Welcome to Carrick-on-Shannon, the town that makes Magaluf seem civilised
Journalist Claire Gorman came away shocked after a visit to her home town, Ireland's capital for stag and hen parties
Published 26/07/2015 | 02:30
A weekend in Carrick-on-Shannon, otherwise known as the current hen and stag party capital of Ireland, used to be the ideal way to relax and unwind.
Having grown up on the town's main street, I've been a keen promoter of all things Leitrim and its capital. But the atmosphere in the town has changed.
Its population explodes each weekend when hundreds of penis-carrying, booze-guzzling hens and stags arrive to wreak havoc on the 5,000 residents. The lives of local residents are disrupted every Saturday night as the hordes of men and women take to the streets.
Ed Costello, who lives on the main street with his wife and two-month old son, refuses to go out onto the street on Saturday evenings. "Mam won't go to mass on a Saturday night anymore unless she's going away on a Sunday and she has to go. We wouldn't go out with John, the baby, on a Saturday at eight o'clock or I wouldn't go out even walking the dogs after seven because you couldn't do it," he said.
"They all think they're very funny, but they're all loaded with drink at that stage. We have to plan everything very carefully, particularly on a Saturday night. You don't want to be out.
"My wife always wants to be home by six. They're moving from pub to pub at that stage and they've been drinking all day.
"For older people it certainly feels very threatening, even if they don't mean to be threatening. You see herds of them coming down, and the women as well, huge numbers of them and they're all loaded very early on a Saturday evening."
Ed thought he was "mad" when he installed two inside windows at the front of his house with a price tag of €800, but the investment has proved to be priceless.
"We put in those inner windows five years ago and they take the high end off the noise. We would hear the bass most evenings still," he explained.
"It's the noise from the pubs and clubs that would affect us more than the people on the street. There's no interest in doing anything about that though. There's no way we could live here if we hadn't installed those windows."
The increased garda presence and workers on foot picking up litter at the weekends have improved the situation.
"We've had incidents on the steps of the house with puke on it. The rubble of the night before would be an issue, but the boys picking up the litter would take care of a lot of it," Ed said.
"It definitely is an issue if you get a lot of dry Saturday nights. If it's dry, you'll definitely have a build up of that [vomit and urine] and you'll need to get a bucket of water and sometimes some Jeyes Fluid.
"They're loud and they're obnoxious, but they're not really out to cause damage. The guards walking on the beat on a Saturday night has definitely improved it and that's made a significant difference to the town alright."
Having brought a friend from Limerick with me on a recent trip, we chose to join the gaggle of cackling hens and attempt to avoid the throngs of stumbling stags.
On her previous visit two years ago, we had a great night and even enjoyed the company of some of the better behaved stag parties - but this time it was a different experience.
As we arrived at the club, we witnessed a man falling face-first onto the pavement across the road from us.
Inside we discovered a sea of pink feathers, sailor outfits and check shirts which we battled to navigate through without being trampled on.
The bouncers do their best to cope with the rows and the over-indulgence in alcohol, but it's a job you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.
The real mayhem is outside on the streets which make Magaluf seem peaceful and civilised.
The men, who are presumably your average, decent blokes on a normal day, seem to turn into animals in mating season after the fall of darkness.
They also seem to lose all control over their bladders as they relieve themselves in the doorways of homes and businesses.
Inspector Ray Mulderrig says that urinating in public is a major issue in the town.
"One of our biggest problems is people urinating in people's doorways, business premises and everything else. We generally deal with that by way of fines on the spot which are paid," he explains.
"We hammer them with a fine of €125 for urinating in the street and we put them out like confetti at the minute. The reason people pay them is to avoid going to court and the embarrassment of it."
The gardai have increased their physical presence in order to control the hordes of hens and stags each weekend.
"What we see as key to keeping control in Carrick-on-Shannon is the actual physical presence of guards on foot and that's what we try and maintain every weekend throughout the year.
"That change came about two-and-a-half years ago when John Furlong, the superintendent, saw the mayhem that was there and he insisted on having people on foot," he recalled.
