City dwellers trying to stay connected to rural Ireland

A number of rural-born city dwellers discuss their links with their home places

Paul, Matthew, Zoe, Ryan, Lèon and Amy Fox enjoy the banks of the river Moy in Ballina, Co Mayo. Paul and Lèon moved there from Dublin in 2004 when they were starting their family

Paul, Matthew, Zoe, Ryan, Lèon and Amy Fox enjoy the banks of the river Moy in Ballina, Co Mayo. Paul and Lèon moved there from Dublin in 2004 when they were starting their family

Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 01:00

Ask Padraig McKeon where he is from and the reply is immediate: “Sligo,” he says without a moment’s hesitation, although he hasn’t lived in the county in over 30 years, has no immediate family living there and intends spending the rest of his days in Dublin.

More than 165,000 Irish people living in Dublin were born elsewhere in Ireland, according to the 2011 census. However, for many of those born outside the city the fact that they live in Dublin has not diminished their connection to where they grew up.

McKeon, a 48-year-old communications consultant originally from Riverstown in east Sligo, has lived in Dublin since 1983 but returns to his home county 10-12 times a year.

He has retained a connection through a long association with the GAA, first as a player and later as a coach, and through a business interest in local radio station Ocean FM. More recently he became involved with Team Sligo, a public-private initiative set up in 2012 to develop economic and tourism opportunities in the county, and has since become chairman of the Sligo Live music festival.

Although McKeon concedes that “no two people are the same” when it comes to how they feel about their original home place, for him, despite being happy living in Dublin, Sligo offers a “sense of place, a sense of where you’re from”.

“There’s a pleasure in the familiar, old friends, old places. I know the roads, I know how people work, I know the moods, I know the villages, I understand Sligo politics ... I still read the local paper every week – I’ve never not done that.

“It’s that general sense of knowing where things are at: that familiarity never leaves you and that is a comforting thing. I’m very comfortable going back.”

Still contributing

However, he says that, although he remains very involved in his home county, he does not consider himself part of the community in Sligo. “It think it would be very presumptuous of me to say I was part of the community ... I don’t think I have the right to say that but I’d like to think I’m still contributing to the community, that I’m a part of the extended community.”

So what is it about his connection to Sligo that is so special? “While we’re all, in inverted commas, ‘citizens of the world’, we’re all from somewhere,” he says. “I think for anybody, it’s really important to have that sense of place.”