A planned new university hub in Dingle in Co Kerry, will be a model for coastal development, project promoters predicted yesterday.
Four third-level institutions, including an American university, yesterday signed an official agreement for Project Draíocht.
The third-level hub will be based in a former secondary school in the tourist town and plans to welcome its first students in September.
The project builds on links set up in 2004 with the Sacred Heart University of Fairfield, Connecticut, the second largest Catholic university in New England.
In Myles Na gCopaleen’s 1941 novel An Béal Bocht, the transatlantic region is regarded as “the next parish” to Dingle. Nearby is Springfield, where many of the Blasket Islanders settled in the US in the 1950s.
The links were set up by the Irish scholar and parish priest of Dingle, Mngr Padraig O Fiannachta, and each year hundreds of students from the US university complete a winter and spring semesters in cultural studies at the Diseart centre in Dingle.
The value to the local economy is conservatively estimated at €500,000 annually.
One million euro in funding towards the project has been pledged by Sacred Heart University and the purchase of the town’s old Christian Brothers Secondary School is in the process of being finalised.
IT Tralee, along with Cork Institute of Technology and University College Cork, have agreed,in principle to be partners with Sacred Heart in the project.
The presidents of all four colleges were in Dingle yesterday for the signing of a memorandum of agreement.
However, with four institutions involved a broader curriculum will be promised and Irish students are expected to enrol alongside American visitors.
Eventually, it is envisaged the Irish institutions and the US university institutions will combine in developing a number of academic and cultural courses.
Marine research, archaeology and nursing will be on offer alongside cultural studies, said Kevin Flannery who is also involved with the project.
Mr Flannery, long associated with Dingle Oceanworld and marine research, says Irish graduates would be employed as teachers.
The new campus will be essentially a hub and would result in an Atlantic academy with research at its heart.
“We expect 120 students initially. Dingle is an ideal setting for third-level education,” Mr Flannery said.
He believes research and educational projects are the way forward for West Kerry, as there was little realistic hope of industry for it and many other rural areas.
This type of investment in the Dingle area, he said, has the potential to make a significant contribution to the area and, with appropriate support, this model could form the basis for the economic of the coastal regions.
Udaras na Gaeltachta, meanwhile, is also providing support and funded a feasibility study for the project they labelled Project Draíocht.
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