More than 1,300 families apply to live rent-free on Inis Meáin for a year

Comhlacht Forbartha Inis Meáin will interview a shortlist of a number of families before picking the one they feel will integrate well within the community

More than 1,300 families have applied under a new initiative to live rent-free on Inis Meáin for a year.

The initiative is being run by a community development organisation on the island off the Galway coast, which has said it is humbled by the response.

Comhlacht Forbartha Inis Meáin announced the initiative in mid-July, and following the closing date for applications on Wednesday next August 10th, the group plans to shortlist a number of families for interview before picking one they feel will integrate well within the community, and be able to pay regular household bills.

Mairéad Ní Fhátharta, chairwoman of Comhlacht Forbartha Inis Meáin and principal of Coláiste Naomh Eoin, the secondary school on Inis Meáin, said they had not anticipated the response received thus far.

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“We have international interest, and all kinds of media offers from Australian radio to Canadian papers contacting us, so it’s fantastic in one way, but obviously there can only be, I imagine, one successful family,” she said.

“Of course Gaeilge is the language of our schools, of our community, we’re part of the policy Oideachas Gaeltachta so we will be prioritising people who can function in the language as the integration will be a lot easier for them and for us,” Ms Ní Fhátharta added.

Comhlacht Forbartha Inis Meáin was established by people on the island in 2016 to help promote the island, ensure services were provided, preserve the language, attract funding and ensure a better life for the people of the island.

Manager of the organisation, Dara Ó Madaoin, said the island had lots to offer: “It’s a beautiful location, it’s a safe place to raise a family, it’s a small community but a thriving community where everyone knows each other. You can always depend on other members of the community. It’s linguistically and culturally a very, very rich area,” he said.

The island has a preschool, a primary school and a secondary school along with a newly opened digital tech hub for remote working.

Ms Ní Fhátharta said the response they had received gave the community hope for the future of the island: “The amount of people that would want to live here once you offer people opportunities, they take them, the possibilities are endless with remote working, and it’s an ideal place to live, and you know there is a demand there, and that’s lovely.

“It’s been such a positive experience for us to know that so many people want and would be willing to live here if given the opportunity and it kind of makes the future of island living, it kind of secures it in a sense to know that there are people who seek or who wish for something different.”

She stressed island living was a “different way of life, that you have to work hard to sustain services... and it’s just fantastic that there’s so many people there that, given the opportunity, they would be there in a flash”.

Mr Ó Madaoin said Comhlacht Forbartha Inis Meáin had profit left over from last year, which prompted it to start the initiative: “We said to ourselves, ‘what would be the best way to deal with this profit?’ and we thought a nice idea would be to give that back to the community here and try to help some family by taking some of the pressure of rent off them.

“I suppose really, we feel it’s a win-win situation for everyone, because the family that end up coming won’t have to pay rent for a year and it will also mean that the island will have more people living here; we’ll be adding to the community,” he added.

Inis Meáin is the smallest of the Aran Islands in terms of population, with about 183 people living there, according to the 2016 census.