Warning: no fuel pump in next 40 miles

The day before yesterday, when the villages and small towns were teeming with life and bright and busy and bustling, the pair of lads I’m talking about were at the centre of it all.

They were a critical element of the parochial scene, the commercial and social activity of their parish.

Everybody needed to call to them for business and pleasure once or twice a week.

The pair of lads looked after them all, and hummed with pleasure as they did so.

You and I called upon them now and again when we were off our local patch, and they treated us just the same as they treated the locals that had been calling to them all their lives.

They were as vital to their people as the priest and doctor in the big houses on the hill above.

Those days are gone away now.

Today, they stand lost and lonesome and abandoned in the heart of almost all the villages and hamlets and smaller towns on our landscape. And at all the crossroads of the heartlands of rural Ireland.

As always, they stand side-by-side, the way they always did.

Their faces seem now to be gazing wistfully enough at the passing traffic that never stops beside them any more. Somehow, their shoulders look slumped and beaten.

They are battered and old, made redundant by the changed times and ways. I do not know at all why they are not gently relieved from their duty and removed from our sight, but that does not ever seem to happen.

And ye know that is the pure truth, once more.

They are to me the most poignant and powerful image illustrating the dreadful reality of the accelerating decline of our traditional rural Ireland.

The consequences of that decline are now belatedly hitting the headlines, and even resonating along the corridors of power both in Dublin and in Brussels, and beyond.

None of the powers-that-be, either national or European, have clean hands on this front. Their policies and plans and spatial strategies, coupled with the economic recession, have created the reality that rural Ireland has been emptied out by enforced emigration overseas, and by equally enforced migration to the cities and big towns of the state, and by the closure in the parishes of banks and post offices and schools and Garda stations.

In real terms, rural Ireland has lost the energy and life force of a full generation, now scattered all over the world.

Things will never be the same again.

The lonesome pair of lads I’m talking about as a striking image of that slow death are the pairs of petrol and diesel pumps that used provide the villages and parishes with the fuel needed for daily and weekly life.

Thousands of them now stand rusting away and empty all around the country. They could not compete with the big cut-price operations in the bigger towns, which are now served by the huge discount stores springing up, every second day it seems. Neither, in the majority of cases, could the small local shops and businesses to which the pumps were attached.

It is quite shocking so often to look past the rusting pumps to see the closed shops behind them, windows soaped and blanked. And, often, nearby the closed down bank, post office or small school. Or the grey bulk of the empty Garda station.

I do not believe I am being melodramatic here.

Is it not a fact of modern life, for example, that one needs to be aware always of how much fuel is in the tank, because so many small filling stations have closed down since the recession bit deeply?

I have been caught out a few times myself in recent years because of that. Just one thread in the new countryside cobweb.

The experts say there is a recovery nowadays. Seems to me there is an urban and Greater Dublin bias to it.

And that is a long way down the road from where the pairs of empty petrol pumps slowly decay in some strange kind of linkage with the life force within the communities they once served.


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