Island with population of 62 battling to survive

An island with a population of 62 is battling desperately for survival.

Inishturk, 14km off Mayo, has only three children in its national school after sending another three off to the mainland this week to start secondary school.

The island has no younger children to add to the primary school roll. It has lost 40% of its population in the past decade.

Mary Heanue, whose 13-year-old grandson Christopher took the boat to the mainland on Monday to live with relatives in Westport while he attends secondary school, is Inishturk’s community development officer.

She told an RTÉ radio documentary: “We need something to bring the children back. There are no jobs. What are we going to do to keep that school open?

“We need people that want to live on Inishurk. I would worry in 10 years who is going to be here.”

Islanders live in hope that state plans for a fish farm will be realised and attract people to Inishturk.

Meanwhile, it has no secondary school so its teenagers have to leave their homes at the age of 13 for digs on the mainland to advance their education.

Helena Gallagher, an Arranmore native who also had to leave home at 13 for school, made a moving documentary about three boys who left Inishturk for secondary school on the mainland last Monday.

Their lobster and cray-fishing days will now be restricted to weekend home breaks and holidays.

Instead, during the week they will attend classes in 500-pupil schools after having been used to a handful of students.

Christopher’s mother, Bríd, said: “On the mainland most children don’t break away from their families until they are about 17, unless they choose to send them to boarding school.

“Here we have no option. I don’t think people on the mainland realise how hard it is for an island parent or a child. You never have a choice, and the bond is broken early. They leave home when they are still children of 12 or 13. It’s heart-wrenching.”

* A Farther Education is broadcast on the Documentary at One at 1.05pm on RTÉ Radio 1 tomorrow.


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