Last week I was invited to address an event dealing with concerns which have been expressed by many around the country regarding the future of some rural Primary schools.
The campaign to preserve the future of such schools has been galvanising support around the country and last week it was the turn of people in Kilkenny and Carlow to express their views on this contentious subject.
The invitation to address the gathering was extended to me as a former GAA President. During my three years I visited numerous Primary Schools, North and South, many of which were located in rural parts of the country.
Many rural schools have closed over the years and more will follow primarily due to depopulation. What is being contested, and vigorously at that, is the forced amalgamation of rural schools resulting in many having to close.
Others, more eminently qualified than I, will make the educational argument. My concerns relate to the rapid depopulation of rural Ireland which will surely follow the closing of rural Primary Schools.
One does not have to be a genius to realise the knock-on impact the depopulation of rural Ireland will have on many GAA clubs.
In his annual report last week GAA Director General Paraic Duffy spoke of the disproportionate impact the financial crisis in Ireland is having on rural Ireland.
He went on to say: “In rural Ireland, in the country generally of course, but especially in rural areas, there are very high levels of emigration. Clubs are losing players. As well as that, what’s happened in rural Ireland over the last 10 to 20 years, where Garda stations, post offices and schools have closed down, is encouraging people to go into the towns.
Duffy further added “it means that rural clubs have less and less people there to support viable teams. And that is a problem and a concern. Rural clubs are undoubtedly finding the going tough at the moment and for the GAA that’s big news because we are extremely strong in rural Ireland”.
No part of Ireland is immune from the threat of rural school closures, but the problem is more acute in the west. The threat is real, though, in parts of Kilkenny and one school in my own Parish is concerned for its future.
Once Ireland adopted a spatial strategy which effectively forced young adults to locate to local cities and towns to find accommodation, the future of rural Ireland was at stake.
We have already seen many Post Offices, Garda Stations, Pubs and Shops closed in rural communities, while fewer Priests in the future will ultimately lead to the closure of many rural churches.
Lack of transport
The lack of an adequate transport service means many rural dwellers, particularly those in advanced years, are confined to their homes for long periods.
Are we now to add rural schools to this list of decaying rural infrastructure?
I spotted the following comment in a Provincial newspaper – “A place deprived of its school ceases to be a community. It does so because its heartbeat has been stilled and once stilled it remains thus forever”. Oh how true those few words are!
The focus in the current debate may primarily be about educational matters, but the reality is that fewer rural schools is bad news for many GAA clubs.