Shaping the Future of Rural Development: Insights from Ireland 

By: Dr. Wayne Kelly
October 18, 2023

This August, I was fortunate to return to the beautiful country of Ireland. My family enjoyed the country’s vibrant landscape, friendly people and fascinating history and architecture. Combined with a visit to my Ph.D. school, the University of Galway, this trip was an excellent opportunity to connect with experts, leaders and colleagues about the potential of rural development, well-being, and technology. I’m excited to share some of the highlights from a series of research and rural development meetings during this trip in August 2023. 


A core goal for my discussions in Ireland was to foster collaboration and knowledge sharing and explore innovation in rural development. Meeting with experts, academics, and thought leaders from the University of Galway, University College of Dublin and Teagasc resulted in exciting discussions and exchanges about the future of rural communities. Diversity was at the heart of this event, regarding attendees and topics discussed. Here are a few highlights: 

Brian McGrath – University of Galway  

Brian is an expert in rural and community development, as he has helped write the Handbook for Community Development! I have been fortunate to learn from Brian over the past ten years since we first met and to recently work and write with him concerning the impacts of libraries and digital skills in rural community development. This summer’s discussion explored the potential for another collaborative publication. This publication will shed light on the participatory methodologies used in my Manitoba-based dissertation, offering a unique glimpse into the often unpredictable yet fulfilling nature of the participatory research journey in rural areas. It was great to reconnect in person and explore how Brian’s work on community development and RDI’s current involvement in Indigenous community research can also add context and insight into this potential publication! 

Maura Farrell – University of Galway 

It is always amazing to meet and share ideas with Maura. Her contributions and knowledge about rural development, female leadership, collaboration, and innovation are widely recognized and inspirational! In this discussion, I learned more about PREMIERE, the multi-actor approach project, emphasizing collaboration among diverse stakeholders to address complex rural problems, which is very relevant for research partnerships RDI is helping to lead here in Manitoba. She also shared updates about the new Female-Led Innovation in Agriculture and Rural Areas project. We also had a great discussion about Farmer’s Yards and its potential application in rural Manitoba. 

I look forward to following up with colleagues and partners in Manitoba to explore these ideas and opportunities within Manitoba’s rural areas. I am also excited about continuing to connect with Maura to learn and share more about rural development and innovative rural research projects. 

Mike Hynes – University of Galway 

Mike is someone I always enjoy connecting with and exploring the implications, good and bad, of digital technology on rural communities and quality of life. Mike wrote about the challenges of telecommuting more than six years ahead of COVID-19’s work-from-home realities. He has also recently written a book about the impacts of digital technologies on community and society. 

In addition to digital technologies, Mike and I talked about the circular economy, specifically related to food production components. We are working in this area now and look forward to following up on this topic to explore collaboration and research opportunities. 

Tomas Russell – University College of Dublin 

Tomas is also exploring digital technologies in a rural context, focusing primarily on the social aspects of Ag-Tech, such as in this article exploring the social impacts of digital ag. Tomas’ research also spans other agricultural domains, including farmer health and succession planning. As always, Tomas and I spent a lot of time discussing our current research and project objectives and outcomes, including exploring how RDI’s capacity building and digital technology research intersects with his ag-tech research or how his expertise in farm succession planning can contribute to immigration research in rural Manitoba. 

Kevin Heanue – Teagasc 

Kevin is the evaluation officer for Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Authority, Teagasc, and serves as the Board’s Chairman for Connemara West. I met Kevin on a field trip to Letterfrack in Connemara nearly ten years ago, and we have continued to stay connected and share ideas and updates on rural development, youth retention and collaboration amongst other areas of rural research! Kevin and I were not able to make our schedules connect when I was in Ireland, so we followed up via Zoom a couple of weeks later instead. Our virtual meeting discussed the exciting rural development and research conference coming to Connemara in 2024, the North Atlantic Forum. We also shared research activities and ideas about capacity requirements and building in rural areas, collaboration opportunities and the challenges of population attraction and retention in rural and remote areas. Kevin and I are also exploring more formal spaces and initiatives for collaboration and knowledge sharing. 

International Rural Research Networks and Knowledge Sharing 

Building and maintaining these rural research networks holds excellent value for rural development. These conversations catalyze collaboration, innovation, and knowledge sharing among experts and partners. It promises to drive positive change in rural communities by fostering interdisciplinary discussions and embracing diverse perspectives. 

While we’ve provided a glimpse into the rich discussions and themes that unfolded during these meetings between RDI and rural researchers in Ireland, the journey is still ongoing. We invite you to sign up for the RDI newsletter, check out activities on the RDI website, follow us on LinkedIn or YouTube and stay tuned for updates and developments related to these conversations and others about the future of rural development.