Peter Gill is an Irishman living on Clare Island but he is a also a Professor Emeritus in Sweden, living what he calls a ‘bifurcated life’ between Clare Island and Sweden. He has a deep interest in islands and islandness (se for example http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03033910.1994.10558011?journalCode=riri20 from 1994). Together with Gráinne Kelly, he has just pu blished a report entitled ‘Rural Schools as Hubs for the Socio-Educational Development for the Community’.
Dr Gill argues that ‘a classic challenge to the survival of small rural communities is the closure of the local primary school’. He has examined the huge trend of migration towards urban centres and the purchase of island properties by ‘the bourgeois for holiday homes’. The bourgeois of the urban regions have, first of all segregated themselves, by habitation segregation, usually economically, through the price of houses.
Dr Gill compares Ireland and Sweden: “In 2009 more than half the world’s population lived in urban regions, and this drag to municipal centres remains unabated. Islands are at the forefront of this demographic perturbation, which involves significant depopulation and symbolic, partial, repopulation in the process called ‘gentrification’. While Ireland’s more-populace eleven inhabited islands have 13 schools, Sweden has 541 inhabited islands, with 39 schools on 33 of them. “The facts are hard for at least four of Ireland’s islands, with two to eight children in their schools. In the Swedish ‘gentrified islands’, for example Sandhamn which has over 100 all-year-round inhabitants but over one thousand summer residents. It has no children of school-going age.’
Thanks to the fish farm on Clare Island, there are as many families with children in the school as there were in 1963. The school is vibrant, and the evidence is overwhelming that, contrary to a supposition of educational deprivation, the children from Clare Island school have done amazingly well,” he continues.
Clare Island is one of only four of the Irish islands in the study which experienced an increase in population between 1996 and 2011 (25 percent) and the least decrease in school enrolment (23 percent) between 1992 and 2015. It had 20 pupils enrolled in 2015, as opposed to 26 in 1992.
Co Cork’s Sherkin, on the other hand, experienced a 16 percent increase in population between 1996-2011 but a whopping 86 percent decrease in school enrolments between 1992-2015. Co Mayo’s Inishturk experienced the same dramatic decrease in enrolments (86 percent), says Dr Gill, with a 36 percent decline in its population from 1996-2011.
The islands included in the study are Bere, Cape Clear, Sherkin (Co Cork); Tory, Árainn Mhór, Inis Meain, Inis Oirr, Inis Mór, Inishbofin (Co Galway); Inishturk, Clare Island (Mayo).
Thanks Rhoda Twombly for observing this interesting article which can be read in full on the Mayo News here http://www.mayonews.ie/news/28453-island-primary-schools-a-litmus-test-for-future-sustainability. The full study – which is still a draft – is included below.