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Enjoying Work and Life in Co Clare

The proliferation of rural digital working spaces means affordable living and less commuting for more and more professionals.

Lorna Moloney was always passionate about her local heritage.

Indeed, this world-renowned genealogist started her career working as a tour guide in her home county of Clare.

Now, as an entrepreneur who works part-time as the Springboard Coordinator with University College Cork, Lorna does most of her work from the Digiclare Feakle Hub.

Having lived in Dublin, Cork, Galway and parts of England, Lorna says rural Ireland is her preferred base. “My ancestral roots are from Connemara, but I grew up in Tulla, Co Clare and now I’m living in east Clare. I like the quality of life in rural Ireland. Places such as the Feakle Digital Hub make it easier to choose rural Ireland.”

The Digiclare Feakle Hub provides local office facilities, co-working and conference facilities as well as high-speed broadband connectivity. The hub is an initiative of Clare County Council as part of its Rural Development Strategy to support rural communities.

Already, the centre is essential for entrepreneurs such as Lorna to maintain and build her own business – Merriman Research and Training Ltd, which has clients all around the world.

The availability of high speed broadband in Co Clare has been increasing steadily, due to commercial investment and the Government’s National Broadband Plan, with availability now at 61%, a 10% increase since 2016.

The connection allows Lorna to work remotely including producing a radio segment – the Genealogy Show – once a week on Raidio Corca Baiscinn (RCB).

Because of the reliability of the technology, she uses the Digiclare Feakle Hub to interview international guests and record her shows.

“The Feakle Hub is an excellent base for anyone that wants to work remotely,” says Lorna. “I save about 12-14 hours a week in travel time alone and my health has improved as a result. I used to have high blood pressure from all the driving. It’s very stressful to be stuck in traffic and nobody has the hours to lose.”

Since the co-working space opened in March 2018, Lorna can complete her varied work and research without being forced to battle daily traffic to reach one of the bigger cities. “Before the local centre opened I had to travel 90 minutes a day to the Southhill Area Centre in Limerick in order to get my work done.”

The Skellig CRI Centre in County Kerry is an outreach of UCC. “It was set up as a chance to branch out in terms of education and to offer learning opportunities to people in other parts of the country. “It’s about not having the arrogance of expecting everyone to travel to UCC, we bring the courses to them instead,” explains Lorna.

As a historian and genealogist, Lorna would like to see more people returning to their roots in rural Ireland as she believes smaller towns have a lot to offer. “I have a comfortable life in Clare, it’s manageable and affordable. I have one day a week with fixed hours of traveling, but one day is manageable.

“I’m mindful of the fact that some of my colleagues have to get up at 5.30am to work in Dublin and the cost of living there is shockingly high. I think more places like the Digiclare Feakle Hub should be opened to alleviate this problem and make living rurally an option for more people.”

How Brexit has made Firefly innovate

Martin McGeough of Firefly says Britain’s departure from the EU has opened his eyes to new possibilities for his business.

“Our mantra, ‘keep moving’ is what we preach at Firefly,”

“Brexit made us sharpen our focus, that’s for sure. But it has definitely made us innovate,” says Martin McGeough, the CEO of Firefly, a Sligo-based company specialising in Podiatric Biomechanics and Orthotic Therapy.

Firefly’s customer base is spread across the UK and Ireland which means the business exports its products and sells a lot in sterling. That means the pricing model is closely tied to the fluctuating fortunes of the British currency – and the political machinations at Westminster can have a real impact.

But Martin sees Brexit as an opportunity, not a negative pull on his business which makes custom-made foot orthoses – for sale to podiatrists, who in turn give them to patients with ankle, foot or hip problems. The firm also specialises in providing related therapies to treat people of all ages.

“Luckily, our products do not attract tariffs but we ship through Northern Ireland which is a logistical consideration. However, I genuinely do not believe there will be an issue for us. “As a first step, we wrote to all our customers and gave them the reassurance that we expect little to change and told them we would absorb any extra costs that may emerge. It was important to give them that confidence.”

