STILL HOPEFUL Ciarán Ó Mhurchú, Coláiste Uisce.
Ciarán Ó Mhurchú tells Anton McNulty that Coláiste Uisce is hopeful they can salvage summer despite unprecedented set-back
Like the swallow returning from Africa for the summer, the sight of bus loads of teenagers making their way to the Erris Gaeltacht is a seasonal routine for the local population. However, due to the coronavirus the sound of teenagers having fun in the water around Elly Bay may be absent this summer if restrictions continue.
Coláiste Uisce, based in Elly Bay on the Mullet peninsula, has been running Irish language camps since 1992 but courses may not go ahead this summer. This will not only be a major financial blow to the college, but also to the wider local economy.
“We were approximately two weeks into the season and this hit us at the worst possible time,” explained Ciarán Ó Mhurchú, who runs Coláiste Uisce.
“We would be preparing and spending on having a complete season from March to November. We had more than 50 percent of our expenditure done for the financial year and it looks like we won’t realise any income or very little income so it is a serious situation financially.
“[Coláiste Uisce] is probably the main source of income for 50 households on the Mullet peninsula. For every euro that comes in there is three spent in the area by parents of the students in restaurants and service stations. It will be a major blow to Belmullet and the peninsula if things don’t change.”
There are 17 full-time and nine part-time staff employed at the college and in order to protect the company, they are now placed on either the Covid-19 unemployment payment or the temporary wage subsidy scheme.
The college would normally attract over 1,600 students over 12 weeks of the summer and almost an equivalent figure for the weeks before and after the summer season.
“We fully booked and looking at our best season ever and within a week it went from our best season to our worst season,” he lamented.
Irish language colleges are reportedly worth €50 million to the economy of Gaeltacht regions in Ireland with Coláiste Uisce contributing significantly to the Erris economy. Negotiations are ongoing with the Minister for the Gaeltacht to hammer out a compensation package for the colleges and is something local TD Rose Conway-Walsh feel is badly needed.
“I am very concerned with the lack of income for bean an tis this summer and that is money which is spent in the area. I asked the Minister for Gaeltacht to put in special provisions for businesses within the Gaeltacht areas because it is going to be much harder to replace the jobs and enterprises in the Gaeltacht areas than in any other,” she said.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the rest of the summer, Ciarán remains positive that they will bounce back and has not given up on the summer just yet.
“We would be hopeful to get August out of it and maybe do non-residential courses and localised courses just to salvage a little bit of income. I think we can sustain it at the moment based on the steps we have taken and if there is some sort of compensation if the summer is written off.
“A few local people already said they miss the hustle and bustle of the buses coming and going. Certainly for the bean an tis it is a seasonal routine a bit like the swallows coming and going. It creates a bit of life for the summer. It will be like a summer that never happens if it doesn’t go ahead. But you never know we might get something out of it.”