A sense of place and time

This non-football piece was written for the ‘What’s Best for the West’ series that is currently running in the Mayo News. It appeared originally in this week’s edition of the paper and is available here.

This autumn, forty years will have passed since I left home having finished in Secondary school. I’ve never lived west of the Shannon since then and, in all likelihood, I will never do so again.

The adult life that I’ve lived and the places I’ve lived in – mainly Dublin but I also spent eight years abroad – reflect, in large part, the times I’ve lived through. The same is true of every generation but it’s also the case that each generation forms its own, very different viewpoint of the world and their place in it.

My generation – those of us now not far off sixty – straddles a few different eras in Ireland’s recent history and the influences that shaped our view of the west and the wider world stretch well back into the 20th century. The west was very different then and not always for the better either. 

Growing up in the Sixties and Seventies in that corner of East Mayo that was known as ‘the Black Triangle’ it became ever more apparent to me as adulthood beckoned that I would not live out my life in the place I’d been reared. The previous generation knew this was true for most of us too and they gave us the best gift they could by making sure we got a good education, a process that had been made far easier by the introduction in the then recent past of free Secondary education.

Where have the years all gone? Now I find myself approaching the end of a working life, at a time when a very different generation is coming of age in the west. The Class of 2020 has, I’m sure, a hugely altered view about the world compared to my generation. That’s as it should be, as it must be.

I’d like to think that from their vantage point – notwithstanding the unique issues Covid-19 has put on the table for everyone in 2020 – the place that has reared them doesn’t have the same air of defeat and resigned pessimism that it so often appeared to have back in our day.

I don’t, for example, recall our having any great sense of pride in the county when I was growing up. Mayo is a place of often astonishing beauty but this was only something I gradually awoke to myself well into adulthood. Now it’s commonplace to hear Mayo people speak so positively about the county and how lucky they feel to have been born there. This is a recent phenomenon and it’s a hugely welcome one. 

When I left home in 1980 so much of what connected me to the west was, for years, also largely left behind. I sense that for this generation those ties won’t be sundered quite so easily, given how much more connected the world now is, even if connectivity is, particularly for rural Ireland, still a work in progress.

Huge challenges exist for the west in the modern era, perhaps made even more intractable by the enormous turbulence the still-raging coronavirus is leaving in its wake, to say nothing of the existential threat posed by climate change.

I’ve no easy answers, I’m afraid, nor can I offer any quick-win solutions that might alter the economic fortunes of that part of the country that always seems to have to battle to get anything like its fair share of the nation’s resources, still less its focus. My sense is that this is something that the generation of westerners now coming of age will have to be prepared to fight for, as so many of those who went before them did for so long too.

32 thoughts on “A sense of place and time

  1. Disappointing that when we got the airport in knock, an industrial hub did not develop around it which would address employment in the Connacht region. Instead our young people continue to be sucked out of our community.
    Sporting clubs for the most part have amazingly survived and continue to provide healthy activities for those left behind. So many small towns and villages have invested in sporting facilities and it’s great to see it.
    Impossible to look into any crystal ball at the moment and predict the economic future for employment starved west.

  2. I echo your sentiments Willie Joe.
    I grew up in an isolated house in an isolated village. Yearning to escape the hard life farming life I sought excitement in the larger cities. I used to mock the Irish Americans and their fake brogues. Now I live in Australia and am one of them. On the outside looking back. I keep in contact, listen to the podcasts, news and of course the quest for Sam.
    I love Mayo, the people the place but I’ll probably never live there again. It’ll always be part of my life but I’ve moved too far away now.

  3. When I look at a small town like Westport and what can be achieved when everyone is pulling in the same direction. Westport should be our blue print On how to do things right

  4. Willie Joe, I understand where you are coming from but like myself in order to try and achieve we need to move away from Mayo, for College and our chosen work pathways.
    This is the same for young people today, they prefer and don’t have the choice but to move ”away” from home to the brighter lights of Dublin and Galway.
    Westport has the advantage of being the tourist hub in Mayo over all other towns.
    I say one thing much cheaper to live in Mayo than Dublin.
    Hard for alot of people to get any of the better jobs in Mayo.

