Northern Ireland

Weekly newspapers: Palace to prison and a partying PM

Ulster Gazette Image copyright Ulster Gazette
Newry Reporter Image copyright Newry Reporter
Ulster Star Image copyright Ulster Star
Londonderry Sentinel Image copyright Londonderry Sentinel
Tyrone Constitution front page Image copyright Tyrone Constitution

Speculation that council staff could be taken out of their palace and put in a prison is the inside story in County Armagh this week.

The Ulster Gazette reports the move in its update on the £25m redevelopment of Armagh Gaol, an imposing Georgian building which dates back to 1780s.

In a plan unveiled almost a decade ago, it is to be transformed into a boutique hotel, retail units and housing.

But the paper understands there is a £2m shortfall.

It reports that there's a back-up plan, should the project remain in limbo.

One of the alternatives is to relocate council offices from the Archbishop's Palace to the former prison, freeing up the palace for other purposes.

Image copyright © Eric Jones/CC Geograph
Image caption Armagh Gaol was once the main women's prison in Northern Ireland but it closed in 1986

The Ulster Gazette's front page is dedicated to schoolboy John Joe Toner, who died from a suspected heart condition.

The 11-year-old died five days after collapsing in school and the paper said the village of Clady "came to a standstill for one of its darkest days".

The chapel was "packed to overflowing" and mourners heard his death was a "terrible tragedy for the whole community".

'Kicking themselves'

The border is the main concern for the Fermanagh Herald. It says officials in the Republic of Ireland are already identifying sites along the county's border to locate post-Brexit checkpoints.

The paper says while the checkpoints will initially involve stops on commercial vehicles on main roads, the suggestion of cameras being placed "on the dozens of country roads criss-crossing the border" is causing local concern.

But all the talk of the town has been that fiver - the one engraved with the tiny Jane Austen picture and worth an estimated £50,000.

Four new plastic notes were engraved by artist Graham Short and spent in each of the home countries last year. And it turns out the artist had spent one of them in Charlie's Bar in Enniskillen.

Image copyright Ferguson Media
Image caption The five-pound notes feature a tiny, engraved portrait of Jane Austen

It was found by a County Donegal woman who returned it to the Scottish gallery it came from, saying she wanted any money raised from its sale to be used to help young people.

Charlie's owner Gerry Burns said there had been "some craic in the bar" since the news got out.

The Herald says many locals are "kicking themselves" for not examining their cash more thoroughly.

In case you wondered, Mr Short bought a pint of Guinness in the bar.

'Trains on track'

The Newry Reporter carries an exclusive on its front page - train services to and from Newry rail station will increase from this summer.

It says additional early morning and late night services to and from Belfast are to be introduced on weekdays, with extra trains also planned for Saturdays.

Elsewhere in the city, Newry Leisure Centre was forced to close its doors three times in the space of just 10 days, the paper reveals.

It lists the reasons as a hydraulic acid spill in the plant room, a burst water pipe, and a more human error - nobody who had a key was available to open the centre.

With a week to go, there are eight pages of election coverage in the Reporter, including in-depth interviews with many of the party leaders.

'Daily menace'

In County Antrim, the Ulster Star leads with concerns over scrambler safety following the death of a man in a crash at Sprucefield.

Lisburn man Ryan Phillips died after a collision involving two off-road motorbikes last weekend.

The paper reports that Lisburn and Castlereagh Council is currently in talks to create a "properly regulated off-road motorsports facility" to prevent a repeat of the accident.

Staying in Lisburn, residents in the Ballymacash area of the city have been kicking up a bit of a stink in a long-running dispute with NI Water.

A "foul sewage odour" has led to repeated complaints, with one resident telling the company: "You've investigated several times over the years and never resolved this daily menace. The residents are sick of it."

NI Water assures the paper that it takes the concerns seriously and is to "review the history of odour problems at Ballymacash Road".

'People power'

The Londonderry Sentinel leads with a group of residents who are fed up with the state of their "patchwork" road and are taking matters into their own hands.

A Strathfoyle "community empowerment" worker tells the paper his group are lobbying Transport NI to resurface Stradowen Drive, which has more than 30 "defects".

He says the campaign has secured support from 100% of all 60 households on the street.

Inside the paper, there's a call for Derry's women to dust off their wedding dresses for a record-breaking third time.

In 2013, the city broke the world record for the biggest number of brides in the same place at the same time.

Image copyright Glenn McIntyre
Image caption A total of 748 brides took part in Derry's world record bid in 2013

Derry lost its tiara to the Chinese province of Guangdong last year, but the Sentinel says the city now wants the record back.

So the date's been set, the invitations have gone out, and "Brides Across the Bridge" will return to the banks of the Foyle on 29 April.

'Traumatised'

In Omagh, a violent assault on a couple as they walked home after a night in the town makes for grim reading in the Tyrone Constitution.

It reports that Dwayne Bratton and his fiancee were attacked by a gang of up to eight men on High Street last weekend.

Mr Bratton's sister tells the paper they are traumatised after the gang "repeatedly beat and kicked him until he was knocked unconscious".

On a happier note, the paper joins in the birthday celebrations of a 100-year-old girl guide who once partied with Winston Churchill.

Image copyright Tyrone Constitution
Image caption Doreen Russell, 100-years-young this week, reveals her secret for a long and happy life

Doreen Russell, who was born in Strabane on 21 February 1917, still enjoys a list of hobbies and clubs that could tire out 20 of today's twenty-somethings.

Having worked in England during World War Two, she casually name-drops this bombshell: "I was fire watching at night and I met Winston Churchill, because I was invited to a party and he was there."

The sprightly centenarian, who could give most Millennials a run for their money, still fundraises for the Girl Guides and tells the paper that her secret to long life is working hard.

"Always keep going with the young people, keep busy and don't ask yourself if you can do something, just do it."