At a time when it seems like some of the worst days of recession are behind us and the economy shows signs of improving, it’s easy to forget that weathering the storm took a lot of hard work and determination from the country’s smaller towns.
The communities in the Burren Lowlands has been a shining light in exemplifying what is possible when local people come together to promote and develop their own area.
Back in 2014, the Burren Lowlands was set up to develop the region – taking Gort as the central market town, while also developing the hinterlands of South Galway and North Clare.
Project Manager, Teresa Butler, says that for hundreds of years, Gort was the central market town for the area – and as a result, they decided that if the town, as well as all the surrounding towns and villages were developed, everyone would stand to benefit.
“We want to develop the town based on the concept of developing the region – if the hinterland is looked after, then you can have a good, functioning market town.
“A small local group started off by organising a community meeting and they managed to fill a room with about 200 people – it was at that stage I joined them,” says Teresa.
It takes a lot of work to initiate a campaign for rural development, as any community activist will tell you – but to attract 200 people out to a meeting is no mean feat.
But there was a desire for change in the area – Gort and the surrounding areas had been hit hard by recession, as Teresa explains.
“There was a hunger for it at the time – things had really gone down and there was no sign of a turning point.
“There has been a real lift around the place because it has awakened people – it is a model in terms of grass roots rural and sustainable development.”
The Burren Lowlands takes in 14 districts including Kilcolgan, Ballinderreen, Kilchreest, Labane, Peterswell, Kinvarra and Ardrahan – as well as parts of North Clare.
Teresa says that one of their first major wins was to successfully have the region recognised as a Rural Economic Development Zone – enabling them to seek funding.
“There was a huge amount of volunteer time put. The tourist office came out of that initial meeting.”
One of their main focus points was to attract some of the attention that the Wild Atlantic Way had been getting – something that has been enormously beneficial to local businesses.
“We had a pilot scheme to develop a loop off the Wild Atlantic Way – that is to ensure that the infrastructure is there, that there are signs and that the tourist office was open.
“Since then, that has developed into not one, but two loops for the Wild Atlantic Way which will be launched soon.”
Teresa says that while managed, a lot of what the project has achieved has been partially organic – with every person involved bringing their own set of skills and experiences with them.
“We try to take a holistic approach because people come and they find their own interests in it – they might come through a meeting or they might have an idea and approach us.
“The Burren Lowlands has become a focal point – people know they are not working in isolation.”
See full feature in this week’s Community Matters pages of the Connacht Tribune. If you would like your area to feature in a future Community Matters, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org