'Living in Rural Ireland' series: People from across the country reveal the reality of living in rural Ireland
Is education really accessible to everyone?
That is the question that Amanda Nolan, from Tournafulla in West Limerick, wants people to ask.
Amanda who studies Hotel Management in the Institute of Technology Tralee believes that "people in rural communities are being forgotten about."
"Around me there are no buses at all. The nearest bus is over 15km away. My parents have other children, and can’t always be dropping me everywhere," she said.
Amanda believes the lack of public transport services around rural Kerry has affected her education. She said, because of the lack of a bus route, she has missed important deadlines and classes and this has directly affected her grades.
Amanda does avail of the SUSI grant system, but this only leaves her with about €60 a week. This is not enough for her to move to Tralee, she claims.
"€60 a week isn’t enough to pay rent, buy food and buy supplies," Amanda said.
"At the moment, I can’t even afford to travel down to Tralee for the five days a week."
Amanda says that she is 6km below the distance needed to achieve the full grant, and she believes that the government and SUSI aren’t taking into account rural areas when calculating the distance.
"You need to be living 45km away from the college or university to get the special rates grant, which would give me enough money to survive on my own.
"That would be fine, 45km isn’t far if you are living on a main road, but for me living in the back end of nowhere it becomes a lot harder journey to travel," she said.
The 21-year-old, who works in Tesco part time, believes there needs to be more bus routes to connect rural Ireland to the city.
"Better services are needed. I am where I am, I can’t help that, there are plenty of other student’s in the same position as me, but no one cares about us," she added.
Catherine Hughes (23), who lives near the village of Mountcollins in rural Limerick, has never had Wi-Fi.
The young woman faces the added difficulty of running her company, Flash Media, without access to Wi-Fi.
Flash Media is an independent company Catherine started whilst studying in the University of Limerick. It provides services such as event videography, short film production, music video production, video editing and event photography.
She spoke to Independent.ie about her situation, and the problems she faces on a daily basis.
"We’ve been told were in a dip, so can’t get Wi-Fi.
"You can get it at the top of the road, you can get it at the bottom of the road, but here you are in a black spot," she said.
Catherine is currently relying on her mobile phone for all internet access. She said this can be slow and unreliable.
"Coverage can be bad, and if there’s poor coverage there’s no internet.
"You can’t just go and reset the router," she said.
Catherine said she has been told in the past that roughly 5pc of the country resides in these black spots, where Wi-Fi isn’t available.
She believes that it is not seen as financially beneficial for anyone to try and get Wi-Fi to these black spots - and is critical in the lack of improvement that has happened in recent years.
“I just feel like five or ten years ago everyone was getting dial-up internet.
"When we didn’t get that we said fair enough, we're a step behind everyone else.
"But now everyone’s 10 steps ahead and we’re still in the same spot," Catherine continued.
Catherine believes that improvements need to be made.
"Instead of making what’s good better, they should be making what’s not existent, existent.
"Someone from Dublin would have a complete meltdown in our position."
Catherine spoke about how the lack of internet access has impacted the growth of her company.
"It's definitely harder.
"These days everything’s done online, even the banks are saying that they’re no longer sending statements through the post, that you have to do it online.
"If you don’t have internet access, then tough luck."
A school principal in west Mayo has told Independent.ie about the loneliness she felt when her school was put back to a one-teacher school two years ago because of dropping student numbers.
"The darkest feeling wasn't desperation. It was the loneliness," said Tereasa McGuire of Drummin National School.
"We went down under the 22 students and I was suddenly on my own," she said.
She said it was very challenging and isolating to lose a teacher in the primary school.
"It was harrowing and challenging but you get on with it and do it. I was very lucky to have a very good secretary with a level five in childcare. My learning support teacher was also very supportive and they ensured that I was left on my own as little as possible," she said.
"But it brought a lot of challenges. It was very lonely. The support was the main thing. While the Board of Management did their best, there was no real sounding board or support.
"You nearly spend more time with your colleagues than your loved ones, you really do," she said.
She said the logistics of running a one-teacher school was very challenging, especially in terms of supervision, and that children felt the brunt of the change.
"In reality it is the children who lose out. And on the other side if you're a parent you don't want to send your child to a one-teacher school so the problem gets worse," she added.
Ms McGuire said she was very aware and supportive of parent's concerns.
She said it was difficult to find more families to send their children to the school.
"The community in Drummin is not the same as it was. We have a very supportive and proactive Board of Management who were thinking of everything they could to promote the school. However, you can bring a horse to water but you can't force it to drink," she said.
Ms McGuire is also a Fine Gael Councillor in Mayo.
"You're the one on the coalface getting on with things, and you don't want children to suffer because of that situation. You want them to have the very best and you're doing the best you can.
"You understand in your head that this is the way it has to be. To the Department it's a spreadsheet and a number is a number and there has to be a cutoff. But in your heart, your heart says no," she added.
"I hate when people are blaming the decline on rural Ireland. It's not the government's fault that people want to live in a town," she added.
However, three children soon arrived into the community and the second teacher was able to return.
"We were very lucky the same teacher could slot back in. Every child is entitled to the best and their education shouldn't be hampered by geographical location. It shouldn't be a hindrance. We want to provide the highest level of education," Ms McGuire added.
For a great many years, thanks in part to on-campus complexes and the time-honoured flat share, student digs fell out of fashion. Historically, homeowners would rent rooms to students on Monday to Friday, with the unspoken agreement often in place that the student would return to their home county on the weekends.