Strabane is a town traditionally in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, but since 2015 part of the "super-district" of Derry and Strabane. It's an economically depressed market town with a population in 2011 of 13,172. It stands on the east bank of the River Foyle, which forms the border with the Republic of Ireland. Over on the west bank, a 15 min walk across the bridge, is Lifford, a small village yet it's the county town of County Donegal. Its few amenities are also described here.
Strabane has been defined by its three rivers. The River Finn flows out of Donegal to the west, while the Mourne River flows down from Omagh to the south. At Strabane they combine into the River Foyle, which flows 14 miles north to reach the sea at Derry. Fed by the ample Ulster rain, they're fast-flowing and were harnessed for mills, to process flax into linen. But that made them difficult to ford, so at Strabane there was a ferry to Lifford on the west bank, and since 1730 a bridge. There's no other crossing of the Foyle until you reach Derry.
The area has good farmland and its Irish name is An Srath Bán, "the white strath, the grassy water-meadow". It attracted a series of settlers: Celts, Vikings, the O'Neill dynasty of Tyrone, the Plantation Scots. This meant that prehistoric and early Christian sites hereabouts have been lost to the plough, while surviving in wilder country elsewhere. Ulster was organised into counties after the Nine Years' War broke Gaelic resistance to the English, and the Finn and Foyle became the natural boundary between County Donegal on the west bank and County Tyrone on the east. County Londonderry began a few miles north at the tidal and navigation limit of the Foyle. Scottish settlers were already moving in before the war, but 1607 saw the flight of the defeated Earl of Tyrone into exile, and seizure of his estates. In 1608 rebels burned Derry, and London authority was determined to prevent further uprisings, so they began the systematic Plantation of Ulster with loyal Protestants. These became the majority population especially in the industrial east, but Strabane remained mostly Catholic.
In 1921 the prolonged Anglo-Irish conflict led to the partition of Ireland. County Donegal, though geographically in Ulster, was Catholic and joined Southern Ireland, which became an independent Republic. Tyrone and Londonderry were mostly Protestant and joined Northern Ireland, which remained within the United Kingdom. A boundary commission recommended transferring Strabane to the south (along with similar Catholic areas such as south Armagh) but it was politically sabotaged and its report was suppressed until 1969. An international border now separated Strabane and Lifford, blighting transport, trade and industry on both sides.
Strabane was therefore already a depressed place before the "Troubles" of the late 20th century, and economic grievances stoked sectarian tensions. The army and police arrived in force, and then themselves became frequent targets for bombs and shooting. The position of the border wasn't a major political issue, it was the legitimacy of that border and continued British rule in Northern Ireland, but it did not improve local opinion when the boundary commission report was leaked to learn that they might have been in the Republic all along. The town was extensively damaged, and employment and industry fled. And then the river flooded the town in 1987.
The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 led to de-escalation of violence and military presence, and the border on the Foyle river bridge became as insignificant as a parish boundary. Economic regeneration however was slow. The nearby city of Derry successfully re-launched itself as a place worthy of tourism and investment. Strabane grew as a commuter town for Derry but otherwise has struggled to benefit. In 2011 the counties of Northern Ireland were abolished as units of local government, and since 2015 the town has been part of the "super-district" of Derry and Strabane. In 2020 the big uncertainty is the effect of Brexit on the Irish border.
Tourist information is available at the Alley Theatre on Railway Street, see below.
Ulsterbus 273 runs from Belfast Europa bus station, hourly M-Sa and every two hours Sunday, via Lurgan, Dungannon and Omagh to Strabane (2 hr 30 min), continuing to Derry.
Goldline Bus X3 runs once or twice a day from Dublin Busáras and Airport via Monaghan and Omagh to Strabane (3 hr) and Derry. Or you could take the X4 from Dublin to Derry and change.
Derry is the nearest railway station, with trains every hour or two from Belfast. In addition to the inter-city buses, Ulsterbus 98 takes 30 min between Derry and Strabane M-Sa hourly in the morning and late afternoon but with long gaps midday.
1 Strabane bus station is south bank of the Mourne River on A5, a short walk from town centre. There's a Lidl, a fast food outlet and a B&B adjacent.
By road from Belfast follow M2 / A6 towards Derry and branch off onto B49 at Claudy.
Lifford is walking distance, and since 1998 there have been no border checks. It's up to you to ensure that you're eligible to cross between UK and Ireland, that you carry any relevant documents with you, and that your car insurance / rental agreement is valid for both countries.
Buses towards Omagh will take you to Sion Mills. You need your own wheels for other out-of-town sites.
National Cycleway 95 runs mostly on-road from Armagh to Dungannon, Cookstown and Strabane. Route 92 runs from Enniskillen to Omagh, Strabane and Derry.