Firefly, which employs 25 people also provides the crucial therapy and training to ensure the patients get the best possible benefit from the products it supplies. The company is a highly respected innovator and market leader – in 2017 it brought 200 of the UK and Ireland’s leading podiatrists to Sligo for an industry summit.

“Our mantra, ‘keep moving’ is what we preach at Firefly,” says Martin. “That’s why we see Brexit as providing the impetus to keep developing, innovating and growing.”

With Brexit fast approaching, Martin is convinced that the business can withstand any bumps in the road and he has exciting plans to expand Firefly’s business to other markets and with new services – such as revenue from education and training. Brexit, though, did make him think closely about how Firefly does business. “We looked at how we price and what we do. In terms of innovation we asked ourselves could we create an educational revenue stream? So, for example, we looked at Pakistan as a potential new market.”

Pakistan, explains Martin, has a population of over 200 million people, of which 25pc are affected by diabetes. That causes a lot of health complications, with obesity putting pressure on joints – ankles, feet and hips – which means there could be a massive new market and demand for Firefly’s products, therapy and training. Firefly may soon also be making its products closer to home. The company currently has products manufactured in Vancouver, Canada and in Indianapolis and California in the United States. “A direct-spin off from Brexit was making us think about the entire supply chain and we now have plans to bring our manufacturing to Sligo, using the latest commercial-standard 3D printing technology.”

For Martin, Brexit has meant a chance to refocus his business – and prepare for the future. “It’s about being ready and getting in front of the issues before they become problems. We’re looking forward to some great years ahead.”

Cutting edge tech career in a rural setting

Software engineer Fergal Donlon doesn’t miss the big city, and he’s lived in a few bustling capitals: Sydney and Dublin can all be ticked off his bucket list and they came close to choosing London.

But Fergal and his wife Claire, a national school teacher, wanted something more; to live somewhere where the pace of life was more relaxed, a little more affordable and a suitable location where the myriad needs of career and family life could be met.

Originally from Glenamaddy, Co Galway, Fergal was living back in Ireland nine years ago – in Williamstown, Co Galway – when he published a post on a popular online forum, called Boards.ie, asking: “Where in Ireland should we live?” The suggestions that came back all appealed; Ennis in Co Clare, Westport in Co Mayo and Carrick on Shannon in Co Leitrim – a trio of desirable West of Ireland locations dotted along the Wild Atlantic Way.

After a visit, they chose the Co Leitrim town, located just 40 minutes from the Atlantic beaches in Sligo, and just over two and a half hours to Dublin by road – or direct rail. The couple are now a family of four with a seven-year-old and a five-year-old who are now enjoying a childhood in one of the most scenic counties in Ireland.

“We just didn’t want to live in a big city anymore,” says Fergal. “We live in a village called Hartley near Carrick which has everything we need. It also takes us just five minutes to get to work and do the school pickup. There’s no traffic and no hassle.”

Fergal has also forged a career path working for Travelport Digital, a NASDAQ-listed UK company that make apps for airlines such as easyJet, Etihad Airlines and Singapore Airlines. “All apps have servers to power them and they run through Amazon Web Services (AWS). My team’s job is to ensure they stay up and running!”

The 41-year-old now leads an international team of software engineers from his desk inside The Hive, a cutting-edge, architect-designed work-centre that sits on the edge of town near Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, the home of Leitrim GAA.

The purpose-built building, opened in 2013, is home to more than 90 people working across tech, manufacturing and e-commerce with fibre broadband and comfortable office spaces for individuals and teams.

With the price of an average three-bed house sitting at around €90,000* and a wealth of local amenities shops and cultural attractions, more and more people are making lifestyle-centred choices to locate to places such as Carrick-on-Shannon.

Fergal still divides sometime between east and west – getting a direct 6.30am train to Dublin two days a week to liaise with his employer at their office in the capital.

He spends the rest of the week at The Hive. “I’m an Operations Manager and I lead a team of seven people – I am in in Carrick, two of the team are in Dublin, two are in Belgrade in Serbia and two are in Chișinău in Moldova. We do a ‘stand-up’ meeting every morning and get on with our day.”

