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‘Forgotten people’ of Ireland’s Black Valley left in the dark ages


FRUSTRATION: Cllr Dan McCarthy tries to operate his iPad in the Black Valley, Killarney. The area under Carrauntoohil and the Gap of Dunloe was the last place in Ireland to be electrified and could be the last place to get broadband. Photo: Don MacMonagle
FRUSTRATION: Cllr Dan McCarthy tries to operate his iPad in the Black Valley, Killarney. The area under Carrauntoohil and the Gap of Dunloe was the last place in Ireland to be electrified and could be the last place to get broadband. Photo: Don MacMonagle

Locals in the Black Valley, Co Kerry, have had to get used to the delayed arrival of new technology.

As Ireland’s most remote destination, it was the last corner of the country to be touched by electricity in 1976. It only got a telephone landline in 2007 – because of the challenging mountainous terrain. Broadband is the latest technological advancement to pass the Black Valley by.

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“We usually are the last on the list – the forgotten people,” local resident Susan Tangney told the Sunday Independent.

Traditions of the past are somewhat of a unique selling point for the area. The valley is well served by local jarveys who bring tourists through the area with horses and carts.

It is also a hive of activity in summer for the local boatmen carrying tourists out on the region’s lakes. Cyclists also flock here. Manpower rules the day but locals bemoan the missing piece of key infrastructure.

Independent councillor Dan McCarthy lives nearby. He said local businesses and the “forgotten people” are left at a disadvantage because of poor connectivity.

“All it says at home in my place is: ‘cannot connect’.

“We are so dependent on it and for jobs to come around here to this area and we are damned if we don’t get it. We are dependent on technology to be competitive.”

Susan runs the Black Valley Hostel with her sisters Irene and Siobhan. Like the valley itself, the hostel has a history pre-dating the telegraph poles that dot the surrounding landscape. It was set up 70 years ago and was run by their parents Michael and Eileen before them.

When the battery operated radio-link phone system that previously served the area was replaced by Eircom (now Eir) in 2007 at a cost of €500,000, there were hopes that good broadband and consistent mobile coverage would soon follow. Susan said this has not been the case.

“Everything is done by email these days, everything happens online so it is not easy to run a business without it.” She has an internet package with a local provider because she was unhappy with services from major telecoms providers.

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It uses line-of-sight technology with a transmitter and wireless antenna instead of the wired connection.

Mobile phones operate using similar technology but the 70 or so residents in the heart of the valley are not served as they would wish.

The signal to the hostel comes from Ladies View, about 5km away across the valley, but the terrain causes issues. “It is very hit and miss,” Susan explained.

“You have to put the phone up on the windowsill and almost turn it upside-down to get a signal.

“If something happens where we are, near the Gap of Dunloe, we are very isolated.

“A guy fell off his bike and broke his leg in the Gap on Easter Monday.

“There is no mobile coverage in that area, so you would have to run up towards the top of the Gap to get a signal to call an ambulance or seek help.”

When the then Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte launched the National Broadband Plan in 2011, he promised it would be “the rural electrification of the 21st Century”. The plan was to be delivered by 2015. It has yet to be delivered.

“They are talking about it and talking about it,” Susan said. “Everything is talk and we are getting nowhere. They would want to just get on and do it at this stage.

“They seem to waste more money talking about it and putting forward plans. We didn’t see any action.

“Local elections are coming up now and they’ll promise us the world but nothing will come of it. We are sick of hearing it at this stage really.”

Sunday Independent


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