Do we want to let village life die?
Sir, – Fintan O’Toole (“If we want to let village life die, let’s say so”, Opinion & Analysis, September 4th) issues again the frequently heard lament, “Who will save rural Ireland?”.
Commentators are at least learning, and beginning to accept what the statistics have long been telling us – ie that the ongoing decline of rural villages is not due to rural people being lured away to cities. Instead is it because, despite significant and steady increases in rural population, rural people prefer to bypass their local villages and do their business in the larger towns instead.
The word “rural” means “farming”, of course, and the crux of the problem is that farming is not what it used to be. In Carlow, a typical “farming” county where population is split almost exactly 50/50 between urban and “rural” areas, 1,113 people declared themselves to be farmers in the last census – second only to sale assistants (1,392) as the most common occupation in the county. An additional 128 declared their primary occupation as farm worker. These two combined were approximately 50 times the number of actors in Carlow (51) and four times the number of hairdressers (321), but made up only 4.7 per cent of the total working population (26,046).
But if 50 per cent of the working population lives in “farming” areas, what are the other 45.3 per cent doing every day? What is their bond to the land? Why have they chosen to live in isolated locations, given that they more than likely get in their car every morning and drive into a town to work, and similarly have to drive their children to school, and GAA training, the church, the pub, the clinic, and every other place they need to go?
There are many positive reasons – space, quiet, exclusivity, scenery, family ties, etc. However, it is clear that a large proportion of those who live in rural areas are doing so as the result of either a lifestyle choice or an economic necessity, rather than any particular connection to the local economy or community.
Without a strong local bond, reinforced by daily interactions, these people are like ghosts – living in and passing through those areas while leaving barely a mark.
This is avoidable. Councils in most counties actually financially penalise those who might want to live in towns through higher development levies, while landowners continue to profiteer from the destruction of communities by steadily selling off land for isolated one-off houses.
Urban people and the Government cannot save “rural” Ireland. In order to save villages and small towns, rural people themselves will need to make big changes to how they do things. The real question is, do they have the stomach for it? – Yours, etc,