We’re in east Mayo. It’s a small village called Aghamore. It’s about five miles from Knock, five miles from Ballyhaunis and five miles from Kilkelly. We’re just about a mile off the N17.
As a village we’re very connected really. From here you can be in Galway or Sligo in 45 minutes to an hour. You can be in Limerick in 90 minutes. The airport is 10 minutes away, so you can get up in the morning and be on a beach in Spain by lunch time. That would be in a pre and post-COVID world, of course.
I moved away from Aghamore in the 1980s like a lot of people from the area. I lived abroad in various places and I came back to Aghamore in 2000. I started a new century back where I began.
We had travelled a lot. We had been in London, the Channel Islands and the States, different places. We spent a lot of time in Dublin and that. Then we had twins in 1998. At the time we had a small house in Swinford, the twins meant we needed a bigger house, so we had to build one here that accommodated them. We’ve a small drystock farm as well.
That’s how we ended up back in Aghamore. It’s a great place to live. It’s a great place to bring up a family. For me it would be completely alien to think of bringing up children in a city area.
Integrated Community Campus
I’m part of Aghamore Community Development Company Committee. In 2005 we conceived this idea of putting together a range of facilities for our community. That was the beginning of the Integrated Community Campus (ICC). With the ICC we’re trying to meet all the needs of the parish in one central area on an eight acre site.
To start we did a survey and an evaluation of what we had here in the village. We had our GAA club, which was and is excellent, but aside from that we had very little. Our national school was very, very old and there wasn’t enough ground around it to expand.
We had no funds, we had no assets, we had nothing. That would have been in March 2005 we started out like that. By February 2006 we had acquired the eight acre site and from nothing we had developed that site, got planning permission, went out to tender and had a new school on the site in 11 months.
Then we went on and built our childcare facility beside it. It works well because people can bring all their children to the childcare. There are afterschool programmes as well for older children if you’re not ready to pick them up until five or six o’clock.
It has really empowered women in the area to get back to work or go out to work, because they have a decent facility where they can put their children.
The next thing we did was put in an all-weather football pitch with an athletics track around it. We floodlit it, so a lot of people in the area use the track. They’re off the main road when it’s dark in the winter time.
The total cost of those three projects was €1.6m. We secured €1.1m in funding for them and we raised the rest ourselves. As a small rural community you go about raising half a million the same way you go about eating an elephant, one bite at a time.
We did all sorts of local fundraisers. We raffled suck calves, we raffled a car, held art auctions and we went to Chicago to do who wants to be an Irish Thousandaire. You name it, we’ve done it.
Then in May 2018 we got a further €300,000 in funding. We borrowed €300,000 with it and we started the final piece of the ICC, the community amenities building. That’s effectively designed to sort the rest of the needs.
We’re blessed with local support and the people we have in the village. They give us time, they give us money and they give us their professional expertise
It has a multitude of facilities. We have an education and training facility, an enterprise suite and a large hall that’s used as a conference hall, among other things. There’ll be office space and hot desks available to rent. It’s being used by loads of different groups as well.
Currently to pay back what we borrowed we’re raffling a two-bed modular cottage style house. We’re doing it with the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation, we’re hoping to give them €50,000 if all the tickets are sold. We have a dedicated website for that www.housedraw.ie.
Bucking the trend
We’re a rural community. We have about 400 households in the parish. There’s not a big population. We have managed to keep our post office. Just before the lockdown in 2019 a second pub opened up in our village, that’s bucking the national trend entirely.
So we box above our weight really and truly. In fairness we’re blessed with local support and the people we have in the village. They give us time, they give us money and they give us their professional expertise. Ultimately what it means is that everybody locally has a vested interest in what’s going on and everybody is taking part in some way.
I’ve always been involved in the community doing something. I just find if you’re part of a community you should be trying to do something to make it a better place for everyone. I think that’s the attitude of a lot of people on our committee. They really want to leave a mark behind them and leave things better than the way they got them. CL