March 29th conference ‘Building Rural Community – Lessons from Sport’ to hear from rural Ireland champions that we must be innovative and reimagine communities
Halting the decline and putting growth back into rural Ireland is one of the biggest single challenges for the nation, organiser of a conference announced for Thurles that will be headlined by GAA legend and rural Ireland champion Pat Spillane has stated.
The event is titled ‘Building Rural Community – Lessons from Sport’ and will take its cue from Pat Spillane and other panel speakers’ backgrounds as it explores the use of sport to regenerate community in rural areas.
The Chairman of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA) and eight time All-Ireland senior football medal winner will lead a highly motivated cast of rural Ireland personalities and influencers for the MIC, St. Patrick’s College Campus event on Wednesday, March 29th next. Other speakers will be announced next week but include rural champions with national profile.
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The conference is set against a backdrop of an increasingly challenged rural Ireland. While census 2016 showed a significant upswing in population in major urban areas – Dublin 3.7% and Cork 5.4%, for example – parts of rural Ireland recorded population declines of in excess of 20% from the previous census in 2011. Only this week a report for the Government on the future of post offices has recommended the closure of 80 post offices, mainly in rural areas.
Organiser of the conference, which is being hosted by the Institute for Pastoral Studies at MIC, St. Patrick’s Campus Thurles, Fr. Eamonn Fitzgibbon said that the need has never been greater for rural Ireland to step up to the plate and be innovative.
“We have an incredible sense of community in rural Ireland. It is unique. But if rural decline is going to continue at the pace it has over the last decade and more then community, too, is going to be seriously challenged. If community goes, we have little left.
“The recession certainly exacerbated the challenge for rural Ireland because the eye was completely on the ball of trying to stimulate the national economy through urban Ireland. It worked in that the cities have led the economic resurgence and that’s the only way it could really have happened but they have sucked the lifeblood out of rural Ireland – it’s people. We need to find ways to regenerate these communities and enable people to live and work there and our conference on the 29th will explore options for that by looking at sport and the example it give.
“There’s a huge passion for sport in rural Ireland and GAA and many other clubs are in many respects keeping communities together. We have lessons to learn from that for sure. But there’s also innumerable instances of where sporting passion has been turned into a viable business in rural Ireland and we will have examples of that on the night.
“We are privileged to have Pat Spillane as our lead speaker as he is one of the great champions of rural Ireland. His passion for it is very evident, not least by agreeing to give up so much of his time to Chair CEDRA and the advisory group to assist the development of rural development policy. In this role he has been right across the country, seen what’s working and what’s not and will, no doubt, enlighten us and challenge us to be innovative and come up with new ways of looking at how we can rebuild communities and rural Ireland. He’s the perfect person at this very challenging time for rural Ireland to lead this event.”
Referring to the announcement regarding plans to close 80 rural post offices, the head of pastoral studies at MIC, St. Patrick’s said: “It’s a further death knell. From a business perspective, this is no doubt grounded in hard fact but I would argue, and the tone of our conference very much supports this, that instead of closing things down in rural Ireland, we have to be innovative and look for new ways to keep them open. We can’t just give up.
“Post offices are part of the social fabric of communities but we have to reimagine communities and reimagine pillars of communities like post offices. Rural Ireland is definitely worth fighting for. Our speakers at this conference are examples of that and it will be a great opportunity to learn from them.”
The event commences at 7p.m. and concludes at 9:30p.m. Tickets for this event cost just €10 and can be booked through St. Patrick’s Campus at 0504-21201.