Saturday 21 April 2018

'Things were much better here in the 1970s'

Jimmy Boyle, the former owner of the Seaview Hotel, Gweedore, Co Donegal
Jimmy Boyle, the former owner of the Seaview Hotel, Gweedore, Co Donegal

Greg Harkin

Paddy Doohan is job-hunting in a community on the far fringe of Ireland, but fears - aged 52 - he may never work again.

The father of three said people living in the gaeltacht parish of Gaoth Dobhair in west Donegal are bemused when they read headlines about economic recovery.

"Things were better here in the 1970s," he said, "even the mobile bank is back because AIB closed its branch."

This is the most populated rural area in the country, but its population has declined in the past decade with increasing numbers of young people emigrate.

Paddy lost his job in January, when the Seaview Hotel closed its doors for the last time. It was another devastating blow to a community which has seen so many factory jobs lost in the past few years.

The Hunky Dory's crisp factory was the most recent to close, with more than 80 jobs lost last autumn.

Paddy said that he can see the effects of all the job losses in the local soccer team he helps to manage - Gweedore Celtic.

"We won the title four years ago, but the fact is there is a better starting 11 living now in Sydney, Doha and Dubai," he said. "This year we are fighting relegation because so many of our younger men have gone abroad.

"We live in one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland, but underneath it there is a community left devastated by the recession and by cuts -and with no sight on the horizon of any new jobs."

He said he has seen this all before, but this time it's worse.

"I worked for a big electronics company which closed in the 1990s and that followed a similar pattern of big companies coming into the industrial estate. When they close it affects so many families," he says.

"I went on to work part-time in the Seaview Hotel and I was there for more than 20 years. My 23-year-old son lost his job there too and he has moved to Letterkenny to do a Solas course.

"I'm 52 now and I wonder who is going to employ me now? I just want to work like everyone else, it's vital for personal morale. I want to contribute to society and to the local economy."

At the height of the boom, in 2007, the hotel employed 110 people.

Its former owner Jimmy Boyle said mass emigration from the area, recent job losses in other industries like the crisp factory, growing overheads and rates of more than €1,200 per week made running the hotel "impossible". "Areas like Gaoth Dobhair have been ignored by this government and it broke my heart to close another business to add to the downward spiral of the area," he said.

Jobs in the public sector are just as hard to find. Eighteen young teachers from the parish emigrated last year, 13 to the Qatar capital of Doha and five to Australia.

Local independent councillor Cllr Micheál Cholm Mac Giolla Easpaig said the community was devastated.

"Dublin may be booming, but our community is dying and no-one seems to care," he said. "Our people are travelling the globe for work and, unfortunately, many will never be back."

Irish Independent

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