While the world gets smaller for some, it gets bigger for others.
Farmweek, RTE radio’s farming programme included presenter Damien O’Reilly travelling to Co Kerry for a feature on rural isolation. O’Reilly interviewed John Stack, chairman of the Co Kerry branch of the Irish Farmers’ Association, and Billy Keane, owner of the pub formerly belonging to his father, playwright and writer John B. Keane, in Listowel. Each told of the unravelling of Irish rural life.
Small communities had slowly lost the cement that had held them together. Little shops disappeared as people drove to the big supermarkets in the town. Rural post offices were closed as they became no longer viable. Garda stations no longer existed in most rural areas, the communities being policed from stations 10-15 miles away. The smoking ban in 2004, followed more recently by the introduction of random breath testing for drink-driving, had seen the collapse of the local pub as a place to go in the evening. Bachelor farmers in Kerry may go a week without talking to another person, the isolation not being conducive to good mental health.
The church, once the focal point of rural Irish Catholic communities, seemed to play no part in the farmers’ lives, unless the reference to seeing people only one a week was an implication that there was still conversation at the church door before and after Mass.
Ireland, home of community par excellence, seems to be losing its talent for what it did best, make people feel happy. Isolation in Kerry, the opening up of gaps between people, seems to run against a tide of the world shrinking. The BBC carries a report from Mars suggesting that the planet is too salty to have sustained life and if you check out NASA you can watch the control centre of the International Space Station and eavesdrop the conversations.
If we can get reports from Mars and listen to conversations in space, surely it’s not beyond our wit to communicate with our own neighbours?