  5. There will probably always be people leaving the county for work etc out of choice or necessity just like alot of west coast counties but there are far more opportunities within the county now than in the 80s. We have several multinationals in the county creating employment, a growing tourism industry and finally some infrastructural investment such as the N5 road project. The planned Ballaghaderreen to Strokstown upgrade will further benefit the county by cutting commuting times.
    Covid has temporarily made a balls of things but it has resulted in fast tracking remote working, there are already signs of people planning on relocating back to the county because of the options available to work at home, I personally know a few who are moving back to take advantage of the lower cost on living here.
    Westport rightly is an example of what can be done if a town works together, but other towns seem to be resigned to thinking they can’t compete with Westport. Plenty of other towns in the county particularly West Mayo have just as much if not more natural attractions to offer and there is no reason with hard work they can’t make something happen, it’s actually bullshit saying no one can compete with Westport. Mayo or any other county is not going to compete economically with the East coast, that’s just a fact resulting in decades upon decades of economic inequality by every government since the foundation of the state, but Mayo is in a far better place than it was in the boom and gloom of the 80s

  6. Very good taught provoking piece Willie Joe…I don’t think that it’s too far feched to imagine that there is a book in you somewhere…You touch on a bigger subject that badly needs more exploration and debate….Sad news today as regards the , but nessary restrictions on Counties, Kildare, Laois and Offaly following recent increases and cluster’s of Covid 19 in those counties in particular..I wish them well, hopefully those restrictions will be lifted in two weeks time, if everyone does what they should, that’s what will happen…. But it’s a lesson to everyone else and our interactions in society…We need to do everything possible to eliminate this Virus from our mist… including face coverings (very disappointing only about half of the people out shopping in Mayo are doing this) hand washing, social distancing… and it still sadly is the case that, Ireland is the odd man out in the EU allowing flights from the US, ..The State’s of Florida,Texas and California alone have reported more than half a million new infections in the last month alone, and over 20K death’s from Covid…We are still a small, sparcly populated Island, we should be doing allot better, hopefully this difficult lesson’s for Kildare, Laois and Offaly (and I am mindful of the fact that so many people in those Counties, have made the nessary sacrifices and done their level best) but sadly not everyone has done everything correctly, or this would not happen.

  7. I read that piece In the Mayo news on Tuesday it’s a paper I always enjoy reading not only for sport but for all things Mayo but what struck me reading it Willie Joe is the bottom of the piece said you are an economist in Dublin so how on earth do you get time to run this blog especially the last few years when we have been contesting finals?

  8. I was in Mayo last week Leantimes, I visited Tesco on a few occasions, there was over 90 % compliance with people wearing masks, staff and Shoppers.

  9. Mask wearing and maintaining social distance is a disaster in Westport area. Crisis waiting to happen. Hoping Tomorrow’s match goes ahead with full observance of the restrictions. Time to get our act together imo.

  10. I relate totally with your post WJ., beautifully put. Left Achill as a 17 year old in the 70s, went to London, not much other choice. Came back in the 80s , ended up in Galway and am still here. Worked at a lot of crap jobs and ended up, by accident, in Digital which set Galway up as the cosmopolitan city that it is now . Thanks to this stroke of luck I’m now making documentaries which I love. I realise how lucky I am and I feel for all the Mayo people who are far away from their home place. Thanks for this brilliant podcast.

  11. @Mayo 88, People can observe for themselves what the compliance rate is…90% Complaince has not been my experience.. From the 10th of August masks/face coverings are been made mandatory in public transport and in shop’s… Not alone does everyone need to comply with the directive, it needs to be done properly…We haven’t even been getting 90% Complaince with the proper wearing of Mask’s in the Dáil, you can rest assured that the complaince with claiming maximum expences is much higher than 90%.

  12. I think Aidan OShea will be at full forward this year. Diarmuid O’Connor looks best at midfield this year.
    We could tog 8-15 something like:
    8. Matthew Ruane
    9. Diarmuid O’Connor
    10. Kevin McLoughlin
    11. Ryan ODonoghue
    12. Fionn McDonagh
    13. Jason Doherty
    14. Aidan OShea
    15. Cillian O’Connor
    Leaves you an 8-15 covering bench of
    – Tom Parsons
    – Seamus OShea
    – Fergal Boland
    – Jordan Flynn
    – Eoghan McLoughlin
    – James Carr
    – Tommy Conroy
    – Paul Towey
    I’d be looking to use the pace on that bench as a weapon.
    With all draw games going to extra time this year it’s great to have a lot of depth on the bench.

  13. Thanks JP for returning to football. Apologies but I find happiness equated with economic efficiency to be very depressing to an unecomical success story like myself.

    No great gra for Westport and it is not the scenic view I refer too. No doubt we all grew up in every part of the world to be an economic success.

    I am happiest In Dublin but still I long for a place to call home. Irrational in some ways as I made a mess of my life in Castlebar. Paradoxically it has driven me to find another type of life which has its roots in Castlebar and Westort to some extent. One journey I guess, recovering my youth. Still hanging on to the Green and Red.

