The jobs and cultural agency Údarás na Gaeltachta created Ireland’s biggest remote working network during the lifespan of its recent three-year strategy, adding 1,609 new jobs in the Gaeltacht areas in that time, its CEO has announced.
Údarás-supported companies, based predominantly in relatively remote rural areas, had sales of over €2.5 billion over the three-year period, resulting in just under €1.3 billion in direct spend in the Irish economy and over €500 million spent on payroll.
The job creation figures are included in a three-year strategy review published today.
CEO Micheál O’ hÉanaigh also revealed that areas from Donegal to Kerry are attracting new interest from entrepreneurs and companies seeking to relocate or outsource new jobs in the west of Ireland.
With the mass vaccination programme expected to see most people return to offices by September it appears at least some of them are looking to do so along the western seaboard instead.
And business people who’ve already made the move say anyone considering following in their footsteps should just go for it.
“There is little doubt now that the pandemic hasn’t just accelerated the many benefits of remote working, it has accelerated an interest in where that work should take place. Queries to our offices have doubled,” said Údarás CEO Micheál O’ hÉanaigh.
“Ireland’s largest digital hub network isn’t on the east coast. It’s along our west coast, it’s dotted along our Gaeltacht areas. Our Gteic Network of 30 digital hubs with excellent broadband and office facilities are spread across all Gaeltacht areas including Gaoth Dobhair, Achill, Ceathru Rua, Baile na Sceilge and Cape Clear.
“We have invested hugely in recent years in this network and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect as this offers office-based access to high speed internet for those who want an office environment but not the headache of a long commute.”
O’ hÉanaigh says the country is seeing a new industrial revolution due to the pandemic and one of the beneficiaries is set to be the native Irish speaking areas.
“This represents a sea-change in attitudes towards the west, there is little doubt about that,” said the CEO.
“I think everyone has had time to pause and reflect on the way they work and where they work over the past year. I think a lot of people who came to the west on staycations last year saw the sort of lifestyle they could have and our range of supports is very attractive to businesses and companies who want to establish a base in a Gaeltacht area.
“Whilst we are seeing queries from the east coast, particularly from greater Dublin, we are also getting queries from Irish people abroad, in the UK, in Europe and in North America. Most importantly it is also keeping talented entrepreneurs at home in Kerry, Donegal, Mayo and Galway who might otherwise have had to leave.
“Keeping gifted entrepreneurs in Gaeltacht areas and creating exciting new roles contributes to our communities and ultimately to the native language of our communities. It is a vital part of what we do. People don’t have to move straight away; they can try it out and we can help with that process.”
There were 7,363 full-time and 437 part-time jobs supported by Údarás by the end of 2020. The organisation reported 427 additional positions were added last year despite the pandemic. More than two dozen Údarás language planning officers – the first such initiative in the world – are helping to pull together a cohesive approach to a thriving language community.
Dubliner Colm Ó hÉalai made the move to Kerry almost two decades ago, and is now the chocolate king of The Kingdom. His Skelligs Chocolate factory and coffee shop have stunning views of the monastic islands.
The 54-year-old from Raheny had worked all over Ireland and in Asia and Australia in various roles before a visit to his sister in Cahirsiveen changed his life.
“While I had a background in business, I didn’t know anything about food. The local chocolate factory near Ballinskellings was for sale and I thought I’d give it a go. As I say now I paid more than I should have for it, but less than it’s worth,” said Colm.
“We started with a dial-up internet connection and we thought we were fancy when we got an ISDN line. Now we connect to 500Mg broadband and can ship deliveries in Ireland within 24 hours. The perception may still be out there that we are remote. We’re not. We’re connected to the rest of the world at speeds which are among the best in the world.
“It’s all about perspective. To us – and there are 20 people employed here now – it’s the centre of the universe. The views from our place gladden the heart. We have a very low staff turnover and we enjoy what we do.
“The commute to work is a joy. It takes a few minutes and if you meet anyone along the way, you’ll get a wave. The work/life balance is so different to Dublin. When I do go up there to visit family, I start to tense up the closer I get to the place. The shoulders go up when you hit the M50. If someone has a business which is not geographically dependent, and they’re living in a shoebox or their parents’ shed, then they should look west, see what’s here.”
A local taskforce supported by Údarás is running a pilot project to stem the loss of people from the area and to encourage newcomers. A database of available properties in the peninsula has just been completed.
“The sense of community here is really important,” said Colm.
“You get that feeling in the city and elsewhere where you only see people from your area when you queue up to leave in the morning. You don’t know who lives two doors away. But here it’s very different. Your front door is unlocked. You know your neighbours. It’s a different way of living.
“There is just a better quality of life. My mother was from rural Mayo and I remember going there as a kid and seeing all this space. She would take us up to Gaoth Dobhair in Donegal every summer.
“There’s loads of room for more people in the West. People forget we used to have eight million people here on this island.”
The entrepreneur says anyone thinking of moving to the Gaeltacht and working there should make a plan.
“I’d say come and try it for three or four months. You’ll know if it’s for you; and if it is you’ll find welcoming communities and great support from Údarás,” he added.
Tech entrepreneur Siobhán Ní Chofaigh is from the Rathcarn Gaeltacht in Co Meath and has established her prototype design company Mint-Tek in Na Forbacha in the Galway Gaeltacht.
She agrees with Colm; that anyone considering relocating their business should try relocating to the Gaeltacht for a few months.
“I’d say to anyone considering a move from east to west to ‘suck it and see’, give it a go for a set period of time if they can do that,” said Siobhán, whose clients include Microsoft and Toshiba.
“I love Galway, it’s a great small city with all the great things of a city, the restaurants, the theatre and the culture. I can go swimming, and I do that all year round. We knew by being here we would have more connections to the tech world and Údarás were very helpful along the way.
“My commute is five minutes, maybe ten minutes on a really bad day. If I was in the greater Dublin area or outside it I would be asking ‘I wonder will it take an hour today?’ In the past what stopped people from working in rural Ireland was that we didn’t have access to people but with super broadband there is no reason anymore not to live and work in rural Ireland.
“Even being based in Co Galway before the pandemic I would have made trips twice a month to the UK or Europe and other trips to the USA. After this is over I know I will still need to connect personally with people but I will be reviewing at least half of those journeys. Most of those trips may not be necessary anymore.”
Siobhán says she understands that younger people – in particular employees – will want to return to the office when the vaccination roll-out is complete.
“They will want to be in a shiny building in Dublin’s docks. I get that. What is an office except Tinder for young people?,” she said.
“But if you have an inclination to do things differently, move your idea or business to the Gaeltacht then go and try it for a few months if you can. There’s nothing you can’t do in the West anymore. You can have a Gaeltacht office, meet people and new friends and have a very different way of life.”
Micheál Ó hÉanaigh says he and his colleagues welcome queries from home and abroad. Last month Aran Biomedical announced 150 highly skilled new jobs in An Spidéal in the Galway Gaeltacht. There are well-paid vacancies in a range of companies like Randox in Dungloe, Co Donegal, a medical devices company.
“Our Gaeltachts are very special places to live and work. You can be connected to the world here 24/7 if you want, and in your downtime it’s an amazing place to live. A great beach is never far away. It’s clear that this is a way of working and living which many people now crave and if that’s for you, then West really is best,” he added.