Kickham Country Weekend Mullinahone panel speaks up for rural Ireland

RTE's Mary Wilson chairs debate at opening

Kickham Country Weekend

Kichham Country Weekend secretary Teckie Brett; chairman Jim White and special guest speaker Mary Wilson.

"Is it the last chance saloon for rural Ireland" was one of the questions posed at a panel discussion at the launch of the Kickham Country Weekend in Mullinahone on Friday night.

And after a lively two hour debate, the answer appeared to be a resounding "no".

Kickham country, where the honour of the little village holds sway, wanted the message to go out that rural Ireland is alive and well and prospering.

There are problems - inadequate broadband, poor transport communications and de-population in some areas - but certainly rural Ireland is not at death's door.

The panel discussion, chaired by a neighbour's child, RTE's Mary Wilson, was a new format for the start of the popular weekend.

Instead of an opening night lecture, it launched a discussion on 'Rural Ireland 2017'.

And the debate brought a larger - and younger - audience to the Knocknogow Community Centre for the lively discussion.

And the panel itself suggested that rural Ireland can encourage entrepreneurship and job creation.

It included Jim Brett from nearby Windgap, the boss of the Brett Group that employs over 180 in its grain operations.

There too was John Bermingham who established tourist accommodation and a music venue, Croc an Oir, literally at the end of a boreen.

Joining the panel was another young entrepreneur from the village, Richie Morrissey, who now heads up two businesses - personal training and clothing wear.

And detailing how rural businesses can benefit from local and state funding were Director of Services with Tipperary County Council, Sinead Carr, and CEO of South Tipperary Development Company, Isabel Cambie.

Opening the debate, Drangan native Mary Wilson - who has 250,000 listeners from urban and rural Ireland five days per week on her Drivetime progamme - said she was very proud of Tipperary and where she came from.

"This area formed me", she said.

When asked where she came from, she would first say Drangan. If that didn't register, she would say Mullinahome and if the person asking was still unsure, she would say Kickham country and that would be sufficient.

She added that while she now lives in Dublin, rural Ireland still gives you a sense of place. Charles Kickham realised this and had a strong sense of place in his writings. But while he often wrote of a rural idyll, you cannot live on neighbourliness and that meant the question asked by GAA pundit Pat Spillane, "is it the last chance saloon for rural Ireland", had to be asked and answered.

And the panelists gave an upbeat assessment on what the future can hold.

Jim Brett described how he had left a job as an agricultural journalist with RTE to return home to the family business. Asked by Mary Wilson what that job entailed today, he replied - "I mange change".

John Bermingham recounted how his early career had involved farming first (depite being unsuited to the job) and then as a travelling musician before settling back in his native place to establish Croc an Oir.

If he had complaints from the time, they centred on the difficulty getting planning permission for his new venture.

The youngest panel member Richie Morrissey had shown an independent nature from an early age, and that had blossomed into his personal trainer business in Mullinahone allied to a new clothing line he had established.

Speakers from the floor had a somewhat less positive outlook at times. They mentioned the amount of form filling needed when applying for state funding, the difficulties put in the way of potential entrepreneurs, the poor broadband, and the closure of rural shops and post offices.

Jackie Bolger highlighted the broadband issue and how it is impacting on rural business and Rickie Sheehan hit out at what he descibed as "Dublin thinking" when it came to filling out forms in so many areas. "The odds are loaded against country people", he claimed.

Rural isolation was another area highlighted and Christy Sheehan spoke about the Men's Shed organisation and the importance of people talking to each other and simply saying Hello.

Secretary Teckie Brett said that the festival had been going strong for thirty four years and now a new committee of twelve had been chosen to continue the work.

She made a special presentation to Sheila Foley who had done trojan work to keep the memory of Charles Kickham alive in his native place over many years as secretary of the committee.

The Friday night debate heralded a weekend of activity in the village, again with some new additions. Instead of a bus tour of historic sites, Rickie Sheehan conducted a walking tour of Mullinahone on Saturday; there was a concert in the community centre that night while there was music in the local pubs every night; on Sunday the annual mass for Charles Kickham and James Maher was celebrated; and the final gathering for song and poetry took place at Croc an Oir later in the day.