Remote island seeks to connect to digital world

Arranmore Island, Co Donegal.

The old pool room in a restaurant is now at the forefront of a new initiative between telecoms firm Three Ireland and a local community to transform a Donegal island into the most connected island in the world.

Arranmore — or Árainn Mhór — off the coast of Co Donegal, is the country’s second most populated island and is more usually associated with secondary school students learning Irish in the summer and its longstanding fishing tradition.

But yesterday saw the launch of the country’s first offshore digital hub in a former restaurant which locals believe can boost its economic and social wellbeing and attract home some of the island’s huge

global diaspora.

Its population of 469 people includes some who have already experienced success in the digital world, but who need greater levels of connectivity to allow them to develop businesses at home.

The new digital hub has been established by the Arranmore Business Council with the support of Donegal County Council, facilitating remote working and video conferencing, in collaboration with Three Ireland, which has provided the necessary infrastructure.

Key to that is the so-called Wireless Leased Line, a dedicated system which provides internet speeds of up to 100Mbs into the Modam building, the former Ferryboat restaurant just a walk from the ferry port on the island.

The Modam (Mol Oifig Digiteach Árainn Mhór) was suggested by a local school student, and its initial phase has seen 11 modern computers with curved screens occupying what used to be the pool and video games room in the restaurant.

Adrian Begley, of Arranmore Business Council, said no one was naive enough to expect that the opening of the hub would instantly mean people moving home from London, Chicago or Dublin, but he said it would mean the diaspora and visitors could spend longer holidays, while daily and weekly rates would mean locals and others could avail of high-speed connectivity for their own purposes.

Eóin MacManus, business and enterprise director at Three Ireland, said the connection between Modam and a mobile mast on the coast was augmented by improvements to the mobile site on the island itself.

Three Ireland broadband equipment has been installed in a local school, meaning students can use interactive whiteboards and participate in online learning, and other buildings including the community centre and the local medical centre which will facilitate telemedicinal applications including video consultations with consultants on the mainland.

“The digital hub itself acts as a showcase but there is more things that we have done,” Eóin MacManus said.

Offering one example, he said: “We are talking to the local ferry about putting wi-fi on those.”

He echoed the views of Mr Begley when he said initiatives such as Modam need to be viewed from a number of perspectives.

There’s the existing inhabitants not having to go to urban centres for everything; there are the people who have had to move away to create a lifestyle for themselves and can now move back and spend longer holidays here; and those who have never lived here and want to experiment, whether it’s to write a book or create or design something.

Mr Begley said the island’s longer-term plan is for physical superspeed fibre cable to be connected to the island, and that the initial phase had plenty of scope to expand.

“The plan is that it can be the most connected island in the world.” he said.

Whether or not the Modam idea is transferable to every island is debatable, but at yesterday’s launch, there was at least the suggestion that it can be an inspiration to others on the geographical fringes of the country.

As Mr Begley said: “We’ve gone from Pac Man, to this.”

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