Róisín Murray (24) wants to live on Inishbofin for lots of reasons. She has family there, and has an appreciation of the culture and traditions of the island located off the coast of Connemara, Co Galway, she says.
But the challenges of rural life – challenges often accentuated on Ireland’s smattering of islets – form a barrier to that pipe dream.
“If I move back, it’s limited where I can live,” she says, speaking to The Irish Times at the National Rural Youth Assembly at Dublin Castle, facilitated by the Department of Rural and Community Development. Growing up, Ms Murray lived between Tinahely, Co Wicklow and Inishbofin.
At present, young people – especially those from the islands – face the prospect of a life lived away from their home place given a lack of housing stock.
“We’ve a big issue with accommodation,” says Kayla Moran, a native of Clare Island, off the Co Mayo coast. “For younger people, it’s too expensive buy a house on the island, so anyone who is moving back, you’re moving in with your family again, in your family’s home.”
Young people have to compete with older holidaymakers when it comes to buying a house, says Heidi O’Grady (18), also from Clare Island.
“There’s young people that want to move back and work, live on the island, work on the island, they want to stay at home, but it’s almost impossible,” she says, “There’s tourists coming in, they’re buying the houses, so all the houses are holiday homes.”
Some Government measures – remote-working hubs and grants for renovating old houses, for example – are helping to protect and revitalise rural life, but rural housing should be prioritised more, Ms O’Connor adds.
“You might not have loads of facilities [on the island], but you have so much family and so much community that you feel like you’re always at home,” she says. “The whole community is your family.”
In addition to housing, access to education can be an issue on the islands. There are no secondary schools on Inishbofin or Clare Island. Since starting secondary school some years ago, Ms Moran and Ms O’Connor spend much of the academic year living with host families in Louisburgh, “on the mainland”.
“I’m out in secondary school now, and I’m playing football with Louisburgh, so I’m involved with the community in Louisburgh more than I’d be involved in the island,” says Ms O’Grady.
It’s another factor pushing young people away from the island, she adds. “It brings you away from home.”
Alana O’Connor (17), from Donabate, Co Dublin, was also thinking about housing at the National Rural Youth Assembly on Monday.
Going to university often means moving to an urban centre, she says, but in a rental crisis, some young people are instead opting to stay in rural areas. “Accessing accommodation in urban areas is really difficult. Especially with inflation at the moment, housing prices are just going to increase.
“I feel like more students would be inclined to go to rural areas, just because they can’t afford the accommodation in urban areas.”
Alex Dunne (17) moved from Dublin to Longford town with his family in 2018 on account of rising rents. “The rent was going up ... so we ended up buying a house down in the midlands, worked out cheaper for us.”
Given financial barriers involved with moving to urban centres, Ms O’Connor would like to see better public transport links in rural Ireland.
“Especially in rural areas, [buses come] every hour, every two hours. People can’t go anywhere they want, it’s really hard for them.”
More job opportunities away from the big city could help further revitalise places such as Donabate, she says. “So people could find job opportunities in rural areas as well, because a lot of the big branches, multinational companies are all based in Dublin.
“If more big companies branch towards rural areas, people would try to find jobs in the rural areas.”