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BBC NI's Mervyn Jess reports
Rathlin Islanders fear their way of life may disappear
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Monday, 10 April, 2000, 21:38 GMT 22:38 UK
Islanders fear desertion of youth

Rathlin Island: Hoping to see return of its young people
Community leaders on Northern Ireland's only inhabited off-shore island are expressing concern that their unique way of life may disappear.

Rathlin island, which is increasingly popular as a tourist destination, is finding it difficult to retain its young people.

Located of the north coast of Antrim, Rathlin is only 14 miles from the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland.

The overall population of the island has dropped by 25% but the most alarming decrease has been among children.

Mural: Illustration of island's disappearing youth
A startling illustration of the decline is underlined by the fact that 35 children painted a mural in 1994.

Now there are only six children on the island - five of these are of school-attending age.

Maureen Elliot is the island's primary school teacher and notes the decline is a worrying trend.

"When I came here eight years ago there were nine pupils. It went down to five, up to seven and back down to five."

More seriously, she points out that there is little on the island to attract young people to stay in the community.

"I haven't seen any desire among young people to follow a profession that they can practice on the island."

Rathlin's traditionally stable industries of fishing and farming are no longer capable of sustaining a way of life for its community.

Theresa McFaul says that the young people are getting their education further away from the island.

"There is nothing there for them to come home to - even farming and fishing.

"Fishing has been in the McFaul family for years - there just isn't enough money in it any more.

"Something else has to be found for them," she said.

E-commerce hope

There are some signs of hope as Theresa's own son, Sean, is training to be the island's park ranger.

Asked what attracted him to living on the island, he said: "I'm used to the place - it's nice and quiet. I don't think I'd fit in in cities."

Eamon John Breen is one of the island's exiles who has gone abroad in search of education.

A trainee pilot, he hopes to come back to settle on Rathlin and points to alternative industries which have been tried with some success on other islands.

"It's a matter of just picking a job you can do on the island and taking it there.

"For example, there's e-commerce which some of the Scottish islands are trying to take up."

Paddy Burns: No one to come behind his generation
The fear remains among the older generation, however, that the island way of life is no longer sustainable and is likely to disappear.

Paddy Burns of the Rathlin Island Co-operative is not too optimistic for the future.

"I look at the people of my age profile and I can see us as the generation with no generation following us.

"There's no-one to come behind us."

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