Thursday 25 April 2013

Rural Depopulation

You don't have to spend much time in this part of Ireland to realise that a key issue in local history is that of rural depopulation - the "Flight from the Land". Nothing unusual there; it is a common part of population change in many countries and has been going on here for more than a hundred years where farm sizes were very small (a few acres). The abandoned farm house is a very common feature in these parts. There are easily half a dozen in our lane alone and a dozen within very easy range, commonly of 2 basic designs; the 2-storey, chimney at either end, stairs in the middle style as pictured here, and a single storey longer building based on 3 main rooms.

Some are only recently vacated, including ours of course which had been abandoned 15 years ago, so still had a good roof. Others go back decades and are long given over to self sown ash trees and ivy, their windows gone, interior floors fallen in and rooves collapsing.

I am no history scholar, so I will not even try to give you a factual lecture but I understand that the flight from the land is a result of the younger generations being attracted to jobs in the cities and towns - better paid, warm, dry, sensible hours and not arduous physically; plenty of access to social life and entertainment. Farming can be a lonely existence and has never been a great payer and you are frequently cold and wet, sloshing about in the mud, lashed by rain or worse. Modern Ministry stats confirm that many farms are owned and run by old folks who are probably the last in their line willing to do the job, so that The Irish Farmers' Journal (2012 Land Price Report) says that 48% of farmers do not know who will succeed them in their holdings.

Liz is a City Girl from Dublin where they tend to take a bit of a jaundiced view of country-folk and call them 'culchies' but she can also remember from her youth that they eyed the incoming farm-leavers with suspicion, easily being able to identify them with their shorter hair and less 'sharp' clothes compared to the 'Dubs' they were used to. They came to be known as red-necks but not for the sun-burnt reasons of the American Deep South. Their necks were red, so the saying went at the time from their Mammies giving them a clip behind the ear and the shout "Would you not get yourself off up to Dublin and get a job?"

It's not all a tale of woe, of course. The abandoned farms are sold off to neighbours, often quite cheaply as they have been allowed to run down with nothing getting spent on them in terms of drainage, fencing or buildings maintenance, so the lucky neighbours can end up with decent sized holdings and stand a chance of making a living. Our own Mike the Cows has 130 acres including forestry and the McG's down the road have enough to make it worth investing in huge tractors and equipment.

With many farming families having been here for ever, memories are long and these are not just anonymous buildings. Our friend John Deere Bob knows all the local ones and can tell you who lived there, what the people are doing now, if still alive, how the sale went and so on. The house pictured here with the daffodils, for example, belonged to a Michael Moran (they say it 'Morn') who moved out 20 years ago to live in Lough Glynn. He regrets it and wishes he could move back to our 'townland', of Feigh but he sold the old place as a wreck to one of the local 'big guys' for a song and the guy is locally regarded to be not easy to buy land back from (!). So he makes do with visits to Bob armed with a chain saw and does log cutting jobs for the local older folk, his former neighbours. The daffs are a rare example of evidence of these places as houses with gardens. Some have a particularly vigorous and red type of dog-rose but most are now, as I said, just rough grasses, daisies and ash saplings.

Sad but sometimes picturesque and for us, of course, an opportunity to rescue one and delete the word 'abandoned'!

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