Farming

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Page-turner puts collapse of Celtic Tiger into context

While sitting in my doctor's waiting room recently, I began browsing through the literature that one always finds in such places. Doctors, dentists, barbers and hairdressers provide an extraordinary range of mostly unreadable magazines.

I suppose they are meant to help us pass the time and assist us, at least temporarily, to forget our personal woes. Unfortunately, I couldn't care less about some film star's wedding or the latest news on Kate Middleton's pregnancy.

But then I am sure neither could my doctor or dentist, so who buys this stuff? Pictures of British royalty and soap opera stars tend to have a boring similarity. I always thought that only little girls dreamt of marrying a prince and that this was something they got over by the age of six.

I did come across an article in the dentist's once on prince Charles and his love of hedgelaying which was mildly interesting, but then it wasn't exactly dealing with reality.

The guy clearly knew he would never have to lay hedges for a living and when he had received his fill of scratches from thorns he had lots of helpers to finish the job for him.

literature

Some time ago, while idly reading the available literature in a barber's shop, I came across images of whips and for a moment thought I had found the racing section but it turned out to be an article on how to spice up one's sex life.

I had always believed that visiting a saddler's was solely for the purpose of buying items like head collars, bridles and the aforementioned whips for use with horses. How wrong can one be?

I suppose I should look on the bright side and the fact that the trade in leather supports the price of hides.

Better again, I now know where to advertise those redundant lunging whips and hunting crops that I used with horses here on the farm over the years.

Back to the doctor's waiting room. I was about to give up and try some meditation when I found, underneath the pile of rubbish, a book so good that I ended up borrowing it (I did ask permission and yes, I will return it). It was titled Vanishing Ireland and is one of those large coffee table publications.

It tells the life stories of elderly Irish men and women, most of whom were born around the 1920s.

It's written by the wonderfully named Turtle Bunbury, with photographs by James Fennel.

The images are simply stunning as are the tales that each individual has to tell of their differing experiences while growing up in Ireland in the 1920s and '30s and later.

The book dramatically spells out the experiences of people from many walks of life and how they managed through the early decades of independent Ireland during a time when the population endured one of the lowest living standards in Europe.

despair

To quote the author, "it was a time of grim despair".

He recalls how éamon De Valera once hoped Irish firesides would become "forums for the wisdom of serene old age".

The sad reality was that many of the younger souls who might have sat and listened were instead forced to emigrate in search of work other than manual labour or poorly paid domestic service.

Some of the individuals featured stated that despite the poverty, people were happier back then. Others maintained that life is much more enjoyable today and all agreed that the end of the Celtic Tiger was a useful wake-up call for a country that had lost the run of itself.

For anyone who grew up in those early years, when warfare and deadly epidemics blighted the land, our little 21st-century recession must seem like a harmless event.

Vanishing Ireland tells, in fascinating detail, the rich and full life stories of farmers, farriers, musicians, fishermen, miners, clerks, laundry maids, clockmakers, tailors and many others.

All are a part of our nation's recent history that needs repeating, lest we forget our past and the stark comparison it makes with the living standards that we enjoy today.

If you don't get a copy for yourself, at least ask both your doctor and dentist to purchase one.

The long-suffering patients in the waiting rooms of Ireland will thank you.

Irish Independent