A new kind of fracking

If the phonetics are similarily explosive, and the brief word begins with that sibilant sixth letter of the alphabet, then it is easy enough to understand how an innocent five-letter word can stray into the low caste pen occupied by its shunned four letter fellows.

Such is the fate these days of the new mining word, frack, very much in the news.

The headlines say that they want to frack Co Leitrim, to extract a major reservoir of shale oil buried deep beneath the fair face of the Cinderella County.

The claims by the multinational firm involved are that fracking Leitrim’s hidden resource will have the effect of breaking our dependence on imported oil, in a big way.

Major employment will be generated, both in the construction (destruction?) phases and long term, the local economy will be hugely energised and boosted, and Leitrim will even become an exporter of the brown gold in years to come.

A local and national debate is developing sharply, and it is especially acute in the midst of a recession when jobs are as scarce as hens’ teeth, both in Leitrim and all over the island. There is no firm outcome yet.

Born in a neighbouring county, raised in the borderlands, and with a good knowledge of the county and its people, I am driven to express the opinion that lovely Leitrim, the poorest county in the State, has been thoroughly fracked in every way by about everybody down the last centuries of its history.

The English, in their day, fracked Leitrim by planting it with five huge forests and attempting to drive out its hardy natives and replace them with loyal planters. That did not work. Then, successive Irish governments of all parties have been fracking Leitrim ever since.

I gather that mining in the fracking fashion involves pumping water and chemicals deep underground to where the oil is locked in the shale, then exploding the cocktail to release the oil to the surface. The political fracking down all the decades has been somewhat similar, in many ways. The dwindling population have been pumped up with hot air promises by administration after administration, but the explosive developments never happened, and the decline went on and on. The travel agents who booked out the waves of young emigrants, generation after generation, were about the only beneficiaries of the political fracking.

Before the Famine, the rugged county had a population of 156,000. That figure today, after all the fracking, stands at just under 32,000. If they all attended the Connacht football final this summer, they would be nowhere near a capacity crowd.

Concurrently all our politicians, past and present, should not be surprised by the sad statistics that Leitrim is cursed with the third highest suicide rate in the State and, just as poignant, the lowest male life expectancy (at 72.8, three years less than the national average).

The politicians of all hues even fracked the proud people of Leitrim into powerless political fragments over recent decades. They are not even a constituency with some control over their own destiny. They have been fracked into weak parcels of votes to be attached to neighbours Roscommon and Sligo, where their clout is diluted. Recently, not even one of the TDs elected was resident in Leitrim. The tally is one today, and that is an improvement.

Leitrim is the Killarney of the north. It has matchless, wild, natural beauty, and the warmest hearts and hearths in all Ireland. If Bord Fáilte in its promoting heyday had spent even a fraction of what it spent on the other Killarney on lovely Leitrim, then its tourism business alone could have solved so many social and economic problems of today.

Glencar, for example, lies closer to paradise than any Kerry lake; the county town of Carrick-on-Shannon is much friendlier than Killarney; every village and hamlet is a picture postcard; Lough Allen and Lough Melvin and the many other lakes are mirrors of a serene and peaceful beauty.

Some wise countries have banned mining fracking on the grounds of environmental risk. If it goes ahead eventually in the Cinderella County, and lasts, say, for one generation, will this ultra-precious Leitrim landscape look as beautiful thereafter? Personally, I doubt it.

One joyful Leitrim statistic is that, despite all the odds, the population is increasing. Another is that the uptake of higher education in Leitrim is the highest in the State.

Hopefully, all these young wiser heads will contribute yet to a situation where the brutal fracking of the Cinderella County will end rather than resume a-pace.

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