Recently retired Community Co-ordinator, Mary Catherine Heanue, says she is ‘passionate about the future of Inishturk’ and here talks to Áine Ryan about the many progressive changes on the Mayo island.
AR I understand you were born and reared on nearby Inishbofin. Tell me about your move to Inishturk and your early years there?
MCH I was born and reared on nearby Inishbofin. I am the second eldest of a family of six. I was working in the Doonmore Hotel, Inishbofin when I met Bill in 1973 at a football match between Inishturk and Inishbofin. We married in 1978 and set up home on Inishturk. We had six children Eamon, Tina, Brid, Liam, Mary Michelle and Rachel.
Inishturk was a fantastic place to raise our family. Our children had a carefree childhood. There was great freedom for them. It was and still is safe, crime free and you always knew there was somebody to look out for them. They had a very happy childhood with many friends close by.
Unfortunately, at the age of 12 or 13 they had to leave home to further their education at secondary school on the mainland. This was very difficult for us, as it was for all island parents, to watch them leave home on Sunday evening and not return until Friday if the weather permitted. This was probably the toughest part of Island life for us. For many island children this is the start of life on the mainland as they continue into third level education, follow their careers and settle on the mainland.
We have been very fortunate that two of our family, Eamon and Brid, have returned home and built a life for themselves and are now settled with their own families on Inishturk.
Tina, Liam and Mary Michelle live in Westport and the youngest Rachel lives and works in London. Of our eight grandchildren, five at home and three in Westport, the oldest two are now attending Rice College.
AR You have spent your life working, first voluntarily, and latterly, as the island’s community co-ordinator. Much has changed on Inishturk over the last 30 years, will you reflect on those changes?
MCH I have worked in community development for the last 29 years. I spent 13 years on a voluntary committee, five years as Administrator and almost 11 years as Coordinator in the Community Development Office.
The first Community Development Office with Coordinator was opened on Inishturk in October 1996. Prior to this all community development work was carried out by a voluntary committee. There was always a fantastic community spirit on Inishturk. When the original Community Club was built here on the Island the construction work was totally voluntary and apart from €13,000 from the national lottery all finance for the building was obtained by fundraising.
Since Bill and I settled on Inishturk there have been many changes. The installation of the ESB power station from private generators was a major boost to our island. Following on from a visit by the then Taoiseach Mr Charles J Haughey to officially open the power station we received funding to build the first new pier on the Island.
During my years in the development office I have seen the island develop in many ways to include the building of a new all-tidal pier, Health Centre, football pitch and dressing rooms, extension to the Community Club including public toilets and shower, a new kitchen and restaurant facilities. This has enabled us to increase employment opportunities on the island. We are also fortunate enough to have a community employment scheme on the island which helps maintain all public facilities.
AR A regular scheduled ferry service to Inishturk has provided a more secure link with the mainland. The winters must still be hard though as they are for all offshore islanders. If you could speak to the relevant Government ministers about improving connectedness to the mainland over the winter montths, what would you ask them for as a priority?
MCH The first ferry came to Inishturk in 1997 and this was a real lifeline for the island. Prior to this people travelled to and from the mainland in fishing boats. Following this the Department of the Islands introduced a ferry passenger subsidy for all the non-gaeltacht islands allowing all islanders to have a more regular ferry service. This and a lot of wonderful media attention over the last few years has made a huge difference to tourism promotion on the islands. It is vital for all islanders that any government present or future keep this lifeline going.
Winter weather can be tough at times but with the larger ferries and having Cleggan harbour to fall back on in bad weather as opposed to Roonagh pier we are seldom cut off completely. We are also very lucky to have high quality broadband which allows people to work from home on the island.
AR What is the situation regarding the proposed fish-farm off Inishturk at the moment?
MCH Plans are ongoing for the proposed fish-farm off Inishturk and we are hopeful that this project will create employment on Inishturk and in turn encourage families to return to work on the island also increasing the numbers of children attending the primary school.
AR Finally, Inishturk is renowned for its warm welcome, great sessions of ceol agus craic and great community spirit. Can you explain these special atmosphere?
MCH Inishturk is a beautiful island that offers a unique experience to all visitors. It is known for its scenic looped walks, beautiful sandy beaches and panoramic views from our Community Club where you can enjoy a nice meal, a good pint of Guinness and plenty of ceol agus craic every weekend for the summer months.