A one-way ticket to Commuterville
“I was in despair . . . It’s soul-destroying. I remember queueing for the dole and how it snaked around the foyer of Eurospar; 80 per cent were men, and I’d say 90 per cent of those were tradesmen.”
He is now self-employed and designs, installs and services fire alarms as Ozone Fire Services, much of it for a north Dublin company. This, he admits, takes a heavy toll in diesel costs. “It’s the big downside of commuting. It’s just not feasible to have only one car. I run a van and I spend €120 a week on diesel. It costs [my wife] Niamh, who works in Dublin, about €75 in fuel to drive up and down. She tried taking the train but just found it too unreliable.”
Keogh is from Kildare, and he and his wife, a Dubliner, bought their Lucan home for £73,500 in 1997. Both became “claustrophobic about the concrete jungle rising around us” and sold it for £150,000 in 2000. “My wife said she’d never leave Dublin but she found this house in the end. We got it for £175,000 – about €220,000 – and it didn’t seem a lot of money at the time.”
Yvonne O’Neill, a social-care worker, play therapist and mother of two small children, has just set up a business, Childhood Therapy Service, in the town to reduce commuting costs. She admits her primary motive in moving here from Tallaght seven or eight years ago was financial.
“We just couldn’t afford a home in Dublin. It was just the next step of life; I’m not put out by it at all. I’d be put out now if I had to leave my country to go to Australia.
“I did find it very quiet at first. It probably took me up to two and a half years to settle. But now 10 of us who grew up together have settled around this area and that’s probably what helped us to settle. Whitewater made a big difference when it opened . . . The two kids moved us into the next part of settling and I’m feeling very much more local now.”
She knows there are problems locally with unemployment. “But to my eyes social problems are way more obvious in Dublin. I don’t see drug users hanging out at the bus stops here. When I go to Dublin now, I find it stomach-churning to see homeless people on every corner, the trails of puke, the mothers off their heads dragging their children down the street. It’s really in your face in Dublin. I don’t see that in my community here. I wouldn’t move back in a million years.”
What the statistics fail to show are the hopes, dreams and concrete plans for a better town: the creative thinking around the closed army barracks, the vision for arts and crafts outlets to complement the offerings in the Kildare Village. They see hope where others might see depredation.
Keogh welcomes the arrival of a large Tesco, simply because it will keep locals in the town. “I reckon it’ll take five years but this will come back to being a community town, I’m sure of it.”