Blow to Kerry Gaeltacht community as shop closes

The shop in Carraig, Ballydavid, closes today, leaving just one shop between Slea Head and Brandon. Picture: Domnick Walsh Eye Focus Ltd

When the shop in the townland of Bóthar Buí, opposite Carraig Church in west Kerry, closes its doors this evening, there will only be one retail outlet left between Slea Head and the foot of Mount Brandon.

In the heart of the majestic Kerry Gaeltacht where once there were several, just Siopa an Bhuailtin in Baile an Fheirtéaraigh will remain.

Already, there is not a single post office outside of Ventry which is south of the Mam mountains that form the backbone of the croí láidir of Gaeltacht Chorca Dhuibhne.

Just down the road from Carraig, last September the post office and shop in Baile na nGall closed its doors.

Generations of Irish language learners, Gaeltacht children, and third-level students will remember Tigh a Phoist — crowding in after Mass on Sundays, or strolling up for an ice-cream on a sunny summer evening along the fuchsia-lined hedgerows.

Shopkeeper Johanna Uí Chonchuir has been running Carraig shop for 52 years. Also known as Siobhán, she had fantastic customers over the years but now it is coming to an end.

But she dislikes attention and admits to dreading today’s live broadcast on Raidió na Gaeltachta’s pre-lunchtime programme, An Saol ó Dheas, from the shop.

Dáithí de Mórdha from Dún Chaoin, a journalist with Raidió na Gaeltachta who is completing his PhD on local Gaeltacht issues, said there was a time when all the villages, Dun Chaoin, Muiríoch, and others, had at least one shop.

“People think centralisation has to do with people moving to cities,” he said. “But, in rural areas, the towns are gobbling up the rural parishes.”

People in the northern part of the Gaeltacht have to travel to Dingle town if they want to buy a stamp or purchase car fuel.

Rural life, west of the Mams, is almost entirely car-dependent as the area is without services generally taken for granted.

Schools like Dún Chaoin are thriving at the moment, so it is not so much a depopulation right now as a de-servicing of the entire rural area.

The State has minimal presence in the area, with no garda stations. Apart from schools and outreach learning, the Blasket Island Centre in Dún Chaoin and the Raidió na Gaeltachta station in Baile na nGall have direct State involvement.

There are more holiday homes than people in much of west Kerry, with temporary homes topping 60%. A million visitors reportedly traverse Slea Head yearly but there is little economic benefit for locals and, worse still, little or no possibility locals can buy or even build a home.

In Dún Chaoin there are 180 people, but 190 houses. “The price of houses, being a tourist area, is so high, and no local can buy a house here,” said Mr de Mórdha.

Less than 20 years ago, there were three post offices and six shops between Slea Head and Cuas at the foot of Brandon.

“In 20 years’ time, what will it be like?” wonders Mr de Mórdha, with people being sucked into towns. “There can be no communities without people.”

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