Rural renewal: Cian (3) is only pupil for new junior infants class

Lack of mobile signal and internet are making it difficult to make a living in Finea

Councillor Paddy Hill in the village of Finea. Photograph : Barry Cronin

Councillor Paddy Hill in the village of Finea. Photograph : Barry Cronin

 

Cian Fitzsimons (3) is the only pupil signed up for September’s intake of junior infants in Finea National School, according to his father Ciarán. But the small number of young children is only one fact of life in Finea.

Ciarán owns a pub on the Cavan end of town. Twenty years ago there would be 40- 50 people in his bar on a Saturday night, he says. Now the numbers only approach 10 - 20 and that is often when the fishermen are in.

“In the winter with lights on from 4pm, and a fire you would be losing money,” he says. “People are afraid to go out. People have been targeted by burglars even when they go out for an hour to Mullingar.”

A once-thriving village on the border of counties Westmeath and Cavan, Finea is just five miles from Granard in Co Longford and about the same distance from the border with Co Meath. Its population is just over 300.

Earlier this year the post office was closed; a year before that the Garda station shut down. The town had already lost its health centre. Shops have closed, and the two pubs open only in the evenings. It is not possible to get broadband through the local exchange, and the GSM signal is weak.

But Finea is has a strong community spirit. It is a pretty place with a wide, tree-lined main street and manicured grassy banks leading to an old stone bridge over the river Inny. Situated midway between Lough Sheelin and Lough Kinale, the village is popular with fishermen, particularly in the mayfly season. Boats can be hired and there is guesthouse and mobile home accommodation.

Broadband wasteland

Since the horse meat scare last year, supermarket chains with which he deals in Europe have become extremely demanding in their testing and compliance requirements.

“They want to know the numbers of staff and their experience and qualifications,” he says. “They want to inspect the premises for compliance with regulations and allergen systems.

“They want documents and questionnaires completed and sent back, usually in the same day, and they want it online. Sometimes I have had to get into the car and drive to an internet shop in Mullingar to upload documents.”

Broadband would remove a significant stumbling block to his business and might even lead to some other business starting up in the town. But he says there doesn’t appear to be any particular arm of the Government looking at the differences between rural Ireland and the urban areas.

Following the local elections, local man Paddy Hill, a veteran councillor, was elected chairman of Westmeath County Council. He would like to see a debate about what is happening to Finea and places like it in rural Ireland.

After the Garda station closed, he tried unsuccessfully to persuade the authorities to transfer the former station to the community.

Paddy Creggy, who lives “three miles out”, drives into the village in his tractor most days to collect groceries. He uses a debit card but feels the absence of a bank in the town. The nearest ATM is in Granard, in a bank branch that is due to close.

A steady stream of cars stop at Clarke’s, the only grocery shop in the town. Outside two youths in a car are waiting for a third.

“There is nothing here, nothing to do,” said one young man. His friend said it wasn’t “that bad”. “There are good people here, they try,” he said, before adding “but the phone coverage is awful”.