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Eyes opened by West Clare town
Padraig and Julie Neylon with their 19-month- old daughter, Theola at their home in Frances Street, Kilrush. Photograph by John Kelly.

Eyes opened by West Clare town

THEY always envisaged ending up in a rural idyll, gazing contentedly across green fields and at big, empty skies. Instead, Pádraig and Julie Neylon, along with their now 19-month-old daughter Theola, pitched up in a near 200-year-old, six-bedroom house in Kilrush.

Both are self-employed and Pádraig’s office is what was once the coal house in Kilrush House, which is located in Merchant’s Quay at the bottom of Frances Street.

They sense that their decision to settle in Kilrush reflects a growing trend, where young families are opting to live in smaller towns, where the cost of living is manageable and the quality of life less hectic. For decades, towns like Kilrush have lost generations of young people, who either emigrated or settled elsewhere in Ireland, primarily for work-related reasons.

Other friends and acquaintances are either living in, or considering moving to, the town.
“I always had it in the head to move back home to Kilmurry McMahon, build a house and live happily ever after. But I had to change my mindset towards living in a rural town. I definitely wouldn’t go back on it now. What’s stopping a lot of people living in cities is that they could never see themselves living in a small town. You have to change your mindset,” Pádraig has found.

They are the first non-Glynn family to live in Kilrush House since the late 1870s, when the merchant family bought it from the Foley family. It was built around 1820 and was initially known as Merchant’s Quay House, according to local historian Paul O’Brien, who lectures at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.

The Neylons are one of just a handful of families, with children, to move into Frances Street in the last 40 years.

“The Glynns were very positive about us moving in here, in that they were delighted it wasn’t going to a commercial entity and that it was going to be used as a family home.

“I used to have this idyllic view that kids should be brought up in the country but it doesn’t feel like you’re penned in because there is a lot of open space down by the marina and the streets are so wide. Any friends who visit us are bowled over by how picturesque Kilrush is,” said Julie, who is originally from Mountbellew in Galway.

The housing shortage is sometimes seen as a Dublin and environs issue but it’s a concern in Kilrush too. It’s hard to believe but the Neylons found it difficult to source a suitable house in the West Clare town, when they were considering renting.

“Initially, we said we were going to rent somewhere because we didn’t think we’d get a mortgage. When you’re self-employed, trying to get a mortgage is challenging. We weren’t thinking of buying a house in Kilrush. Because of the baby, I wanted to rent in the town so that I’d be really close to work. But there was nothing to rent. We were driving by this place and we said this house looked great. We looked it up online and said if we could get a mortgage, it would be much cheaper,” Julie revealed.

“Our mortgage repayments are cheaper than paying rent in Kilrush. We got a far bigger house than we were looking for but everything was pointing towards it. We had a tough financial year last year. Once we got the mortgage for here, we couldn’t borrow for the business. We were trying to juggle an awful lot of stuff. It was tough going. It’s becoming prohibitively expensive for youngish couples like ourselves to build a house. It doesn’t make financial sense if there is the option of buying a house and doing it up,” Pádraig reflected.

Last Saturday, Julie marked the first anniversary of Wild Atlantic Opticians in Frances Street, close to the town square. She opened the business when Theola was just seven months old and in six weeks time, the family are expecting their second child.

In her first few weeks in business, Julie kept encountering her husband’s family.

“The first week was pretty much all Pádraig’s relatives. I was thinking, ‘This is not good. After this, what’s going to happen?’ A lot of people would buy an existing opticians, whereas I opened without any database but, thankfully, I’ve 1,500 patients now,” Julie noted.

Interestingly, she found that some people in West Clare had not been for an eye test for years.

“I’ve seen a lot of people who haven’t had an eye test for 10 years because of where they’re located. They weren’t going to travel to get an eye test. You can detect so much, unknown to you, by having an eye test.”

The absence of reliable broadband in Kilrush has often been cited as an obstacle to job creation. However, Julie maintains that it is not an issue in the town itself.

“A lot of people complain that broadband is an issue but if you’re in the town, you’re not going to have as many issues with broadband or mobile phone coverage.”

Pádraig, who is a qualified quantity surveyor, has established a company AddJust, along with his uncle Joe Neylon. Long-term, their plan is to employ people in the West Clare capital. The company provides financial management software for construction firms.

“We’ve been short-listed and we’re down to the final three in the Intertrade Ireland Seed Corn competition. We’re in the Munster final with two Cork companies. We’ve also had an €80,000 investment from Enterprise Ireland. Our goal is to develop a team and hire people in Kilrush.

“One of the key things for me is broadband because a lot of my business is not in West Clare. With fibre broadband, there is no reason why a tech company can’t develop in Kilrush. There is a huge problem in Dublin trying to attract talent in these companies but I feel that those people might be looking for something a bit different, like here in West Clare,” he speculated.

Pádraig senses that the town might be turning the corner economically.

“There is a good bit beginning to happen. The town is beginning to turn and I think we’ve come in at the right time. A few businesses have opened up around the square and there has been a filling out of some of the vacant properties. I’m not saying everything is rosy in the garden but in terms of quality of life, we have friends in Dublin renting a small, box apartment for €1,500 a month. They want to move down but they need to grasp the nettle and say they’re going,” he suggested.

Until 12 months ago, Julie had never been self-employed but these days she couldn’t imagine not being her own boss.

“I’m far less stressed now, being self-employed, than I was employed. Being employed is not always less stressful. Being self employed might seem daunting but once you get over the initial hurdle, I’m way less stressed now. The only thing is, I basically never leave Frances Street,” she laughed.

By Peter O’Connell

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