Housing crisis threatens to force young family out of Baltinglass as eviction looms
Family of three has made a public plea to local landlords as prospect of having to move up to two counties away from support network and community is starting to become reality
After spending the last two and a half years in their picturesque home on Kilranelagh Hill near Baltinglass, Dr Liam MacGabhann, his partner Siobhán and their two-year-old daughter Ayla now find themselves facing eviction in March.
Although determined to remain in the area that they have fought for on all kinds of local issues, and built a life in, the young family fear that the housing crisis may force them as far away as Louth or Meath.
With the rental market being among the country’s most sparse, the couple have made a public plea for help from the community they do not want to leave.
“Our last hope is to harness that famously fantastic community spirit,” said Liam. “So, if anyone out there has a two-bedroom home for our young family, we are in great need and can be contacted via Facebook. With time running out, and us facing eviction in March, we’ll take pretty much anything at this stage.
“The main thing is that my partner and I, and our two-year-old daughter, stay here in west Wicklow. We love this place.”
The family’s woes began last year when their land lady announced her intention to cash in on the property.
Not wishing to leave them in the lurch, the obliging property owner gave the couple generous notice and, after digesting the reality of their situation, Liam and Siobhan begrudgingly began their search for new accommodation.
They scoured property websites and put out the word to friends in the community to no avail, before finally turning to social media in a last-ditch effort to stay in the locality. Imploring the people of Baltinglass and beyond to help him in his search for a two-bedroom house outside of town, “where we can make new memories”, a downcast Liam posted a heartfelt appeal, saying he would appreciate any “heads up or introduction”.
“I’ve lived in the Baltinglass, Glen of Imaal, Kiltegan area for as long as I can remember,” Liam began. “I owned a house here for about 16 years and I’ve rented ever since.
“It was easy to move around for a time, but those days are long gone. The rental market simply does not exist in west Wicklow.
“We’re two and a half years on this 300-year-old site here in Kilranelagh, which is just outside of Baltinglass, and we’ve made some really wonderful memories here in that time.
“It’s an ancient archaeological site, which is a huge part of the reason why we’re here. My partner and I are both into Irish mythology, eco arts and that kind of thing, that’s what makes all of this so devastating. We have to leave this place that we have become really attached to.
“We had a long term lease here, but our land lady decided she needed to sell. She gave us plenty of notice, and even an extra six months to find a place, so she has been very obliging. Unfortunately though, the bottom line is, there is nowhere near here for us to live at the moment. Now, when I say near, I include the whole of west Wicklow. The search is proving very challenging.”
Originally from Rathfarnham in Dublin, Liam works as an Associate Professor of Mental Health Practice at DCU, while his partner is an ecologist and artist who teaches children to work with nature through a range of forward thinking ‘forest schools’.
Although Liam works in Dublin, he said he has no desire or intention to ever live in the capital. He has developed a taste for the rich rural lifestyle over the years, While he concedes that he might have more joy house hunting in the other border counties, he’s vehemently determined to remain immersed
“We’re kind of in a place where we have no choice but to move, but we want to stay in west Wicklow,” Liam said passionately. “Sure, we could find somewhere in Meath, Kildare or in Louth, but we’ve been in west Wicklow through and through. Our life and interests are here.
“A lot of people know me and my partner around here. I’ve been involved in a lot of community projects over the years, including building the children’s park in Baltinglass and establishing Baltinglass as a fair trade town. I was also part of Baltinglass Amateur Dramatics (BAD) for about 15 years
“I was the west Wicklow lead for fighting EirGrid when there was talk of them putting a super pylon highway along the east coast of Ireland and, more recently, I was on the committee in Kilranelagh who were opposing a German company who wanted to put up a wind farm here, on the oldest hill fort complex in Europe.
“I suppose what I’m trying to get at here is that we’ve really tried to embed ourselves in the community here over the years, and we’ve endeavoured to give back and campaign for the locality at every opportunity.
“I don’t I think I can effectively describe how frustrating and helpless all of this makes us feel,” Liam added. “We can’t stay in the place that we love, through no fault of our own. I have two neighbours, either side of me here, who have land and can’t get planning permission for their kids to build there. They tell me that their kids are struggling up in Dublin, and that they don’t want to be up there paying extortionate rents. They could be working remotely, but there are no options locally.
“Now, while I have a fairly well paying job, we’re still effectively a one-salary family to a large extent. The sad part is, even if Siobhán and I had two full incomes coming in, it still wouldn’t matter – because there’s nothing out there.
“The rare few places that do pop up online or on forums, well, you’d be paying the equivalent of a double mortgage just to rent. No part of that is fair, and none of it makes sense.”
Liam, Siobhán and baby Ayla had initially hoped to accommodate their two rescue horses (and two rescue cats) at their new home, but have since conceded that they will likely have to make alternative arrangements for their beloved animals.
Feeling forgotten, neglected and indignant as a west Wicklow resident, Liam said that the only hope his young family are clinging to is their faith in the broader Baltinglass community.
“People are used to doing things off their own backs around here,” Liam said proudly. “We’re the poorer cousin of our east coast neighbours here in the west. Services and infrastructure have always been drawn to the commuter belt, or towards Laois, Kildare and south Dublin. There’s nothing for mental health in the west, for example, particularly for its youth.
“We may be a forgotten community here, made up of a mixture of blow ins and natives, but it has made us very strong over the years. This community is far more integrated here than in other parts of the county, mostly because we have to rely on each other to get anything done.”
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