A new centre on the Beara peninsula aims to nurture local enterprise, education and environment, writes Carina McNally
FOR a number of decades, many of our European neighbours, particularly the English and Germans, have made a conscious decision to leave their densely populated cities and seek out what they consider to be a better quality of life in West Cork. In Ireland today, life in our own cities appears to be getting somewhat fraught; the impact of both Storm Ophelia and rail strikes on the work commute have dominated our news, compounded with talks of daily two to three hours journeys spent in heavy traffic.
Remote and flexible working has been, until now, a restricted option. Broadband is a prerequisite, but the slow roll out of fibre has limited many to utilising the one hundred and twenty enterprise centres dotted around the country, bank branches and hotels, all offering high-speed broadband. Now, with better broadband and the advent of hubs – an initiative of fast WiFi connectivity and a supportive business network in rural Ireland – the possibility of working outside cities has never been closer.
Allihies Coastal Educational Hub, the brainchild of the Allihies Co-op and Bord Iascaigh Mhara under its Fisheries Local Area Development Scheme, has recently been established with such an aim. Its ethos is to research how coastal areas can be developed into providing sustainable and environmentally sensitive employment, whilst developing educational opportunities specific to these communities.
Currently located in the Allihies Mine Museum, the Allihies hub’s vision is to tap into the potential that the local environment offers, the landscape, its history, its flora and fauna, all educational elements incorporating field trips and the outdoors. Foraging walks which identify and teach the uses of seaweed growing along the Beara coastline are currently offered by hub team leader, Sykoni Celeste. Harvesting and cooking this food source is also planned as part of the educational experience. In the same vein, the Hub is proposing Dark Sky accreditation with the assistance of Denis Walshe, Cahermore-based scientist and teacher of astronomy. There will be a particular emphasis on geology as West Beara and its complex geological formations are already an attraction for international geology students. The hub intends to build on this, eventually catering for all learning groups, from primary to third level and including continued adult education. It is envisaged that this centre for self-development and education will stimulate the local economy as an all-year-round education facility.
Tadhg O’Sullivan of the Allihies Co-op states that the hub could become ‘a catalyst for developing both enterprise and education in this part of the Beara Peninsula through facilitating research, development and education. It is a blank canvas – theoretically it can be developed along whatever themes present themselves.’
A series of workshops and courses are planned for 2018. On January 20th and 21st an activity and walking weekend is being organised around the history of copper mining in the area. On January 28th and 29th Pat Kiernan, artistic director with Corcadorca Theatre Company, will attend the Allihies Educational Hub to host a two-day theatre workshop. A Literary Weekend is planned for July 2018.
Aside from the educational aspect, the Allihies Hub is already a centre for supporting and promoting local coastal enterprise, providing a business hub for independent and small businesses that require reliable internet and printing facilities. Alongside a provision of office space and high-speed broadband, co-ordinator, Liz O’Leary, is on hand to offer any advice on business start-ups and if and how the hub can be of assistance. It also serves as a drop-in centre where people can call to discuss their ideas.
As well as farming, fishing and tourism, many people in Allihies make a living from the arts, and the hub would envisage a continued cultivation of artists, craft workers and writers, many of whom have made Allihies their home.
Joyce Novak, a researcher for Allihies Co-op previously, investigated the idea of gaining local Geopark status, formal recognition for the area that advances the protection and use of geological heritage in a sustainable way while promoting the economic well-being of its inhabitants. Hub member Tara Hanley is still investigating this proposal as well as the possibility of hosting a summer school.
With the housing crisis and the prohibitive expense of city living, is it now the turn of the Irish to leave their overcrowded cities and choose a life in rural Ireland? With the advent of the internet there isn’t always a need to come into the office, and if not, are there those who are willing to leave their semi-detached suburban sanctuaries to seek an alternate way of life in West Cork?
If so, maybe the Allihies Coastal Education Hub could provide the inspiration needed.