Cormac MacConnell: School’s out and it’s a sorry state of affairs

There's a long list of country schools which will not re-open in September, due to falling enrolments.

Aye it’s true enough. Our little country school down the road there is doomed.

It will not open its doors again in September, about the time the politicians return from their extended holidays.

The four or five children that are all that is left now in the parish are to be bussed into town. 

The young teacher will probably have to emigrate to Australia, like the most of her generation. The same old story, over and over.

We get the politicians we deserve, and they have let us down again. 

The modern breed of them have no time for the countryman, or the quiet townlands like ours. And that’s the truth.

I went to that school 50 years ago with my brothers and sisters. There were two teachers then, and every desk full. There were over 50 of us. 

There were more than 25 families in the parish then, most with big families like ours. 

Now, thanks to all the politicians and the civil servants that are the real bosses of the country, there are only three houses occupied, and we are all aged couples that won’t be here too long more, our kids scattered all over the world, most of the houses lying in the same kind of ruins as the farming population that filled the whole parish with life long ago.

It’s hard to think about it.

Life was hard but lively, when we were cramming the desks in that school.

None of us had much money, but none of us went hungry either.

Look up at the hill there in the sunshine, and see the marks of the lazy beds that grew the vegetables and spuds that kept us fed well.

The land is near bare now but back then, there were cattle and a few sheep, and pigs in the sheds, and turkeys for the Christmas markets, and geese and hens and horses and donkeys for the carts and the heavy work.

And a cross class of a gander at every second house.

Even back then, come to think of it, the ancestors of the politicians and civil servants in charge of us today (often their fathers and grandfathers too!) were pulling every string in the book to get as many of us off the land and into the towns and cities as possible.

And out of the country altogether, to England or America, as well.

It was the thinking of the bureaucrats, I think, to educate the young people off the land; to lead them to believe any other place or job was better than at home milking cows or feeding bullocks. And it worked too well altogether.

I remember, 25 years ago, there was a fierce fanfare from the politicians when the IDA opened an advance factory on the edge of the town and, later, an even bigger fanfare, when some class of a German outfit took over the factory, to make medical yokes.

Every young fellow and lassie in the parish applied for jobs on the factory floor.

The wages were good enough, and next thing they all had cars, with the windows open blaring loud music, and no way were they going onto the land. 

That factory lasted seven years nearly to the day, and then closed like a shot, no warning, no redundancy payments either worth talking about and, believe me, inside two years, every one of that group of young lads and lassies were gone from here.

The luckier ones got jobs in Dublin, but it was the boat and the plane for the rest of them. My own three included. The politicians were making no genuine efforts to help us out back then either.

Tell you something else now. When I was a boy growing up here, there was very little cash, yes, that’s true, but this community was nearly what they now call self-sufficient. 

We grew our own food. Every farmer pitched in to help his or her neighbour when necessary, like at the hay or the threshing.

Somebody had possession of all the skills the place needed. We had three thatchers for the roofs of them houses that are ruins now. There were men who made baskets. 

There were men who put new half-soles on your shoes, men who cut your hair even.

We had a tailor or two, several dressmakers, great quack doctors for horses and cattle and animals, and folk with cures for humans too, like cures for rheumatism, and for skin problems like ringworm.

Most of us were born at home, and the grannies were as skilled as any midwife or doctor nowadays.

It was not perfect, of course, but it was life. There was one bad neighbour for every hundred good ones, but you came to know who that bad neighbour was quick enough. 

Usually it had to do with rights of way, or turbary rights, or maybe it went back to the Civil War, even.

You put up with it and went your way. And woe betide the poor lassie that got into what they called trouble and had to go to England forever. Or the poor divilwho refused to go to Mass on a Sunday.

One of my lads would like to come back from America for the farm, but there is nothing here for him nowadays, because of the lack of thinking by the bloody politicians.

Meanwhile the countryside shrivels up by the day and month, and the closure of the schools is the proof of that.

Myself and herself don’t have long more to put up with it. Whichever of us escapes first will leave the other with the prospect of a stay in the county home on the other side of the town, for as long as that takes. 

This bit of a farm that I’m not well able to work any more will be used, for sure, to pay for the upkeep of the survivor, that and a slice of the pension every week.

Our old school won’t open its doors again next September, and will begin to decay, right from the day the tanned politicians and civil servants come back from their summer holidays, to make more empty promises, which will echo out over a countryside being emptied out daily like a rusted bucket.


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