The recent stag hunting debate highlighted an increasing divide in Irish society: Dublin vs. the rest.
Of course, this phenomenon really just represents the latest manifestation of the centuries-old distinction between the Pale and the rest of Ireland. It is also a reinvigoration of a debate that has raged ever since the Grimm brothers wrote the story “Town Mouse and Country Mouse.”
Underlying much of the recent commentary emanating from Dublin are snide assumptions that rural Ireland consists essentially of uneducated barbarians. The facts, however, suggest precisely the opposite: Take the HEA report “Who Went to College in 2004? A National Survey of New Entrants to Higher Education”
As in previous reports, counties along the western seaboard all enjoy the highest rates of admission to higher education with Sligo at 70.5%, followed by Galway (67.4%), Kerry (67%) and Mayo (66.8%). Dublin however, sits close to the bottom of the table with only 50.8% going to third level, falling to 11.7% in Ballyfermot.
Allied the fact that crime rates are far higher in Dublin than in rural Ireland, the unavoidable conclusion is that uneducated barbarians are in fact within the Pale, not outside of it.
Yet, you wouldn’t think it to read The Irish Times. Take for example a recent article: “The future is urban, where 'Up Mayo' politics won't do.”
Typical of the readers comments it provoked were: “Can't we just split the country in two. Have pales of civilisation, and leave all the farmers and their rural representatives to live as they choose. We could have two different time zones. One on Greenwich Meridian Time [sic.], and the other thirty years in the past.”
Zulu time, indeed. Others yearned to see politicians with “IQs higher than room temperature and followers who care more about their country than obtaining planning permission for a cow-shed.”
It is unfortunate to see such sneering hostility emerging. Yet there is no doubt that we are beginning to see two Irelands emerge with markedly contrasting values and lifestyles: Greater Dublin and the rest of Ireland.
Dr. Lorcan Sirr and Conor Skehan who jointly wrote the piece, both lecture in the college of engineering and the built environment at Dublin Institute of Technology. They say “The Rubicon was crossed in 1966 when the urban and rural populations of Ireland were exactly equal for the first time. Since then, Ireland’s urban area and its population have increased considerably and now almost 60 per cent of Ireland’s population live in urban areas across the State. Around Dublin, the urbanised area has increased by about 150 per cent from 1990 to 800sq km in 2006."
"Research by urban economist Brian Hughes, a member of the Government’s own Expert Group on Population Projections, shows that by around 2070, more than half of Ireland’s population will be living in the Greater Dublin Area….The future is people and the future is urban.”
This statement overlooks one simple fact: nobody in an idyll in Commemara dreams of one day moving to Cabra or Blanchardstown – yet thousands do the opposite every day, sitting blearily on a bus in noisy city traffic, dreaming of a cottage on the Aran islands.
I was one of them myself, until I bit the bullet and abandoned a career in a top Dublin law firm for a better life in West Cork. The reasons are obvious to many of the other urban refugees here, many of whom are Dubliners, born and bred: Amidst the rolling pastures of west Cork, ordinary people, teachers and farmers have spacious homes of the sort Dublin’s millionaires could only dream of, together with acres of gardens, something that is impossible in the city. Added to that are the miles of golden beaches, myriad sheltered harbours and woodlands, as well as vibrant and colorful towns, along with airports, hospitals and all the usual facilities close at hand.
For decades now, people have left England, Holland, Germany, and the U.S. to make a home in west Cork and other similar parts of rural Ireland. In addition to our more recent Eastern European and African immigrants, this makes west Cork a truly cosmopolitan place.
Ah, you may have fresh air says Town Mouse, but what about culture and theatre? For starters, there's Kinsale arts week this week, the Cork Midsummer's festival, the West Cork chamber music festival, the West Cork literary festival -- or head out to Cape Clear island for the storytelling festival.
It is a similar picture of thriving cultural and community life throughout all of rural Ireland, from Waterford to Donegal. And there is nothing wrong with the traditional Irish values of family, humility, friendliness, community either, nor the more human pace of life.
In their analysis of the inevitability of the Ireland’s shift form rural to urban, Sirr and Skeehan appear not to have heard of that internet thing, nor of the recent development of Ireland’s hard Infrastructure. I live in west Cork but, due to the internet, I work mostly in Britain and the United States. My next door neighbour works mostly in India and Russia.