Courtmacsherry in West Cork once boasted its own railway station, dance hall, cinema, petrol station and some 17 shops. Over the summer, the village’s last shop closed. But locals are fighting back, says Dara Gannon whose family has lived in the village for 50 years. There are proposals to establish a community shop which will be provisioned, run and managed by locals.
A business executive with the General Electric company, father-of-two Mr Gannon says the closure of the village shop was generally viewed with dismay.
“Losing the local shop was the final nail in the coffin. We’re now in a situation where we have to literally leave the village for everything.”
The nearest shops are a few miles away in Barryroe and Timoleague. “The shop sold everything from bread and milk to the newspaper. It was a meeting place for people, and the kids would congregate in summer for ice cream and sweets,” he said.
“You could get arts and crafts there and buy coffee and scones,” says Mr Gannon, whose brother Mark runs a local angling business.
“Mark researched the idea of a community shop,” his brother explained. As a result, a tick-box survey of 600 households is currently underway to establish the level of support for the shop.
“Country people feel that laws are made in cities for urban communities and not a lot of people give enough thought to rural communities who don’t have bus services, taxis, or accessibility to shops,” said Dara.
“Rural isolation is becoming a major problem.”
He revealed there appeared to be “overwhelming support” for the idea.
“We asked people to indicate the items they’d like to see on sale in the shop. We have great artists, craftspeople and bakers here as well as fresh fish.”
He also believes the shop could also act as a tourism and information point.
Once the survey has been collected and its findings collated, organisers will begin the process of seeking financial support from community development organisations. “The survey will form part of the business plan for the shop which would be run by a local management committee,” Mr Gannon said.
It is hoped to employ people in the shop — expected to open in March 2016 — under local back-to-work schemes.
Although the concept is still relatively new in Ireland, Mr Gannon said it is very popular in the UK. It’s a way to fight back against the rural degradation which is taking a heavy toll on communities, he says.
Statistics show 60 years ago just 30% of people lived in towns or cities. That reached 50% by 2008 and is expected to grow to 60% within 15 years.
He added: “When a community loses its post office, its Garda station and possibly even its school, it leaves a void. Community shops have been a success in the UK and more recently, in Ireland too, in Kilkenny and Tipperary and it’s important to remember there are resources in Ireland to help with the creation of community shops.”