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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Remizov via Shutterstock

Column 'There's nothing for me in Kerry, no job to move home for'

But living and working in Dublin comes at the price of feeling that I’m causing rural Ireland’s problems, writes Lorraine Courtney.

IT ALL STARTED with a text from Mam: “Are you coming for the bank holiday pet?”And then the floodgates opened and the guilty feelings came back.

In the beginning I’d no notion of staying in Dublin beyond a couple of years, the vague plan being to get a degree, have some adventures and move back home to settle down. That was the early 2000s.

I stay away because I wouldn’t get a decent job at home in Kerry even though staying away means that for the past decade and a half, I’ve been living with the constant guilty feeling that I’m a bad daughter. I feel guilty about missed birthdays, new lifestyles and friends. I feel guilty about not wanting to take the 19.00 train back to Killarney every Friday evening.

Rural Ireland grows older

I feel especially guilty when I read reports like the Age Profile in Ireland one, the latest publication from April 2016′s Census. It sets out the challenge for our government as it grapples with an increasingly urban population where young people flock to the cities and towns chasing education and job opportunities. Meanwhile the age profile of rural Ireland grows ever older.

Of course the oldest administrative areas in Ireland are in Kerry and Mayo. Of course they are. Killarney was the oldest town in Ireland with an average age of 40.9 years, and this is because of people like me.

Kerry is Ireland as it was and should be. But the reason it’s that way is because most of the people there are on holiday. Come September the shops will be empty and visitors will have faded away. Houses overlooking the sea will be shut up for the winter. Every time I go home another business has closed down, another building is boarded up. The boom is definitely not very boomy in South Kerry, much of rural Ireland is hanging on for dear life.

Dublin-based power structure not working for Kerry

shutterstock_651795316 Shutterstock Killarney is Ireland's oldest town. Shutterstock

We constantly hear dire warnings that a lack of investment, as well as the growing wealth gap and the dominance of Dublin as an economic hub, are creating a crisis. And yet when Kerry is discussed in the national media, you would struggle to see any acknowledgment a Dublin-based power structure is not working for the countryside.

Kerry’s problems are vast, they are structural and, as such, require intervention from local and national government. You can barely get a mobile signal, never mind broadband in my home. It’s called broadband and costs as much as broadband but it takes a few minutes to load a webpage.

Another massive challenge is the steady decline of rural services – the buses, garda stations and shops. In some of the remotest parts this process is fuelled by depopulation, but elsewhere an increasingly mobile, car-owning rural population is choosing to drive into bigger towns in search of cheaper, more varied shops and a social life.

The poverty rate in rural Ireland is 4.5 percentage points higher than in urban Ireland.

Give us a reason to stay in the countryside

Some young people stay in Kerry and do what they can. But faced with a choice between the dole and a zero-hour “McJob” outside Dublin or the possibility of a career in the capital, far too many graduates are doing the only sensible thing they can do: migrating east.

I’m pretty sure that everyone who has left Kerry knows exactly what I am talking about. The guilty feelings are something we suck up and get on with because we have to. I’ve considered moving home but only for about a millisecond. There’s nothing for me in Kerry.

Kerry and rural Ireland is haemorrhaging young people, it’s losing their future potential, and their idea of what opportunity is, which is being explored in Ireland’s cities instead.

What does the future hold for rural Ireland if its young people continue to be sucked into the capital? Young people are ready and waiting to revitalise Ireland’s rural west but we need to be given reasons to move back home. We need to create something that looks like a place young people might feel a part of.

Lorraine Courtney is a freelance journalist.

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