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Saturday 10 December 2016

Hardships of today have nothing on those of past

Joe Barry

Published 21/12/2011 | 06:00

While driving through Cork recently, I passed Beal na mBláth, that infamous spot where Michael Collins was shot and where the course of Irish history changed forever.

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The Civil War of 1922/23 that divided the people of Ireland was a tragedy that caused thousands of deaths and left a legacy of bitterness which split families, many not speaking to each other for generations.

Prior to the Civil War, the Dáil had voted in favour of the treaty with Britain, so, in effect, Eamon De Valera broke a decision which was arrived at democratically. His actions exacerbated the divisions within the country and contributed to the slide towards violence, which ultimately led to the death of Collins.

One can only wonder what Ireland in the dismal 1950s might have been like without the cold, inward-looking policies of Dev. We had the most severe censorship of any nation in Europe and the poverty in our towns and cities was appalling, all during a time when other nations were rebuilding their economies following the Second World War.

The Economic War that Dev instigated with Britain in 1932 bankrupted countless farmers and my father often spoke of bidding for three bullocks at a west of Ireland fair just prior to the closing of the British markets. He bid £11 each for them but the offer was refused and the man took his cattle home, as was common practice in those days. The following year he bid £8.10 for the same cattle but was again refused. He finally bought them in the mid-1930s for £4 10 shillings each and brought them to the Dublin Cattle Market where they were sold at a loss.

The collapse in livestock prices caused by Dev's economic policies resulted in untold hardship, yet the then Irish Government did not waive its own collection of land annuities that were costing farmers more than £4m a year. In the 1930s, three out of four children born in Ireland were forced to emigrate and, after a pact was finally agreed with Britain, we were still caught in a depression during which most young people either emigrated or found poor jobs at home as farm labourers or in domestic service in the better-off houses.

arrogance

De Valera's arrogance and belief that he alone knew what was best for Ireland has plagued us for years and it was only at the last general election that the country finally woke up and rejected the political party he founded.

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There were, of course, some good people within Fianna Fáil and perhaps Sean Lemass was the one who first saw the bigger picture and the need to open up the economy and lead our nation out of the mire it was stuck in.

Undoubtedly, Lemass initiated necessary change but the manner in which De Valera, along with successive governments, grovelled before the power of the Church and kept us in poverty and ignorance for so long is hard to forgive.

The people we hear complaining on radio and TV who are now living in dire conditions simply haven't a clue what genuine hardship is. Similarly, the students protesting over fees for their education need to open their eyes to reality. Are we supposed to pay for them? Let them take out loans and repay them when qualified and working. I live close to Maynooth University, where most students appear to drive cars. How can they afford this? Where do so many school children find the money to dress fashionably, buy mobile phones, cigarettes and alcohol?

On another front, why is the children's allowance not means tested? The contrast between the children of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s and those of today is astonishing. I saw a huge gathering of young girls, between 10 and 15 years old, queued up at Tesco in Maynooth one Saturday recently to meet the members of some pop group. All were smartly dressed, confident, and most were from time to time screaming their heads off. It was actually a lovely sight to see so many prosperous looking kids having a great time, and everyone doing their shopping was smiling and enjoying the noise and the occasion.

Now compare the lifestyles these youngsters have and the opportunities that lie ahead of them with those of earlier generations.

A food processing company in Leinster recently advertised for 70 workers and, guess what, not one Irish person applied. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

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