Belfast Telegraph

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

Unlikely success of Strabane gay bar celebrated in documentary - It shouldn’t have worked but somehow it does, says film-maker

By Jonny Bell

It was opened in a hail of publicity as the first gay bar outside a major town or city in all of Ireland - but eight years on The Central bar in Strabane has become a popular watering hole for people of all persuasions in the Co Tyrone town, as a Channel 4 documentary has found.

The short production The Only Gay Bar in the Village tells of the highs and lows and many contradictions of the pub.

Owner and father-of-four James McCarron talks of how he spotted a gap in the market for his establishment in 2008.

"When I opened a gay bar, I didn't see it as anything big," he tells the programme.

"It was a normal thing for me to do, but there was a lot of interest in the media on it.

"At the time, Strabane was said to be one of the top five worst places to live in the whole of the UK.

"I just thought there was a market for a gay bar in the town and that nobody was catering for demand, so I thought, 'Why not?"

The documentary features past and present residents of the town and regulars of the pub.

Local Stephen describes his time in the town and the abuse he previously suffered for being a gay man.

Another - Matthew - talks of the lack of a gay scene in the town and how he moved to Dublin, where he took part in the Mr Gay Ireland competition as the only entrant from Tyrone.

Regulars also tell how the bar is "full of straight people" and how it would struggle without them. "We need the straights, unfortunately," says regular Aileen.

The documentary also see heterosexual customers disclose how the have found love with the opposite sex in the bar.

The eight-minute short was directed by London-based producer Vik Patel, who told the Belfast Telegraph: "The film is about contradictions. James opened a gay bar in a place where it shouldn't have worked - a rural place with regular bomb scares and 'join the IRA' graffiti on the walls - and eight years later, it works."

"Okay, there are probably more straight people than gay people that go to the pub, but James has created a welcoming and safe place for gay people and also somewhere that is fun - there is a lot of dancing on furniture.

"But while some gay people think of it as a safe haven, there are also those who don't like that straight people go to it.

"They did attempt a gay-only night earlier this year, but they couldn't get enough people and had to turn straight customers away, so they abandoned it. (It was) just another layer in the contradictory but still inclusive nature of the gay bar.

"It's not a revolutionary place, but it helps improve the visibility of the LGBT community. There certainly is nothing like it."

Vik found that filming in Strabane presented its own unique challenges.

"Finding gay people to talk openly in a small town was tough," he explained.

"I've always been fascinated by how gay people in small towns find love. Compared the likes of people 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 in a place like Strabane.

"Those contradictions go some way to undermining people's perceptions, and they show that in a place like Strabane, this can work."

The short documentary, which was produced by Vik Patel, Nicola Morgan and Anna Leach, launches on Channel 4's on demand service, All 4, today.

To watch the documentary, visit

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