This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 11 °C Thursday 2 April, 2020
Advertisement

A sense of being 'left behind': Emigration and isolation in one rural Irish town

While the boom may be back in Ireland’s cities, not every town and village is reaping the rewards.

general election

I THINK THEY’RE devastated. I know the area and people in the area have really bought into the centre over the years. They held their functions here, their sporting events here, but I really didn’t realise the extent to which they were proud of this place.

Noel Brennan was duty manager at Cuisle Holiday Park, a respite centre for people with physical disabilities, for 18 years before it closed in November. 

The Irish Wheelchair Association, which had leased the centre, said it would consider reopening it as a hotel model down the line, but for now has closed the respite holiday park which was in operation for 25 years.

While the centre originally offered respite, overnights for people with disabilities, the hotel model would require parents or carers to stay overnight too. 

Along with the loss of around 40 jobs came a sense that this was another nail in the coffin of a rural community that has been left behind, as larger towns and major cities enjoyed the fruits of the recovery.

“Mostly, it was a kind of inclusion,” Brennan said of the centre, and the community’s relationship with it. 

“We’ve done maybe 14 or 15 weddings over the years, all sorts of different functions, and for the guests coming it turned into a ‘place’ and not a ‘disability place’.”

Although it was a respite holiday centre, a bar and function room was often used to host weddings and other community events including local GAA prize-givings.  

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Locals rallied behind a campaign to save the centre and keep it as a community resource on lands leased from the Divine Word Missionaries around 10km to the west of Roscommon Town. So far, their efforts have been unsuccessful. 

“It was a massive shock, you know, we really didn’t expect it. So I suppose the first ten minutes of it was ‘Oh, God’ and thinking about ourselves but then it quickly switched – and I mean very quickly switched – to thinking what’s going to happen to the people who use Cuisle.

“And then the next month there was a huge campaign to reverse the situation.”

The Irish Wheelchair Association did not respond to repeated requests for comment from TheJournal.ie

A report from the Northern and Western Assembly last week outlined how Roscommon was one of eight counties which had been neglected and overlooked for investment. The NWRA, one of three regional authorities responsible for driving regional growth across the country, said ‘positive discrimination’ was needed to support the area. 

With the closure of the Cuisle centre, which attracted a stream of visitors to the area and provided a service to those with physical disabilities, locals now worry that the region is being further neglected. 

“About 10 or 12 years ago, four farmers in the area gave land running along the River Suck here, and the fisheries board put in 31 fully accessible fishing stands, a brilliant facility. And we’ve had fishing competitions, international fishing competitions. 

That was all local politicians and local groups seeing what they could put into the area that would compliment what Cuisle does.
Alongside the people who used the respite centre and their families, the centre was also regularly booked by other groups for events. Now that Cuisle is no more, there far less use of the surrounding facilities – like the fishing stands along the river, Brennan said. 

The Deprivation Index from community support organisation, Pobal, published in 2016, pointed to a rural-urban divide in terms of access to services, while also pointing to Roscommon as a region which experienced the “most significant decline” in the years following the economic crash. 

This has translated to many leaving the area altogether in search of jobs and opportunity.

On the next flight out

Billy Donnellan, a local businessman and manager of the senior football team at Oran GAA Club, has witnessed generations of talented local players who have been lost to emigration. 

He described watching players starting out a young age, moving through the ranks, before finishing school and catching the next flight out of Ireland – some with the “travel bug” but others who left because they “had no choice”. 

“We see kids grow up, they do the Leaving Cert, go to college, they get good qualifications, they work hard for their qualifications but there is very little opportunity locally for them. 

“They go to Galway, they go to Dublin, they go to wherever they have to go in terms of jobs. We have a number of players that are in Australia at the minute, not so much the UK and America anymore but we have people in Canada as well. 

They do take off. There is no getting round it and there is an acceptance. As a GAA club, we’ve gotten used to the fact that guys will go for the summer. But what is happening now is they go for a more extended period, whatever their visa will allow. And it’s not just because it’s a lifestyle thing.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Empty shop units and vacant buildings are dotted through the town centre and little footfall is found along the main street during the week.

The hollowing out of rural towns was a regular occurrence across Ireland a decade ago, in the aftermath of the Celtic Tiger. While that trend has been reversed elsewhere – Roscommon, and many other similar towns, have not recovered in the same way. 

