by OONAGH TIMSON
Driving through the small towns in Ireland, little seems to change over the years on the surface anyway. The most visible signs of change are the improved street lighting and the double yellow lines.
The sleepy dusty air is still there, the dogs still doze in the sunshine when we have any and the cars still wear their familiar overcoats of dust. The rather alarming (to English eyes) large numbers of damaged cars parked and doubleparked, yellow lines notwithstanding, along the main road are still there.
Every now and again there is a tightening up and lots of people have to rush in to the nearest tax office and get their out-of-date disc renewed. During this period, its good insurance to leave a child inside. the car, the more the merrier in fact. I have never known anyone get a ticket when the children "mind the car."
Market day in a small town has changed radically; no longer do you pick your way through knots of sheep, cattle, or pigs, watching where you place your feet. Nowadays, livestock is sold at the Marts. As these are situated away from the main road, there is very little evidence that a market is in progress.
They are run more on the lines of the English cattle markets, with iron pens for the animals. The Marls belong to the local farmers who form their own committee to run them and staff them with their own paid officials. By dealing with all the livestock in the area, the Mart can demand and get a better price for the animals than farmers dealing individually. The days when the men of small farms would get up at 2.30 in the morning to walk with their sheep or cattle ten miles to the best market are long gone. Nowadays a lorry From the Mart will pick up and deliver any livestock to be sold. If the farmers are buying, the lorry will bring the new stock out to their farms. The old au i of festivity and excitement on market days has , faded days when you met ' cousins and friends, and the Uncle would disappear for hours. sealing the deal at Cronins, leaving in the list of groceries that Mrs Cronin would make up in brown paper parcels and have ready for him when the deal would be well and truly scaled.
Many anxious hours would be put in by the womenfolk waiting at home. Did he sell the cattle? Was it a good price? And how much will be left by the time he gets home?
Though market day has changed and the shops are evolving into self-service stores. Cronins and Cronins' counterparts are still plentiful in number with their darkened interiors, the grocery counter on one side and the bar on the other. The "snug" is still there, where secret deals were, and still arc, carried out, and into which women, if they venture in for a drink, are hurriedly ushered,
Most of the customers have become, over the years, old friends and new customers are not actively sought. But if they do come, and if they fit in with
the others, then they are we Rarely do you hear loud talk in these bars, just murmurs of conversation, and these murmurs stop whenever the shop door pushes open. Each man will carefully study the new entrant and will then leisurely resume the conversation and sip the drink in his hand.
The churches arefull, though there is a subtle change in the sermons. The priest's tone relates more gently to the people's lives, and congregations, instead of being autocratically commanded as to what they must do, are now told what they should do.
The clergy still play a leading role in the lives of the rural community. Most of the organisations in the town will either be run by a priest, or have one on their committee. The local clergy are the school managers. The bingo will be run for church funds. It wouldn't occur to people to run their own bingo or organise their own outings.
They look towards the clergy for leadership. Outings will be to Knock or to Lourdes, with the priest in charge of the pilgrimage. This year being Holy Year, pilgrimages will be to Rome as well as to Lourdes.
In little patches throughout rural Ireland, unfair decisions by the clergy are being questioned. At the moment it doesn't go much further than that.
Take the use of the local hall, paid for by the people. The parish priest or his curate run it, say what does or does not take place in it, and in many cases keep it locked up while local youth clubs, drama clubs, etc, have nowhere to meet.
The women in the country are no longer the "have-nots in our society.. Gone is the time when they automatically moved in with the husband's family. Now it's either a new house or, if they have the old house to themselves, central heating is put in, plus a washing machine and a deep-freeze. When it costs from as little as fl 0 to slaughter and cut up their own animal, the deep-freeze makes sense.
The family car becomes just that, the family car. No matter how remote the farm is, the rural wife can now get into town once or twice a week. She can attend her ICA (Irish Countrywomen's Association) meetings pr any local event she wishes. She does her shopping herself.
She may go out with her husband to one of the many cabaret pubs that have sprung up in the last ten years: some have small dancing areas and serve simple meals. A local band will provide music until the guest artist arrives. On a Saturday or Sunday night, a top show-band will appear: Their fees are high, but the new cabaret bars can afford to pay and make a handsome profit into the bargain.
Providing farmhouse holidays has revolutionised sonic of the country-women's lives. They have plunged into their roles with total commitment. Without leaving their homes has come the opportunity to improve their property and in some cases to build new houses.
Monetary rewards are certainly welcome, but talk to any of these women and it will be the way her life has deepened and widened that has given her the greatest satisfaction.
She has friends now all over the world, and finds it difficult to keep up with the correspondence. Families come back year after year and her children who nOt so long ago would be shy and diffident in company are now completely at ease and communicate without difficulty with any child, no matter what language he speaks.
Without any fuss or banging of drums, rural Ireland has been undergoing a quiet revolution.
Left: Cork City Is beautifully situated at the head of the fine harbour of Cork, where the river Lee enters the sea after Its turbulent journey from its source In Gougane Barra. Cork Is an Important port and many pretty scenes, such as the one shown here, are to be seen along the river banks in the city.