Killaloe in Co Clare is in the news this year on the 1,000th anniversary of the death in 1014 of High King Brian Boru, at the Battle of Clontarf. He ruled the country from his castle in Kincora. Killaloe was then the capital of Ireland. It was the capital of water skiing in the 1950s and 1960s when I lived there as a boy, a teenager and a young adult. And today it is arguably the capital of Ireland’s inland waterways.
Killaloe, with its twin ‘heritage’ town Ballina in Co Tipperary, has facilities that are the envy of many larger towns. The concept of ‘heritage towns’ was devised in 1991 with the purpose of identifying a number of towns throughout the country, which have a strong physical heritage which would be broadly representative of the heritage of Ireland.
When I lived in Killaloe, our twin town Ballina had a population of only 134 (in 1951) and was the ‘baby’ compared to our 901 population in Killaloe. However, over the next four decades, the population of Killaloe remained fairly static, while that of Ballina increased steadily each decade. By 2002, the population was the same in each town – about 1,180 persons in each. It was at this point that the population of Ballina exploded, more than doubling in the next decade to 2,442 persons in 2011, while the population of Killaloe increased marginally to 1,292.
The ‘baby’ had now become the ‘big brother’, with Ballina’s population increasing in 60 years by 18 times and that of Killaloe by less than half. Some critics have called this ‘lopsided development’, with the growth in Ballina being claimed to have been ‘development led’ rather than ‘planning led'.