THE number of ‘bean an tís’ on Cape Clear to host Irish college students has fallen from a peak of seven 20 years ago, to just one this year.
That figure for Coláiste Pobail Chléire is reflected in other Gaeltacht areas, with hosts falling by almost a third in four years, leading to concerns for the future of some Irish colleges.
The former manager of the Comharchumann Chléire Teoranta on Cape Clear, Máirtín Ó Méalóid, said it’s proving extremely difficult to attract new mná tí to keep students.
‘It’s a crisis really. Our biggest challenge now is how we are going to bring new host families into the system. I don’t have the answer to that question. I can’t tell you how we’re going to do that because, to be honest about it, they’re just not there,’ he said.
The college on the island will open this year for the first time since Covid, but with a reduced number of students.
According to new figures obtained by TG4’s current affairs programme Iniúchadh TG4, in the four years since 2018 the number of host families in the Gaeltacht has fallen from 712 to 495 – a decline of 30%.
The impact and reasons for the exodus of ‘bean an tís’ from Gaeltacht colleges was examined by investigative reporter Kevin Magee in an hour-long documentary which was broadcast on TG4 this week.
The increasing age profile of ‘mná tí’, changing social habits, a move into self-catering, and insufficient pay for keeping students, are among some of the reasons given for the decline.
The fall in host families means students are being turned away from summer colleges in the Gaeltacht this year because there is nowhere to house them. The latest figures on the Gaeltacht sector released by the Department of the Gaeltacht to Iniúchadh TG4 show the gradual decline in the number of mná tí from 2017 (655) to 2018 (712), 2019 (648) and 2022 (495). Gaeltacht colleges were closed in 2020 and 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
While some new mná tí have been attracted into the system in recent years, their numbers are lower than those opting to leave. The numbers entering the sector are 2017 (26), 2018 (25), 2019 (34) and 2022 (39). The number of Irish colleges offering residential summer courses has also fallen, according to the figures obtained from the Department. In 2018 there were 52 colleges registered, but only 40 re-opened in 2022. A total of 46 colleges are offering courses in 2023.