- The Tinneys is the local name for the street sculpture "Let the dance begin." They're five 20-foot steel figures by the A5 roundabout northwest edge of town, at the junction with A38 to Lifford. They were commissioned to celebrate the relaxation of the border, the "dance" being the re-united communities.
- 1 Gray's Printing Press, 49 Main Street BT82 8AU, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Closed ufn. The National Trust owns this shop in which John Dunlap (1747-1812) learnt the printing trade. He moved to Philadelphia to work for his uncle's printing business, eventually taking it over. He fought alongside Washington in the War of Independence, and won the printing contract for the Continental Congress. He printed their 1776 declaration of their break with Britain, now called the United States Declaration of Independence, and other government documents including currency. The shop displays printing technology of his time.
- Church of the Immaculate Conception on Barrack St is RC, completed in 1895.
- 2 Wilson Homestead, 28 Spout Rd BT82 8NB (2 miles southeast of town on B536 Fountain St). July-Sept W 13:00-16:00 by prior arrangement only. The homestead of James Wilson, grandfather of President Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the USA. It's run as part of the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh. Free.
- Political murals are painted here and there in the town. They change with events - in 2014 one notable series expressed solidarity with Palestine - so ask around for any worth seeking out.
- 3 Lifford is the little village half a mile west of Strabane that is the county town of County Donegal. The Old Courthouse, built in 1746, has a museum and does tours, but these are closed in 2020; it also operates as an escape room.
- 4 Sion Mills is a planned village 3 miles south of Strabane, built in the late 19th century around Herdman's flax mill. "Sion" is from an Irish placename Seein, probably referring to a mound, it doesn't derive from "Zion". The mill itself is imposing and there's a cluster of fine half-timbered buildings. It's as significant to Northern Ireland as Saltaire is to England and New Lanark is to Scotland, but it's become derelict and suffered arson, and is in danger of collapse. You can wander round at a distance and see the swinging bridge and other mechanisms by the river.
- See Omagh for Newtonstewart, a village 10 miles south of Strabane with two ruined castles that won't detain you long.
The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate / Tis God appoints their station and contents them with their fate
Cecil Frances Alexander, nee Humphreys, (1818-1895) was an Anglo-Irish writer of hymns. In Strabane she married the Anglican clergyman who became Bishop of Derry and Archbishop of Armagh. She was involved in many local charitable efforts, funded from the success of her hymns. Best known today are three published in "Hymns for Little Children": All Things Bright and Beautiful, There is a Green Hill Far Away and Once in Royal David's City. Several places claim to be the original inspiration of these, but the scenery of Londonderry, Strabane and the river valley suffuses all of them. They're also an Anglican High Tory rebuke to all those upstart revolutionaries and Fenians.
- Alley Theatre and Conference Centre, Railway Street BT82 8EF, ☏ . Daily 10:00-17:00. A 270-seat theatre, conference centre, art gallery, tourist information centre and cafe-bar.
- Strabane Drama Festival is in mid-March at Alley Theatre. See also listings for Derry, which co-hosts some events with Strabane.
- Eclipse Cinema is north bank of the river in Lifford.
- Strabane Canal, built in 1796, fell derelict in 1962 and is mostly just a line of shrubs. Its north end at the confluence of River Foyle and Burn Dennett was expensively but incompetently rebuilt in 2006 and is again derelict, but you can walk the towpath.
- 1 Barrontop Fun Farm, 35 Barron Rd, Donemana BT82 0JD, ☏ . Closed until March 2021. Children's amusement centre with farm and other small animals: petting, rides, feeding etc.
- Asda north side of town is open M-F 08:00-23:00, Sa 12:00-22:00, Su 13:00-18:00; the filling station is open 24 hours.
- Lots of cheap and cheerful eateries in town centre, including Murphys on the Green, Golden Palace, Masala, and Jaspers.
- Oysters, 37 Patrick St BT82 8DQ, ☏ . Tu-Su 12:00-21:30. European menu, the fish earns the best reviews, but plenty of meat and veggie choice.
- Dicey Riley's on Market St is open daily 12:00-00:00.
- Devlins and Charlie's Bar are nearby, Farmers Home and The Railway are west along Railway St.
- Bradley's B&B, 5 Mourne Manor, Bradley Way BT82 9TJ, ☏ . Cheerful B&B next to bus station, no children or dogs. B&B double £60.
- 1 Fir Trees Hotel, Dublin Rd BT82 9EA, ☏ . Clean well-run hotel at south end of town, handy for A5. B&B double £100.
Strabane has 4G and mobile coverage from all UK and all Irish carriers. The Irish signal is stronger, so take care which network your mobile latches onto, in case of extra charges. As of Oct 2020, 5G has not reached this area.
- Derry is a must-see, a historic city retaining its defensive walls.
- Omagh has the Ulster American Folk Park.
- Cookstown is near several prehistoric sites.