Housing and Sustaining Communities on the West Cork Islands

About this Project

This research examined the role of housing in sustaining communities from the perspectives of islanders on the seven West Cork Islands.  The project was funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations Grant and involved partnership with Bere Island Projects Group, and collaboration with West Cork Development Partnership, Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, Sherkin Island Development Society, Comharchumann Chléire Teoranta, and Comhar na nOileán CTR and the SICAP programme.

Project Aims and Objectives

The main aim of the research was to document the views of West Cork Island residents on housing and identify the policies and practices that will contribute to sustaining island life.

The sustainability of island communities is a national policy goal – it is highlighted in the National Development Plan and the Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht is developing a new Islands Policy Document. There is a complex mix of factors that impact liveability, quality of life and population decline on Irish islands. One of the main barriers to sustainability on the islands that Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann identified in its 2015 submission to Government on the National Development Plan was housing availability and affordability. A Euroislands report also highlighted that housing issues can be a threat to the quality of life and natural and cultural assets of islands. Issues specific to islands include the age of the housing stock, derelict housing, second homes that can displace year-round residents, and the higher costs of building and retrofitting on an island. Coupled with additional challenges to living on an island such as access to services, employment and education, connectivity, retention of youth and issues faced by the aging population profile of many islands, these can present significant social effects and impact on long term sustainability of islands. Mainland policy responses to onshore housing needs are not necessarily applicable to island circumstances and there is a need for community-informed solutions to housing that are adaptable across varying island contexts. 

The project aims and objectives included:

  • Review international literature, Irish and European policy, and housing practices for offshore and inshore islands.
  • Document and analyse the perspectives of islanders on Oileán Chléire, Bere Island, Whiddy Island, Dursey Island, Long Island, Sherkin Island and Heir Island on the availability, affordability and quality of housing, and how this impacts on the sustainability of island life.
  • Provide an evidence-base and set of policy recommendations to inform housing policy for the islands and widely disseminate the research findings.
Project Methodology and Timeline

“Islanders have knowledge of both the problems and also the solutions on how to get on with a sustainable island life for the future.” (West Cork Islands Strategy)

The research involved a participatory mixed-methods approach with collaboration between researchers, islanders and civil society organisations. The project convened a participatory research group of West Cork Island residents in September 2021 to co-design an online survey and focus group questions. Following this design process, the project distributed the survey and conducted focus groups to explore the in-depth views of island residents in Spring 2022.

Project Outputs & Impact

The project report received coverage in local and national media, including an article in the Irish Examiner (accessible here); and a TG4 news feature on the report launch (accessible here - see min. 9.50 onwards).

Project Funding & Dates

Funded by the Irish Research Council's  New Foundations programme, from 2021- 2022.

Project Team and Advisory Group

The research team is comprised of Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan (PI, Applied Social Studies & ISS21, UCC) and Dr Elaine Desmond (Researcher, Applied Social Studies).

The researchers gratefully acknowledge the support and expertise of the research advisory group: Fergal Conlon (West Cork Development Partnership), Dr Martin Galvin (Civic and Community Engagement, UCC), Judith Gilbert (Comhar na nOiléan), Aisling Moran (Sherkin Island Development Society), Prof Cathal O’Connell (Applied Social Studies & ISS21, UCC), Máirtín Ó Méalóid (Comharchumann Chléire Teoranta), Dr Margaret Scanlon (ISS21, UCC), John Walsh (Bere Island Projects Group).


Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan (School of Applied Social Studies) siobhan.osull@ucc.ie 


Whiddy Island, Co. Cork. Photo © Pam Brophy (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century (ISS21)

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