Let’s get life back in villages

As someone who grew up in a village, I remember it as quite a lively place in the 1960s and 70s, writes Donal Hickey

A heartening feature of life in Ireland, in recent decades, has been a remarkable improvement in the looks of many small towns and villages.

This is due primarily to the work of communities aided by state-funded schemes. Not forgetting the impact of Tidy Towns which has helped transform the streetscape of countless settlements.

Examples that instantly spring to mind include villages liked Eyeries, in West Cork; Adare, in Co Limerick, and Sneem, Co Kerry. Alas, other such places have declined.

Adare

As someone who grew up in a village, I remember it as quite a lively place in the 1960s and 70s, with commercial activity, busy craftspeople and a constant flow of people in and out. The closure of the creamery about 40 years ago was a serious blow. Two shops now remain in a place which once had eight.

There are villages which now do not have a single shop, or petrol pumps; where a variety of business premises have closed and where large numbers of houses are locked up. All too often we hear the refrain, ‘villages are dead’, especially from mournful shopkeepers and publicans.

Without some action to rejuvenate such villages, and small towns, they are facing the prospect of silent streets full of derelict buildings. And fewer residents. Getting people to live in such places has to be a key priority.

It’s disappointing therefore to hear of delays in introducing a government plan to help first-time buyers refurbish rundown buildings. For several decades, villages have been forsaken as one-off housing proliferated in the countryside. Businesses also moved away; services and sports clubs struggled to survive and many disappeared.

The construction of one-off houses in the countryside by people wanting to leave towns and cities will be discouraged under the Government’s new National Development Plan.

The plan draws a line, however, between one-off, rural houses for farmers and other country dwellers and people wishing to leave towns but still commuting to work and school.

It will be much more difficult for the latter category to get planning in rural areas, something that’s already happening in any case. Under the new plan, the priority in housing is to have as much housing as possible in towns and villages. Many such places have lots of disused houses, which often have the advantages of large back gardens and closeness to shops, schools, churches etc.

Two suggestions for extending the above-mentioned scheme: a), could not county councils acquire, refurbish and modernise these properties for people awaiting social housing; b) in addition to first-time buyers, could not grants be given to other people wishing to avail of private housing in these buildings.


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