The lesson told of the dereliction of much of Europe at the end of the Second World War in 1945. It told of the hardships faced by millions of people.
Ireland was a neutral country, but the privations faced by many of its people were comparable with those suffered by many people. There were some people who were expected to endure more hardships than their contemporaries.
A woman who had lived and worked in Bray in Co Wicklow told of being called to leave her life and to return to the deeply rural Ireland in which she had spent her early years. “My mother wrote to me and said that she needed help and told me my place was back on the farm.”
The gulf between the two worlds was wide. Bray meant the seaside and access to the city. It meant trains, electricity and running water. It meant trips to cinemas and to theatres. It meant friends and freedom. All these were exchanged for a world little changed in decades.
1940s Ireland had little to redeem it. Impoverished and isolated, people had been leaving for as long as anyone could remember and would continue to leave for many years to come. In the end, it would be decades before European money and economic growth would disperse the gloom and break the yoke of religion. What did it mean to return from the life of the city to a farm deep in a rural community?
It would have meant a world that contracted to a radius that extended no further than one might ride on a bicycle over rough roads. It meant news from the outside world coming through a battery powered radio, or through the morning newspaper. It meant a house lit by candles and oil lamps, where every chore was done by hand. It meant entertainment being confined to dances in the local parochial hall or church socials. It meant having no income other than the few shillings that might be given from time to time, for few family farms had cash to spare.
The letter of summons meant the woman had to leave a street of fine Victorian houses, on a street that led to the station in Bray, a station from which a train might carry one to the city centre in minutes. It meant catching a train to a station deep in the countryside where she would have been met by a pony and trap. The letter must have been read with a heavy heart. To leave a comfortable suburban home, to return to a village where electricity was still years away and where comfort was thought indulgence, would hardly have been a pleasing prospect.
It seemed always to be the girls who were summoned home, always the girls who had to be content with a life of drudgery, always the girls who had to be content with whatever coins might be spare after the housekeeping bills were paid.