Irish Roots

John Grenham


June 29th

Iím writing this looking out at Leitrim on one side and Roscommon on the other. There are a couple of Polish workmen repairing the jetty, a Chinese couple are playing football with their small son in the car park and an African family just passed downriver on a boat rigged with a small canvass shade. What a sudden, seismic change there has been in rural Ireland over the last 15 years. But it is not the first such change by any means.

I grew up in North Roscommon in the 1950s and 60s and even to a childís eye the place looked empty, with overgrown fields, decaying abandoned houses, crumbling walls. It was only much later, in looking at census figures, that the reason for the sense of emptiness became clear. The population of Roscommon in 1841 was more than 250,000. In 1991, the total was 55,000. Imagine what the county was like with almost five times the population Ė it must have felt closer to Bangladesh today than anywhere in Ireland in the last century. The echoes of the cataclysm of famine and emigration that caused that population collapse still hung in the air there 20 years ago.

But that population of a quarter of a million in 1841 was itself the product of an earlier seismic change. Over the four or five generations from the mid eighteenth century the population had ballooned, sustained by (relative) peace and the easy nutrition of the potato. 1741 in Roscommon was just as different from 1841 as 1841 was from 1941.

And 2041 will be just as different again. If we can hold on to the vitality that the newcomers have brought, and make it a part of our Irishness, it will be different and better.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

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