Monday, 7 November 2011

Where Have all the Children Gone?

I'm knitting a telegraph pole warmer.
I know - I know!
It wasn't actually my idea, but I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse!

It's for the pole outside Beltra Country Market and so far I've completed about six or eight feet of very colourful stripes. I have heard the odd grumble that it's a shocking waste of wool, but I don't agree. Sure, it will take a good bit to finish it, but by and large it is being constructed out of other people's left over balls (of wool, that is!) which wouldn't have been used for much else. And just the sheer daft concept of it has made a lot of people smile.

Anyway, spare a thought for the telegraph pole, standing there in wind, rain, hail and snow, with nothing to do all day but prop up the market's bunting. Oh, and all those telegraphy-pole things of course. I think it will be quite chuffed to have a cheerful, technicolour, stripey Joseph's-coat style warmer.

And it's not just the market members and our shoppers who will enjoy it. I hope it'll brighten up the morning for all the people who drive up and down that road every day, on their way to work, to college, to school - to sign on. 

14.4% of the population, that is. I know it's not just Ireland. The whole world is in a sorry state these days. The G20 Summit doesn't appear to have achieved a huge amount, except accentuate the fate of Greece, the Euro, Italy, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all. Everyone - everything hanging in the balance. Just a short while ago Ireland was at the top of the casualty list, right under the spotlight. And our condition didn't stop being critical just because we got bailed out.

I can't really take that term seriously. It always brings to mind the occasion when, driving in Hong Kong with my sister, we were stopped by a policeman for speeding. He insisted that we should accompany him to the police station 'to bail out!' - to which she caustically replied: 'Why, are you flooded?'

But I digress.
Ireland was bailed out. (It is regularly flooded, you see.)
It's not that I'm ungrateful to the powers that be who put their hands in their pockets on Ireland's behalf, it's just that I wonder what difference it has made to the average Joe Soap walking our streets. And the same goes for lots of other countries too. Instead of being in hock for all the things he signed up for - like a mortgage, a car loan, a credit card or whatever, now everyone in Ireland owes their bodies, their souls and even the unformed aspirations of their minds from now on, even unto the third, fourth and fifth generation. I'm no mathmatician, but this seems an un-do-able equation.

Unless of course people opt for the modus operandi advocated by Blank of Ireland - in which case they may get off debt-free even if not scot-free. But as it stands, the country is in a pretty bad way and financial security is a thing of the past.

It is 18 years ago this very week that we moved into our house. And in that time I think we have run the whole gamut of financial insecurity. Despite that, I have to say I don't regret coming to this beautiful part of Ireland for a minute, and given the chance to turn the clock back, I'd do it all over again. We were much younger then, and when you are young, financial security isn't generally your prime motivating force. Luckily - or none of us would have any adventures at all.

And I suppose it was an adventure. It was certainly a leap out of our comfort zone at the time, moving from South London to the west of Ireland, where the locals assumed we only had one ulterior motive. 'Oh, so you surf then?'
Surf? SURF?
Er - no!

We hadn't noticed the surf.
It was only later we discovered that the people who moved here generally came for the waves. It was the house we fell in love with. In truth, we hadn't even noticed the village - which is so tiny you daren't blink - but when we did, we found that it had a burnt out house, several derelict buildings and, eerily, no young people. Someone locally described it to us as: 'A one-horse village, and the horse has left.' Certainly all the kids had left. They routinely left when they finished school, because there was nothing to stay for. Everyone had a son in America, a daughter in England, a nephew in Australia...

The Irish are good at emigrating. They have had lots of practice. Back in the 1830s, when the Great Famine was still just a shadow on their horizon, cholera devastated much of Sligo, in many places leaving 'barely enough living to bury the dead.' And then, fifteen years later, cataclysmic food shortages decimated the remaining population and millions, as many as were able, left Ireland to make a new life anywhere that could offer them food, work and a future.

All tragedies in history leave a permanent scar on the peoples that endure them, but we didn't expect to find the legacy of that trauma still having such a potent effect 150 years on - people still leaving their country for the same reasons that caused their forebears to leave.

That was 18 years ago - the early 90s, a long time ago. You'd hope things had changed in the interim.
Sure, there was the much vaunted Celtic Tiger that leapt, wild and exotic into our midst, but sadly, like all wild, exotic things, its stay was short and glorious. Especially short. Perhaps it would have been better all round if it had been a paper tiger. Because now the country seems to be back in that deeply-hollowed, dark, familiar place that it hoped was a thing of the past. The place that has made the Irish the tough, resilient people they are.

Some reports state that 1000 people a week have been leaving Ireland for pastures new this year. Who knows if that is an accurate figure. But with a population of around just 4million, it's a lot of people if it is true. Just a few days ago my sons' friend told us that this year alone, more than 150 young people, known to her, have left from the village and its environs. Mostly to Australia and New Zealand.Who can blame them, if there is no work here, nothing for them to stay for? My own sons left a few years ago, to make their lives elsewhere.

The economic cost to the country of letting so much young blood slip away is one thing, but it is not the only - and for many not even the primary - consideration. The underlying cost of this financial crisis is the loss of our children. Our unformed aspirations are centred around our young, and for so many, these hopes and dreams will now come into being far away as the diaspora expands again. The biggest tragedy for Ireland is that once again it has returned to mourning its living sons and daughters, to missing them - as I do mine - 'like the deserts miss the rain'.

You need to be resilient.

So while I - while all of us - wait for the tide to turn, I will, like Madame Guillotine, continue with my knitting. It won't change anything. And I can't even claim any creative ingenuity, unlike my friend Frewin who knits handbags from old t-shirts, but one thing I do know - a telegraph pole warmer isn't a waste of wool. If it makes people around here laugh, or even just smile, then it's bloody marvellous.


  1. Good post! Fancy you becoming a Guerilla Knitter! LOL
    Actually I have joined a guerilla knitting group in Leeds but a new venture may mean I shan't be able to participate for long...

  2. Hi Lorely. I thought the point of a bail-out was that you didn't have to pay it back--I'm sure the managers of the high street banks in England would say that. But there's feeling beholden as well, of course, and nobody can do anything about that. Debt is the root of most of our current evils.

    I hope you'll post a picture of the pole warmer when it's done. (Will you pull it over the head, or hold it open and invite the pole to step in?) Knitting for fun is never a waste.

    And thank you for letting me friend you. It's been far too long.


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