Research jobs key to Skellig area

Sinead Kelleher

Many rural areas are in decline, but the Skellig region is fighting back and has come up with an innovative way of creating employment and has contributed to the employment of 10 people, a number which is set to increase further in the coming years.

The jobs are linked to educational research opportunities in the region thanks to the development of the SMARTLab Skellig initiative in recent years. This has led to research funding of more than €250,000 for the Skellig region, which in turn has meant more jobs in research education and has positioned the Skellig region as an international research hub.

The research funding comes from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

The funding has allowed a number of people to live and work in the region on international research projects, and it is hoped in time that more emigrants will be able to return home for jobs.

One of the key areas of research currently being carried out is the CoDesRes project (co-designing for Resilience in Rural Development), which focuses on the international sustainable development goals.

Research and projects in south Kerry will bring together different genres including marine biology, engineering, environmental science, arts and education, to help focus on four goals in the areas of education, land and marine environments, sustainable communities and rural development.

The research education initiative is being led by Naisc Skellig Diaspora Network and by Living Iveragh DAC, who are both bodies of people with expertise to help develop the region.

They developed the Muinín project - muinín translates as confidence - which is an intervention to help the Skellig Region grow and develop.

One of the key areas to help develop the Skellig region is the business of education, and steps have been taken to build an infrastructure of locally based expertise and a faculty of researchers and teachers.

This has been brought about by the SMARTLab Skelllig initiative and has led to three PHD students working in the region. These include Lucy Hunt, who is an international researcher and was the Volvo Ocean Race educational officer last year as well as Vinny Hyland and Eleanor Turner.

The SMARTlab Global Network is led by Prof Elizabeth Goodman, whose aim is to allow PhD students base themselves there they live and work. SMARTlab has an alumni of over 50 PhDs.

SMARTlab Skellig's Dr Anita McKeown, who moved to Cahersiveen to contribute to research development has been instrumental in bringing the €250,000 funding to the region for research projects and is leading the CoDesRes project.

"Growing a localised hub for international research that builds on existing talents and knowledge, as well as a supportive foundation and mentors for the future is the critical aim of our work," said Dr McKeown.

It is hoped the number of PHD students will grow to 10 and that each of those will in turn undertake more research and employ researchers.

"There is a host of exciting opportunities happening in the Iveragh region at the moment; there is a great new energy in the region, with many new people returning and setting up new businesses, or relocating their jobs and working remotely for employers based world-wide. This region has always been a place of learning, and we are focusing on that," said June O'Connell , chair of Naisc Disapora Network.