A family of seven who have relocated to Inis Meáin on the Aran Islands said that they wanted to show people contemplating a move to an island that “it’s possible that it’ll work out”.
Earlier this week, the Government announced grant changes for islanders to renovate vacant or derelict homes in a bid to encourage more people to move to the islands.
As part of Government’s new national island policies homeowners who want to renovate on islands will get significantly higher grants than those on the mainland. For derelict properties, the grant will be up to €84,000 compared to €70,000 on the mainland.
Rónán Mac an tSaoir, who moved to Inis Meáin from Navan with his family nine months ago after winning a competition for a school year worth of rent free accommodation there, said that there is a “feeling of coming home” for his family.
Rónán and his wife Colette had never actually visited the place they now call home, until they went with their five children for an interview as part of the competition.
Nine months has turned into a potential lifetime however, with the family of seven – not including a dog – having made the decision to stay for the foreseeable future, and hope to eventually build a house on the island.
The family are planning to rent for another year before looking for a site to purchase and build a family home.
“The thing I’ve come to associate with island life is just the rawness of reality in its many forms, from the seasons. People used to say that spring is in the air, and I remember in February as the winter came to a close and things started to open up, and there was a few flowers starting to bloom,” Mac an tSaoir said.
“There’s a certain sense of just forcing the winter out [on the island], opening the shutters, letting the light in after the winter, just bringing hope to people for the year ahead. But definitely more here than anywhere else in my life, I felt that spring was actually in the air, you could taste it.”
Colette, Rónán’s wife, has begun teaching German at the local secondary school, and subs classes for other subjects, teaching for the first time in about eight years, having left just after their first child, Róisín was born.
“The funny thing about living here is, by the time you read the bad news, you know that it’s okay, because the world is still there,” Mac an tSaoir laughed, as newspapers usually arrive on the island a day later than on the mainland.
Working remotely as a software developer has not changed his work output between Navan and Inis Meáin, Mac an tSaoir added, so he feels that he can show people contemplating making the move to an island that “it’s possible that it’ll work out”.
The national islands policy has 80 commitments around housing, health and education, as well as commitments for delivering high-speed broadband.
Máire Uí Mhaoláin, CEO of Comhar na nOileán, said that the announcement brought a “really positive day,” and that the new plan will incentivise people to move to the islands.
“We know of lots of people who would move to the island, but housing is a huge issue. Now we have remote working facilities on a lot of the islands, not all of them yet, but a lot of them, and a lot of people can work from anywhere and it’s a wonderful opportunity,” Ms Uí Mhaoláin said.
“We recently completed a housing study, which we’re about to launch shortly and in that many people have expressed the wish to move back to islands so other people who moved off the islands or completely new people to island life because the quality of life is very good.
“The islands are fantastic places for people to bring up their families and the quality of education and everything else is much better in micro communities, and the amount of civic engagement, it’s all very positive when it comes to young people and their lives,” she also said.
Rónán Mac an tSaoir also said that it is “a fabulous thing to feel like you make a difference to people,” as he does on the island, having introduced hurling as part of the children’s GAA training he now runs.
“I don’t think any of my skills would have been particularly amazing in Navan, I’m sure there are plenty of programmers in Navan, I’m sure there are plenty of people training kids in football and hurling, but the fact that people are looking for help, they want to grow the community.
“We’re in the heart of it now, we’re loving every second of it here thank god, and it was always our dream to live in a Gaeltacht,” Mac an tSaoir said, “it’s just like a match made in heaven really.”