Come to Kiltyclogher to save a village

Amazingly enough, I was going to write an updated version of my obituary for ye this week, until being distracted by the the plight nowadays of one of my favourite villages in the entire country, lovely lively little Kiltyclogher in North Leitrim.

Amazingly enough, I was going to write an updated version of my obituary for ye this week, until being distracted by the the plight nowadays of one of my favourite villages in the entire country, lovely lively little Kiltyclogher in North Leitrim, writes Cormac MacConnell.

So the obituary update can wait for another while and, hopefully, will not need to be published for years yet.

In the meantime, let’s salute the fighting spirit and resilience of the dwindling population of Kiltyclogher.

It is a strange fact, that the statue of local patriot son Sean MacDiarmada, in the centre of Kiltyclogher, has always worn a very sad stone face.

It is almost as if, way back in 1916, he saw this day coming for his friends and neighbours. Also, unlike the overwhelming majority of statues to mark respect for local

heroes, Sean is rendered in a true image, that of the simple country lad he was when growing up in his home, just outside the village.

That home is now a visitor centre, and properly so.

The situation today in the borderlands village, in case ye are still unaware of it, is that the 233 surviving residents have taken to social media to try and attract more folk to come and live in the village and help keep it alive.

The campaign is especially aimed at those living in cities like Dublin, or even overseas, and the message at a time when there is a growing national housing problem is that you can have an altogether better life in Kiltyclogher. To my certain knowledge, for many folk, that is

indeed a golden opportunity of the kind that does not come our way too often.

I suppose the Kiltyclogher situation reflects the 2017 reality of many small provincial villages and towns.

The youth are forced to leave home as soon as they are able to find employment elsewhere, because there are few local jobs for them.

That generational drain must inevitably take its toll on those left behind. It is happening all over the island.

The Americans coined the term Rust Belt for its similarly afflicted industrial heartlands. We have a Rust Belt too, illustrated by the sad pairs of rusting fuel pumps outside village shops, now often closed down because the young blood has all been forced away by economic circumstances.

Poignantly, one of the human aspects of the Kiltyclogher campaign is the future of the village’s two-teacher school nearby. It had just 15 pupils when it closed down for the summer holidays. There is no certainty that this number will hold come September, when it would be likely that the school would lose one of its teachers, and perhaps come under even greater pressure in the near future.

Ironically, in the days when I was a cub reporter in Fermanagh, just across the border, I came to know and hugely respect and admire a Michael Shanley, who was then the head of the local vocational school, and a powerful advocate for his community.

Michael was an educator in the fullest sense of the word. Already aware that the majority of his pupils would be driven to move away from home, he went far beyond the parameters of the curriculum to educate them about the realities of the big bad world waiting for them in England and elsewhere.

He was as special in his own way and time as that sad young man on the plinth, Sean MacDiarmada.

Another relevant tale of Kiltyclogher in my youth.

One time, a group of us from Enniskillen were heading down to dance and chase girls in the nearby Ballroom of Romance in Glenfarne, and our old banger of a car broke down in Kiltyclogher, in the small hours, in an era long before mobile phones.

A local man, seeing our problem, brought the four of us home to his house, in which there was a great musical party going full swing.

As he sought the assistance of a mechanic neighbour, we were warmly welcomed, fed and watered, danced sets on the flagstone floor, and had a better night indeed than we would have had in the Ballroom of Romance.

The mechanic arrived, and spent half the night with a Tilley lamp and wrenches repairing our old car.

It was with the greatest of difficulty he could be prevailed upon to accept even a token payment for his kindness, when he eventually got us back on the road again.

I will never forget the people of the house, where we had been entertained royally, gathering at the door to wave us goodbye and safe journey home across the border.

I sincerely hope the current campaign works for Kiltyclogher. Anyone who decides to relocate up there will discover they have made a great choice. And if they are a couple with a few school kids attached, they will be trebly welcome for helping to ensure the future of the village school. If they are artists, or musicians, or crafts folk, they will be joining many like spirits, some of whom have

already fled Dublin life in

recent years, who keep singing the praises of little Kiltyclogher to all who listen.

Maybe, in the near future, the face of that country boy in the square will not look so sad at all.

I hope that will happen.

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