| 11°C Dublin

Con Houlihan: Boy, we're a mucky bunch

About 30 years ago it was mooted that a by-pass be built around my local town, Castle Island. Most of us thought this would never happen. I campaigned against it in print and in pub, and even on turf lorries on wet nights, and thought we would win.

Then one day, having been summoned to a meeting in Bolton Street Technical School, in Dublin, where there was a general meeting about the whole question of by-passing, I gave my reasons, quoting my own town as an example.

Nevertheless, momentum gathered and we had to give in to the majority. The by-pass is there now. It has two roundabouts.

They are called after Moss Keane and Michael Galwey. The by-pass itself is called after me. That is a bit of a joke but I accepted it and am rather flattered, because the motion was passed unanimously by the Kerry County Council.

And seemingly I was very wrong: the traffic on the last bank holiday backed up to a mile-and-a-half out of the town on the Cork side and the Limerick side. And even last week, on an ordinary day, it was hard to get parking in the town. Business is as good as ever. My hope is that this continues, but there are towns in England that have almost died because they were malled.

In Germany and in other parts of the world you can travel all day without passing through a town or a village. This is a great change from the Ireland that we knew.

Visitors were enthralled by the intimate nature of the countryside. They saw houses in every hundred yards and villages and towns in every mile or two. It is doubtful if visitors will enjoy the kind of country that I know well in West Germany, where you can travel almost from dawn until dusk and see only service stations.

By-passes may pay in the short run, but not in the long run. An article in last week's Kerryman is devoted to the by-pass and tells us that the situation is now more confusing than ever.

In the context of Castle Island, only time will tell. It may be sentimental to regret the old days, especially the passing of the fair.

We tend to believe that becoming modern is an improvement, but it isn't always that way.

People go to the cattle marts now at about nine o'clock in the morning. This is a great change from the days when you needed to be there about five. Indeed we used to take pride in being there so early. It was a kind of competition. There was a morning when I had a few calves sold by seven o'clock and was teaching in Renagowan primary school about 10 miles away by nine o' clock. That all belongs to what seems a heroic past.

The great thing about the fair was that you got several chances of selling your animals, or your animal. The bidding would begin very early and it would go on intermittently until you had sold or given up hope and gone home.

Driving cattle to a fair was a kind of penance because, of course, they were emigrating. They were leaving their own familiar fields and going where they knew not. It was easy to drive them home. Indeed you hadn't to drive them at all. They were in a hurry back to their familiar places.

There was never a good documentary made about a fair. There were several on radio, but they tended to be romantic. The fair needed a documentary on film. We have it now only in bits and pieces. The mart provides scope for a film but it can never be the same.

We still have the markets: in our town there is a market every Thursday where you can buy or sell all kinds of shrubbery and plants and all kinds of fowl and young pigs.

It is always a very pleasant occasion. It doesn't begin too early and it doesn't go on too long. It is a great place for travelling salesmen.

Out of the sides of lorries you can buy all kinds of garments and footwear and all kinds of implements that you can use in the garden or wherever you like, not to mention hammers and chisels and pincers.

These markets will survive the most stringent of EU regulations because the people need them. Indeed they are common all over continental Europe.

You will find them, too, outside most cities in Ireland.

They are called farmers' markets and are a good part of the economy.

Let us hope that our masters and their desire for change do not go too far in creating by-passes and in making motorways. The old Ireland has a great deal to show.

It should be the objective of our new Government to make it clean. We must admit that we are an untidy people. The streets are littered and the hedges are almost covered in plastic waste and the rivers are conduits for all kinds of rubbish.

To me, a patriot is seen by simple acts: in crossing a mountain he drops a bus ticket while taking out a handkerchief and stops to pick it up.

Most of us are very good at singing patriotic songs but we are not patriotic in our habits.

Our new Government should launch a clean-up campaign and revitalise the Tidy Towns competition. This needs no capital investment but will give valuable employment. The cleaning-up of our streams and rivers and lakes will not cost billions and will also give valuable employment.

This money will be well spent. We need something akin to Roosevelt's New Deal in which men were put to work even though the work wasn't very important at all.

In our country the work is very important. All it needs is imagination on the part of the new Government.

Incidentally, there were parking difficulties in the old days, too, but they were concerned mostly with horses and ponies.

One day a commercial traveller came into a pub in the heart of the Latin Quarter and said: "Mr Hussey, there is a big horse and a big rail tied to my car. What should I do?"

And Paddy said: "If you go out and stand there long enough, there will be a horse tied to yourself." That was all part of the banter in the old days.

Fogra: To my cousin Joe Martin in Castle Island and my cousin Breda and her husband Bob in Yorkshire, I send belated New Year's greetings