Digital hub signals bright future for Arranmore islanders

Island 5km off coast of Donegal hopeful that high-speed broadband can help arrest decline

 Seamus Bonner (Arranmore Community Council), Elaine Carey (chief commercial officer, Three), Adrian Begley (Arranmore Business Council), and Eoin MacManus (business director, Three) at the broadband launch.

Seamus Bonner (Arranmore Community Council), Elaine Carey (chief commercial officer, Three), Adrian Begley (Arranmore Business Council), and Eoin MacManus (business director, Three) at the broadband launch.

 

An island high-speed digital hub that has opened 5km off the coast of Donegal brings echoes of rural electrification, say islanders.

Arranmore Islanders hope the development will breath new life into an ageing population and encourage those who have left the island to return. Tuesday marked unveiling of the hub in a former amusement arcade which boasts 13 digital desks and an average broadband speed of 100 megabytes.

Seamus Bonner says the Arranmore’s Community Council hopes the hub will attract exiled islanders home. The digital hub is the first on an island off Ireland. Bonner has seen many changes on the island, but the common thread has been a gradual decline in population from more than 700 people some years back to 469 now.

He hopes the arrival of the hub will restore Arranmore’s fortunes.

“So many people have come together to make this happen but it needed to happen. It’s no secret that the numbers of people in the island has been in serious decline. Somebody compared this to the electrification of the island and I think that’s a fair comparison. The arrival of this digital hub along with such high broadband speeds will make this a place people can come and stay connected.

“People from Arranmore are dotted all around the world and with this development, they will be able to come back and work from here for a week, a month or for good,” he says.

She can catch the fast ferry at Burtonport and be out here in 15 minutes to visit her mum and stay a few days

One of those is Nicola Greene who works for insurance company Optum in Letterkenny.

She may not be halfway across the globe but the opening of Modam (Mol Oifig Digiteach Árainn Mhór, named in a competition by local secondary school pupil Aiden Doherty) means she can catch the fast ferry at Burtonport and be out here in 15 minutes to visit her mum and stay a few days.

“To be honest it has reignited my relationship with Arranmore . . . I can work and stay here for as long as I like and my company is okay with that. I would have to download a lot of large files with my work, but with the broadband here that is now possible,” she says.

Her sentiments are echoed by school friends Eimer Gallagher and Lisa Rodgers who plan to return from their homes in London where they have lived for several years.

Lisa is in business consultancy and Eimer is in fashion.

Both have children and while their ability to return will be dictated by school holidays, the improved connectivity means they can extend their visits and work from the island.

In what used to be the ferry’s ticket office in a room off the main digital hub, islander Neil Gallagher, chief executive and founder of educational tech company Caped Koala is on a video call from London.

Like many other islanders, he has always wanted to add value to his community

The quality of both the sound and the picture is perfect.

“I was on the island last week and the connection there is twice as fast as I have in London. I was there in 2007 and tried to work from the island but I wasn’t able to because the connectivity was not there.”

He says like many other islanders, he has always wanted to add value to his community.

“This connectivity by Three will allow me to create opportunities and bring employment, by training people on the island to test software and take active roles in EU research projects.”

On a commercial level, islanders hope the opening of Modam will bring plenty of financial spin-offs for the locality and for various local businesses.

John McCafferty, manager of one of the island’s co-ops, Ionad an Chros Bhealaigh, is convinced the new connectivity will attract many new visitors.

And that’s good news as the co-op, which employs seven people, offers a range of services including sailing, bike rental, kayaking and children’s clubs.

“People know their children will be safe and have plenty to do on the island when they come to use the hub,” he says.

Increased broadband speeds have also been installed in several local business and community facilities, including in Scoil Athphoirt where students can now use interactive whiteboards, research online and participate in online learning.

And for a population with half aged over 65 years, that it is a vital link

The broadband solution has also been installed in the medical centre which will facilitate telemedicinal applications, including video consultations with consultants on the mainland, saving patients a four-hour round trip to Letterkenny or overnight trip to Dublin.

And for a population with half aged over 65 years, that it is a vital link.

When the people of Arranmore flagged up a need for better connectivity to breath new life into the island, both Donegal County Council and the Department of Rural and Community Development backed the plan.So too did Three Ireland who supported the project at a grassroots level.

Eóin MacManus, business and enterprise director at Three Ireland, says the launch marks the start of a long-term partnership with the people of Arranmore “to help deliver their ambitious plans for the island which will enable them to sustain and develop their community”.