Inspector Mulderrig added: "The thing with hens and stags is that 95pc of them come and have a great time and don't annoy or bother anybody. Like everything else, it's the five or six per cent that come, get locked out of their heads, one or two irresponsible premises who supply them with drink when they have too much already or premises that generate too much noise, much to the annoyance of locals.
"Our job is to balance all that, bearing in mind the people who suffer the most are the locals who live there all the time and that's what we have to be and are conscious of."
Martin Barnes, who drives a taxi in the area, agrees that it's a small number of hens and stags that cause issues.
Martin and his wife Ruth ran a bed and breakfast outside the town but have moved into childcare after growing fed up of the hassle involved with hens and stags.
"We basically decided that, although lucrative, it was just too much for a bed and breakfast to handle," Martin explained.
"It's more a self-catering thing because there'll always be damage and messing which makes it very difficult then for continuing bookings.
"Like if you've a stag for a Friday night and a Saturday night, it's very difficult to take bookings then for say three or four couples for a wedding on a Sunday because you just don't know what state the rooms are going to be in or whether you'll actually physically be able to take them.
"You can't put people into rooms that are damaged and you don't have time to get even showerheads or door handles, lampshades or anything like that repaired or replaced in time."
Martin and Ruth, who have three children, had to decide whether to cater for hen and stags solely or move into childcare, which Ruth is qualified in.
"For us it was a case of taking stags or nothing else and only taking them at the weekend.
"You could take them, but you'd have to wait until they've gone to see was everything okay," Martin explained.
"In general, 95pc of the time, everything would be fine. It was just the chance and you'd be on tenterhooks and eggshells the whole time.
"They weren't doing any great damage, but it was damage that could give you a bad reputation as a bed and breakfast like stains on the wall or even a hole in the wall or tap heads taken off."
Martin pointed out that, although they can cause trouble, hens and stags have kept Carrick-on-Shannon afloat.
"The hens and stags are the only thing though that's keeping Carrick going. They don't really use the taxis as they're staying in town. That's the good part of it.
"The downside of it is obviously the noise and the damage they can do. Overall they've been very good for the town," he added.
Councillor Finola Armstrong-McGuire, who has a drapery shop in the town, said that the town would not survive without the industry.
"It's a business that is lucrative and is keeping a lot of jobs in town and there's a lot of bars and restaurants in town that cannot survive without it. The town would be on its knees without it," she said.
However, she has called for there to be a cap placed on the number of premises in the town centre providing weekend accommodation so the town is busy during the week.
"What I'd be looking for is a cap on the number of beds or premises in the main town being given over to accommodation. My fear is that the people won't be on the streets six days a week because we've too many accommodation outlets," she explained.
"You've got to think wider than one business. Tourism is our market and that's definitely a six-day week business."
Carrick-on-Shannon has remained a vibrant town, despite the loss of hundreds of jobs at large employers such as MBNA and Masonite in recent years.
Several small businesses have opened to cater for the hen and stag industry while others have managed to survive with the industry's help.
President of Carrick-on-Shannon's Chamber of Commerce Gerry Faughnan told how Carrick kept going after the economic crash.
"That industry has kept an awful lot of businesses going here. There's a lot of stuff to do here with small businesses catering to it.
"You don't have that in towns that are dying on their feet. You could drive for miles and you won't find a town as vibrant. Unfortunately a lot of towns were left dying on their feet when the Celtic Tiger waddled off.
"It's also providing employment for the young people. You'd see a lot of the college kids out working. Where else are they going to get weekend or summer jobs?"
Gerry, who runs Carrick Holiday Homes, said it's impossible to quantify how much the industry is worth to the area.
"There must be hundreds of them coming every weekend but it wouldn't be just hens and stags coming so it's too hard to tell.
"You'd have a lot coming for family occasions, weddings, birthday parties," he explained.
"The thing about the hens and stags is that they spend an awful lot of money on accommodation, on meals and shopping, I know that for a fact.
"You'll also get the return visits from people who liked it and will come back with their boyfriend or girlfriend.
"Carrick is marketed as a tourism destination, it's not just hens and stags."