Emigrants Return to a Safe Haven in the West

'The Irish Post' March 4th 2000


A revitalised village in Co Mayo which is the new home of elderly returned emigrants has become a shining beacon for care in the community.

Many elderly emigrants have returned from Britain and America to a new lease of life in the award-winning purpose-built village of St Brendan's in Mulranny, Co Mayo. Many more are destined to follow as Safe Home, a non-profit community-owned programme which built and administers the village, help to provide more homes throughout the country.

Eventually, Safe Home hopes to encompass all emigrants who wish to return but for now they are giving priority to older or disabled people.

St Brendan's Village beat 2,000 entrants to win the AIB Better Ireland National Award as an example of ideal care of older people in the community.

St Brendan's has also been acknowledged as a model for the future care of older and disabled people by the Irish Government which used it as an exemplar at the European Union policymakers's conference in Dublin last year.

Dr Jerry Cowley, chairman of the Safe Home Programme, which is based on the mutually supportive extended family, believes that the St Brendan's model could equally be applied to help revitalise and regenerate inner city areas at home and abroad.

Dr Cowley who is also a director of the Irish Council for Social Housing, the umbrella body for all voluntary social housing initiatives in Ireland, and chariman of its special needs committee, said: "We have reversed emigration by bringing back 12 older Irish people from Britain. All have got a new lease of life on returning." He added that Safe Home had saved Mulranny which was ravaged by emigration due to lack of jobs.

"The Safe Home Programme is already taking practical steps to ensure that all those of our older citizens who wish to return home again will have their wish fulfilled. All those who have been assisted through the programme have returned to high quality social housing in the bosom of the community."

The programme has been working in association with the Safe Start Foundation in London and has established links with the Irish Welfare and Information Centre in Birmingham, the Federation of Irish Societies and other Irish community groups in Britain.

Dr Cowley said they are currently carrying out an audit of existing and potential accommodation throughout Ireland.

"We are encouraging our affiliates to cater not alone for local housing needs but also to consider Irish people abroad, particularly our older citizens, when filling vacancies and in planning accommodation needs." Dr Cowley said.

He stressed that they had received many enquiries and are actively trying to process all the applications.

"We hope that people will understand that we have limited accommodation but we are hopeful that, in time, we will get around to everyone in need," he said. "Currently our priorities are older and disabled people but, in time, we hope to be able to address all needs.

"Under the National Plan, unprecedented major investment is being made available for social housing so we are hoping that many more vacancies will arise in the future.

"There are greenfield sites already available to us which, when developed over the next year, will help both local housing needs and repatriation of some more of our Irish people abroad."

He appealed to British-based public representatives to enlist the support of the Government and other authorities in helping to repatriate those who need to return to Ireland.

"I would appreciate hearing from any of them interested in following this up," he said. "There is already tremendous co-operation forthcoming from the Federation of Irish Societies and British-based Irish welfare groups."

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Emigrants return to St Brendan's Village, Mulranny, Co Mayo, Ireland