“There’s two ways of looking at it,” Donnellan says of the motivations that lead to younger people leaving their hometown. 

There’s one that does it by choice and there’s another one who does it through obligation, they have no choice. There would be a certain amount of anger over the ones who do it through no choice, that there isn’t the level of opportunities here for them. 

“It’s all well and good saying ‘oh, there are jobs in Dublin’ but as we’re all well aware, the cost of living in Dublin, trying to get accommodation in Dublin and all that stuff. It’s not just as cut and dry as saying ‘yeah, you can get a job in Dublin’. 

“We’re not seeing [the recovery] in Roscommon. I’ve a business, [called] My IT Department, based outside Roscommon Town and business is good but at the same time, the investment in towns like Roscommon, Castlerea, Boyle – it’s just not there. We’re not seeing it.”

Batten down the hatches

Vincent Collins owns Service Matters – a specialist laundry and workwear company which employs 100 people in Roscommon Town.

For over 20 years he was watched local businesses ride out the good times and the bad times but insists a lack of infrastructure is holding back the real potential the area has to offer.

“There were times when we went through tough periods and I know friends of mine in businesses are the same. There are different sectors that are feeling the pinch. 

If investment comes into the town there is going to be opportunities to redo old dwellings and different stuff like that. 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

One issue which has hindered development for businesses in rural communities has been the slow pace at which broadband is being rolled out. 

The government signed off on a controversial and long-awaited €3 billion broadband plan late last year.

But that project has already been beset with numerous delays and took years to get over the line – coming at a significant cost to rural business. 

Collins explained that, as he and his colleagues awaited signs of progress on the issue, he was forced to spend thousands to keep his company’s servers up and running. 

“We couldn’t back-up stuff at night, the back-up for the computers couldn’t be done. And if we did have an issue, we had to externally back it up to our IT company and it was just a pain. 

I think the first thing we should be doing is if we’re going to create jobs, we should be improving those jobs. We should be improving the quality of the jobs and improving the sustainability of companies.

Despite the digital connectivity problems that have arisen as a result of below par broadband and IT infrastructure, Collins also described the physical disconnect of rural businesses in Ireland. 

Rail travel is infrequent – a train passes through Roscommon for Dublin five times a day between 6.30am until 7.30pm, with five trains also coming through Roscommon from the opposite direction headed for Mayo five times in the same day. 

“We need more trains. When I go to a meeting in Dublin, I bring the car… because our infrastructure to get where I am going isn’t there. I did a trial on the train, and to get to meetings in Dublin, I was longer going on the [train] than I was in the car, which is wrong,” Collins said. 

“There’s a guy coming over from Holland to me and he has to hire a care at the airport. There is no train in the airport to get to Roscommon. And then you’ve to try and explain to them to get a bus in [to the city] and then the Dart – even the Luas doesn’t go out to [the airport]. Like what way are we thinking?”

And not only are businesses in Roscommon Town facing barriers but local farms face hurdles. 

Farming

One of the bigger issues facing rural communities is the pressures being placed on farmers struggling to achieve a greater return for their produce. Over the past year, farmers have been bringing their concerns to politicians and meat processors in a bid to drive reform of the industry. 

The beef crisis has escalated in recent months and the future is uncertain for local economies like Roscommon where many people rely on farming to make a living. 

Farmers blockaded meat processing factories last year until a deal was reached between the beef industry and the farming community – but many feel no progress has been made since and rural communities are suffering as a result. 

“Every town and village in Roscommon is based around farming and I suppose, one thing about farming is when the farmer has money, he will spend and put it back into the local economy,” local beef farmer, Pádraic O’Connor explained. 

“It’s a lovely way of life and it’s not for everybody. I love it and it’s what I love doing… Why would you expect young farmers to stay, come in and take over from their parents, or parents hand over the land to them when they see there isn’t a quality of life to be made from it. 

“And I mean putting butter on the table, putting kids through school and that. Around here, in a 40 mile radius, I’m the youngest farmer in the area and I’m 40 years old.” 

In spite of these challenges, the locals who spoke to TheJournal.ie in the run up to the General Election are hopeful that all is not lost, adding that further investment in the area would turn it all around. 

“We have only 4,500 people here but that’s good and in a way it has a village community spirit, and everything here is good,” Vincent Collins insisted. 

We just need to get back to the community thing where we build it within and start growing it.

Video and additional reporting by Bethany Langham

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

Read next:

COMMENTS (88)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel