Walking the dogs in the two acre garden that comes with the house, there is a realisation that the grass is getting out of hand and that the back part of the garden is becoming an impenetrable jungle. Tomorrow, the day off, there will have to be a concerted attack on the weeds. A friend who lived here in the 1950s tells stories of cutting the grass with a scythe; there are pangs of conscience now when turning the key in the ride on mower.
It’s hard to imagine life in this house in the 1950s; it’s hard to imagine Rectory life in rural Ireland. Life in rural Ireland was frugal for everyone, and the Rectory would have been no exception.
The Rector would have had a good suit for Sundays and an older one for weekdays, perhaps a sports jacket and trousers to add variety; a black stock and starched white linen clerical collar underneath the jacket. Casual clothes were a luxury, time off would have spent in the clothes that were no longer for good wear. A sports jacket and Trinity College tie were the marks of a clergyman on his holidays.
Rectories were Victorian, too big for a salary of a few hundred pounds a year. No more than a couple of rooms could be heated with meagre coal fires. Draughts penetrated every window frame and doorway; if electricity had reached the parish, it would have been used sparingly, it would be one more bill that there would be a struggle to pay.
The Rector’s wife was expected to have time for the great and the good, to attend morning coffee and afternoon tea, but constantly made to feel that she was there under sufferance, that she had been invited because they felt it was the right thing to do. Dublin-dressed ladies would have looked down on her home sewn outfits; they would have regarded her appearance as dowdy and would have noticed her worn shoes.
Being a member of a Rectory family was fairly bleak. There was never money for anything. Boarding school education was possible through the bequest of people long dead and through Protestant charities, but the education only exacerbated a sense of isolation, when others talked of all they had and all they did, the Rectory child had no hope of joining the conversation.
Churches were often in poor repair, the dwindling numbers unable to maintain the fabric. The exodus of much of the Protestant population in 1922 followed by decades of economic depression left little money in any parish. The Rector was expected to somehow keep everything going, even when no-one could suggest how this might be possible.
Yet in the midst of the bad things, maybe ministry was easier. People came to church, they said their prayers, they still believed in the God to whom they prayed at Morning Prayer each Sunday morning. Many of those who sat in the pews Sunday by Sunday needed no Prayer Book; they knew the 16th Century prose of Thomas Cranmer off by heart.
Fifty years ago, things were different. “What has happened?” asked someone last night.
“People have changed”, I said.
Clergy have changed as well. We will fly down to Bordeaux for ten days in September; after Christmas, we will go to Austria to go skiing for a week with friends; things unimaginable for my counterparts half a century ago, yet there are moments when I sometimes wish that I was driving an Austin A30 through villages and townlands untouched by the years of the Celtic Tiger.
But then, the people who shaped my picture of fifty years ago would tell me that none of them would wish to return to such times.