How an online appeal brings new lease of life to a Leitrim village
‘Now children are back playing on the street. It’s lovely to hear those sounds’
Tammy Barrett and her children Aidan and Jessica in Kiltyclogher, Co Leitrim. “I love it to bits. This is like a fairy tale in my head.” Photograph: Brian Farrell
Fr Pat Farrelly says that when the bell goes at Kiltyclogher primary school these days, “it’s like letting out a flock of birds” so rapid is the exodus of the two dozen children as they bolt out the door.
Outsiders might wonder at local pride in the fact that 27 children are now enrolled in the school in the Co Leitrim Border village. But it’s a huge number compared to the 11 that had been expected in September, before the community launched its KiltyLive Facebook appeal, seeking families who wanted to escape the “hustle and bustle and expense” of city life.
“I think if the school had gone we would have been in mourning for Christmas,” says Fr Farrelly, a native of Mullagh, Co Cavan, who arrived in the parish in 2012, and has since seen the Garda barracks, a butcher’s shop and the presbytery in the village, one of two in the parish, close.
Yet within six weeks of the online appeal, six families had made the move to Kiltyclogher. A seventh arrived in December. And two more families are expected early in 2018 when their accommodation is ready.
With six families now on the “waiting list”, fears have abated that the school could lose its second teacher and might be forced to shut its doors.
Locals keep talking about the welcome noise of children playing on the street, a phenomenon many of them seem to have forgotten, while for Susan Carton, a powerhouse of KiltyLive, seeing lights on in many houses on the main street on a cold winter’s evening is balm to the soul. “There is a real feeling of hope and optimism in the place now,” she said.
Dublin-born Carton remembers times not too long ago when you would look around the village and think “there is not a sinner here”. That is not the case anymore.
Fr Farrelly says if they had more houses they would get more families, and Leitrim County Council can expect strong lobbying about the need for social housing in the village.
“We are very happy and glad with what we have got, but we do know there are other families who would like to come, and you have to have accommodation for them.”
Kathleen McCaffrey is the secretary at the primary school which is named after Kilty’s most famous son, 1916 leader Sean MacDiarmada, whose statue dominates the crossroads in the centre of the village, his back firmly turned to the Border a few hundred metres away .
That proximity to the Border with Fermanagh has shaped the lives of many Kilty residents over the generations. Yet according to McCaffrey, the recent injection of life is the reverse of what happened in another era when Border crossings were regularly blown up during the Troubles, cutting neighbour off from neighbour.
“I suppose growing up half of my friends would have been from Northern Ireland, ” says McCaffrey, who says her own children were denied this large pool of potential friends when roads were repeatedly holed and the bridge outside the village was blasted.
In fact, Kilty will soon have a coffee shop thanks to Barrett, who is taking over part of the Cozy Corner bar with another newcomer, who is also South African.
“We didn’t know each other, but, yes, it’s amazing – two of the six new families are South African,” said Barrett, who hopes by mid-January to be serving coffees made with locally-roasted beans (from Carrick-on-Shannon) and speciality cakes such as the South African delicacy Malva pudding.
She and her husband David Barrett, who is signing up for an online course in computer networking with IT Sligo, also intend to share their computer skills with all generations in Kilty. As well as a CoderDojo club for 8- to 18-year-olds, David hopes to introduce older people to the joys of Skype and sending emails.
“A lot of families have people abroad so would like to Skype, and there is fantastic wifi in the community centre, so even people who don’t have computers at home can come there to learn,” says Tammy.
Her family lived in a hostel in the centre of the village for six weeks before moving into their home a few minutes’ walk from the primary school on October 10th. “I love it to bits. This is like a fairy tale in my head,” she says, adding that when the Christmas lights went up in the village “I felt more Christmassy than I had for years”.
Lorraine White from Raheny – who moved from Athy, Co Kildare, with her husband John Paul (JP) and their two children Tamsin (9) and Rebecca (2) – echoes the delight of many of the newly-arrived parents, who say their children are blossoming in their new environment.
“Tamsin has stopped having nightmares since we arrived,” says White, who is continuing to run her online sales business from her home with JP.
The family decided to move to Kilty before even visiting the place. After being told about the KiltyLive appeal, they looked at the website, did a tour of the village on Google StreetView, and after a telephone conversation with Maura Weir, landlady at the Cosy Corner, decided to pack their lives away and hit the road for Co Leitrim.
“We weren’t happy that where we were was the best place for the kids. And we just got this feeling that this was meant to be,” says White, who is now living two doors from the planned new coffee shop and a two-minute walk from the school where Tamsin is one of two children in second class, having come from a class of 30.
“Her confidence has been built up already. She is smiling now, and can go out and play with her friends without us coming to the door every few minutes to check on her.”
The couple is paying rent of €475 a month, exactly half their mortgage of €950, but they have rented out the house in Athy so there is no extra financial burden.
“I love the house here. It is huge. The attic is converted, and John Paul calls it his man cave,” says White, adding that when the couple bought their Athy house they assumed it was their home for life but they changed paths for the sake of their children.
“It is our future as well. The people are fantastic, and that’s what sold it for us. We are 25-30 minutes away from Bundoran, 30-40 minutes from Enniskillen and 40 minutes from Sligo. We are central to everywhere.”
McCaffrey says that if the school had closed, “the heart of the village would have gone”.
“When the Troubles were on we lost a lot. I remember seven pubs in the village in the early 1960s – now there are two. There used to be two drapery shops. Now children are back playing on the street. It’s lovely to hear those sounds.”