I never fully understood the extent of emigration and migration from western shores until I moved to Achill.
I grew up in Breaffy and its proximity to Castlebar and relative proximity to other towns like Westport, Ballina and even Galway meant that there were always a certain amount of job opportunities within a reasonable commute.
In the 1980s plenty of people were forced to leave. The last 20 years have seen a decent jump in prospects.
For instance, the majority of our group of friends from secondary school are now living in or around Castlebar.
Some are living on the east coast, others abroad. There could and should be many more job opportunities for those we know have been unable to root themselves at home. There should be a much better focus on infrastructure in the region. There needs to be much greater investment in GMIT Castlebar and a much greater harmonisation of education in the region with the areas of the greater possibility of job creation in the west.
That said, as tough as it has been for many around Castlebar and similar towns in the region, the choice of living locally is a live option for many more locals than is the case in Achill and undoubtedly other areas right on the most peripheral part of our region.
One of the first things that really struck me about Achill was the acceptance of the reality of emigration and migration. Like the tide that crashes against its shores, some things are just a part of life in Achill.
I’ve never forgotten an observation one father made to me about his teenage son. He said he wanted to spend as much time with him in these years because once he goes to college, he thinks there’s every chance his returns to his native shore will only be on holidays. He couldn’t see a future for his son living and working in Achill.
To illustrate that point, when I got involved with the Achill senior Gaelic football team in 2017, only three of the squad of 30 or so players, excluding students, were actually living and working here.
Others were in Galway, Sligo and Dublin. Some players used to fly home from England and even Sweden for games in recent years. We were often able to have a larger group at a midweek session in Dublin than in Achill.
The love of home keeps bringing them back for football but, in most career paths, people in Achill will have to leave if they are to make their way in the world.
If they are lucky, they can remain in Connacht but unlike those of us from around Castlebar, Achill is too far away to be a meaningful commuting option.
Can things change?
Our own children are not even in national school yet but I cannot but project forward 20 odd years and ask what options will face them in 2040. Will the much heralded (by politicians, I hasten to add) Project Ireland 2040 transform lives for those of us in the west? That remains to be seen.
Remote working will open up certain new possibilities for Achill. I’ve benefitted from it myself and plenty more have too.
But it alone will not be enough. Achill is well positioned to take advantage of the burgeoning renewable energy sector with its abundance (take it from me) of wind energy and wave energy.
It is a mecca for tourists, as we saw this summer but that is currently a very seasonal trade that has people at the mercy of many outside elements. Can ways be found to lengthen the season, to diversify the tourism offering?
The local Community Futures group are doing a lot of good work to try to reverse the trends of generations. An acceptance of places like Achill as communities that can thrive, not merely get crumbs from the table, is needed from central government.
Achill is an amazing place to raise a family but, like so much of the west of Ireland, it is a shame so many of its children have to move elsewhere.
Does it always have to be like this?
Edwin McGreal is a Mayo News journalist from Breaffy who lives on Achill Island.