Visiting Woodstock Gardens outside the beautiful Kilkenny village of Inistioge on a January bank holiday weekend raised more questions than answers. Kilkenny County Council have a work in progress in the restoration of the 19th Century gardens and park, but the well presented information boards offered no story as to how the place had gone from the 1910 photographs to what it had become a hundred years later; there was no explanation as to why the old house lay in ruins, stern signs warning people to keep out for their own safety and high green fences making access, to all but the most silly, almost impossible.
Searching the internet brought the facts that it had been used by the Auxiliary police during the war of independence – a group of men whose reputation was worse than that of the Black and Tans; then had been used by the Free State forces for the internment of irregulars during the civil war; and had then been occupied by irregulars, who had burned it on withdrawal.
The story of how it became abandoned is almost immaterial a century on; if France and Germany had fought over every historical detail of their years of conflict, the European Union would never have begun. What is a pity is that a building owned by a local authority and that could provide fine facilities for ordinary people, who could never have set foot in the place in former times, stands in ruins.
In the years of the Tiger economy, there would have been funds for a great national restoration project, taking places like Woodstock and making them places for the nation. The Government’s ideology did not allow for such a project, the repeated slogan that we were closer to Boston than Berlin when it came to economics ruling out the possibility of large state projects. Neo-liberalism has failed; the Marxists would claim it was due to the inherent contradictions of capitalism; less ideologically, in Ireland, with is history of clientelist politics and cronyism in making appointments and awarding contracts, the free market was never going to deliver the desired outcomes.
The new government that will be formed in the spring must find ways of stimulating the dying economy; just to pay the extortionate rates of interest on the massive debts incurred in defending the interests of a very rich minority, the government has to find ways of creating economic growth. With a construction industry that could lie in the doldrums for a generation if there is no intervention, perhaps the time of a great nationwide restoration programme has begun. It couldn’t be a sillier idea than taking money from working people to subsidize the lifestyles of millionaires.