Everyone in rural Ireland is aware of a wide range of pressures that local communities face.
Loss of GPs and hospitals, Post Offices and many other services are an increasingly worrying phenomenon, along with insurance costs driving small enterprises out of business. (The lack of Government action is one reason why Dr Michael Harty came second in the General Election in Clare.) Loss of economic strength has a knock-on effect on all other aspects of local life.
- Kilfenora/Inchovea is under pressure economically and in every other way. It has a declining population, and shrinking range of pubs, shops and jobs; and poor public transport access and taxi availability. The possible Post Office closure would be a real body blow.
- Kilfenora lacks affordable and available housing, and its range of tourist accommodation compares poorly with coastal villages, despite being the best starting point for Burren tourism. 28% of Kilfenora’s permanent dwellings are unoccupied.
- Some statistics from the Census: Kilfenora’s overall population declined by 11% 2011-2016, but in the 29-39 age group the decline was 60% (ie the key family growth age period). Kilfenora is ‘ageing’ – the only relative growth is in the over 40s. One person households comprise 39%, compared with c 25% of married or co-habiting couples with children. Click here to download more data.
- Kilfenora’s population is mainly white Irish (92%). There is little cultural or ethnic diversity. The male population is slightly lower than the female.
- Brexit and economic pressures on the European Community may pose particular difficulties for the small scale farms that are typical in the Kilfenora area.
Some shafts of light
- Kilfenora is near the Wild Atlantic Way, and benefits to some degree from a few of its businesses being part of the very active Burren Ecotourism Network.
- There are arguably two things that keep Kilfenora on the map of public consciousness – the Burren Centre and the Kilfenora Music festival (and its link to the Kilfenora Céilí Band). Both could do with more investment. Music lovers are disappointed that Kilfenora cannot manage to maintain a regular trad music session throughout the year (though its weekly céilí survives at present).
- There have been a few other positive developments in the past few years (Kilfenora Timeline, Burren Hub/E-Whizz/Ted Tours, Kilfenora Players, Kilfenora Football Team, Burren Glamping, survival of KIlfenora Mart etc). Sustaining and adding to all of these requires confidence and faith in a positive future.
Some specific needs
- However, much more could be done to make Kilfenora attractive to live in, and to visit and stay in.
- For visitors who potentially bring income to the village, these include better signage, development of tourist trails, more events (musical or otherwise), better food options, improved Wi-Fi access etc.
- Issues for local residents raised in discussion at the Planning Group include more graveyard capacity, better child-play facilities, making more use of the Deanery, more participative activities (for every age group), better property management to expand renting options.
- Other priorities are expected to emerge during local consultation.
Some examples of success
- In the UK, the small town of Frome in Somerset is attracting attention due to the surprisingly widespread benefits from its dedication to development planning and self-help activities. Particular success is being achieved in addressing the quality of health and of activities for the elderly and vulnerable.
- Kenmare is an example of a small town in Ireland that has had great success in improving itself in recent years. Nearer to Kilfenora, Ennistymon is starting to witness some expansion in business and other activities. Self-help is critical given the reduced availability of grant money from both national bodies and local councils.
- Tulla has a historically similar reputation to Kilfenora for music. However it has in recent times achieved more through developing its Cnoc na Gaoithe Cultural Centre, used to promote and teach traditional Irish music, song, dance and the Irish language.
Planning for the future
If people and interest groups in Kilfenora can successfully come together to create – and put into action – a community development plan, the village will be better able to survive and succeed over coming years. Our plan must be realistic and costed. We might be able to win some grant money, but frankly this is mostly about doing more for ourselves – developing and implementing great ideas for the Kilfenora ‘brand’, reputation and quality of life.
The plan to be prepared by December should cover at least the next three years, and arguably much longer.