Photo from MLSSA,Newsletter, November ,2010
A Socio- Economic report of Inishbofin Island
Inishbofin is an island with a long history of social economic development dating back for centuries. It is alleged that it got its name from the Loch Bo Finne (Lake of the White Cow) in West Quarter village and there are many legends in relation to the origins of its name. ‘Whatever the truth of the legend, it is clear that the islands have drawn fishermen, farmers, monks, soldiers and adventurers for over 6,000 years’ ( Inishbofin Development Company, IDC, 2011). The first documented record of habitation on the island is in the 8th century in the work of the ‘Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People’. Many famous people had association in ancient times- In the 16th century the Spaniards harassed the west coast of Ireland and one of their leaders, Alonzo Bosco, settled on Inishbofin and used it as his base from which to terrorise the inhabitants on the mainland. Grace O’Malley, the pirate queen, also used the island, establishing a fort and stationing her fleet there. However during the reign of Elizabeth 1st, the British army subdued the island and built a castle, the ruins of which overlook the entrance to the harbour. Cromwell’s army also spent time there and local folklore believes that several of the soldiers of Cromwell and Alonso Bosco settled on the island and the main land, during this period (McNeeley, A., 1995). Traditionally all aspects of life both socially and economically were based on farming and fishing. The island was once a civil parish in Mayo and all its services were provided from Mayo to the east pier side but today it is part of Galway and all its services are provided through Cleggan. Inishbofin today is a progressive island having socially and economically developed with its economy primarily based on tourism. There is currently an active community development company with many of the community leaders emanating from the various community groups from the past. ‘The Development Company was incorporated in February 1993, as a company limited by guarantee with no share capital to provide the island with a legally recognised voluntary group’ (Henry Kenny).
The population is generally about 200 based on the census returns (CSO). The preliminary census results for 2011 shows a decline of 19% but this is disputed locally as some of the regular residents who normally reside there were not present on census night. The returned census forms for 2006 has a total population of 199, comprising 95 females and 104 males and has 157 households of which 73 are occupied on a permanent basis (CSO). The main occupation is pluriactivity incorporating fishing, farming and related tourism. Based on the census there are 81 people at work and just 24, referred to as unemployed, 27 declared as farmers, 19 with disability and 25 retired. There are only 36 under the age of 19 listed on the CSO returns. There are no teenage boys on the island based on the 2006 census – ‘I have been arguing for years that the census is not a true reflection of the island population because for example in relation to the people attending college they are not on the island on census night. There are also some people out on the main land at weekends for business and social reasons and are recorded where they are staying’, said local resident Simon Murray. The CSO agrees that there is a problem and the criteria introduced in 2002 does not fully address the problem – ‘Clearly, these questions had to be completed by some remaining persons in the household which meant that complete households absent on census night were not enumerated’ (CSO 2002).
It is also well documented that periods of excitement/achievement and even weather conditions may increase birth levels. The number increased on the island in one year was over 200% more than the average calculated over a ten year period. This would appear to have happened at the end of the 1990s – at a time when Galway won their first football final in over 30 years and it was also when the new centre was built on the island. There is also an increase of over 400% on Inish Oirr this year (2011), said Grainne Ni Conghaille – ‘we had no excitement on the island last year but we had the coldest winter on record’ (Needs further research)?
An initial observation based on the census returns would suggest that the numbers on Inishbofin are holding well when other islands are declining. The population in 1981was 195, – 1996, 200 and in 2006 it was 199. During this period the population of Galway County increased by 25%. The preliminary results for 2011 show a population of 161 but some people who normally reside there are not included in these figures. In 2006, – 21% were under the age of 19 and 31% under the age of 30 this compares to 1996 when 20% were under 19 and 38% were under 30.
In 2006 11.5% were over 70 years and in 1996 it was 17.5%. In 1996 40% of houses were occupied by one person and in 2006 it was 43%. There appears to be an increase in the birth rate once again with three born in 2011
Numbers engaged in Fishing/Farming – Types
Farming numbers are difficult to identify as pluriactivity is common with residents usually involved in more than one activity. Also some farmers on farm assist both locally and nationally sometimes classify themselves as unemployed. There are ‘currently in excess of 30 people with herd/flock numbers farming 1,400 sheep and 100 cattle on the island with numbers constantly fluctuating’ said a well known local farmer. A big percentage of farmers and fishermen also benefit from the tourist expansion. The tourist trade is expanding and numbers continually increasing – ‘As an observation, in the region of 25 thousand tourists visit the island annually’ said Simon Murray. The total numbers currently involved in farming/fishing, full time and part time, is in the region of 35/40 (CSO and local research).
The migration trends will be assessed by giving examples of departure based on the students from the national school; this was achieved with the help of the principal of the school Kathy O’Halloran, Simon Murray and Henry Kenny.
In 1975/76 fourth class pupils in the national school 60% remained on the island and 40% are based elsewhere in Galway. In 2000/01 of the pupils in the higher classes 10% on the island and 90% elsewhere in Ireland
The island has a two teacher national school. The number of children in 2001 was 26, and currently has 15 pupils (2011) enrolled. This is a drop of 43%.
