Free parking, low stress and up-close nature: why the midlands beat the metropolis
City dwellers look to the remote west of Ireland for a romantic sense of the past, but my neighbours are far more connected to the land
Manchán Magan: all the benefits of city life with none of the costs Manchán Magan on the joys of living in the oft-maligned midlands.
From where I stand, things are progressing very nicely in rural Ireland. Of course we have problems, just as urbanites do, but we’re not darting around like demented automatons trying to climb on to an ascending property ladder or panicking about annual house-price increases. The rise of the cost of living is slow here, and daily life has never been more affordable for us.
Parts of remote rural Ireland struggle with issues of infrastructure and employment, but in the midlands we have practically all the amenities of a metropolis near at hand, with a fraction of the costs and fewer of the stresses associated with such places.
I’ve lived in the midlands for 18 years, and I can count on my fingers the number of times I have sat in traffic. Here, instead of sitting for hours tailgating strangers, we chat to our neighbours, go for walks on the glorious network of boreens or just park in the middle of the road to talk to an acquaintance.
On my walk to buy milk in the local shop this morning I encountered a lizard, a pine marten and whole families of rabbits. This daily interaction with wildlife is the norm for many rural Irish dwellers.
Most of midlands Ireland now has all the benefits of city life with none of the costs. In fact, the very terms “midlands” and “rural Ireland” make no sense on an island as tiny as ours.
The Abbey Theatre and the Light House Cinema in central Dublin are 75 minutes from my door, and I can buy a house here for €40,000. I have all the amenities a Dubliner has, but I also have all the facilities that city folk drive to the midlands at weekends to experience.
Within four minutes of my house I can be kayaking on Lough Lene; within nine minutes I can be underground in the 4,000-year-old Loughcrew passage grave; within 14 I can be hiking in Mullaghmeen, Ireland’s largest beech forest. A city dweller could still be stuck at the first traffic lights in that time.
Mullingar, Navan, Trim and Kells are within 25 minutes of my house; all have branches of international retail chains, employment opportunities and healthcare facilities. Maybe blow-ins pay for parking in these towns, but if you know your way around, you never need to. I still can’t get my head around the idea that every time an urbanite stops in for a bit of shopping or a cup of coffee they must pay for simply not using their car.
It’s hard to convey the sense of ease that arises from living in a place that still depends on the land. City dwellers look to the remote west of Ireland for a romantic sense of the past, but in reality my midland neighbours are far more connected to the land.
Around here we still depend on farming. We don’t cover our best land with holiday homes to lure in gawping outsiders. We respect the soil and tend it because our lives still depend on it. Our rootedness to the land makes us largely self-sufficient, if we need to be.
How many days’ food do city dwellers have stockpiled in the event of the transport system breaking down? I can exist entirely self-sufficiently on my tiny forested plot. My environmental impact is entirely positive – and what city dweller can say that? I produce all my own heating requirements and grow a surplus of fruit and nut crops, and an annual glut of vegetables.
Others may quote the urban-based planning expert who’ll say big cities are the most environmentally efficient form of dwelling, but they would say that, wouldn’t they?