Last train out of rural Ireland: Departing soon

Last train out of rural Ireland: Departing soon

THERE’S not much happening in the country this week apart from continuous reports of rural Ireland’s deteriorating condition.

This has been going on for years, and if we don’t do something about it soon, we’ll have a corpse on our hands.

It couldn’t come at a worse time either. November is the month of the dead and more post offices are threatened with closure. To cap it all the National Transport Authority has discovered that the Limerick/ Nenagh/ Ballybrophy line is costing €550 per passenger to run. That’s because there are so few people using the service. It certainly isn’t because of all the money Iarnroad Eireann is investing in it. As in my day, taking the train from Birdhill to Limerick is still a bit like taking a trip on the West Clare railway with Percy French, doing 25 miles an hour.

You’d never know when there might be cows on the line up ahead or what might be coming down the track or even - with apologies to Percy - whether the ould engine would hould together.

If this service goes, however, it will be another nail in the coffin, and I must say that Shane Ross is showing remarkable restraint in the matter at the moment.

He’s obviously wary of a political corpse. Anyway, everything is relative. If there are only a few people using the line, then €550 per passenger is hardly a colossal sum. Or is this some leprechaun economics on my part?

Then again, maybe I’m right. If the Luas, for instance was costing €550 per user, we’d have to go cap in hand to the Troika for another dig-out, wouldn’t we? Anyway, leave the line where it is. You’d never know when rural Ireland might arise from its death bed and decide to take the train.

But doctors differ and patients die. It’s not loss-making railway lines that rural Ireland needs for survival, but a better Broadband service, screamed one headline in a Sunday newspaper. That particular view came from the capital, where plans to sequestrate the waters of the River Shannon, complete with the salmon of knowledge, are well advanced. Without proper Broadband, the water pipe, like the Union Pacific railway, might have to be laid through injun territory with no reliable communications, apart from smoke signals.

For my part I don’t believe for one minute that a better broadband service, welcome and all as it would be for many people, will prove the saviour of rural Ireland and the end of rural isolation. If anything it could accelerate the decline, with the last of the Mohicans having to resort to virtual reality for everything.

Rural Ireland in many ways was never more alive than it is now, what with floodlit mansions on hilltops and haciendas on the plains, and SUVs like stretch limos in the driveways. But never was it so isolated either. People don’t even know their neighbours anymore, not to talk of depending on them, and most of them live lives of closely guarded privacy behind their electronic gates, waiting, not for Godot, mind you, but for a better Broadband service. When it comes, if it does come, I fear that the people of rural Ireland will become even more detached from each other as well as from reality.

I live in rural Ireland, but my view of the place is a bit jaundiced, to say the least. The scenery is still great, except where it has been scarred by motorways and vandalised by invasive windmills. But there is only one shop left in my native village, where once there were five or six.

Only one of the three pubs has survived; the post office is gone; the garda station is closed and the creamery is only a distant memory. How in the world could an enhanced Broadband service ever hope to restore such a hive of activity?

But now, it seems, there is an ominous new threat to the fabric of rural life. The traditional Irish funeral – the only place where people living in the wilds can meet up any more - is under threat. Removals in particular are on the wane, according to reports, and wakes are being held behind closed doors. You can view it on YouTube if you really must participate.

I can’t say that I’ve noticed the trend yet in my neck of the backwoods. If anything, funerals are getting bigger around here, although sometimes the traditional removal of the remains in a cortege to the church on the night before the Requiem Mass, is omitted. But that doesn’t stop hundreds of sympathisers queuing up for what we used to call ‘the corpse house’ - a sure sign that rural Ireland is alive and kicking. The day is gone, however, when the worth of the deceased was judged by the number of cars in his funeral cortege and the number of priests on the altar at the Mass. Gone too are the days when a man’s status was determined by whether his passing was accompanied by a High Mass or a Low Mass. ‘High Mass, high money; Low Mass, no money” was how one local wit summed it up. Some aspects of rural life are best laid to rest.

Now, whatever about the long drawn out demise of the countryside, I don’t know from Adam what the local politicians will do if the traditional funeral is abandoned and new ways of dealing with grief are established.

For there is nothing they like better than to be seen at a big funeral. But they shouldn’t be too worried. Tradition, as they say, dies hard, and maybe the same applies to rural Ireland.