One year ago the Mac an tSaoir family was chosen from among 1,600 applicants to live on the middle island of the Aran Islands rent-free for a year. Now the Meath family of seven has decided to live there permanently.
Colette and Rónan Mac an tSaoir, from Navan, County Meath, and their five children have said winning the chance to live on Inis Meáin was like winning the lotto. After one year of living and working remotely on the island, which has a population of just over 200, the family has decided to make it their permanent home.
The Mac an tSaoir and one of the family, the Connors, were given this unique opportunity to live on Inis Meáin by Comhlacht Forbartha, a community organization that promotes the Irish language.
Inis Meáin is the smallest of the Aran Islands in terms of population. It is one of the most important strongholds of traditional Irish culture. The island is predominantly Irish-speaking and part of the Gaeltacht, though all inhabitants have knowledge of English.
Comhlacht Forbartha Inis Meáin was established by islanders in 2016 to help promote the island, ensure services, preserve the language, attract funding, and ensure a better life for the people of Inis Meáin.
The Mac an tSaoir family have said that their experience over the last year has been link winning the lottery. Their family is now immersed in the Irish language and culture. Also, small class sizes for the children and minimal financial outlay have added to the island's massive appeal.
Speaking with RTE, Colette and Rónan urged others to consider moving to more remote areas like the Aran Islands.
A family chosen from more than 1,600 applications to live rent-free for a year on Inis Meáin have now decided to stay permanently. They say life on the middle of the three Aran Islands off the west coast is “a dream come true" | Read more: https://t.co/vppi8QWHa8 pic.twitter.com/elIpM4uYBV— RTÉ News (@rtenews) May 31, 2023
The couple have two-year-old twins. Collete said "We chant with the twins 'bhuaigh muid an Lotto' ['we won the lottery'] and they say it back now.
"There's nothing like it. Nothing else comes close."
Rónan added "Ní rud é gur féidir leat a cheannach le hairgead. [It's not something you can buy with money]."
The new working hub on Inis Meáin means Rónan, a software engineer, can work remotely. While Colette hopes to apply for a teaching job on the island.
The family always had a "grá" for the Irish language and now after a year, they are fluent. They urged other families to consider making a big move as they have.
"You know, things are much better connected now than they were even ten years ago," he said. "So it's not something I think that people need to be afraid of coming to live in a place like this.
"The hub is beside our home and it makes a huge difference to our quality of life here.
"I think without the hub it would have been extremely difficult to move here permanently. So yeah, I know that the local Comhlacht Forbartha are after joining a pilot scheme to get the National Broadband Plan out here earlier.
"And that will make a huge difference, especially in the summer when things become a bit busier. So we're going from strength to strength."
Collette told RTE her parents call Inis Meáin "Tír na nÓg" because they think she looks ten years younger.
She said "You have to think about things you know, life is slower but you've time to think, time to work things out. And you need each other so you work together, you need the community and they need you."
Reflecting on the past year said said "I think the biggest lesson we've learned this year is that it's okay if things aren't perfect. It's okay if we don't have the answer immediately.
"It's okay if we don't know where we'll be this time next year, but things were going in the right direction, day by day, more than anything else, there's a beautiful community ready to open itself up to people like us.
"It's just a wonderful place to live."
Adrian Ó Coincheanainn, a member of Comhlacht Forbartha and a teacher at Coláiste Naomh Eoin, on Inis Meáin said "We're thrilled here on Inis Meáin that we have all these students coming to stay for at least a school year.
"They add so much to the islands within the context of culture and sport.
"I'm also over the moon that the Mac an tSaoir family have decided to join our close-knit community on a permanent basis.
"I've young kids myself and I see the benefits first-hand that families like this bring to the island."
Speaking to the Meath Chronicle Chairwoman of Comhlacht Forbartha Inis Meáin, Mairéad Ní Fhátharta, said: “It generates hope for the Gaeltacht areas that so many people expressed such an interest in the Irish language and in living in a rural area."