Monday 26 September 2016

Rural crime gnaws at the heart of country life

Fiona O'Connell

Published 15/05/2016 | 02:30

'For summer is here, with shiny new leaves on the trees that form a canopy over country roads. And even if the sun doesn't always shine, the days are getting ever longer, which surely makes up for it.' Photo: Getty
'For summer is here, with shiny new leaves on the trees that form a canopy over country roads. And even if the sun doesn't always shine, the days are getting ever longer, which surely makes up for it.' Photo: Getty

'Ne'er cast a clout 'til May be out," they say - though I think we can finally bid farewell to fleece-lined coats.

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The local council hasn't got to the riverbank with their savage strimmers yet, so the lush green grass is still sprinkled with heart-brightening daisies and buttercups. They surround the ancient watchtower, which has witnessed more seasons than any of us.

For summer is here, with shiny new leaves on the trees that form a canopy over country roads. And even if the sun doesn't always shine, the days are getting ever longer, which surely makes up for it.

All of which can lull you into believing that the world is as sunny and fresh as the season. But you would be unwise to shed all your vigilance along with those thermal vests. For even buoyant country towns like this can be brought low by the crime wave that continues to plague rural Ireland.

As I was reminded by the sight of a parked car up the road one summery morning recently, the chirping birds making its smashed-in window all the more incongruous. Some locals remarked that it was a first for this town. Which is good news. The bad news is that it's unlikely to be the last.

For there have been other incidences. Many in the community were indignant when one kind-hearted lady's house - bang in the centre of town - was broken into, and in broad daylight.

But while the valley of squinting windows may be long gone, country folk are too cute to throw out the benign binoculars with the bathwater. A neighbour noticed the culprit pacing the street and videoed them in the act of kicking in the door - before scarpering when they discovered the horrified resident within.

Nobody was hurt. But it would be naive to think that the experience didn't negatively affect the victims - or the wider community. Many folk here leave their doors ajar, a charming custom that I adopted. Not so likely anymore.

The town is more uptight, having lost some of its sense of ease. Arguably all because of fundamental losses - a loss encapsulated by what a local shopkeeper (himself the victim of petty crime a few years ago) told me about the nearby village where he grew up and still lives.

As a boy on his way home from school, he would pass the houses of his teacher, the priest and the garda. Now they are all gone: the three pillars of the community no longer reside within it. Perhaps most importantly, from a pragmatic point of view, is the missing pillar of a garda station, which often prevents crime merely by its presence alone.

These essential elements of country life have been evicted by economic decisions made far from our country homes. Resulting in rural society shedding more than it should.

Isn't it time we literally redressed the situation - and put them back on?

Sunday Independent

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