Nearly 40 years ago I was driven to the top of a hill on a cold wet day by a man in a black coat. The narrow country road suddenly came to a dead end in a bog. ‘Why are we here’, I asked. He laughed. I looked out over the desolate landscape with only the sight of a derelict barn on the horizon as the wind whistled through the rushes.
“Take a good look at this place,” he said as he smiled. “We’re building an airport here, the monsignor was in the house last night, it’s been decided.”
That man was my late brother-in-law James O’Donohue who ran a successful bakery with my sister Mary in Charlestown.
“Will the government fund it?” I naively asked.
“Ah that shower,” he said, “apart from painting the post boxes green they’ve been busy closing the place down since 1922. We’ll build it for ten percent of the cost that it would be built for in Dublin.”
Soon after my sister gave me books of tickets to sell. “What are these for?” I asked. “The airport,” she said, “we’re off to America fundraising”, and so it happened after it was labelled the foggy, boggy project and even Christy Moore asked ‘did NATO donate de dough me boys did NATO donate de dough’.
No Christy they didn’t, we built it, the ordinary people of Mayo and the government of the day eventually supported it after much foot dragging. The Sir Humphreys of Yes Minister fame in the public service were wrong footed and that seldom happens.
They normally send the ministers off to the country with a bag of bird seed to scatter at every crossroads to keep the party faithful twittering.
To compound this lack of spatial planning, Dublin has failed as a city. It’s a pale shadow of other European capitals. It doesn’t have a credible transport system. It even has failed the Dubs who now have to emigrate to Mullingar to afford a house. It has failed rural Ireland as it has hoovered in students and young couples to be exploited by high rents and ridiculous mortgages, while rural towns are becoming derelict.
So why do all our young people leave? I asked this question from a student a while back in the car as the local radio announced the death notices to be followed by wall to wall country music and the Angelus, we both laughed and said nothing, that was his answer.
My answer was that maybe it was broadband or phone reception; I personally have to drive to a field gap where a red cow looks out the gate at me as I wave a coat hanger, check my emails and pick up missed calls.
“The people with get up and go have got up and went,” an old man once said to me in London, “no opportunity and if you stole a bicycle you could end up in Letterfrack” he said as he surveyed his building empire. “A nice place to live, a good place to grow old and a great place to die,” he laughed. “I’m going back there someday, great place to retire, bit of an EU reservation really.”
Up every country road there are young people with masters in rural development, they will not be fooled by gombeen politicians any more, we need to keep these young people here to make a difference, but they won’t stay if we keep voting for the same old tired two party system that has failed rural Ireland.
We need to expect more from politicians than filling potholes, medical cards and cutting hedges, for too long they have got away with living down to these expectations. The Sir Humphreys types know this too and dispense their annual bird seed. I often think of the monsignor as my brother-in-law called him and that devilish smile all those years ago on the foggy, boggy hill as my Ryanair plane touches down at Knock airport from Barcelona. We may not have won an All Ireland recently but we did succeed in dribbling one past the mandarins in the Dublin Politburo goalmouth. It’s time we scored another.
Ger Reidy is a retired civil engineer with Mayo Co Co and has published three collections of poetry and a collection of short stories.