The speed and quality of the fibre broadband at The Hive is critical as Fergal dons a pair of headphones and chats through a list of daily tasks with his team on a Google Hangout or a Skype call.

A typical day in Carrick-on-Shannon could involve writing code and ensuring the uptime of the company’s services – crucially important work, as Fergal explains.

“We had a situation recently where the check-in functionality of an app for a South American airline caused a problem for all check ins at all airports serviced by that airline. I was able to fix the issue from The Hive. Imagine being in South America and not being able to check in on your app. Who would think some guy thousands of miles away in Leitrim in the West of Ireland was able to fix the problem?”

We were just working to live in Dublin

This is the view of Darren O’Dwyer, who recently made the move to Limerick. Building a house in Adare with his fiancé Clare, Darren has seen his commute drop to just 20 minutes. A graduate of the University of Limerick a decade before, Darren joined WP Engine as Senior Talent Advisor EMEA last year.

WP Engine opened its first Irish office in Limerick in 2016. Headquartered in Austin, Texas with offices in San Antonio TX, London and Brisbane. WP Engine is a WordPress digital experience platform, helping brands to build and deploy creative online sites every day.  Attracting key talent to Limerick was vitally important to the success of the Irish expansion of the company. The Limerick operation has grown from 8 to 30 staff already, with plans to grow to 100 over 3 years.

Limerick City has enjoyed consistently positive employment growth in recent years.  Over 15,750 jobs have been created in the city and county since 2013. The Council’s Limerick 2030 Vision: An Economic and Spatial Plan is spearheading significant regeneration of key sites in the city centre and surrounding areas.
Darren admits he wasn’t aware of how many career opportunities there were in Limerick, not just in WP Engine but also in many of the new pharma, medical devices, tech and financial services companies opening up in the region.

“People looking to move should do their research and see what value they can add to these companies, many of whom offer great benefits such as WP Engine who provide employees with training, healthcare, dental care and a pension.”

As someone who has made the move, Darren is familiar with both the challenges and benefits of moving to the region. “Knowing that we could build a home in the countryside outside Limerick and pay less on the mortgage than we were paying in rent on a two-bed apartment in Dublin was a huge factor for us,” he said.  Another significant draw for Darren was the improved quality of life he knew he could have in Limerick. “We’re able to save money and still go out more – we were never able to save in Dublin, we were just working to live.”

Finally, Darren summed up his experience of leaving Dublin to forge a new life and career in Limerick by saying “It’s been a really positive experience over the last year since moving down and I’m looking forward to many positive years ahead in Limerick.

If you come here and you’re willing to work hard then Limerick’s your oyster.”

How two Sligo men turned a kitchen table into a multi-national software company

World-leading brands turn to SL Controls with three bases along Atlantic Economic Corridor.

In the space of 16 years, SL Controls has grown from a two-person company operating from a kitchen in Sligo to 100 employees across five offices, including three along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Founded by friends Keith Moran and Shane Loughlin in 2002, the company uses its prime locations in Sligo, Galway and Limerick as well as Dublin and Birmingham to expand its market across Ireland, the UK and US.

SL Controls is a specialist software integration firm who integrate and validate software systems into manufacturing and process equipment.

They work with world-leading brands, mostly multinationals in the Pharma, Med Devices, Healthcare, and Food and Beverage sectors.

Their work is considered a game-changer in many areas of engineering, particularly when it comes to Pharmaceutical Serialisation, a method of tracking and tracing prescription drugs which the company is revolutionising to clampdown on the sale of counterfeit products.

Well into its second decade of operation, SL Controls has achieved a lot of what it set out to – expanding to multiple locations and most notably bringing jobs to the west of Ireland.

“The company was founded by two Sligo men, who went to college in Sligo, and so it was our goal to establish our business there with the option of growing into other locations if we wanted,” Managing Director, Keith Moran, says.

“We now have three offices along the west coast and we have had no barriers so far. The combination of infrastructure, which has improved greatly in recent years, and airports and technology means our company is never short of opportunities.”

Keith also credits a strong workforce and college culture as being other benefits of working along the Atlantic corridor.

