HE hardest thing to do outside my local parish church on Sunday morning is to find parking space. Row after row of shining cars now stand where a few years ago donkeys and horses kicked impatiently at flies and nibbled at the hushes which acted as hitching posts.
The bushes are gone. The road up to the chapel is flanked on either side by walls of clean concrete, and at the bottom of the hill a little grotto to Our Lady has been carved out of the rock by local voluntary manpower.
On the altar a young priest pours new ideas into his people; urging them to better themselves materially and spiritually by using the modern means at their disposal. As well as organising the local agricultural show and development committee, he also trains the local dramatic groups which stage award-winning plays all over the country and put on a now famous annual drama festival.
It is an unusual parish in many ways. The people speak English and Irish and so are considered by their more "sophisticated" neighbours as a part of that which is no more, and so to he preserved. cultivated and patronised. At the same time they are criticised for their seeming slowness and even unwillingness to move with the times.
How true is this?
When I was a young boy, which is not so long ago. i used to fish a lot with an old man in a sail-boat. I whistled a tune once, when we were out at sea, and he told me to "shut up whistling, boy, you'll bring the wind". That same man would not go fishing if he saw a redheaded woman, or a fox, on his way to the boat.
The sailing boats have been replaced by high-powered trawlers, equipped with radar and radio.
These are operated by young men trained as skippers in Dublin. They fish in all weathers, and in all waters. In a good week a crew of five can make £20-130 each; in a bad week they may make nothing. They keep up-todate with the latest .methods of preserving fish; and they use modern gear.
At night during the herring season the old men walk up to the cliffs to see the floating city of Russian. Dutch, French, German, and Irish trawlers fishing off the shore: they watch in silence. 'smoking their short pipes, and spitting into the dark. Ten years ago most of the farmers at home reaped their crops by hand. Cutting, binding. and stacking was a job in which the whole village participated. a long job, subject to changing weather.
This work is done by machinery now. Tractors tear up the black earth, heavy with seaweed and cow-dung and enriched with modern fertilisers. Reapers and binders work through the night to beat the weather forecast.
The men can spend more time on crops, like strawberries and onions. which need more attention but which bring in the money. They also spend more time with their families and are more critical of what the children learn at school. They see beyond the national and secondary schools to the universities.
Paraffin lamps and buckets half-filled with sand have given way to electricity and flushlavatories. The big open fire is still there. a refuge where the old people talk about the time of the "black potatoes", but now the cooking is done on gas or electric cookers. Seagulls sit on the television aerials which have gone up in the past two years, and the youngsters who are not old enough to go dancing sit with their ears glued to Radio Luxemburg.
The Irish .people are worldfamous for their love of danc ing, and the Irish teenagers today are as fanatical as their British counterparts. They are prepared to travel 40 miles to twist, shake, or hitch-hike their way around a dance floor. Queues for the show-bands are longer almost than for the "All Ireland", and the show-hands themselves are quickly gaining international recognition. "Beatlemania" is wide-spread, and when the Beatles came to Dublin there were riots just as there were any place else.
Most of the old customs in the village have, as the people say, gone out with the tide. 1916 and all that has slipped into its proper pigeon-hole of history. Thoughts and ideas are beamed on the future.
Young people are quicker to exchange ideas with their elders and they are now in closer contact with the priests. They offer criticism where they think it is needed. not the bitter biased criticism so common in bygone years, but constructive criticism based on knowledge of the situation as it is, and based too on their concept of Ireland as it will he.
Perhaps among these young people there is evidence of the impatience of youth. Progress, to many, marches on dragging feet. As stories come in from London, Liverpool, Manchester and Dublin. telling of good times and easy money, many a young man packs his bags and the people in the village are left silent at the loss.
The local girls too become restless and leave for the brighter lights and the surer prospect of a husband. They have seen men and women in the parish "going steady" since the national school, and never giving a thought to marriage.
But the Irish have always been travellers. That is why you will find them everywhere from the Outback of Australia to a police beat in New York.
The main thing is, even in my small parish, that they no longer have to leave home in order to feel that they are "with it".
Modern Ireland is no longer the island of saints and scholars -and thepigs have most certainly left the parlour.