Service Learning
A teaching tool connecting community and classroom

MA Rural Sustainability

Engaging with Rural Communities

Course Director: Dr Marie Mahon and Dr Maura Farrell

Course Title: Masters in Rural Sustainability

Subject: Geography

Participants: 10 (divided into groups)

Hours: 36+

Credits: 10 ECTs

Mandatory: Yes

Length: 6 weeks research and Report

Project Year: 2013 - 2014

Learning Outcomes:

2013-2014 Project:

Negotiating Place - Connecting the Past and the Present

This project was supported by the Claregalway Historical and Cultural Society, and devised as part of the opening of the new Historical and Cultural Museum in Claregalway. It was carried out by the students on the Masters in Rural Sustainability, School of Geography & Archaeology, NUI Galway. It was based on a series of interviews with individuals who have been involved in turn with projects, activities and specific ways of life that have brought additional and defining dimensions to Claregalway as a place. It is acknowledged that the individuals who were approached to take part in this project represent only a fraction of the population who contribute to the experience of place in Claregalway, and that this might be the subject of a larger and more ambitious project at some point in the future.

The students presented a 40-page final report to the organisation involved. The report contained an extensively-developed theoretical discussion and review of relevant literature, with the aim that this might be used as a future resource for the organisations concerned. The fieldwork involved devising and conducting a survey, a series of interviews with key experts and local individuals.

Project Overview

Claregalway is a place long associated with change and development that has been established on strong historical, cultural and economic foundations. From its earlier status as a rural village in which agriculture and related activities formed the main economic base and where the population was from its more immediate geographical area, it has become the location of a diverse range of economic activities with a population drawn from multiple national and international settings. As with countless other rural places in Ireland and particularly the west of Ireland, it has long held strong external links with emigrant destinations such as the UK, US and Australia. Over time, it has become densely networked in to Galway City, with a more mobile population availing of the city for employment and other services and opting for Claregalway as its place of residence.

For at least the last twenty years, the population of Claregalway has continued to increase. Under the most recent Census of Population (2011) Claregalway was for the first time classified as a town. Last September (2013) Claregalway opened its first secondary school. The prospect is for continued development of Claregalway as a place, and almost certainly for continued increase in the numbers of people who will choose to live in it.

How the population of Claregalway has engaged with change over the last number of decades is a demonstration of the perspectives it holds of Claregalway as a place. These is at one level a reflection of a pragmatic view of contemporary processes of change and of the importance of engaging and connecting with what is new and innovative in order to achieve greater quality of life for the local population. For many, this perspective is informed through having been part of or having knowledge of Claregalway's past and through reminders of how previous communities built their everyday lives there under the particular local conditions and circumstances of the time. Since the history of a place is being made every day, account must also be taken of the ways in which today's population locates itself in Claregalway

This publication celebrates Claregalway as a place that has over time established itself as unique, with its own distinct mix of characteristics and attributes, while at the same time embracing ongoing change and development. The capacity to absorb change generated from outside, and to initiate it from within, to make space for what is new and different, but to also protect and celebrate elements of the past have contributed to these defining characteristics of Claregalway as a place. Since places cannot exist without people, this publication is as much in reference to the people who have been and who are today a part of Claregalway, who feel an association with it in a variety of ways, who have shaped it from within and from outside. As such, it sets out to explore the idea of Claregalway as a place, what it means, and why it is so important in terms of how it impacts on the people who have been and continue to hold an association with it. It also hopes to illustrate why in turn those insights might be a way to reflect on how Claregalway as a place could evolve into the future; that the different ways that place is important to people can often make the difference in their quality of life and sense of well-being.

Any kind of broad overview on place that captures all of these dimensions, insights and experiences, which identifies the links between past and present and makes them accessible and visible, is always an incomplete project in that it is only doing so at a particular point in time. The task of continuing with such a project of raising place awareness as a constantly changing phenomenon, with the notion that the history of a place is being made on a daily basis, is a challenging one, but one that is very important to how a place might be sustained into the future. In this regard, the new Museum has a very significant function in promoting and undertaking the kinds of projects that help to keep a focus on the changing nature of place in Claregalway and the capacity to interpret and build awareness of what this means to the entire community living in Claregalway or connected to it.