Moving the goalposts
An Irishman’s Diary about the benefits of lateral thinking
“The possibility that the map is a leaked blueprint of expansionist plans by Roscommon militants can’t be ruled out. After all, the county has form on this sort of thing.”
Concerned Longford reader Dave Madden has sent me a tourism flier he picked up somewhere, bearing the logo “Extreme Ireland”. The leaflet is mainly about a day tour from Dublin to Cork, but is accompanied by a map of the country at large. Which, at first glance, seems anything but extreme.
Closer inspection, however, reveals that it has only 31 counties. And further study shows that the one missing is Longford. In whose place, a vastly expanded Roscommon sprawls eastwards across the Shannon, pushing deep into Leinster and menacing even Ulster, via a new border with Cavan. What this has to do with a bus tour from Dublin to Cork is unclear. But given the context of “Extreme Ireland”, the possibility that the map is a leaked blueprint of expansionist plans by Roscommon militants can’t be ruled out. After all, the county has form on this sort of thing.
I’m not referring to its nickname, “the sheep-stealers” – apparently earned by raids of Galway in centuries past – although the court might also like to take that into account. I mean the notorious case of Ballaghaderreen. Which used to be in Mayo, and still is for GAA purposes, but was officially annexed by Roscommon in 1898.
Roscommon will protest that it was a voluntary move by the town, whose residents were attracted by the lower council rates across the county border. Even so, nervous Longford people (and people from Westmeath, who may be considering defensive reunion with Meath) will see it as an early example of Roscommon’s imperative for Lebensraum.
Not that, at least for GAA purposes, a Roscommon-Longford super-county might be such a bad idea. As I’ve written here before, Irish county boundaries are a vestige of English rule. And it’s rather ironic that the GAA should have done so much to copper-fasten loyalties to their often arbitrary lines.
One consequence is that most county supporters, those of Longford and Roscommon included, are condemned to an eternity of frustration. So maybe the Extreme Ireland map, which we’ll assume for now was an innocent mistake, is hinting at a possible rationalisation process for weaker GAA counties.
The geographical fluidity of Roscommon reminds me of an email from Brendan Kilty, owner/curator of the James Joyce “House of the Dead”, which recently hosted a visit from a group of Kansas students. After they’d left, Brendan fell to wondering if Joyce had ever mentioned the US state in his writings.
And it was through this he discovered the existence of a town in Kansas called Ulysses. No, it has nothing to do with Joyce. It derives instead from Ulysses Grant, army general and US president. Yet there is an heroic aspect to the town’s story that has echoes of the mythical odyssey recreated in Joyce’s book.
It appears that Ulysses the town first saw light of day around the same time the writer did, in the 1880s, and grew rapidly for a time until running into financial trouble. The trouble stemmed in part from the sale of bonds, ostensibly to fund infrastructure, but instead pocketed by grafters. Who thereby bequeathed a huge debt to the town, duly claimed by the bondholders.
The now-shrinking population of Ulysses faced savage taxes. But after a year of paying them, they decided on a radical alternative. In 1909, 11 years after Ballaghaderreen, the town moved. It moved a similar distance to Ballaghaderreen too. The difference in this case was that it didn’t involve just redrawing lines on a map.
No, the residents of Ulysses uplifted all their buildings – cutting the larger ones into sections – and put them on rollers. It’s said to have taken 60 horses to haul one part of the old hotel to its new site. The whole move lasted months. When it was over, the new Ulysses was debt-free and the site of the old one was left the way it had been found, “a rolling tract of prairie”.
As Brendan suggests, the Kansas town’s dilemma has a certain resonance with Ireland’s current plight. Whether it has a moral is less clear. The option of relocation to a new site further west is hardly feasible for Ireland – Rockall just isn’t big enough.
But I have previously proposed the creation for accounting purposes of separate good and bad Irelands, which could be done within existing boundaries. There are many possible locations where a new nation could establish a headquarters. All that’s needed is a greenfield site. And off the top of my head, I suggest the area formerly known as Longford.