A one-way ticket to Commuterville
O’Donnell is optimistic, though. “We’re not starting from a minus position. We have roads, rail, water, schools, very good community facilities and a huge involvement in GAA and rugby. We’re the heart of horse country. We have the National Stud, the Japanese Gardens and Kildare Village.”
Old and new
On a damp Wednesday morning, the town looks less than lively. On the upside, there are few boarded-up premises. In fact, the old-fashioned hardware shop run by Kit Harhen is only two years old. “Every good business starts in a recession,” he says.
At its old heart, says 34-year-old Brian Flanagan, who runs the Silken Thomas pub, the town still has the five takeaways it had before, the seven or eight bookies’ shops, 13 pubs, seven cafe-restaurants, a few pharmacies, beauty salons and a Eurospar. Obviously, no one would be mad enough to open a clothes shop, with the Kildare Village outlet three minutes away.
Then again, says Flanagan, “the town never was a retail presence, so in many ways, it didn’t have a whole amount to lose. It has always leached off what’s around it, rather than what’s in it.”
What is remarkable is that apart from Tesco and the expanding Kildare Village, which employs about 400 people, there has been no big employer in the town for a long time. So the new homeowners fully expected to have to travel for work, probably back to Dublin. In many cases, the Dublin commute goes on. Yvonne O’Neill, who lives in the Ruanbeg estate, reckons the majority of people around her commute to Dublin every day.
When Ballymun-born Nicola McGrath moved with her husband Larry from a Dublin city-centre rental to a house here in 2002, she had no expectations. There was no Kildare Village, she says, no Eurospar, no Whitewater centre in Newbridge, no Tesco in town. “The industrial park in Naas where I work now wasn’t here. And there was no motorway. Kildare had nothing. I had zero expectations . . . But I never felt I was being pushed out of Dublin and I don’t know anyone who feels that way.”
She moved out of choice, she insists, because she wanted to invest in a good, four-bedroom house. She was not expecting developments such as the Kildare Village, which has been such a boon to their lives.
“There is nothing I miss, not ever. The kids love Kildare; they’re Kildare kids. Larry still works in Dublin and I’m lucky that I’ve been in the same job for a long time, but even if Larry or I did lose our jobs I still don’t see how that would have anything to do with where we live.”
Brian Flanagan echoes that thought. “The downturn here wasn’t about what happened to the town; it’s what happened to the area. Everyone in my estate of 35 houses works outside the town. A lot of Kildare people work in Wyatt and Pfizer in Newbridge, for example. The 900 Kerry Group jobs announced for Naas aren’t just jobs for Naas.”
More significantly, Cathal Keogh echoes that thought. “Location is irrelevant,” says the 40-year-old, who was made redundant from a Dublin fire-alarm company in 2010. In 12 months, he applied for 220 jobs, all within his capabilities, and got 10 acknowledgments and two job interviews.