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No commuters need apply: Early rises and packed trains in the Kildare town 'bursting at the seams'

The town’s population has doubled in the past decade as the overflow of Dublin commuters set up shop.

general election

sallins-train-station Early morning commuters at Sallins train station. Source: Cllr Bill Clear

“IT’S HECTIC, WE get up at around quarter past, half six, get the children dressed, get them out the door. We’re in the car at 7.20am to have them at the creche so we can get back here to hopefully get one of the earlier trains to Dublin.”

Mary Feighan has been living in Sallins, Co Kildare for almost six years – one of hundreds who were squeezed out of Dublin under the pressure of rising rents and the cost of living in recent years.

She commutes into Dublin via train three days a week but as the infrastructure in the commuter town has failed to keep pace with a ballooning population, the morning commute rarely goes off without a hitch.

Located around 40km from Dublin and once a small rural town, the population of Sallins has more than doubled from 2,922 in 2002 to almost 6,000, according to the latest CSO figures available from 2016.

Train carriages are bursting with passengers coming from other stops on the train line, and finding a parking space near the station after 7am is a rarity. Passengers regularly drop their cars on the roads and estates nearby.

Squeezed

Passengers are squeezed onto platforms early in the morning but with trains headed for Heuston Station already packed from door to door, those at Sallins can be left waiting until the next train rolls in – in the hope that it will have space to carry them to Dublin.

“You could arrive to get the 7.37am train, which is the express train. It comes from Galway and is great because it goes direct. It doesn’t stop at any other stops from here to Heuston but you mightn’t get on that train,” Feighan said, speaking to TheJournal.ie at Sallins train station.

“If you don’t get on that train, you’re hoping to get the 7.50am train but what if you don’t get on that? The next one is 8.20, so you’re late for work at that stage.

There’s been three or four times in the past two months where I haven’t been able to get on a train. You could arrive at the platform some mornings and it’s just black with people.

“And then those people are still there when the train moves off because we can’t get on them. They need more carriages and they need more trains in the morning.”

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Irish Rail bought 41 new carriages at a cost of €150 million last year but these won’t be in operation in the Greater Dublin Area until the end of 2021 – almost two years away.

The streets of Sallins are lined with election campaign posters and investment in public transport is a pledge in almost all parties’ manifestos. But residents aren’t convinced the election will lead to change, and many voices in the community say the town has been neglected. 

‘Worn-out’

Ciarán Grainger owns The Grange cafe located off the scenic Grand Canal which runs through the town.

After setting up shop 14 years ago, moving with his family from the Christ Church area of Dublin city centre, he has witnessed the population explode in the area over the past decade.

He described how schools, local roads, and businesses in the area struggle to cope with the influx of people to the area. 

“There’s a lot of young families. I suppose we were one of the young families but now we’re getting a bit older. So there’s a lot of young families, there’s a playground and an all-weather pitch but there’s a lot of pressure on the facilities and amenities in Sallins.

“There’s been an issue with families, where children, brothers and sisters, are split. We were lucky, [our] two boys went to school in Sallins which is a fantastic school but there’s huge pressure, with some children having to go into Naas, the far side of Naas, to be able to get primary school places.

“And then when you go to secondary school, they basically put their name down for every secondary school and it’s like a lottery to see which one you get into.”

With a growing population, not only is there demand for more school places, there’s also a growing demand for housing – the reason why a number of areas around the town have become temporary construction sites. 

And all signs point to further growth for the town.

Just this month, a 3.6 acre site on the former Odlums Mill site came on the market. At the minute there are several buildings designed for commercial use sitting on the site. 

Companies like the Kerry Group, which set up its ICT centre in the nearby Millenium Centre in Naas back in 2015, have played a role in accelerating growth in the area. 

Grainger, who speaks to locals day-in-day-out, said the commuter lifestyle has taken its toll on the town and describes the worn-out feeling of those who have to get up early in the morning and get home late in the evening.

“I’ve noticed people when they’re getting off the trains, which are so packed, that there is such pressure on them. They have their earphones in and are just trying to get home – you can see that worn-out look.”

Childcare

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

A long working day, bookended by a hectic commute, weighs heavily on commuters based in Sallins but this pressure is further exacerbated by the shortage of childcare places – although it is an issue that is not unique to the Kildare town.

