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Connecting businesses and communities in rural Ireland

24 Oct 2021Empowering People
3 minute read

Morgan O’Driscoll owns one of Ireland’s leading fine art auction houses. Faster broadband speeds have supercharged his business, helping him bring unique pieces to collectors all over the world.

“It used to take us an hour and a half to upload images for an auction,” he says. “Now it can be done in seconds. It gives us time to focus on everything else.”

Morgan is based in Skibbereen, a vibrant market town famed for its colourful houses and idyllic setting, nestled within rolling green hills. It's one of fifteen “Gigabit towns”, where Vodafone and Ireland's Electricity Supply Board offer free broadband to local businesses and start-up hubs for the first two years.

Same friendly town, new exciting opportunities

200 new jobs have been created in Skibbereen as a result of it becoming a “Gigabit town”. This has transformed its economy – but it’s also made a huge difference to the lives of people who live there.

Skibbereen had long struggled to keep hold of young people once they had gone to university in Cork or Dublin. Jobs and opportunities were scarce, forcing many to leave for new lives in the cities.

“Employment was always a problem in Skibbereen,” one resident recalls. “You had the farming community, the fishing community - very little industry.”

Bringing people home to “Skibb”

Skibbereen’s new high-speed connectivity means people can come back home to raise families, while living and working locally. It’s also attracting foreign direct investment, and new businesses are springing up all over town. “It has built the confidence of a town that felt it was being left behind,” says Anne O’Leary, CEO of Vodafone Ireland.

The development of a new co-working space, the Ludgate Hub, has even attracted people from overseas. Christopher Mason, who owns marketing start-up The Digital Agency, moved from California to Skibbereen in 2011. “After a holiday in Ireland, we fell in love with the place,” he says. “I followed the development of Ludgate Hub and when I figured out that was all going to happen, that was a key element in the decision to move here.”

Faster connections for Cormeen

Following in Skibbereen’s footsteps is Cormeen, where a new co-working space, iDesk, set up in the town’s sports complex, has been welcomed by local students and professionals.

This space is one of Ireland’s many Broadband Connection Points (BCP), which, funded by Vodafone and the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, aim to connect rural areas to high-speed internet. “We are effectively in the middle of nowhere here,” said William McMahon, who is part of the committee that helped set up iDesk. "We have struggled for many years with poor broadband.”

This has been a great boost for people like William, who hadn’t previously had fast enough internet connections to work remotely. “The speed and connection that [Vodafone] has brought to this area is outstanding,” he says. “I see this as a very strong, positive thing that our community can grow from.”

Powering businesses and communities in Ireland

Small and medium-sized enterprises are a critical part of Europe’s economy, providing jobs and driving economic growth. They are essential to every regional economy, and their importance increases with distance away from Europe’s major cities. They are also important for providing opportunities for socio-economic participation and mobility for women, young people, and ethnic minorities.

Read our Rural Connectivity report to learn more about the benefits of connectivity as an enabler of rural communities, the challenges in developing rural connectivity, and the policy tools used by governments to support rural connectivity.

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  • Resilience
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  • SDG 11
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