Wednesday 21 February 2018

'Keep the Big Apple - I'd rather take a bite of New Ross' - Why little towns are big news this Christmas

A Christmas Market in Wexford. Photo: Pat Sheridan
A Christmas Market in Wexford. Photo: Pat Sheridan

Fiona O'Connell

This last Sunday in November marks the beginning of Advent - though try telling that to retail chains and supermarkets that were stuffing their shelves with tinselly things before Halloween even had a chance to begin.

Such premature mistletoe madness reflects how Christmas has become a calculated exercise in consumerism. It seems the modern metropolis - despite its bright lights and supposed liberty - needs to badger us into a buying frenzy. Whereas shopping for the festive season in a country town is magical.

The roundabout at Quay Street, New Ross
The roundabout at Quay Street, New Ross

So I was reminded in the thriving centre of New Ross last weekend. Where the streets were alive with the sound of music and merriment - and hopefully cash registers ringing - as the Christmas tree went up and the lights were switched on to communal cheers.

But the buzz isn't just because 'tis now finally the season to be jolly. Because this lovely town always seems lively whenever I visit. And no wonder, for one of the charms of towns like New Ross is the number of real shops that are still there - by which I mean those with actual surnames above their windows.

Many such once common private traders have disappeared elsewhere, sadly, but New Ross has held on to this traditional touch.

The advantages are ample for festive shoppers, since family-run businesses are unique and unpredictable in a positive sense, as they choose their own design and stock, thereby upping your chances of finding something surprising.

You see, city shopping (especially in the cities) is increasingly reminiscent of the poem - "water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink". For while there are scores of shop fronts, that is literally all they are - since more are part of international chains that you can find everywhere, and hence they provide only an illusion of choice.

The robust energy of New Ross made the lighting up of its Dunbrody Famine Ship all the more ironic, as speculation about the US president-elect's plans casts a shadow over the many unregistered Irish living in the United States. But this beautiful reproduction emigrant ship is also symbolic of the tenacious traders in this - and every country town - who battle daily to keep their businesses afloat. Most, like New Ross's Cafe Nutshell, must run a tight ship to stay buoyant and ebullient on the waves of commerce.Add guts, hard graft and a generous dollop of genius, such as their menu that caters for both carnivores and vegans.

Maybe some rural residents should make a personal Dunbrody voyage to experience the famine of such family-run businesses in many modern cities. It might make them appreciate what they have in their small-in-size but big-in-buzz homes. And motivate them to make sure more of their money ends up in country town tills this Christmas.

Because you can keep your anonymous big apples - including New York. I'd rather a bite of New Ross.

Sunday Independent

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