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Rural Ireland: 'The life has gone out of it. Even 20 or 30 jobs would give the place a lift'

A short documentary shows how the people of Ballydehob are dealing with unemployment and emigration.

THE COMMUNITY OF Ballydehob in west Cork have banded together since the recession, coming up with inventive ways to put the life back in their village.

A number of festivals and turnip races later, business men and women are more positive about the future – but also realistic about the problems they still face.

“When I was growing, there were 32 small businesses all making a small living,” a resident reveals in a new short documentary by local filmmaker Sarah McCullough Canty.

“There were 30 or 40 pubs. It is sad isn’t it,” says another.

Estate agent, Martin Swanton recalls how “virtually every single premises… were all open” when he was a school boy.

“All the little shops. There used to be a fair every month. I think I can remember seeing it at some stage, but maybe it’s from my mother telling me.

There was fierce life in the place.

Another villager, Anne Canty, says the place was “vibrant” in 1976.

“[There were] people all over the place. There was the post office, a hardware store, three grocery stores.

“It was really packed on a Sunday with people going to Church and then they did their shopping after Mass. It was a great place to be, streets were always crowded and kids playing.”

However, things started to change with the Celtic Tiger and the locals began to rely on construction, as well as seasonal tourism jobs.

Swanton speaks of how businesses died with their owners as there was “nobody to take it on”.

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The same thing happened when Mrs O’Farrell and Mrs Coghlan, the drapers, retired, recalls Canty.

“One by one, places were closing,” she says in the documentary, entitled Down but not out, which explores how rural communities are fighting for survival against budget cuts, unemployment and emigration.

“The life has gone out of it,” Swanton says of his native village. “You don’t have people going in and out, spending money. And spending money is the key to the whole thing. It generates an energy in a village. It just doesn’t have it. The petrol station is a huge part of the village. To see it boarded up like this, it’s a shame.”

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“There is no great amount of employment here now. It is hard to see villages like Ballydehob getting better,” he continued.

But he and fellow villagers have some ideas to help young businesses and employment figures.

“Rates should be free for the first year,” Swanton tells McCullough Canty. “You have to start making money before you can pay it.

“It would also be great to encourage people who went away to come back and open up something – a manufacturing unit or call centre.

“If you had 20 or 30 people employed here, it would make a huge difference, give the whole thing a lift.”

Best community in the world for festivals

Ballydehob has started to encourage people back onto its streets – and into its shops – by running festivals six to seven times a year.

“They are vital to the business,” says publican Noel Camier. “I think people need something to go to – they don’t go out for the sake of it. All of these festivals are part of it.”

“These are the things that keep our village alive,” Barry O’Brien, one of the festival organisers added. “Six or seven small festivals over the year. Each one helps the business people to stay alive after six or so terrible hard years.”

Watch Sarah McCullough Canty’s short film about her Ballydehob. 

Source: Sarah McCullough Canty/YouTube

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