The levels of education on the island based on the 2006 census is – 30% of people left formal education under 16 years of age and a further 29% left before the age of 21 and 11% not stated, a further 22% with 3rd level education(CSO, 2006) and the balance still in education.
The island is serviced by a subsidised ferry twice daily in winter and three times in the holiday season; City Link provides a bus service to Cleggan Harbour. The airstrip is now complete but not in service as of now. Roads on the island are generally in good condition and under the supervision of Galway County Council; there is also a daily postal service and an island bus service which is provided by the Community Services Programme. The island has a mains water and electricity supply.
An upgraded telephone/Broadband service now gives the island good IT services with an ever increasing number availing of the internet service. It also has its own supply of Turf/Peat Bogs. A lot of the island services are provided from Clifden Town less than ten miles away.
Health service: Hospital in Clifden (mainly respite) with a limited x-ray service, a medical practice in Clifden provides a doctor to the island three times each month. There is also a resident nurse based on the island and an Order of Malta ambulance service on the island manned by volunteers.
Garda/Fire Brigade/Lifeboat: Garda/Fire Brigade are old services, with the Lifeboat relatively new (1990s) are all based in Clifden.
Support for the elderly: Is provided by home help and also the community bus service.
Food stores, Public houses, Hotels: one shop in the area and one public house and three hotels, Post Office and a food market day which is weekly during the holiday season.
Youth/Sport: Renvyle Gaelic football club caters for the football and Connemara rugby also covers the area. There are two gyms and swimming pool in Clifden town. Connemara Golf Course is less than 20 miles away.
Social: Community centre facilities include: ‘Sports hall for indoor soccer, badminton, basketball, table tennis etc.
Types of Industries Operating Locally
The area is high amenity with a variety of landscape including sandy beaches, bog land and a variety of outstanding visual scenery both internal and external. The main focus is on tourism with the traditional industries of farming and fishing not as prominent as in the past although still playing a significant role. The island has now three hotels and all are of a very high standard and accommodate both national and international guests. There are also B&Bs and a range of tourist related associated trade, for example bicycle rental and water sports.
There are approximately 160 houses on the island of which 54% are not occupied on a regular basis and are generally holiday houses (CSO 2006). These houses require maintenance/caretakers and generate additional income.
Local Voluntary Groups
There is long history of voluntary workers on the island and it is ongoing. Based on the 2006 census there is 20% of the total population involved in voluntary activity. There are Quantitative records of an active GAA club dating back to the 1930s and competing in competitions on the main land. One of the major voluntary achievements was the development of a new community centre established in 1997/98. This was really important as it gave the island a base for community activity which is currently very active.
Based on the research not withstanding its limitations the following is a SWOT analysis:
Strengths: The Island has a strong community development company which is available to the community for grant application and services. It has established the current CSP and also other community services. The CSP services are entwined in almost all aspects of Island life both social and economic. The progressive private sector has made major progress in developing tourism and is ongoing. The ferry services are efficient and regular. There is a high quality Broadband, electricity, and domestic water service. And also an active community centre for social activity.
Weaknesses: The population is static and there is a major reduction in the less than 30 age group. Not enough residents are taking up training for local services jobs. There are no commercial sporting facilities to attract tourists to extend the season. There is a severe decline in fishing and farming with loss of skills and cultural traits.
Opportunities: The development of alternative energy, Aquaculture/Mariculture and a golf club has the potential to develop real jobs. To press the government for tax designation for residents, for example 10% income tax and 5% corporation tax and VAT reclassification. To develop incentives to get emigrants, especially retired people to resettle on the island and combine this with designation of a site for social/essential housing. All new petitions should be based on the fact that current policy has failed to stop the population decline?
The Island leaders should examine the successful development of other islands for example Samso in Denmark which ‘is the first island in the world to be self sufficient in alternate energy’ (Bieillo, D., 2010)
Threats: The reduced number of children going to national school will have long term consequences. The better the infrastructure the more people reside on the main land and operate the island as a secondary association (this is the experience in other islands).
The Island has been fighting a survival battle for many years and has upgraded its facilities, this is obvious everywhere, especially the facilities of the commercial. The social problems of population decline/imbalance still exist. The Island has a voluntary progressive development group and is well organised socially and the private sector is also developing The Community Services Programme (CSP) are currently playing an important role in both the social and economic sustainability of the Island. The Island is now achieving its financial rewards while still looking for the economic benefits that special tax designation is expected to deliver?
The main challenge – can the Island deal with its popularity, whilst still remaining a competitive tourist destination?
Research by john o malley (edited version)
The creation of this research was accomplished with the assistance of Audrey Murray manager of the Community Services Programme who gave her time generously in assisting with the research format in relation to the Company and the research in general. This was achieved by numerous personal and electronic interactions, also to named contributors in the thesis – Kathy O Halloran, Henry Kenny, Simon Murray, Pat Coyne, Grainne Ni Conghaile, Pat Walsh and Eamon Day Lavelle.