Western community highlights loss of GAA players in bid to revitalise area

Hopes for Údarás na Gaeltachta plan for marine park

A social media depiction of the  Cárna-Caiseal GAA team   of 2005. Over half the players have left the area and their faces  are  blanked out – two further team members have left since those blank-outs were made. Photograph: Sportsfile

A social media depiction of the Cárna-Caiseal GAA team of 2005. Over half the players have left the area and their faces are blanked out – two further team members have left since those blank-outs were made. Photograph: Sportsfile

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If a photograph can tell 1,000 words an image on social media can reflect the story of a whole lost generation from a western region.

A photo of a south Connemara GAA team was taken over 12 years ago when the Cárna-Caiseal club was at its zenith. It had been narrowly beaten by Salthill-Knocknacarra, which then went on to win the 2005 All-Ireland senior club football championship.

A social media depiction of the Cárna-Caiseal team photo of that year now blanks out about half of the faces – two further team members have left since those blank-outs were made.

The aim of the jobs campaign named Jabanna do cheantar Iorras Aithneach is to show that few of the panel of 20 players are still at home, and Cárna’s loss as a viable community has been north America’s gain.

Five of the parish footballers are on the first team with the Boston Connemara Gaels, and there is a sense that more of its Irish is being spoken, and music celebrated, across the Atlantic at this stage.

“We are issuing an SOS for our community because it was when we were in the US last autumn that it really hit us,” Cárna-Caiseal club chairman Eamonn Ó Cualáin says. Due to the lack of employment opportunities, school-leavers have to emigrate or migrate to cities like Galway and Dublin for work.

However, Ó Cualáin and neighbour Michael Coyne, who runs the Tígh Chadhain bar and bistro in Cill Chiaráín, are keen to stress there is no “ochón” in the SOS.

A public meeting organised for Saturday, January 20th, for the Cárna-Caiseal parish of about 1,200 has no political agenda, and the focus will be on solutions, rather than problems, they stress.

Students

There is much to “ochón” about. An analysis of the roll for its secondary school, Scoil Pobail Mhic Dara in Cárna, shows that 70 per cent of the students who attended between 1987 and 2012 have left the parish. The school had 215 students in the early 1990s, and it is now down to 90.

“Because we have a great progression rate to third level, ironically, there is an expectation that many will not be able to come back,” says school principal Dara Ó Maolchiarain.

Latest Higher Education Authority figures show half of all graduate jobs are now in Dublin, and the big drop in the number of graduates employed abroad is not benefiting the western counties.

Galway, Roscommon and Mayo account for 9 per cent of the jobs, compared to 17 per cent of the southwest, mainly Cork.

When Coyne reads recent Irish Times reports about “recovery” he has to take a deep breath because that well-known Celtic cat never came to his part of Connemara.

“We live in a beautiful area, but we were told at school you won’t need Irish once you pass Maam Cross, and that is still the case, even though the language is making a comeback,” Coyne says.

His bistro, listed in many tour guides, hosted a lunch for US embassy chargé d’affaires to Ireland Reece Smyth on Friday, and publicised it on its Cadhain Óg Twitter account. It got a reply from the diplomat to say “bhí an bia go hiontach!”

Still, Coyne feels like “a native American on a reservation” at times, and wonders about the future for his three children, aged 16, 13 and nine years old.

Disconnect

Lack of high-speed broadband, restrictions on small farming and inshore fishing, drink-driving legislation which does not take into account lack of public transport in rural areas, and a “disconnect” between government in the east and the reality in the west are major factors, he says.

Closure of post offices, Garda stations and a decision to cut the travelling bank have all had commensurate impacts.

“When the bank was on the road people would spend money in the local area, but now they spend where they have to drive to, be it Clifden, Oughterard or Galway city. Every year there is a little attack on some essential service, and it all adds up,” says Coyne

Gaeltacht development authority Údarás na Gaeltachta put much faith in aquaculture during the last recession, with mixed results. Latterly its decision to sell off the State seaweed company Arramara Teo to Canadian multinational Acadian for an undisclosed sum has caused disquiet at a time when seaweed has become the new “ yellow gold”.

However, Ó Cualáin and Coyne have high hopes for a plan pioneered by new Údarás na Gaeltachta chief executive Mícheál Ó hÉanaigh for a low-carbon marine innovation park.

The nine-hectare Páirc na Mara has already attracted some 17 serious expressions of interest from businesses and start-ups, according to Ó hÉanaigh, who was accompanying the US ambassador around Connemara on Friday.

Stakeholders

“We are working with other stakeholders, including the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht, the third-level campuses, local authority, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and Marine Institute, ” says Ó hÉanaigh.

If planning is secured it is hoped to have it up and running in 2019.

Coyne says the park could be part of an overall plan which could build on the area’s strengths.

“What we don’t want is another Government taskforce. Every time someone leaves here, they are also taking a part of the language and culture with them, and that’s the significance.”

He does not want his home and business and that of his neighbours becoming part of a deserted village on a tour guide’s map of a late 21st century Wild Atlantic Way.

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