ONLY two homes in a once-bustling terrace at the centre of Ballylongford are now occupied, in an alarming illustration of the decline of the village in recent years.
The terrace on Quay Street was once fully-occupied, with many residents working in, or servicing, the street's thriving industry that was comprised of a large hardware store, a creamery, timber-yard, pub and shops. The near abandonment of Quay Street is indicative of a slow decline over recent decades for the entire village as a variety of factors squeezed the life out of Ballylongford. Its decline has been mirrored in many other villages in north Kerry but is particularly pronounced in the 'Village of the Crooked Cross'.
Today, only two people live in the long terrace, each, coincidentally, named Teddy Kennelly.
One of the men was recently rescued from a fire in his home in a late-night emergency that left him feeling even more alone. "Only for getting to the door and opening it for the emergency services it could have been a hell of a lot worse. There was no one on my side of the street to call on and thank God the gardaí and fire brigade were out so quickly," Mr Kennelly (pictured above) said after his ordeal.
The 76-year-old ran his family's grocery shop in their Quay Street home (which is classed as O'Rahilly Street at Mr Kennelly's end of the terrace to differentiate between him and his neighbour of the same name) until the early 1980s. "It was bustling back then. We had 160 people coming to the creamery every morning and calling to the shop for their messages; they all bought something, whether it was the paper or a packet of fags," Teddy recalled.
"It was a great little community on the street, very close-knit and we all helped each other. But it's awful lonely now."
Quay Street publican Michael Finucane, who was born and bred on the street, is unequivocal: "It's just heart-breaking and it is getting worse. I have young lads coming in for pool on Monday nights, aged 19, 20, 21, and they're only staying around as they're waiting to see if there will be any movement with the LNG plant."
At the height of industry on the street, O'Sullivan's hardware employed 45 staff, Jim Hanrahan's bakery 20, Mulvihill's bakery four and numerous others between the creamery and the timber yard. "There was always three lorries on the go, but it's all gone now. Oliver Cromwell wouldn't have been able to decimate it the way it has been!"
Kerry Group's decision to centralise its collections saw the creamery close down in 1990. Meanwhile, the local shops and bakeries found it increasingly difficult to compete with operators in larger towns nearby. Scores of families also left the landbank between the late '50s and early '80s, contributing further to the gradual decline.
"Look at Moyvane, which retained its creamery; they have great trade there today and it brings people into the village, but we lost all that," Michael said.
Ballylongford Enterprise Company chairperson Noel Lynch quoted the words of poet and native son Brendan Kennelly by way of a warning for the greater region. "'If life in little places dies, greater places share the loss'. I always think of those lines when I consider what has and is happening here. Our greatest hope at the moment is represented by the LNG plans, the only plans for the landbank to have come so far in all the years."
Ballylongford is not taking it lying down, however, as Noel makes clear.
Many in the community are passionate supporters of the Shannon LNG plans and remain so seven years after the supposedly 'fast-track' process was initiated. Their support has played no small part in ensuring the project is at least still on the table. Their lobbying of government at a number of key stages in the whole process when protracted delays threatened to derail the plans is believed to have been critically supportive of Shannon LNG's plans.
The village has also reopened its parish hall in the grounds of the church in a renovation project it hopes will rejuvenate the location as a central point of community life. Best of all for Quay Street is that a new butcher's shop - John Jackman's Butchers - is opening there this week, in a return to some of the old flavour of life on the once thriving road.