‘Everything is blamed – the mountain, the woods, the walls’ – getting online in rural Ireland

The owner of Lissadell House in Sligo says it is embarrassing watching people walking around the grounds trying desperately to get an internet connection

Eddie Walsh and Constance Cassidy at Lissadell House. Mr Walsh  said he has tried a number of different providers but has never got a satisfactory broadband connection. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Eddie Walsh and Constance Cassidy at Lissadell House. Mr Walsh said he has tried a number of different providers but has never got a satisfactory broadband connection. Photograph: Brian Farrell

 

When it comes to connectivity Eddie Walsh, owner of Lissadell House in Sligo, believes things haven’t progressed too much since Constance Markievicz lived there.

“It’s actually pre-historic,” said the barrister who described as embarrassing watching people walking around the grounds trying desperately to get an internet connection when they attend events in Lissadell.

It’s a problem which affects all aspects of the business whether it’s trying to send out brochures, run conferences or provide basic facilities for people enjoying a trip to the 1916 leader’s ancestral home.

This weekend SIPTU’s Sligo/Leitrim /Roscommon District Council held a conference in Lissadell and union bosses have discussed holding a major conference there but one of their first questions was about the quality of the broadband.

“I had to honestly say that it is dreadful,” said Mr Walsh. He considered introducing online sales at the estate to raise the profile of the tourist attraction and generate revenue, but it wan’t feasible given the poor broadband.

The senior counsel, who bought the estate with his wife Constance Cassidy in 2003, said he has tried a number of different providers but has never got a satisfactory broadband connection. “Everything is blamed – the mountain, the woods, the walls . . . you name it.

“I now do all my research in Dublin or Naas. When I’m trying to send an email I walk away from the house and I see people going up to the car park looking for a connection. It’s been okay with the weather for the last six or eight weeks but at other times you won’t delay too long outside.”

Mr Walsh said that communications companies who promise certain speeds and don’t follow through are effectively committing fraud.

“When they promised to roll out the national plan we thought ‘brilliant’ and I suppose that’s why we put up with this for so long. If Albert Reynolds managed to get the phone system working why can’t someone do the same with broadband. Is it that there will isn’t there or the government isn’t investing enough?”

Clincher

Co Leitrim estate agent Liam Farrell, who also owns the cineplex in Carrick-on- Shannon, said when he is showing potential buyers around a house or property the first question is often about the quality of the broadband.

“It used to be, ‘is there a well or is there a group water scheme’,” he said. “Now we find that the view may be perfect, the commuting distance may be just right but the clincher is the quality of the connectivity.”

Mr Farrell said improved broadband is the only way to ensure the revitalisation of rural Ireland. “Mary McInerney who operates a restaurant on the Lovely Leitrim barge on the river Shannon, said that sometimes she feels she is living in an episode of the 1960s television show Green Acres where they used to climb the telephone poles to talk on the phone.

She and her husband, Jorn Bjerknes, run a restaurant on their barge but keeping in internet contact with their customers is a nightmare which involves running up and down along the riverbank to send or receive emails.

“Some places are blackspots when it comes to broadband,” she explained. “We have to wait until we get into town to check our emails. It is really frustrating and like a lot of people we wonder what the Government is going to do about it”.

Broadband access is “as critical for rural areas as the ESB”, explained Michael Cahill, a councillor and guesthouse owner in Glenbeigh, Co Kerry.

He points to the Glencar valley near Killorglin. This is a remote but beautiful walking area in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. Here hoteliers said coverage was always “patchy” and it depends where you are.

The experience of what has been rolled out so far is of access to broadband stopping abruptly – houses on one road are covered and but those on another road, or even another part of the same road are not eligible or being included.

‘Amber’

Kerry has one of the highest number of premises yet to be covered by the roll-out of high-speed rural broad. According to the national broadband plan, as of the first quarter in 2018 only 52 per cent of Kerry is covered by commercial broadband operators – compared with 99 per cent in Dún Laoghaire, for instance. Almost half the 89,139 homes and businesses in Kerry are without high-speed broadband.

Some 32 per cent of premises in Kerry are in the intervention area and geographically most of the county is “amber” , yet to be provided with broadband with the exceptions of the major towns.