Ireland used to be a different place.
Standing on the platform of Rathdrum station, waiting for a Dublin-bound train from the little Co Wicklow town in 1981, a strange thing happened.
As the train approached the platform, a woman with a carrier bag filled with books, stepped closer to the edge. The bag split and the books spilled down between the train and the platform. The woman was greatly perturbed at what had happened, they were library books and she did not know how she would recover them.
A railwayman seeing what had happened, walked up to the locomotive and spoke to the driver. The train reversed back out of the station, the railwayman jumped down onto the tracks, gathered up the books and handed them to the woman, before climbing back up onto the platform to allow the train to come back. It was a wonderful moment, a country that still had time for people.
The Celtic Tiger killed the old Ireland, savaging notions of public service and care for people. It is hard to imagine that people schooled in the Ryanair school of customer relations would worry too much about someone’s library books.
But the Ireland of the welcomes clings on.
Driving down to Glendalough with two delegates to a missionary conference, one from Egypt and one from the United States, I suggested that we dodge into the visitors’ centre to avoid a squall that had suddenly come down the valley, unaware that there was an entrance charge. There followed an embarrassing moment, I hadn’t a single cent of cash with me.
“Do you take plastic?” I asked.
“Sorry”, said the man at the desk, “We don’t take cards. But it’s not very much to get in and the monastic site is free”.
“I know”, I said, “but I have no money at all. We came in here to get out of the rain.”
“We should be able to take cards”, he said. “Because we should and we can’t, you can come in anyway”. He lifted the rope and let us through.
It was a moment that did more for my two visitors than a thousand tourist board advertisements.
It was a moment that reminded me why I had come to live in this country in the first place, and why, even with its faults, I still love it.