Dwindling Leitrim communities court city slickers
Trio of rural areas launch online campaigns in bid to save services and grow population
Community spirit: locals turned out in force during the campaign to save Aughavas post office.
Booker prize winning novelist DBC Pierre once said that there is no cure for Leitrim hospitality, except more Leitrim hospitality.
It’s not the slogan they have adopted in Aughavas, Kiltyclogher or Tarmon, three rural areas in the county which have launched online campaigns in an attempt to woo city dwellers to their communities.
“It is crunch time,” explains Séamus Tiernan, principal of St Joseph’s national school in Aughavas where the pupil population hovers just above 50, putting it at risk of losing its third teacher.
The Aughavas campaign had its formal launch in the Dugout bar – which also accommodates the local shop and post office – on Saturday night. The last time the place generated a flurry of media attention was in 2010 when actor Amy Huberman and former Irish ruby captain Brian O’Driscoll married in the local church.
The slogan for the “Aughavas Community Calling” Facebook appeal echoes the successful message of the “Kilty Live” campaign last year, which has resulted in seven families moving into the Border village of Kiltclogher. “Do you love Ireland?” is the opening gambit for the Aughavas appeal which locals hope will resonate with its many emigrants based around the globe. It also appeals to those who are “tired of the hustle and bustle, danger and expense of city urban life” .
The school principal says that in the absence of a focussed Government initiative aimed at halting the decline of rural communities, they are taking the first step themselves.
Tarmon, another rural area between Drumshanbo and Drumkeerin, has just 19 pupils in the local primary school – the cut-off point for losing a second teacher is 18. Like Aughavas it is appealing to families looking for a quieter way of life to move in.
Low rents averaging about €500 a month, beautiful scenery, good community spirit and a strong GAA tradition are cited as key attractions in Aughavas.
But Mr Tiernan acknowledges there are challenges also, such as planning restrictions and a surge in afforestation which means that many existing vacant houses are destined to remain empty.
“One-off housing has a got a very bad name and is regarded as a blight on the landscape which I can understand when you travel outside cities like Galway,” he says. But he adds that forestry plantations have cut off some dwelling houses.
“There is nothing as quiet as a Sitka spruce plantation because there is no wildlife there. And what we are worried about is how viable our community will be in 20 or 30 years time because any community without the voices of children playing is not vibrant.”
Terry Williams led the successful campaign to keep Aughavas post office open 18 months ago, but says no one knows if its long-term future is safe. “Aughavas used to have 13 shops and a dance hall ,” he says. “Now there is one. Two schools in the parish closed in 2012. We were looked after by Cloone Garda station and it is gone. For the first time ever there is now no under-age GAA teams in Aughavas.”
Belfast native Mark Brooks who moved to Aughavas with his wife Paula, and four children then aged from two to 16 , almost 11 years ago says he has no regrets. “My only regret is that I did not do it earlier. I travelled anyway with my work and believe it or not Leitrim is very central. I am a couple of hours from Galway and the same from Dublin.”
The move was prompted by a desire to raise their children in a rural community, he says. “I could not ask for better neighbours.”
Mary Brennan, chairwoman of Aughavas Community Calling, job shares as a secondary school teacher. “We are trying to point out to people that are working in Dublin as teachers or nurses that they would have the same pay here, but living costs are much cheaper,” she explains.