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Ireland’s most enterprising town introduces its own local gift card – The Carndonagh Gift Card

The Irish town named as Ireland’s most enterprising in the 2020 Bank of Ireland Begin Together Awards has introduced its own local gift card. The Carndonagh Gift Card is the latest initiative from the Carndonagh Traders’ Association, which was set up in 2018 to promote the town and support the town’s businesses.

Carndonagh’s plans for a gift card programme were integral to their Bank of Ireland application, as a way to support economic growth, protect jobs, encourage people to shop locally, and position the town as a tourist destination. 

The Carndonagh Gift Card can be spent with over 40 businesses in Carndonagh, including shops, restaurants, pubs, cafés, hotels, services and leisure, and will be available to buy from the Visit Carndonagh Tourist Information Centre and online.

The new gift card is part of the award winning Town and City Gift Cards scheme from fintech Miconex, joining Ballinrobe and Drogheda who introduced their local gift card schemes in November 2020. There are Town and City Gift Card schemes across Northern Ireland in Antrim, Ennsikillen, Belfast, Strabane and the Causeway Coast and Glens. 

Carndonagh were also regional winners in the Bank of Ireland Enterprise Town Awards in 2019, thanks to the efforts of the Carndonagh Traders Association to provide events and support for residents. The win enabled the town to develop its own tourist office. 

The market town, located in Inishowen in County Donegal has a population of 2500 and around 120 local businesses. Each year the town hosts the Inishowen Agricultural Show, Easter and Halloween parades, the Colgan Heritage Weekend and a summer live music event. There are over 50 active voluntary community groups in the town.

During lockdown, the town’s tourist office transformed into a support centre for the now closed businesses. From there The Carndonagh Traders’ Association also organised a Run for Heroes campaign. The campaign raised over €25,000 in as little as 10 days which was used to provide PPE for over 400 frontline staff working in local hospitals and care homes.

Secretary of the Carndonagh Traders Association and local business owner Davin Doherty said the new Carndonagh Gift Card will be a step up from the paper based gift voucher scheme the town operated previously:

“We used to have a paper gift voucher scheme but it was too difficult to manage and too admin heavy, so it didn’t work. The new Carndonagh Gift Card is a gift card that traders can swipe using their usual till point, it’s a vital part of our covid response plan for our businesses and they’re all for it. 

“At Christmas, we had large, local employers wanting to buy gift cards for Carndonagh and we had to say we didn’t have one. That was income that went to a different town. Employees too want a gift card that they can be spent locally.”

Carndonagh is also set to benefit from a multi-million euro regeneration project in association with Donegal County Council, the Carndonagh Traders’ Association and Spraoi agus Spórt. Davin believes that the new Carndonagh Gift Card will be key to keeping money locked into the town, and developing the town as a tourist destination:

“Carndonagh is the gateway to Ireland’s most northerly point, Malin Head, which attracts 200,000 visitors each year. At the moment, these tourists are driving through Carndonagh but it’s our mission to make the town a destination in itself. 

“2018 was the real start of our businesses working together. When the Irish Open was held at the Ballyliffin Golf Club, the business people of the town set up a marquee and had a 4 day festival with live music. It was so successful that the Carndonagh Traders’ Association formed off the back of it, and we ended up hosting a variety of community events, like the town’s New Year celebrations. In 2019, that attracted thousands of people to our small town.

“No matter what we do in Carndonagh, the community are 100% behind us. When we were up for the Bank of Ireland Enterprise Town Awards in 2019, the judges visited us at a packed community hall first thing in the morning. Our community were ready to show just what makes our town special. People are already ringing up and asking when they can get the gift card. I’ve no doubt that our community will get behind the Carndonagh Gift Card and make it a huge success.”

Many of the businesses in Carndonagh have passed through the generations, like Johnny Shiels Spinning Wheels, where these emblems of rural Ireland have been hand-crafted by the Shiels family for over 80 years, and cobbler The Heel Bar, established in 1956. 

Another business set to benefit from the new Carndonagh Gift Card is The Shoe and Sport Store, a retail shoe shop that has been in town since 1970. Owner Christy Doherty said the community are keen to get the new gift card up and running:

“The old paper voucher scheme was good at keeping money in the community but was so time consuming and expensive for us as businesses, and only really used by the older people in the town. We’re really positive about the new Carndonagh Gift Card. It’ll get the younger people on board and meet the demand in the town for a gift card that works well for everyone. If you’re not sure what to give for a birthday, Christmas or another event, this is the ideal solution.”

Other Town and City Gift Card programmes in Ireland enjoyed great success over the festive season with The Lakes Gift Card achieving €230,000 in sales in its first two months and the Drogheda Gift Card securing over €100,000 in gift card sales in its first weeks of operation. Over £1.9 million was spent across all 59 Town and City Gift Card programmes in the UK and Ireland in 2020. Managing director of Miconex Colin Munro believes the potential for gift card programmes in Ireland is considerable:

“The demand is undoubtedly there for local gift card programmes in Ireland. In the last two months of 2020, gift card sales in the Republic of Ireland were strong across the generations with Generation X, shoppers aged 35-54 leading the way, followed by Boomers (55 plus), Millennials (25-34) and Generation Z (16-24). With their new gift card, Carndonagh will convert the demand for local shopping into economy boosting revenue- creating an unbeatable consumer product.”