Burren Community Society

Traditionally the Burren would have been viewed as a predominantly rural society, somewhat removed from urban influence, far out on the western seaboard. Most of the shopping, socialising, business and marketing would have been done at a local level, or extending as far as the towns of Ennis and Gort. There would have been relatively little interaction with the ‘outside world’ and most of those living in the Burren would have been from the area and working there. This society was well captured in the famous sociological study ‘Family and Community in Ireland’ by Arensberg and Kimball, the research for which partially took place in the Burren.

In recent years, particularly since the arrival of the Celtic Tiger, a lot has changed and the Burren has become much more of a cosmopolitan society. Large numbers of holiday homes have been built along coastal regions, in small clusters or single sites. More and more homes are being bought or built by commuters to the larger metropolises of Galway, Shannon and Limerick which improvements in transport and roads have made more accessible. Large numbers of visitors pass through the region every year and a significant seasonal industry has built up around this. Indeed in summer, the region could be described as buzzing – there’s even a traffic jam or two to be seen.

In winter time however, towns like Ballyvaughan, Kilfenora and Fanore are very quiet, their peripheral location fine during the visitor season, but leaving little industry around in winter. Similarly, rural areas of the Burren are quieter today than they have been for many a year, the sense of community and companionship once found in farming a thing of the past, as the industry becomes more mechanised and more farmers work off the land, only to hurry home every evening to do their farm jobs.

Some of these changes are revealed in the Census figures, which show a population of 2,649 in Ballyvaughan RD (which encompass c. 75% of the Burren upland region) in 1996, a 27.45% reduction from the 1911 figure of 3,651. The population of the rural DEDs almost halved from 2,423 in 1911 to 1,241 in 1996. It should be noted that he extent of population replacement, whereby indigenous farm families are being succeeded by others external to the area, is not reflected in these figures.

The dependency ratio in Ballyvaughan RD stood at 71.01 in 1991, far higher than the national figure of 53.96. Analysis of the relevant age cohorts indicates that much of this difference is due to higher percentage of population in the 65+ age cohort in Ballyvaughan RD, possibly reflecting to some extent the popularity of the region for retirement, as well as the flight of young people from the region.