It was a café in which to feel comfortable. Warm, homely, it served meals that people would have eaten in their own homes: meat, potato and two veg. Puddings with custard on them. Tea in well-seasoned pots. There was an ease about the place, the wax cloth table cloths had been vigorously wiped so often that the red and white check pattern had almost disappeared. It didn’t matter if one was alone, it was a simple matter to sit at a table beside the window and to watch the day; those walking down the street, tractors making a noisy progress, articulated lorries heading to or from Dublin.
Most of the tables seated two and mostly they were occupied by one person. At dinner time the bachelor farmers would gather, each sitting at a table by himself, conversations criss-crossing the room. Presumably the bachelor farmers were not a sufficiently lucrative market for the place with its old table cloths and filling food closed. The premises re-opened as a more upmarket café, which, in turn, closed to be replaced by something called a ‘bistro’.
Where had the bachelor farmers gone? Apparently the delicatessen stall of a local supermarket was selling dinners at a modest price and those who once sat and chatted over their meal now came and collected it to return to their homes to eat it.
The loss of the café reflects some of the decline and disintegration of traditional communities in rural Ireland. Piece by piece, communities have been dismantled: shops, post offices, Garda stations, pubs have closed. Small schools are under threat, GAA clubs have frequently merged, even Catholic clergy are now responsible for two or three churches.
Of course, society has always undergone changes and those changes have often been dramatic. Of course, there are new ways of creating communities, of interacting with people. Anyone reading this probably uses a range of means of electronic communication that none of us might have envisaged twenty years ago, but change, particularly sudden change, tends not to be uniform, there are those who can quickly adapt to a new dispensation, and others who get left behind.
Many of the bachelor farmers are among the left behind. One such, now dead, would say, ‘Sit down there and talk to me’. He had electricity and a telephone but neither watched television, nor listened to the radio. All he really wanted was company.
Only the lonely can really know how much it means just so have someone who will sit for a while, and sometimes do no more than watch the day. It’s not as though such activity costs anything, it’s not as though it’s going to affect a broke government’s budget, it ‘s just that we seem to have forgotten how to do it.