This is the start of The West of Ireland: Dimensions of distinctiveness series of articles in the Change in the West of Ireland collection.
The collection is made up of five series as follows:
- Introduction: Uniqueness, interdependence, uneven development and change in the West of Ireland
The West of Ireland: Dimensions of distinctiveness
Where is the West of Ireland? Locational distinctiveness
The question of what, or where, the West of Ireland is, illustrates the problems of defining the distinctiveness and uniqueness of place. You may already have your own sense of what the West of Ireland is like in terms of its scenery and culture and this may differ according to whether you live in the area or are viewing it from afar! The landscape of rock, bog, lakes and isolated cottages is generally familiar through tourist promotion; the culture is often characterised by distinctive forms of music and dancing which are as familiar outside Ireland as within. The following video for the Wild Atlantic Way is an example of this:
The wet, windy climate, long winters and short growing season, the size of small farms, conservative attitudes and long history of emigration may all contribute to a less picturesque view of the West of Ireland, but they still do not say exactly where it is. To define and delimit the West of Ireland as a region means establishing criteria to convey the distinctiveness and coherence which have developed over time.
Activity: Criteria for producing a map to show ‘the West of Ireland’
As you compare the five different maps here, notice how different criteria produce different definitions of 'the West of Ireland' (Use the ‘next’ button at the bottom of the box to move on to the next map)
The Wild Atlantic Way
You might use the map of the Wild Atlantic Way, which
shows the 2575 kilometre coastal route along the West
coast of Ireland, described as ‘the world’s diverse and
most spectacular coastline’. It identifies points of interest
for visitors to Ireland.
If you feel that remoteness and the physical environments have contributed significantly to the development of social coherence and distinctiveness in the West of Ireland, then a map of the coastal uplands might suffice. Here we've taken a map of the terrain and marked out a large number of the mountain peaks.
You could go a step further and look at figures for rainfall
or length of growing season, both of which are significant
to agriculture as the main economic activity in a rural region.
The Irish Meteorological Service has a map of mean annual rainfall in Ireland from 1981 to 2010.
Alternatively, a cultural dimension could be selected as representing
development over time. In fact, language is used as the criteria for
delimiting the Gaeltacht, areas which qualify for special grants from
government in an effort to entertain a traditional Irish culture.
There is also a wider national framework of planning regions which, if planning is to be meaningful, should be comprehensive and reflect regional distinctiveness. The fact that they correspond to groups of counties suggest some sort of compromise with pre-existing administrative structures.
Now move on to read about The historical dimension of uniqueness.
See all the articles in this series
See all the series in the Change in the West of Ireland collection
This article is part of a collection on the 'Uniqueness, Interdependence, Uneven Development and Change in the West of Ireland'. To find out more about the collection, a good place to start is the introduction, Change in the West of Ireland.
This material draws from an Open University course based on the work of Pat Jess.
Jess, P. (1985) ‘Unit 17 Local Change in the West of Ireland’, in The Open University (1985) D205 Changing Britain, Changing World: geographical perspectives, Broadcast Handbook, Milton Keynes, The Open University Press.