Internet access in rural Ireland like ‘living in the stone age’, youth conference hears

Conference organised by Ombudsman for Children to mark World Children’s Day

Dr Niall Muldoon, the Ombudsman for Children with, from left Amy Hunter, Aoibheann Mangan, Katie McKenna, and from right Margaret Ward, Fearghal O’Mahony, Grace Murphy and Sinead Pollak celebrating  World Children’s Day. Photograph: Maxwell

Dr Niall Muldoon, the Ombudsman for Children with, from left Amy Hunter, Aoibheann Mangan, Katie McKenna, and from right Margaret Ward, Fearghal O’Mahony, Grace Murphy and Sinead Pollak celebrating World Children’s Day. Photograph: Maxwell

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Aoibheann Mangan (12) learned to code when she was eight years old, and since then has created four award-winning websites.

Last year Aoibheann, from the small rural village of Hollymount, Co Mayo, was named European digital girl of the year in the 11-14 year-old category.

However, the tech prodigy does not have access to rural broadband at home, and has to travel to the carpark of a Tesco 18km away to access the internet.

“Living in rural Ireland and getting access to rural broadband is a nightmare,” Aoibheann told a conference for young people in City Hall, Child Talks.

Aoibheann was one of seven young people who spoke about their experiences growing up in Ireland, as part of an event to mark World Children’s Day.

The Mayo student started learning to code in her local Coderdojo group, an organisation that runs workshops to help teach children and teenagers how to code.

“I started learning to code from scratch, before moving onto web building, [and] robotics,” she said. Her experience trying to access internet in rural Ireland made her feel like she was “living in the stone age”, she said.

She said this was leading people to move to bigger cities to find work. And the knock on effect of that was competition for housing and higher rents in cities, and the “ultimate death of rural Ireland”, she said.

The conference was organised by the Ombudsman for Children, and attended by school children, youth organisations, and politicians.

Another speaker, Amy Hunter (17) described her experience as a young transgender individual in Ireland.

“Ever since I was in primary school I was severely bullied, I got called names, got picked on and made fun of,” she said.

Attending a local youth group for LGBT+ people in Sligo and Mayo, she said she became comfortable dressing how she wanted.

“I went the first day in my boys clothes, skinny jeans, a baggy hoodie. What I didn’t realise was, that was the last ever time I was going to dress for everybody except myself,” she said.

“The next time I walked in in my black skirt, dark makeup, cute clothes, and I felt like me. Ever since I expressed myself life has really turned good for me,” she said.

The event also heard talks from Margaret Ward, a 14-year old member of the Traveller community in Tullamore; Grace Murphy, Katie McKenna, Fearghal O’Mahony, and a song performed by young musician Sinead Pollak.

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