talks of his time in the town and the abuse he has suffered for being a gay man.

Another - Matthew - talks of the lack of a gay scene in Strabane before his move to Dublin and on how he took part in Mr Gay Ireland as a Tyrone representative. The only entrant from the county.

Regulars also talk of how the bar is "full of straight people" and how it would "struggle" without them.

"We need the straights unfortunately," says one regular.

While some of the heterosexual customers talk of how they've found love in the bar.

The eight minute piece has been produced and directed by London-based journalist Vik Patel.

"It's a documentary about contradictions," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"James opened a gay bar in a place where it shouldn't have worked - and eight years later it has."

"Ok there are probably more straight people that go to it than gay, but James has made it work by creating a welcoming and safe place for gay people, but also somewhere that is fun - there is a lot of dancing on the furniture.

"It's not a revolutionary place, but it helps improve the visibility of the LGBT community.

"And although a lot of gay people think of the place a safe haven, there are those who don't like that straight people go to it - there are plenty of contradictions.

"They did attempt a 'gay only' night earlier this year but they couldn't get enough people to come and kept having to turn straight customers away, so they abandoned it. Just another layer in the contradictory but still inclusive nature of that gay bar.

"There certainly is nothing like it."

Vik found Strabane presented challenges in making his documentary.

He added: "Finding gay people to talk openly in a small town was tough.

"I've always been fascinated on how gay people in small towns find love. Compared the likes of a big cosmopolitan city, they get it tough.

"People may think James has done well to make a gay bar work - but also the question has to be asked why wouldn't it work in 2016.

"For me, I just wanted to show the contradictions and the inclusiveness of the bar and I think it goes someway to undermining people's perceptions.

"Strabane is a place with scares from the past, it's had it pretty rough. There are bomb scares and graffiti saying 'join the IRA' and yet in that political environment, here is a bar that shows progress is possible."

The documentary, produced by Vik Patel, Nicola Morgan and Anna Leach will be available on Channel 4's ondemand service All 4.

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