Tuesday 15 October 2019

Celia Larkin: Our country cousins could teach us a thing or two about reaping what we sow

Rural folk know the value of community as well as the true cost of accumulating debt, writes Celia Larkin

Selling our assets indeed. You wouldn't catch a farmer selling his/her main assets. Oh what fools we city slickers turned out to be. We thought we were sophisticated, with our million-euro properties, big cars and holiday homes.

"Look at us," we thought, "haven't we got it made." Not for us acres of land just to graze cattle on. No, land to us meant building sites, dollar signs, quick profits. No long-term investments, no tiddly little loans of €50k. It had to be millions or it wasn't worth the bother. And the banks bought into it.

As Connie Francis once sang: "Who's sorry now?"

Today, during one of the deepest recessions the county has ever witnessed, the farming industry is booming. The only property increasing in value is farmland. The bottom has fallen out of the fancy housing market, but the value of those boring acres of farmland has been rising steadily over the last two years.

And the banks? Those institutions that scoffed at the modest requirements of farmers wishing to invest €50k in farm buildings, machinery or livestock? Those institutions preferring to host a stand at the Ideal Homes exhibition rather than an agricultural show, as happened in Galway with the ACC bank (traditionally a farmers' bank) a few years ago? They'd give their right arm to have a farmer as a customer now.

Is it any wonder farmers are rapidly moving back up the list of Ireland's most eligible bachelors, according to Macra na Feirme? So what's the attraction, apart from the solvency issue?

Me, a Dub from Finglas, I live in the heart of rural Ireland in Co Clare. Who'd have thought it possible? But fact can often be stranger than fiction. I'd love to say I followed, or rather, lost my heart and that's what led me to Clare but, alas, my change of abode was an accident of circumstance rather than any great life-changing master plan.

And, as often happens when fate takes the lead, I couldn't be happier.

Living in the 'country' may not be everybody's cup of tea, but for me, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. In fact I'm finding it hard to think of any drawbacks.

Yes, you are further away from the shops (not a bad thing in my financial circumstances), and, yes, everybody does know your business, but then everybody seems to know my business anyway, so no great change there.

I could give you all the cliches about the open spaces, the clean air, the sounds of nature. And without doubt they are a factor. But it's the sense of community that gets me. It's the knowledge that if I didn't venture out for a couple of days, someone would come looking for me.

You rarely hear stories of people dead in their homes for weeks before being found. It's the knowing that if you have a problem you really can call on your neighbour for assistance. Of course the catch is, you have to be available to give assistance too. And there's

a respect for people that is sometimes hard to find in the city.

While people will know your seed, breed and generation, your comings and goings, your flaws and your failings, there's a tolerance for human weaknesses, an understanding and acceptance of human nature, warts and all.

The slow, steady pace of life sucks you in. There's no rush, just a steady moving forward, all things having their time and time for all things. The social life is very different. There is no doubt the drink-driving laws have knocked the stuffing out of the pub business, traditionally the hub of the rural social scene. However, communities still celebrate and mourn together. In fact, there can often be a bigger gathering for a funeral than there is for a wedding.

What I found most touching was the fact that neighbours dug the grave. Not for them the impersonal presence of a digging machine, but the slow process of hollowing out the earth where a neighbour and friend will finally rest.

When it comes to weddings, boy do they know how to have a hooley. It's a three-day event and it would take you a week to recover. They never go to bed. I don't know where they get their energy from. They certainly know how to play hard, but they work hard too.

I laughed to myself when, last week, I saw on the front of the local paper. Mr Xi Jinping, vice-president of China no less, having an Irish coffee with James Lynch and his family from Six-Mile-Bridge. It wouldn't have happened a few years ago. It would have been hard hats and boots in front of some massive development with bankers and builders and TDs in tow. Oh, how the tables have turned.

The quiet progressive pace of a community that largely ignored the roar of the Celtic Tiger, the real keepers of our State assets, the custodians of the land providing one of the lifelines that will rescue us from the mire of our own making.

Our food and dairy industry has doubled its exports to China since 2008 and the fact that we still import so much food provides one of the few opportunities to improve the balance of payments with import substitution. And all the signs are that the export market will continue to grow.

We could learn a lot from our country cousins. I was particularly taken by a story told to me recently. Reminiscing about the purchase of his first car, a neighbour told me that back in 1964 he sold 10 cattle at £74 each to buy an Austin A 40.

To this day that is the country way. You sell something to buy something. You don't accumulate debt for non-essential goods.

Oh, what fools we city slickers are.

Sunday Independent

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