Emigration has taken the men in the middle from Kerry GAA team

Students complete their Leaving Cert and move on to third level but few return

Eamonn Hickson   of Annascaul GAA club. Tthe club is  finding it increasingly difficult to field a team in recent years

Eamonn Hickson of Annascaul GAA club. Tthe club is finding it increasingly difficult to field a team in recent years

Mon, Mar 18, 2013, 17:19

The clouds press down upon the surrounding mountaintops as Eamonn Hickson speaks from the stand overlooking the GAA pitch in Annascaul near Dingle, Co Kerry.

Hickson holds a number of roles at the club: there is no manager at present so he and other players share the responsibility, he is the club’s PRO and, at 26, one of its senior players.

He says there is now two clear age profiles in the senior team: late teens to early 20s and the over-30s.

“A gap has just fallen out in the middle,” he says, noting that due to emigration there are few left at his age or a bit older.

“A lot of them have gone; virtually all of them have gone. In 2008/2009 we were doing very well, that was because of the age profile of our team – I would say the average age was 29 or 30.

“They were an experienced team...but when the core of a team – 26, 27, 28, 29-year-olds – leave that’s weakened us.”

Hickson says work prospects in the area are “very poor”.

“Six or seven years ago you could work at anything; you could get summer work no problem. Construction was the main employer but it is literally non-existent at the moment. I was an engineer but I basically have to forget about it, there’s nothing left.”

“I think for people my age there’s only two options...well three: it’s either do nothing, go to college or emigrate.

“I hope to go to college in September. If that doesn’t work I might emigrate for a year, just to get back into working full time and to make some money.”

In Dingle the locals greet each other in the colourful winding stree

ts in what is an epitome of small-town friendliness. However, local community development officer Joanne Ni Suilleabhain says that life here has become increasingly hard as a result of the recession.

“Geography is a massive issue for people,” she says, noting that she has come across an increasing number of people who cannot afford to run cars anymore, leading to increased rural isolation.

Kerry county councillor Seamus “Cosai” McGearailt says that traditionally there were three local industries: tourism, fishing and farming.

While the boom times brought with it increased work opportunities they have dried up.

He says nowadays young people do their Leaving Cert locally and go off to third level but “very few of them come back”.

“Those with a good trade...electrician or plumber, they have emigrated to Australia...Their first port of call is go to Dublin, to the cities, wherever their degrees will carry them...if there’s any work going they’re in for it but if it’s not then they have to emigrate.”

Happily there are a few exceptions. Shane Finn and Mark Evans, both in their 20s, have recently set up their own business, West Kerry Fitness, providing personal training, fitness boot camps and spinning classes in the local community.

The two have been pleasantly surprised at how successful the business has been to date but they are acutely aware that few of their friends have the same opportunity to find work at home.

Indeed, both had been planning to leave before the business took off.

“Hopefully I'll be able to stay in Dingle,” says Finn, who is 20 years old.

“But a lot of my friends aren’t so hopeful. They’re looking into going away for the summer and, while they’re there they’re going to be looking for jobs to go to after they finish college.”

Evans, who is 27, says many of his friends have already left.

“I can remember being out weekends and you’d meet everyone out, now you’d go out and there’s three or four of you out. Everyone’s either in Australia or London or somewhere else.”