Belfast woman on how The Church brings tastes and images of home to Costa Blanca
Ex-pat Georgina Doran turned her dream into reality when she opened an Irish-themed bar, restaurant and music venue on the Costa Blanca – complete with genuine Belfast murals. She told Allison Morris how she's been looking forward to her second St Patrick's Day in The Church
IT'S estimated that 80 million people claim to be of Irish descent, and on March 17 they usually paint towns and cities around the world green in celebration of St Patrick's Day – though tomorrow things may be a little more subdued thanks to coronavirus.
One Belfast woman, who has made Spain's Costa Blanca her home, has been planning to bring some authenticity to celebrations in the sun-soaked seaside town of Albir.
Georgina Doran left Belfast in her early 20s, originally planning a year out from a career in journalism. Fast forward 18 years and, now a successful businesswoman with her own property-management company, Georgina has turned a lifelong dream into a reality, opening a bar almost two years ago.
The Church, a live music venue, is like nothing the Spanish have seen before, Georgina having enlisted the help of well-known Belfast mural artists Marty Lyons and Michael Doherty when decorating the venue.
As well as importing her own artists she brought carpenters from Ireland to Albir and fitted the bar with original church pews, now being put to use for a different kind off worship.
The Church is not a Disneyfied Irish Bar but a nod to the roots and childhood memories of its owner. Inside and outside are adorned with art in the distinctive Belfast mural style; the spires of Clonard Monastery and St Paul's Church in her native west Belfast feature, in a nod to the bar's quirky name.
Georgina said she carefully planned her new venture along with her business partners, having seen others try and fail in the past.
"I've watched numerous people, with great intentions but no bar experience, stake their life savings on a business that has ultimately failed. I didn't want to be that person, I didn't want any regrets, which is why I only opened the bar after 16 years living in Spain," she says.
"Since I arrived I've been learning Spanish, which is essential when dealing with contractors and suppliers. We opened in the winter when there were almost no tourists around, meaning we were relying on the custom of the local people and the ex-pats of all nationalities who live here all year around.
"I thought it would give us time to find our feet, get things perfect before the peak tourist season, but we've been flat out ever since".
The concept for the bar came to Georgina during regular visits home to visit family in Belfast.
"When it comes to a night out back in Belfast the venues I like to socialise in are those with live music, places like Maddens, Henry's Jailhouse and I loved the Spaniard's quirky religious theme," she says.
"There are so many talented musicians living locally in Spain I wanted to give them a platform. I've also flown some well-known traditional acts over to perform and hope that we can build on that. I'm working on holding an Irish music festival at some stage".
The west Belfast woman said the murals started with an idea borrowed from another well-known Belfast boozer, The John Hewitt, which gives gallery space to local artists.
"I've lots of Irish art hanging inside the bar. It's my own collection gathered over the years and I want to expand on that going forward, having exhibitions for up and coming Irish artists and photographers.
"But during the build I realised the outside terrace needed something different, so I asked the Belfast mural painters if they'd come over and work their magic and they certainly did that".
Georgina said the murals are a "talking point".
"The locals have never seen anything quite like it. They're not political, they celebrate music stars such as Luke Kelly and Damien Dempsey and sporting stars like Carl Frampton. My late grandfather, Gerry Doran, who was a pigeon man from St James's, is also featured in the mural. He never got to see The Church but he's here with me; he'd have loved that".
Having avoided falling into the trap of a opening a clichéd 'Irish Bar' Georgina says she's proud that she has created something different.
"I wanted it to be a family-friendly venue. The food came later but the menu is constantly changing and I include lots of vegan, gluten free and healthy children's meals," she says. "Eating out and socialising in Spain is a real family event."
Georgina adds: "The Church was something I'd thought about for years, it's been in my head so long I still have to pinch myself that it's now a reality.
"Spain is my home now but I'm still an Irish girl at heart and I think that is reflected in The Church – and in my new-found ability to pull an excellent pint of Guinness."
She says her first St Patrick's Day was "a massive success".
"This will be my second time mixing my two worlds in the best possible way."