O'POTEMKIN VILLAGE

How a struggling town bought itself new hope by painting fake scenes on its walls

A bakery, a bookmaker and a barber have recently appeared in a village in Northern Ireland. But you cannot enter any of them. In a bid to bring in tourists, the town of Bushmills, famous for the whiskey that was first distilled there 400 years ago, has painted over a dozen abandoned storefronts and houses.

There are windows and doors with people looking out, a bakery with an appetizing selection of bread and cakes, and a traditional cobbler, where a man in a flat cap can be seen mending shoes.

It’s not the first time Northern Ireland has tried this. A similar attempt to doll up villages in county Fermanagh so that visiting G8 leaders wouldn’t see how woeful the region looked drew anger and derision; “cosmetic surgery for serious wounds,” one local resident said. But in Bushmills, local residents raised their own funds to add to government money, and the project’s been a success, a local councillor told Reuters; two of the painted stores have already found new owners.

Whatever the motives, the artists have done good work:

A man walks his dog past a hoarding around a building site, which has been covered with artwork to make it look more appealing, in the village of Bushmills on the Causeway Coast August 19, 2013. One of the homes of Irish whiskey has taken a scheme developed in Northern Ireland of erecting fake shop fronts where derelict buildings lie and has truly run with it in a bid to woo tourists. Bushmills, best known as the village where the whiskey of the same name was distilled for the first time 400 years ago, is now also becoming recognisable for the artwork and graphics that brighten up shop fronts left empty during the economic downturn. Picture taken August 19, 2013. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton (NORTHERN IRELAND - Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY ANIMALS TRAVEL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

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A boy rides his bicycle past an empty house, which has been covered with artwork to make it look more appealing, in the village of Bushmills on the Causeway Coast August 19, 2013. One of the homes of Irish whiskey has taken a scheme developed in Northern Ireland of erecting fake shop fronts where derelict buildings lie and has truly run with it in a bid to woo tourists. Bushmills, best known as the village where the whiskey of the same name was distilled for the first time 400 years ago, is now also becoming recognisable for the artwork and graphics that brighten up shop fronts left empty during the economic downturn. Picture taken August 19, 2013. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton (NORTHERN IRELAND - Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY TRAVEL) 

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A man walks past an empty shop, which has been covered with artwork to make it look more appealing, in the village of Bushmills on the Causeway Coast August 19, 2013. One of the homes of Irish whiskey has taken a scheme developed in Northern Ireland of erecting fake shop fronts where derelict buildings lie and has truly run with it in a bid to woo tourists. Bushmills, best known as the village where the whiskey of the same name was distilled for the first time 400 years ago, is now also becoming recognisable for the artwork and graphics that brighten up shop fronts left empty during the economic downturn. Picture taken August 19, 2013. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton (NORTHERN IRELAND - Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY TRAVEL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) 

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A family walks past an empty building, which has been covered with artwork to make it look more appealing, in the village of Bushmills on the Causeway Coast August 20, 2013. One of the homes of Irish whiskey has taken a scheme developed in Northern Ireland of erecting fake shop fronts where derelict buildings lie and has truly run with it in a bid to woo tourists. Bushmills, best known as the village where the whiskey of the same name was distilled for the first time 400 years ago, is now also becoming recognisable for the artwork and graphics that brighten up shop fronts left empty during the economic downturn. Picture taken August 20, 2013. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton (NORTHERN IRELAND - Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY TRAVEL) 

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A detail of an artwork is seen in the window of a empty shop in the village of Bushmills on the Causeway Coast August 20, 2013. One of the homes of Irish whiskey has taken a scheme developed in Northern Ireland of erecting fake shop fronts where derelict buildings lie and has truly run with it in a bid to woo tourists. Bushmills, best known as the village where the whiskey of the same name was distilled for the first time 400 years ago, is now also becoming recognisable for the artwork and graphics that brighten up shop fronts left empty during the economic downturn. Picture taken August 20, 2013. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton (NORTHERN IRELAND - Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY TRAVEL) 

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People stand next to an empty building which has been covered with artwork to make it look more appealing, in the village of Bushmills on the Causeway Coast August 19, 2013. One of the homes of Irish whiskey has taken a scheme developed in Northern Ireland of erecting fake shop fronts where derelict buildings lie and has truly run with it in a bid to woo tourists. Bushmills, best known as the village where the whiskey of the same name was distilled for the first time 400 years ago, is now also becoming recognisable for the artwork and graphics that brighten up shop fronts left empty during the economic downturn. Picture taken August 19, 2013. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton (NORTHERN IRELAND - Tags: BUSINESS SOCIETY TRAVEL) 

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All photos by Cathal McNaught for Reuters.

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