Monday 19 November 2018

Failing rural towns: Eerie silence falls on famed town of the 'Four Roads'

Glenamaddy is fighting for its very survival as banks, pubs and businesses shut up shop in the once-thriving town

Local independent councillor Des Joyce stands beside two closed pubs in Glenamaddy.
Photo: Tony Gavin
Local independent councillor Des Joyce stands beside two closed pubs in Glenamaddy. Photo: Tony Gavin

Clare Mc Cormack

WHEN Country and Western legend Big Tom sang Four Country Roads he helped put the town of Glenamaddy on the map.

Those were the days when busloads travelled from all over the West to dance at the local ballroom of romance, The Sound of Music.

The singing pubs were doing a roaring trade, there was still a fair day every month, two bustling secondary schools, two banks and a host of shops and small enterprises. Now the famed 'Four Roads' are eerily quiet, punctuated by shuttered shops.

Driving off the M6 motorway on the way to Glenamaddy, internet connection starts to drop and by the time we reach our destination the words "no service" appears on screen.

Parking is not an issue in the town square; in fact drivers can practically stop in the middle of the road outside the few operating shops and get their business done before the next vehicle pulls up.

For every pub that is open, there is a closed one on either side, and although it's lunch time on a Wednesday there isn't a soul on the street.

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Just like countless small towns and villages across the country, Glenamaddy in Co Galway has lost at least 20 businesses and services over the past decade.

The biggest hit to the town was the loss of Ulster Bank in 2013 and the Bank of Ireland in 2006.

It was, locals say, the beginning of "the death of the town".

As a result, accounts moved to banks in Roscommon, Dunmore and Castlerea - all about 15 or 20 miles away.

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The domino effect, as people did their banking and shopping elsewhere, was dramatic. It claimed up to 10 pubs, small shops, hardware stores, a filling station, a garage, a print works and the town butchers shop.

Manpower at the local garda station was also drastically reduced and four months ago the national school lost a teacher as non-national families left the area.

And it hasn't stopped there.

At least 125 young people have emigrated, buildings are left idle, no houses are being built, Mass times have decreased, farmers are getting older, GAA clubs in this part of north Galway are struggling, there is no taxi service and the future of the local Post Office is a constant worry.

Potential cuts to Bus Eireann routes in the West of Ireland will be another body blow for the catchment area including the villages of Williamstown, Glinsk, Creggs, Kilkerrin, Ballymoe and Clonbern.

During a tour of Glenamaddy - celebrated for its bustling nightlife in the 1980s when top showband stars performed in The Sound of Music dancehall - Independent Councillor Des Joyce said: "the hammering has got to stop."

"If the Government don't start looking at rural Ireland fast it's going to die in front of them. We've lost a generation and we're going to a place where in 10 or 15 years time there will be nothing left."

The biggest threats to the area are the absence of broadband, lack of funding in local enterprise, and few opportunities for youth. In fact, connectivity has become so limited in the area that national newspapers can't even be bought in Ballymoe and Kilkerrin, they must be ordered in advance.

"The line has to be drawn that nothing else goes and that business comes back into town. We need a better chance to try and survive, we can't keep doing it on our own," said Mr Joyce, a farmer, business man and father of four, who donated a limousin bull to Glinsk National School to save it from closure in 2013.

The community raised an incredible €105,000 by selling the bull and other fundraising events to buy a new oil tank for the school.

Local business man Aidan Potter, has run Potter Hardware and the local Post Office with his father, Mattie, for more than 30 years, and feels abandoned by the Government.

"We won't survive for another five years without high quality broadband when the bigger towns are taking our customers," he told the Sunday Independent.

"Every single business is in danger and there is no point saying any different. The truth is we all don't know week to week if we will be able to continue trading," he added.

During the half hour interview in the hardware store just one customer came in and charged three tiny bolts, costing €1.50 each, to an account.

According to the 2011 Census figures, the West of Ireland has the oldest population with an average age of 37 years - with females aged half a year older. The ageing population of Glenamaddy has robbed the town of vitality.

Three weeks ago, Margaret and Donnie Keaveney found the going was getting too tough and decided to retire, closing their gift shop and garage on Church Street after 75 years.

"Self employment is the worst business to be in at the moment, you work for nothing. In the last five years we didn't even get a wage out of it," said Mrs Keaveney.

"We hear all these announcements that things are picking up but it's not reflected in this area - west of the Shannon there is nothing."

During a four-hour stint in the town, the Sunday Independent chatted to just one young farmer, Martin Flanagan (19).

"Every young fella is being driven out by no employment, there are not enough grants for young farmers to keep us in our homes," the agriculture student said.

According to Michael Fitzmaurice, the Independent TD for Roscommon South-Leitrim, the situation in Glenamaddy is repeated in almost every rural county.

"You can multiply Glenamaddy by 200 that's the reality. It's like the Government keep injecting us with a bit of chemo to keep us ticking but if we don't get a good shot of Radium soon, rural Ireland will be dead and gone," he told the Sunday Independent.

"We are swallowing everything from the EU and we're fighting to survive. The whole thing has to change to make country life viable,

"We're not looking for anymore than anywhere else but we need strategic economic activity," Mr Fitzmaurice added.

At this stage, every business and service in Glenamaddy is relying on local custom to keep them afloat, as well as constant community activism.

Hopes also remain pinned on the sustainability of local staples, including the Credit Union, Supervalu, Londis and two small local factories.

"They wrote a song about Glenamaddy called Four Country Roads, and we don't want to see our youth driven out. We want to see our family businesses and family farms being passed on to the next generation, but the Government need to help us," said Mr Joyce.

"These are great people, they love their town and want to ensure its recovery."

Sunday Independent

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