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Doing it for themselves

Features

Case study: Keenagh
Edwin McGreal

Two years ago, the people of Keenagh were worried about falling numbers in the area.
The loss of employment that came from the closure of Bord na Mona in Bellacorrick had cast a long shadow across all of north Mayo but particularly in the parish of Crossmolina.
The village of Keenagh, one of the closest parts of the large parish to Bellacorrick, could not escape.
“This was a thriving community 20 years ago. The power station in Bellacorrick really improved Keenagh and the whole parish of Crossmolina. Then 500 jobs went, it was the equivalent of Google closing in Dublin but there wasn’t much talk about it,” Brendan Lavelle, Chairman of the Kennagh Community Development Council told The Mayo News this week.
The numbers don’t lie either. Crossmolina is the only town in Mayo that suffered a fall in population from 1991 to 2016, as noted by Dr John Bradley in his survey of the Economy of County Mayo.
The people of Keenagh did not want to let the numbers fall any more and increase worries about their local school.
So in July 2018 they released a novel ‘Come to Keenagh’ campaign, promoting what the village and area had to offer, flagging the local school, the safe community, unspoilt surroundings, good broadband, low price housing and within easy reach of Ballina, Castlebar and Westport.
It has been, says Brendan Lavelle, ‘a great success story’. Two families have come from outside the region to locate here and send their children to the local school, more kids have come from elsewhere in the parish to attend the school and many more people have bought homes in the community for use as holiday homes.
“There is now no house for sale in the area. They are all occupied. There are a lot more lights on in the community than two years ago,” Brendan Lavelle said.
The school is that bit more secure and Covid-19 also underlined Lavelle’s arguments about the attractiveness of places like Keenagh.
“I think Covid opened a lot of people’s eyes. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be in lockdown in a city for a few months. In a rural community, you can go for a very relaxing walk, work from home, it is easier on the mind, there’s less pressure, the price of houses is way lower.
“People are living in the wrong world if they think living in a big city is the answer. I’ve three kids here. All the money in the world wouldn’t bring me to Dublin or Galway,” he said.
However, looking to the medium term future, he feels jobs in rural areas are key and expresses his frustration with the failure of efforts to set up employment in the area a decade or so ago.  
“We tried to set up a business here and the state, the semi-state, didn’t want to know about it. We went to Offaly and the ESB and Bord na Mona and they didn’t want to know.
“It was building the concrete piles for the wind farms and had the perfect location in Bellacorrick, all the raw materials were nearby. It could have created 100, 200 jobs. The state don’t want to know about rural Ireland,” he said.
He’s hopeful for the future though, particularly for his three children growing up in Keenagh. Where will they settle?
“I expect they will live locally or, at least, in the county if they want to. They’ll have the choice. I think things are changing. Jobs is the key. We were knocked back but we won’t give up. We need a different attitude from the state but communities have to make it happen for themselves too.”