In addition, the growth of high speed broadband in the region means when freak weather events like Storm Emma hits, employees can work remotely through the company’s Microsoft 365 platform.

“The benefits of working in the west are always growing. With technology, and the fact that I can be at Shannon airport within two hours now to fly to the US, and Knock Airport very quickly for meetings in the UK, we have never had any barriers,” says Keith.

Teaching the next generation that there is a bright future

Letterkenny Institute of Technology in Co Donegal is ensuring that there is a path to prosperity in the region

It fosters one of the most progressive learning environments in Ireland with a reach that is both regional and international.
Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT) attracts a diverse student cohort of more than 4,000 students from Ireland and 31 countries across the globe.

“Learners choose to study with LYIT because of our unique ethos that combines academic excellence with career-focused practical experience. It’s an innovative approach that positions our graduates for future success in line with their career and life ambitions,” explains John Andy Bonnar, Head of Development at LYIT.

The Institute also fosters close relationships with the wider North West regional community. Engagement and partnerships with indigenous and international business strengthen student’s prospects in tandem with the prosperity of the region’s economy.

“Our modern integrated campus learning environments in Letterkenny and Killybegs aren’t just gateways to a bright future, but to one of the most breathtaking corners of the world – with Donegal named National Geographic’s ‘Coolest Place on the Planet 2017’,” explains Bonnar.

In addition to world class graduates LYIT also supports the development of the North West City Region’s economy through Research and Innovation initiatives including partnering with businesses on Enterprise Ireland.

LYIT has recently been successful in funded research projects with a range of partners including an EU Horizon 2020 funded Ocean Energy project in association with University College Cork and US company Ocean Renewable Power Corporation.
And an Interreg VA funded Personalised Medicine project in association with Ulster University, Letterkenny General Hospital, CTRIC and Altnagelvin Hospital Derry and many industry partners.

CoLab LYIT’s campus Incubation and Research Centre has supported 150 high potential entrepreneurs successfully launch their businesses over the last decade.

LYIT also supports Tech NorthWest Skillnet a network of 80 technology-based member companies based in Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim. Tech NorthWest provides subsidised training and networking opportunities for members focused on improving business competitiveness and enhancing innovation.

At the heart of an Atlantic axis

EI Electronics is an Irish – and global success story

EI Electronics is one of the largest indigenous companies on the Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC) with an annual turnover of €200million and 800 employees.

A grand total of 700 of those are based in the Shannon headquarters where manufacturing, research and development and key commercial functions are co-located.

“Since being established in 1988, following a Management buyout from General Electric, our business has expanded organically, and today we rank as one of Ireland’s leading electronics companies with annual sales of €200 million, 5 overseas sales subsidiaries and exporting to 30 countries,” explains Michael Guinee, CEO of EI Electronics.

A truly global indigenous Irish company, all manufacturing, R&D and key commercial functions are co-located in the Shannon Free Zone headquarters.

“Shannon and the AEC have proven to be an optimum location for our business to grow and expand with ready access to a well-educated workforce and excellent transport logistics by road and air,” says Guinee.

“The region offers unrivalled work-life balance opportunities and there are excellent choices for living in the axis from Limerick to Ennis and the villages and towns between.

“We are proud at having established a world leading brand in the niche area of fire and gas detection products, remaining at the forefront of technology and successfully building international markets from our AEC base.

“In the interest of balanced economic development, the AEC is the essential counter-balance to the Dublin region. It is easy to do business from the AEC and with an excellent road network, Dublin is just two hours from Shannon.’’

Take-off for a vital Atlantic hub

Ireland West Airport is looking forward to a bright future

It’s the regional airport that just keeps on growing and it fuels the development of the economy along the Atlantic Economic Corridor.

Ireland West Airport now provides connectivity to over 20 destinations across the UK and Europe, offering the biggest selection of services to the UK from the West and North West of Ireland.

Joe Gilmore, Chief Executive, explains: “Our location as the most westerly airport in the country and our accessibility to the Atlantic corridor and Wild Atlantic Way is highlighted by the fact that over 250,000 overseas visitors came through the airport in 2017 to access the region, generating an economic contribution of over €140million annually for the region.”

