Each June bank holiday, I take time to stand back and take stock. That long weekend marks five years since I hopped out of my full-to-bursting car to tap the ‘Welcome to Mayo’ sign on the N5 to mark my return west and for good luck. It must have worked – I’ve been very fortunate.
Dublin’s long hours, relentless commuting and impersonal closed-in spaces had become unbearable. Feeling out of place in the corporate world, I wanted to be part of, and contribute to, a community. Now, in tourism, everything I do is informed by community. I live in a great place, with incredible natural amenities on my doorstep. I feel part of something.
So far, so lucky. But nothing is perfect!
Back then, I firmly, idealistically, believed that for a community to prosper, it must drive the changes it wants. I still want to believe this. But for communities to prosper, they must be meaningfully supported and resourced. And little I have seen suggests that there is much political will at a national level to resource rural communities to reach the potential I know they have in spades.
Also, for the first time since moving home, I find myself at a crossroads, wondering if my rather bohemian attitude to career development and financial stability has been wise. Some will say I made my bed. That anyone returning to rural Ireland is lucky to find work. They are right, I am lucky. I love my job. I work hard but am privileged that work is a pleasure, not a chore. But I’d also like to be able to buy a home one day, or not worry about what would happen if I got sick.
My role is a funded one (not public sector) and is dependent on annual renewing of that funding. Christmas is always worrisome, and will be especially so this year, post-Covid. This instability means long-term planning and sustainability is compromised. Ambition is curbed. The workload is significant – mainly, I hasten to add, because there is huge appetite and ambition here to develop this area and attract people here to work, live, and visit. But there is so much to do, and few people to do it. We are heavily, scandalously reliant in rural Ireland on volunteers for development work – who are themselves trying to keep businesses, families, and other voluntary commitments afloat. We need help.
Local authorities and community development companies, particularly in peripheral areas need additional capacity – people! – to develop projects, facilitate cross-sector networking, and access national and EU funding for our areas. We want to better ourselves and deliver on our potential. The funding is there; but we need people to access it and to deliver plans. There is no government plan to resource us in that way.
Instead, we have people in roles like mine – and many roles unlike mine – feeling under-resourced, overwhelmed, and exhausted, and since the government formation, demoralised. It is clear there is no real will to address the regional imbalance, to empower us to strengthen our brilliant communities with their great potential. We deserve better.
I stand by my own choices; my life is here now and it’s great. But why should so many people in rural Ireland settle for and be grateful, simply for ‘having a job’? Why shouldn’t they aspire to having secure, permanent jobs, with maybe a bit of a pension or health insurance?
Enough to know they will be looked after if they get sick, and when they get old? Why should those of us outside the corporate or private sector not deserve stability for ourselves too, or to feel that owning a home is a realistic prospect? Why should those in the east who want to return home not have a chance to do so?
And why should we not demand more for the communities in which we live, and contribute to, and want them to be the vibrant, thriving, dynamic places we know they can be?
Despite the odd, furtive glance, I’ve no intention of looking back up the N5. But I’d really like if more people had a chance to start looking down.
A Mayo News columnist and regular contributor, Ardagh native Anne-Marie Flynn works in Moy Valley Resources IRD in Ballina as Manager of Mayo North Tourism, an office which promotes the North Mayo region.