Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

'It is a struggle to encourage young people to live here'

It would be easy to romanticise life on an offshore ­island, but reality is always very different from the ideal.

Indeed, a cursory glance at the Clare Island's statistics would appear to suggest that all is well.

The island's population has increased by almost a quarter since 1981 and now stands at 158, with a further 74 part-time residents. The two-teacher national school has 20 children enrolled and the return of a couple of young families over the last year has been a further boost.

However, providing employment opportunities for young people - and young women in particular - is a constant battle, explains Caroline Healy of Cliara Development Company.

"We are desperate to increase our young population to ensure that the future of the island is maintained. In another three years we will be down numbers in the school as children matriculate to secondary school. It is important to maintain the numbers," she says.

"It is a struggle to encourage young people to live on the island, because living here all year round is hard," Caroline explains.

She cites the lack of employment opportunities, the isolation - particularly during the winter - and the fact that children have to go to the mainland for their secondary education, as some of Clare Island's challenges.

These are listed in the island's community action plan, and possible solutions identified. Securing another business or enterprise to create employment for the island is one of the primary goals of the action plan.

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The development of a fish farm by international firm Marine Harvest over the last decade gave a real boost to the island. The fish farm produces Clare Island Organic Salmon, a top-end product which has graced the plates of the great and good - including that of Queen Elizabeth. More importantly, the jobs it provides have helped stabilise the island's population.

Another employer of similar scale could secure the island's long-term future.

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