    Some people get on ‘Well’ abroad especially if successful! Then you can go Home. It must be very hard for many. I may still return to Mayo. Many people find it a nice place to retire apart from the weather. They have a romantic outlook.

  14. Towns needed vibrant young lives to keep them alive and not simply be nice places to retire to.
    Young people should have the option of working in small towns, having an active social life and contributing to their communities.
    Sporting clubs have done a lot for those who have stayed at home. Modern gym and fitness facilities are also helping to move away from pub culture.
    Covid19 could bring about changes to the landscape and not all bad…

  15. Get your point Ontheditch. It is interesting what you say about Gyms etc as help towards moving away from pub culture. I was an unnsuccessful part of the pub culture. The drinking culture in Ireland was a disaster I think. Not that there is anything wrong with a few pints after a game. More power to them.

    The whole Country seems to be on a fitness regime now and the women are cat altogether and it seems to be an opportunity to dress and show your tattoos.

    Do you ever sense that it reflects an inward emptiness? They are all mouth? Maybe that is unfair.
    Sorry I am getting a bit lost here.

    Looking forward to the Galway game and hope we have an explosion of talent. Mayo are 18/ 1 for All Ireland.

  16. @Ondtheditch.. Post Covid will be a different place…. Some will definitely be able to work from home where previously they needed to work in offices in the big Cities, and.might even be able to do a conciderable amount of their third level study at home…This while sensible might not suit big player’s in society who own all the expensive property in big cities… It’s a very small elite who make the Macro decisions in Ireland…Big Billionaire’s business has been coming first for a long time now..In theory, in a democracy national politicans should put the greater good first…Do they?

  17. Very entertaining Westport v Charlestown. Less chance of swelled heads after that.
    Tom Parsons seemed very good and Lee Keegan on good form too. Draw.

  18. @ciaran. Honest comments earlier. Draw a fair result this evening imo. In fairness Westport players knew they were in for a tough match and did not take Charlestown for granted. Lots of players showed brilliance at times but Towey was always a threat. Hel surely go from strength to strength. Tv coverage was good some decent interviews. Hopefully they can invest in a few more cameras

  19. Connacht Gold Mayo SFC

    Group 1

    Ballaghaderreen 2-08 Garrymore 0-13

    Group 2

    Aghamore 0-18 Davitts 0-12

    Ballintubber 3-19 Bohola Moy Davitts 1-07

    Group 4

    Westport 2-10 Charlestown 2-10

    Egan Jewellers Mayo IFC

    Group 1

    Louisburgh 0-15 Kiltimagh 0-15

    Bonniconlon 0-12 Swinford 0-09

    Group 2

    Mayo Gaels 1-13 Castlebar Mitchels 0-11

    Group 4

    Ballinrobe 2-10 Ballyhaunis 2-07

    TF Royal Theatre Mayo JFC

    Group 1

    Eastern Gaels 2-13 Kilmovee Shamrocks 1-12

    Ardagh 2-13 Moygownagh 0-10

    Group 2

    Killala 1-13 Ballycroy 1-11

  20. Dublin might be much better economically than the west, but I know I would much rather bring up a young family in Mayo than in Dublin.I would just hate the rat race up there,the long commutes stuck in traffic, the massive childcare costs and property prices, would probably have to pay school fees for a decent school up there. I would only consider living there at the start of a career to get experience up until marriage maybe.

  21. That is a hugely relevant point. The quality of life. Hopefully we will see more job opportunities in the west. There will be changes after covid19, impossible to predict what the impact of this virus will be.

  22. Deferred coverage of Breaffy v Castlebar on TG4 @4.15pm

    Live coverage on Midwest Radio @ 2.30pm.

    Courtesy of Castlebar Mitchell’s Twitter. Mayogaa.

  23. Just listened back to billy joe’s interview with Gavin Duffy. Just to saw I was glued to it from the off. Very motivated guy and very interesting to listen to. No nonsense individual. One of the best podcasts in recent memory. Thanks lads

  24. Currently watching Breaffy v Castlebar match on TG4, with the Reek in the background.
    For me personally this is what makes the Westport area that bit special, the view of the Reek on approaching the town and the view from the Reek when climbing. Most definitely a Spiritual place.

  25. Great contest between Breaffy & Mitchells. For me the O’Shea brothers & Danny Kirby pick of the outfield players. Both keepers excellent too. Loads left in Seamie. A rock at no.6 today.

