'The decline is frightening' - North Kerry businessman sends out stark warning about rural decline
North Kerry businessman Eamon McElligott sends out stark warnings about how rural decline is affecting his and many other communities around the country
Eamon McElligott is a young man in a hurry. At the tender age of 25 he runs the oil distribution business he inherited from his father, and has just taken over the running of a pub. However, while he is passionate about his homeplace, his business and his community, all around him he is faced with rural decline.
His first love in his native Ballylongford in North Kerry is the GAA. "It is the central block around which everything else is built, but the statistics are frightening," he says. "Twenty years ago Ballylongford was playing at the top level of senior football in Kerry; today we are playing at the lowest level and struggling to field a team. Every available young fella in the place is playing, not because he wants to but because he has to. Players are travelling miles at the weekends to be here for matches and training."
At underage level the once thriving Ballylongford club is joined with two other parishes to make up numbers and a fourth will have to be added next year. The numbers in primary school paint the picture even more graphically. "There are three schools in the parish," Eamon explains. "In 1998 there were 490 pupils in the three schools, in 2008 there were 174 and now, in 2018, there are 96 pupils on the roll books. This is an extraordinary depletion in numbers."
There were no junior infants enrolled in Ballylongford in 2017. "I am 25 years old and there is hardly anyone my age or ten years older left around here. They're in Australia, Canada, America, London, Holland and Dublin. The loss of this age group means there will be no young children and that is frightening in terms of the population," he said.
Eamon uses the word abandonment to describe what is happening. "There were 22 shops in this town at one time - it is now down to two. The Post Office closed in the last few months and that was a huge blow. The place is being abandoned by the young because when a place lets them down, they abandon it."
'There is no buzz here'
According to Eamon, once young people come to the conclusion that there is 'no point in hanging around here' it is hard to blame them for going. "They leave for the right reasons, they have to live their lives, there is no buzz here."
He points to centralisation as a key issue in rural decline, "The recovery is centralised, we see no signs of it in places like Ballylongford. I took three orders this morning for €100 worth of oil. The people who need that won't get much for it, but they need it and that's all the money they have."
He believes things could be very different. "We are on the Shannon Estuary, the second deepest estuary in the world - in the world - it is a rare and a wonderful thing, but it isn't being used at all. If this was any other country, this would be a city.