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Welcome to the Scottish Community Land Network

This site is for people interested in the management and ownership of land-based assets by communities in Scotland. A Scottish Community Land Network, you might say... As you know the internet is a big 'place' with everything about anything so we brought you relevant news and events, and provide opportunities to share ideas with other people interested in this subject. There are almost 1000 members, and more than 800 articles in our archive.

 

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Woolly jumpers and Father Ted?

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If I mention the Aran Islands to you, illness stuff what’s the first thing that springs to mind?  I guess some folks will assume I’m having a bad day with my spelling and counting and actually mean Arran, whilst other folk might mention woolly sweaters.  And after that?  Any more mental images of these islands, tucked away on the windswept west coast of Ireland?  Father Ted?  How about electric cars, dramatic cliffs and ancient stone forts?  Probably not the image you’ve got, but, as it turns out, it’d be a pretty accurate representation.

 

The landscape of the Aran IslandsThe Aran Islands lie to the west of County Clare, a little over half way down the left hand side of Ireland.  There are three islands – Inishmór, Inisheer and Inishmaan, or Árainn, Inis Oírr and Inis Meáin as they’re known in Irish.  Inishmór is the largest island – nearly nine miles long and just over two miles wide, with a population of around 825.

I visited Inishmór in October, before the winter gales started in earnest and whilst the weather was still balmy enough for a quick dip in the ocean.  Honestly.

Arriving on the early morning boat from a quiet corner of Connemara, I was suddenly immersed in a harbour scene that seemed vaguely reminiscent of south-east Asia.  As the ferry discharged its haul of tourists, a gaggle of minibus drivers, pony and trap riders and cycle hirers began to hawk for business, albeit it in a slightly more relaxed, Irish style.  The harbour was a scene of near-frenetic activity for an hour, yet when we returned later that evening, there wasn’t a soul to be seen.

At the Harbour InishmorIt seems Inishmór attracts its fair share of visitors, with thousands descending on the island every year, but the vast majority call in for a quick day trip, then rush back to the mainland as darkness descends.  In many ways that seems the worst of both worlds – streets full of tourists during the day, but no tourist Euros being spent on dinners, beds or breakfasts.  And yet, despite the rapidly approaching end of the season, everyone still seemed genuinely pleased to see us.  There was no sense of ‘another dumb tourist’ as we poked around the island, even when we dragged our scruffy boots and camping bed heads into a shop for breakfast.

After the tourism discussions on the SCotLaNd forum over the summer, I was intrigued to find out more about these islanders and their ability to survive, and even thrive on tourism.  And fortunately the early morning coffee vendor was happy to offer his thoughts on the island.  Gearoid Browne has lived on the island for many years and runs an art gallery and café by the harbour, where he meets and greets countless tourists.  He’s also a member of the island’s long-running co-operative ‘Comharchumann Forbartha Árann Teo’, which was established in 1991.  I asked Gearoid what had inspired the establishment of a coop on the island:  “I suppose we felt people were just acting as individuals, rather than representing the whole island.  We wanted a voice to speak for all of us and the government was keen to deal with one group that represented the island.  The coop has a committee elected from the shareholders and the manager’s also on the board of Udaras” (that’s the regional authority responsible for the economic, social and cultural development of the Gaeltacht area in Ireland).

The coop now provides a range of services for the islanders, including administration of a home for the elderly, running a recycling centre and setting up a diesel filling station.  And the coop’s now looking to bring the island bang up to date with its involvement in a trial of electric cars.  The project’s a collaboration between Sustainable Energy Ireland and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, and it’ll see six electric cars leased to residents on Inishmór in 2010.  The lease costs will be kept to a minimum, but the users must give up a diesel car in exchange for the use of an electric vehicle.  The trial will take place over the next three years, with islanders hoping it’ll lead to an increase in electric vehicles and renewable electricity generation on Inishmór in the future.  You can find out more about the project on the Sustainable Energy Ireland website.

Tourism means business on AranBut was it just high minded thoughts of reducing fuel shipments that kept the islanders so cheery?  And why were they so welcoming to the heaving hoards of tourists?  Gearoid wasn’t so sure of the answer to that one.  “Twenty years ago the island’s economy was based almost entirely around fishing.  Now it’s based almost entirely around tourists.  Without the visitors the islands would be a very different place, one where making a living would present an almost impossible challenge.  The folk here enjoy meeting new visitors and having a bit of banter with them as they pass through.  We’d like them to stay longer, ideally overnight and that’s where we need to develop our marketing.  But visitors have got to be a good thing.”

So do the Aran Islands represent a model that we should be trying to follow here in Scotland?  Or are our islands too fragile to support a mass influx along the lines of Inishmór? Are there ways we can channel tourism to provide a positive income with a smaller associated environmental cost?  Should it, along with the development of energy independence, form part of the bigger picture as we look at how to manage the environmental and economic status of remote island communities?

 

 

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