National Digital Week in Skibbereen got off to a cracking start yesterday.
With over 800 attending on each of the three days Ireland’s 1 GB Digital Town of Skibbereen is punching above its weight again as it does in so many other areas such as say, Olympic Rowing! Ireland’s Digital Champion and local Skibbereen resident, David Putnam (Lord Putnam) kicked off the proceedings in fine style via video link from Singapore where he is working. He said that Ireland was in a position where it did not have to accept second place to any other nation. “We have the opportunity to turn Ireland from the land of saints and scholars to THE land of scholars,” he said.
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny sent a video message of support (probably from a tropical island in Merrion Street, Dublin) outlining the government’s commitment to creating a Digital Economy. Kenny said the Government was committed to the national broadband plan and that a formal procurement plan was under way that would lead to cover in 96% of the total land area.
Indeed for me on the first day when children from local schools were attending was the statement that 64% of them will be working in jobs which don’t yet exist. Indeed, the new 1,000 place secondary school in Skibbereen is one of Ireland’s first connected colleges and the innovative Ludgate Centre who are the driving force and catalyst for Digital Week is a web incubator centre in Skibbereen providing 1 GB Broadband which is estimated to generate over 500 jobs in the area over the next few years.
— Mary McKenna (@MMaryMcKenna) November 8, 2016
For me there were two highlights of the first day. There was a fascinating presentation from David Whelan of Irish Tech company TSCG on the use of 3D Virtual Reality in developing immersive educational programmes to supplement and perhaps in part replace expensive University educational programmes. His demo based on the Apollo 11 Space flight was absolutely gripping and grabbed the imagination and attention of the kids present including some of the older ones such as me! Dr. Seamus Davis of Cornell University explained the Universe and much more with a fascinating talk. Did you know that EVERYTHING is made of only two objects Electrons and Quarks and both were named in Ireland, Quarks from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. It was a privilege to be able to listen to an scientist of Professor Davis’s standing who is an experienced educator who encouraged the young and fascinated audience to interrupt him and ask questions which he batted with consummate professionalism as he explained about the billions of planets in the Universe and the three most likely candidates to contain life in the “Goldilocks Zone.” An even greater privilege to listen to somebody of his standing from one of the world’s great universities when you realise Dr. Davis was born and grew up in Skibbereen only 200 yards from where he was speaking.
Country areas in Ireland have suffered from economic and structural disadvantages and have had a pattern of depopulation. However, the roll-out of super-speed broadband could create a “digital motorway” along the Wild Atlantic Way, which would act as a “counterbalance” to the power of Dublin. The CEO of the Ludgate Digital Hub in Skibbereen, Grainne Dwyer, said the emergence of other hubs around the country in places such as Leitrim, Sligo and Dingle opened the opportunity to develop “a complete business corridor” along the western seaboard.
Ms Dwyer was speaking at the first day of National Digital Week in Skibbereen, which is expected to attract up to 2,000 people across three days. Grainne Dwyer said Ireland was “really well-positioned” compared with other European countries if “it gets it right” regarding widespread access to high speed broadband. “I think it should nearly be like a utility, that nobody should be deciding who gets it and who doesn’t,” she said. She said she had recently told a European conference that when it came to the roll out of broadband, “give them a GB connection and the opportunities will come afterwards. What we see is the higher the broadband speeds the higher the GDP, so it is related to that.” She said a fibre-to-the-home option was sustainable and that funding would also be needed to help assist the development of the regional digital hubs that could then link up to benefit the areas around them. “It’s essentially like developing a new motorway along the Wild Atlantic Way,” she said, “a digital motorway. We work with them [other hubs] knowing we are not in competition because we all work in our own niches and once we know we are not in competition we can learn more from each other in that way and develop as a cluster, rather than as individuals.”
Among those attending yesterday was Ronan Haslette of the Manor Hub in Co Leitrim, who said he and other emerging digital hubs wanted to develop a strategic string of hubs along the Wild Atlantic Way. . “This is a solution to rural economic problems,” he said. “There are different ways and we need to be creative. Infrastructure is a problem,” he said, referring to the availability of high speed broadband. “Instead of a sales pitch it [superspeed broadband] should be a right.”
— Digital Week (@DigitalWeekIRL) October 27, 2016
John O’Halloran, vice-president for Teaching & Learning at University College Cork, said a recent report by the OECD had forecast that 64% of young people today will work in a job that currently doesn’t exist. On the subject of preparing young people today for that future, Harry McCann, a leaving certificate student who is also founder of the Digital Youth Council, said: “The greatest failing in the Irish education system has to be the failure to teach coding.”
— Mary McKenna (@MMaryMcKenna) October 24, 2016
National Digital Week continues today and on Saturday with presentations from senior personnel in DoneDeal, Food Cloud, An Post and JustEat, among others. On Saturday there is a stellar line up of heavyweight speakers from the Tech World with proceedings MC’ed by Grainne McCarthy, late of this parish and now Senior Editor with the Wall Street Journal and the lunchtime edition of the Pat Kenny Show will come from Digital Week.
— The Skibbereen Eagle (@theskibeagle) November 10, 2016
It would be remiss of me not to mention that delegates are being provided with some wonderful entertainment each night in the many warm venues of “Sweet Skibbereen” including last night a pub crawl with song, dance and storytelling around four venues in the town. The activities continue across two stages, the Vodafone connect tent and the Google Digital Garage and in Skibbereen’s innovative Ludgate Hub.
In the heyday of The Eagle the place we call Skibb was a real hub, a port, a railway hub and a crossroads and not too far away on Valentia Island was the first connection with American when Mr. Marconi opened the first permanent telegraph link from Foilhommerum Bay to Heart’s Content, Newfoundland in 1866. Now the dynamic little town where the Eagle kept its Eye on the Czar of Russia and other despots is once a true hub! The Ludgate Hub, or Ludgate@Skibbereen, allows entrepreneurs to work alongside one another in a facility that combines office space, a state-of-the-art videoconference room and access to fast fibre broadband, as well as the chance to link up with academic partners and their research.
So get down to Skibb, check out National Digital Week centred on the West Cork Hotel and check out the future for Ireland’s Digital Economy at the Ludgate Hub.
Be in Skibbereen for the next two days or get left behind!