  26. Although on the losing side, Danny Kirby probably the outstanding player on view… Great win for Breaffy, first time ever to defeat Mitchell’s in the championship…3 O’Shea’s hugely influential..

  27. Simple, Breaffy County players stepped up when needed in the 2nd half but not so for Castlebar, great scores from Robbie Hennelly with his final one being an absolute monster.

  28. Watched Breaffy/ Castelbar game on TV , Seamie O Shea still has plenty to offer , Aiden still very strong and took a few shoots today, Kirby very good early on but faded in second half when most needed, Ruane didn’t look like a County midfielder, both goalkeepers very good, bit why do the O sheas take free kicks both look very awkward taking them.

  29. A good piece there WJ
    I lived abroad for 6 or 7 years in the mid eighties. Not much in the line of work to be got in those days in Mayo.
    I often thought of home. Curry chips. I could taste them almost but couldn’t find them anywhere. I often thought of some of the others still at home leaning against the wall on a Sunday afternoon watching a football match and having the banter while been stuck half way across the world.

    I’ve always had the opinion that due to the absence of maybe ” big factories ” and ” an abundance of jobs “, that this is exactly what hardened up the Mayo people.

    Places that have plenty of well paid jobs are usually the hardest hit in recessionary times. We in Mayo never had to worry about losing 10’s of thousands of jobs in a downturn because we were never spoiled with them in the 1st instance. In a way we have had to survive on the bare minimum for so long. Don’t get me wrong. There are some great employers in the County but maybe not enough of them.

    Hopefully, if there is any positive thing that might come from present circumstances its the emphasis on getting people to work from home. Wouldn’t that level the playing field in our advantage if industry moves to working from home. That could lead to thousands of Mayo people been able to work for any company worldwide from within their own county.

    Its true, especially in the last century Mayo was never going to be able to keep its younger generations employed. We were never spoiled for choice when it came to work and jobs. In some ways it hardened us. We never had to cry when the ice cream was taken away like from other parts of the country because we were never given the ice cream in the 1st place.

  30. Willie Joe, that’s a very poignant piece, and one that I can certainly relate to, as I knew myself when in my early teens that it was very unlikely that would have the opportunity to be have work and live in the village in which I grew up.
    Truth be told, that prospect didn’t upset me too much at the time, but I would certainly have liked to have had the opportunity at the very least.
    However I think there is great potential now for younger folk to stay and to get jobs, and my own view is that there are a number of things that need to be concentrated on.

    The National Broadband strategy. If Covid has done anything it has shown that working remotely can be done to great effect and to this end, good connectivity is needed. I’m not well up on the ins and outs of what makes a good, future proof network however the sooner that decent broadband is available to the further reaches of the country, then the better that existing businesses there can thrive and new ones can be created.

    Shop local and buy local as much as possible. I’m well aware that this won’t suit all or be feasible for a few but you’re better off buying as much as you can of local produce and from local suppliers. If beer is your thing (it’s mine anyway) then instead of getting that 8 pack of Guinness or Heineken pick up 3 or 4 bottles of your favourite tipple from Mescan near Westport or Reel Deel brewing in Crossmolina. Sure if you don’t try them you’ll never know if you like them or not, but at least you’ll be putting money into pockets of lads who live in the county, as opposed to shareholders from abroad.

    Staycations: you can always holiday in one of the many beautiful parts of the county. I’ve endeavored to do this as much as I can the last few years and it might be easier for me to convince my mrs that leaving Dublin to holiday in Mayo is the right thing to do. Oddly enough my Parents and I used to holiday in Dugort most years, when Slievemore was the view from our home house – unless there was heavy rain and you could not see it. We are spoilt for good, clean beaches in Mayo and Staycations are the way forward.

    Promote Promote Promote – tell people about these things and tell them what you’ve discovered, done, enjoyed etc. The more that hear about it the more that know. All the better if the person is from outside of the County.

    The Road Network – being from the very north westerly part of the County I probably have more to moan about than many on this point, but we won’t get anywhere if we can’t get there. Travelling the R312 road from Bellacorick to Castlebar is nearly a death sentence for anyone from Erris in need of hospital care in Castlebar. There is some spectacular scenery but as a wise woman from Snugboro once told me, “you can’t eat your view”. I know there is a vast amount of money being spent on the road between Castlebar and Westport and with the challenges the economy is about to face the money that will be spent, a good bit of it locally, can only help. By the same token – I saw plenty of moaning from certain quarters in our own county at the time and rather than seeing the positives on this particular improvement.

    There’s a whole lot more that’s possible and that people themselves can do to help and to see to it that more is done to improve the fortunes of the county, on the field and off it too.

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