The 2019 Early Years Sector report from community support organisation, Pobal, points to an increase of 41% in the number of children on waiting lists for creche places nationally.

In Sallins, this has been an issue for more than a decade as Gerry and Shauna Kehoe of Acorn Creche and Montessori explained.

“Demand has increased substantially over the years, especially in recent years. But as of year one, to be honest, we had a waiting list on all of our rooms and we currently have six rooms, and we have a waiting list where some parents have been on it for six to eight months.

Our plan was that we’d have two classes in the first year and four in the second year… but within eight months we had every room full and we’ve had a waiting list pretty much for the past 10 years.

Acorn has been up and running for 12 years and owners Gerry and Shauna are considering ways to expand the business to accommodate the growing demand.

It’s a lifeline for parents who drop their child off at 7.30am when the doors open, before heading for the train, and who often can’t pick them up until just before the doors close at 6.30pm.

“So our full-day children would arrive, and parents would drop school-going children to school, at 7.30am. We give them breakfast, we might help finish their homework or do activities.

“We have a lot of commuters going to Dublin, so parents will drop them, catch maybe an eight o’clock train into Dublin… we feed them and educate them and entertain them for a day, it could be up to 11 hours.”

Several creches have closed in the area in recent years, further adding to the childcare crisis in the town. Gerry pointed to the red-tape and high staff turnovers as the causes for most of those closures.

Nationally, 23% of creches and Montessori schools have vacancies and Acorn is no exception.

“It’s a full-time challenge… it’s high pressure, so much paperwork… we have a permanent ad going on indeed, a rolling ad because we have two positions at the moment,” Co-owner Shauna said.  

Falling off a cliff

Those working in childcare are not alone in feeling like no one is listening. Amid a national health crisis in both hospitals and community care, local doctors are also under increasing pressure.

Dr David McConaghy of Sallins Medical Centre explained that many residents in Sallins and surrounding towns haven’t been able to locate a GP as most practices are full. 

“Year on year we get busier. There’s more families registered with us looking for services, moving into the area and then again our doctor numbers in Kildare, and for us here in Sallins, have remained kind of static and even fallen a little. 

“We’re fortunately able to take on anyone who is living in the area but we increasingly get requests from patients in neighbouring villages, in Naas for example, and unfortunately we can’t take them on. 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

“There’s not actually a week that goes by that we don’t get a request from someone in Naas, or perhaps Clane, some of the other towns.They just can’t get a GP in their town.” 

McConaghy described the future of GP care as akin to falling off a cliff if more GPs are not drafted into the system soon. 

“In Kildare, as a whole, all our general practitioners are under great pressure, as well as also having this cliff-face that we’re going to fall off when we will probably lose 20% of Kildare GPs to retirement in the next five to eight years,” he said. 

“And it’s not obvious where replacements are going to come from for these GPs.

“People are moving down here, for all the reasons we already know – you want to start a family, you probably need a larger home to live in, and rents are more affordable down here compared to Dublin prices.

“That puts more pressure on our practice and indeed every practice in Kildare just to keep up with that demand.”

Apartment blocks and housing estates are cropping up on land around the main town centre.

The long trend of young professionals from Dublin spilling over into Sallins and nearby towns appears to be on the same upward trajectory it was on over a decade ago at the height of the Celtic Tiger. 

With the general election campaign in full swing, candidates will be meeting residents on their doorsteps over the next week, and the issues around childcare, GP care and public transport are sure to be high on the agenda. 

“There is a bit of a push in the community because people are very, very frustrated over the lack of facilities,” chair of the local road safety group, Adrian Devine said. 

“There’s a real problem as the infrastructure hasn’t developed at all in line with the growth in the population.”

Echoing much of the views from local residents in Sallins who spoke to TheJournal.ie, he said: ”As you can appreciate from 1999 to 2009, there’s huge growth in the population and as we are now, it’s bursting at the seams. It’s going to get worse over the next ten years.”

Video and additional reporting by Nicky Ryan

TheJournal.ie visited Sallins in Co Kildare to hear about the issues facing the town ahead of the General Election. If you’d like us to come to your town, get in touch via hometown@thejournal.ie.

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