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Bean an tí shortage means Gaeltacht experience may not be available for many Irish students

Number of host families in the Gaeltacht region has declined by 30% since 2018

It’s a rite of passage for many school students, and a place of happy memories for lots of adults who were lucky enough to go, but the “summer in the Gaeltacht” experience is coming under increasing pressure due to a falling number of mná an tí available to host Irish language students in the Gaeltacht region. That’s according to an episode of TG4′s Iniúchadh — Mná Tí due to air this week.

The number of host families in the Gaeltacht region has declined by 30 per cent since 2018, “leading to some colleges not being able to open and concern for the future of Irish colleges”, says Deirdre Ní Choistín, head of news and current affairs at TG4.

The increasing age profile of mná an tí, changing social habits, a move from the sector towards self-catering, and insufficient pay for keeping students are among some of the reasons given.

You’re like a mother as well as everything to them for the time that they’re here

—  Sandra Nic Íomhair

Sandra Nic Íomhair is a bean an tí in Machaire Rabhartaigh, Co Donegal. She has two children and followed in the footsteps of her mother who was also a bean an tí when Sandra was growing up. “My family has been doing it for probably over 50 years at this stage,” says Sandra, who takes in about 12 students at a time.


Sandra’s role involves a lot more than just feeding and providing accommodation for the children who stay with her, she says. “You’re welcoming young people into your own family for two or three weeks at a time. It’s not just B&B. Especially the first groups of kids that come, for a lot them it could be their first time away from home, so a lot of them could be homesick. So you’re like a mother as well as everything to them for the time that they’re here.

“You’re looking after their health and wellbeing as well, making sure that they’re happy and that they’re getting on with the other kids. They might be coming from home and they’re going into a room with two or three other girls that they’ve never met before, so you’re trying to make sure that they all get on well with each other.

“You’re working 24/7 for literally the eight weeks that they are here. When they’re in the house it’s really busy, but when they’re not in the house you’re preparing meals and you’re cleaning the rooms. It’s lovely to have them, but it’s really full on from the time they come into the house until they leave.”

Sandra enjoys being a bean an tí, despite the significant workload and is keen that the children who come to stay with her have fun. “It’s the enjoyment and being part of the house and being part of the craic that you’re going to get when you come here.”

She can see the impact that Covid has had on the number of mná an tí in her community. “Before Covid, there would have been probably 24 of us. You’re down to half that now.”

Covid caused a lot of older women to step back, she explains. “And a lot of others with young families, when they had two summers free a lot of them did up their houses, and when you do that you don’t want 12 children in your house wrecking it.

“For me it is concerning. The two huge things I’d have noticed since last year were the lack of bean an tís we had for the year, and as well as that the cost of living has gone up so high. I’d have noticed at least a 20 per cent increase across the board last year in terms of everything from heat down to food. I’m lucky enough that I work during the year. You would have a lot of families that it would be their college money for their kids, or their mortgage would be dependent on that eight weeks in the summer.

The bean an tí position is important Sandra explains because ‘up here, there isn’t an awful lot of employment’

—  Sandra Nic Íomhair

“I never thought about it, I always thought it would go on forever, and then Covid hit. It was lovely to have had a summer off, but halfway through the summer when you don’t have that money coming in you do notice it.”

The bean an tí position is important Sandra explains because “up here, there isn’t an awful lot of employment. Over the years, it’s not just the bean an tís — the local shops, the local hotels, bars, restaurants and everything would have been relying on those kids, those families coming at the weekends and spending money in the area.”

Sandra has no plans to give up being a bean an tí, but admits it “gets harder and harder every year. When my mum started first, they would walk to college and back and everyone got on. There’s so many rules and regulations now, which you can understand why, but you’re worrying about children.

“You can get bullying within the houses as well so you’re trying to monitor that and make sure that their wellbeing is fine while they’re here. It is getting harder, but even in terms of the Government, I don’t think they’re doing enough for it to help us stay motivated to do it”.

Iniúchadh – Mná Tí is on TG4 on Wednesday, April 19th, at 9.30pm