Indeed, 2017 was a record breaking year for the airport as it reached a passenger milestone of 750,000 for the first time reinforcing the airports position as the fourth largest airport in Ireland.

Its further strengthened by the support of seven local authorities in the West and North West which recently invested €7.3 million in return for a 17.5 percent shareholding in the airport with the objectives of collaboration and expanding the route network, increasing passenger numbers, tourism bed nights and visitors to the region over the next decade.

“We wish to acknowledge Government’s recognition of the airport as one of the four main airports’ in the country and its position as a critical driver of economic and tourism development for the West and North West of Ireland. We also are pleased that the National Planning Framework highlights the Atlantic Economic Corridor initiative and recognises the significant role of Ireland West Airport in tourism and enterprise development,” adds Joe.

A Wild Atlantic Creation fit for a US President

Sligo jeweller Martina Hamilton’s pieces are inspired by the sea

The Atlantic has inspired many of the world’s finest creators including Sligo award-winning jeweller and goldsmith, Martina Hamilton.

A county of “extraordinary beauty and wealth” is how Martina describes Sligo and it’s clear to see the two are a perfect fit.

That’s because her designs are inspired by the wonderful, ever-changing Atlantic coastal landscape she calls home and by her ancestors who were once surrounded by its active shores on Dernish Island off the north west coast.

Her love of the sea is perhaps most evident in her latest Shore Collection which features imprints in the sand from the tide, periwinkles on rocks, and oysters and pearls.

Well-known gardener and RTE presenter Leonie Cornelius is Martina’s official brand ambassador, illustrating the reach of Atlantic corridor companies far and wide.

Martina said: “I grew up in Lissadell and it’s amazing to see how it has continued to resonate with me. I grew up by the water and going to the beach all the time and I don’t know why it happened that the Atlantic’s inspiration came out through my work, but it’s something that has great meaning inside my gallery.”

She added: “The support that I have received over my career has been through friends and through people with common connections. But I firmly believe that working in groups ultimately ends up being better for everyone involved. Sharing always comes back to you.”

Martina’s collections can be found at her shop The Cat and the Moon in Sligo town, as well as part of Arnotts’ Irish Jewellery Collection, Avoca Stores, Designyard, House of Ireland, Kilkenny Design, Kilkenny Shop and Steensons of Belfast.

Atlantic corridor’s deep history preserved in Tubbercurry

Dutch couple reap rewards of historic region to establish conservation business

A life changes when one moves country and the decision to do so must not be taken lightly.

But so was the pull of the Atlantic lifestyle that Dutchman Benjamin van den Wetering and his wife Ineke Scholte, made the big move to the Ox Mountains of Tubbercurry at the turn of the millennium.

It is here that their company ‘The Ox Bindery’ now offers Institute of Conservators-Restorers in Ireland (ICRI) accredited conservation services to public and private clients.

Some might say the west coast and the artistic couple are a faultless match.

Benjamin, a former art school student, has also studied hand bookbinding and subsequently book and paper conservation in the Netherlands.

Sligo is of course notable for its rich history, particularly in literature.

So when Benjamin, who comes from a family of craftworkers, took an interest in the origins and craft of books it was written in the stars that he settle in the north west.

And as Benjamin and Ineke also now run their own Airbnb, they are also reaping the rewards of the West’s growing tourism market.

“We do have tourists coming for accommodation,” said Benjamin. “I would say Airbnb creates a lot of traction for our book binding business as these people often buy some of our books, but we are aware that what we do is pioneering in the area.”

He added: “Working in the west is rewarding and we get a lot of work done because of its quiet, the peace it offers and its low overhead costs.”

The company recently took part in a project funded by the Heritage Council under the National Lottery good causes fund.

The Ox Bindery expertly conserved various raw materials such as account books from an historic family boat yard.

The notebooks are now in the care of Sligo County Council Local Studies and Archives Section.

With the history of the Atlantic corridor being written every day, its preservation is in the finest hands at Ox Bindery.