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The slow, agonising death of small towns in Ireland


The main streets of small towns like Longford were once home to a wide variety of shops

The main streets of small towns like Longford were once home to a wide variety of shops

The main streets of small towns like Longford were once home to a wide variety of shops

It grieves me to see long-established businesses in small Irish towns fold and close down day by day. Especially because I grew up near them and worked in one of them, in the 1950's/1960's.

In later years, when I went out as a "knight of the road" (commercial traveller), I saw the demise of long-established family shops almost weekly. Time was when the main street in any town was a thriving, vibrant place, humming with people all doing their business in a variety of shops. You had the bar and grocery stores, drapers, newsagents, greengrocers, shoe shops, cloth halls, butchers, bakers, hardware shops, salmon and poultry buyers, etc, - their owners all making a living and giving employment into the bargain. In a typical bar and grocery store you had maybe three shop assistants, a store man, a bookkeeper, a van man and a messenger boy.

It was the same story with all the other establishments, some of them giving more employment than the others depending on size. We weighed up the half-ounce of snuff, the quarter-pound of tea, the pound of sugar, the half-quarter of tobacco and the quarter, half, and stones of flour.

In all of these outlets the customer got a friendly greeting, more often than not from the boss himself. Then the big bad wolf started arriving in the guise of the large multiples strategically placed in shopping centres on the outskirts of town.

They sounded the death knell for the small shops in town centres which for generations had loyally served the needs of the community.

These multiples - selling everything almost from a needle to an anchor - became the butcher, baker, grocer, draper, greengrocer all rolled into one.

Then we had the takeovers and the mergers, leading to the small efficient banks being locked up and sold as they were no longer needed in the new regime. Now when you enter a bank the first thing you see is a plethora of machines which won't talk to you, but frustrate the person trying to lodge or withdraw money. Ah yes, in the banks small was beautiful and profitable.

This is a nostalgic look back on the way things used to be, in a way they were the good old days. We hadn't a lot of money, but we were happy with what we had. Emigration too has robbed us of the very best of Irish youth.

Yes indeed, Ireland is a much changed place, with Government promises being made and broken like soft-shelled eggs and banks, post offices and even the bus service threatened with closure in small towns.

Ah yes, our caring Ireland's dead and gone, it's with O'Leary in the grave and Angela Merkel giving the graveside oration.

J Murphy

Co Kilkenny

Rural and urban must unite

I agree with Tommy Kenoy (Letters, March 2) that more investment is needed in rural Ireland to help prevent an ever-increasing rural/urban divide. However, at the same time the under-developed areas in our larger cities and towns also need investment and support.

So, perhaps rather than engage in tit-for-tat divisive comment, both sides of the social argument could come together with representatives of our forgotten diaspora to put their case to Government to agree a better future for all. United we stand, divided we fall.

Tom Towey

Cloonacool, Co Sligo

Promises versus policies

I was listening to the radio the other day in the car (I don't think the RSA have banned that yet) when I heard that Joan Burton was challenging Mary Lou McDonald to a head-to-head debate.

Unfortunately, the reception faded for a few seconds and I did not catch whether the announcer said "a debate on policies they could keep to" or "promises they could keep to".

I suppose either would be interesting given the state of our politicians.

Richard Barton

Tinahely, Co Wicklow

Future imperfect

There is a plague that is among us. Unbridled, mindless technology is altering the way we think. You ain't seen nothin' yet.

The gadgets are pouring over us ever bigger and faster. The young, and not so young, fascinated and mesmerised, new toys to ears and eyes, they follow the latest craze, like the charmed rats on the heels of the pied piper of Hamelin.

Sean McElgunn

Address with Editor

International Women's Day

This Sunday is International Women's Day, with over 40 events in this country. For example, there is a fund-raising luncheon in Limerick (March 6) for the Hope Foundation at which London businesswoman and former 'Bond' actress Fiona Fullerton is a special guest. She is the charity's patron and was recently in India to see its work in helping severely-impoverished children.

In the last four years we have seen Irish women in the top law enforcement and regulatory roles in the country: that of Garda Commissioner, Minister for Justice, Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Mrs Justice Susan Denham was appointed the 11th Chief Justice of Ireland in 2011 - the first woman to hold the role.

Irish women are prominent in the arts and media and at the helm of charities, women like Fiona Corcoran, who received the Order of Friendship medal last year from the Russian government for her Cork-based charity's "outstanding humanitarian work" in that country.

The first International Women's Day was held in 1911. Its roots began to grow in 1908 as women campaigned for the right to vote and for better working conditions in America, when 15,000 women marched in New York. It was first called National Women's Day in 1909. The day is a public national holiday in many countries.

It celebrates the contribution of women in all parts of life. The theme of the International Women's Day Organisation this year is 'Make It Happen'. The United Nations' theme is 'Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity'.

Mary Sullivan


Junior Cert reform plan

School managers and principals have stated that "improvements in the learning experience require the wholehearted engagement of teachers" ('Principals at odds with teachers in Junior Cert reform plan', Irish Independent, March 3).

Given that this "wholehearted engagement" is clearly not forthcoming without at least further negotiation, how can the managers and principals support the draft proposals aimed at resolving the Junior Cert reforms dispute?

There seems to be little intellectual or philosophical basis to the managers' and principals' statement if it falls down on the basic grounds of illogicality.

On the one hand, they accept the utter centrality of teachers to the whole issue, while on the other hand they completely ignore their concerns.

Martin Ryan

Blanchardstown, Dublin 15

Irish Independent