Terrible weather, European Championship failure and ailing economy but 'You’ll Never Beat the Irish'

Illustration by Caty Bartholomew
We resolutely advance upon the height of the Irish summer, the Longest Day and the Shortest Night, often called Bonfire Night and, dammit, after a brilliant April and May, June has produced little but grey clouds and the heaviest rainfall in living memory thus far.

It was not so much that there have been downpours either. It was that the heavy, humid rainfall never stopped during both day and night.

Our local met station in Shannon created a national record by recording about four inches of rainfall in just 48 hours. That was more than fell in the whole of May.

It is raining solidly now as I write. The roses in Maisie's green garden are delighted. I am not.

But every cloud has a silver lining. There is a powerful factor of truth in that old cliché.

An exterior observer could be forgiven for believing that Ireland is in total recession on all fronts this 2012.  Even the gallant Green Army following our soccer side out to the European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine were shattered following the trouncing our lads received from Croatia and Spain.

They had to win the first game against Croatia, or at least draw, to have any hope of reaching the quarterfinals. They were hammered.

National morale is involved here but, in fairness to the Green Army, they took the beating in the merry spirit for which they are famed and are having a good holiday for themselves anyway. Their smiling faces and upraised pints on TV are one element of the silver lining I'm talking about.

There is no doubt at all but that the boom of the Celtic Tiger, with all its nearly Utopian facets on the economic front, also had worrying and even sinister side effects, especially in rural Ireland.
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Here the harsher times and hardships of the hungry preceding decades had created and strengthened the warm and caring community spirit for which the Irish have always been noted.

Nobody was ever really alone.  The classic icon of that spirit was the neighbor at the back door (always unlocked) borrowing a bowl of sugar or tea leaves for the pot.

And that always flowed both ways, that spirit, because you could be short of tea next week. And you knew where you could easily get it.

The man with the rare car was available to all neighbors in need from the forties onwards when cars were still scarce.  The man with the tractor likewise in the haymaking season or bringing home the turf. 

Little if any money ever changed hands.  During the run of the year the favors were always returned by neighbors who were also real friends.

The Celtic Tiger and his billions of EC development money during his short, flamboyant lifetime fundamentally altered the scene. At the peak of the madness there were two or three powerful new cars outside the majority of the tens of thousands of huge new houses throughout the countryside.

Couples with just one or two kids were living in mansions surrounded by acres of wooden decking and crowned by glittering conservatories in which, amazingly, nobody ever seemed to relax.

At Christmas about every home was surrounded by thousands of euros worth of fairy lights and leaping reindeer.  The Christmas trees, tellingly, were most often placed in those normally empty conservatories. They seemed to be for the neighbors to see rather than for the family themselves to enjoy.

Neighbors' visits became fewer and fewer as the community mutated into houses which were one-family republics, independent and wealthy and free.  Nobody, in those times, needed to borrow bowls of sugar or a drop of milk any more. Know what I mean?

And amidst all the economic and political and social clouds of doom and gloom sweeping in from Europe, the silver lining in rural Ireland is that the community spirit has responded by growing strong and warm and mutually protective again.

There is evidence of that on every side to warm the heart as unemployment mows into all those one-family independent republics, as the wallets shrink, as the home fleets of cars shrink likewise, as the postman's bag bulges with repossession threats from our still greedy and shameless bankers and financial institutions.

Again nobody is being left to suffer alone. Again the neighbors are at the back door for the bowl of sugar. Again there is great and growing support for parish charities and projects.

The people have closed ranks against all the exterior pressures, financial and otherwise.  That is heartwarming.

You could say that the spirit of the Green Army at home matches that of the resilient Green Army that stormed the Ukraine and Poland and did us proud.

It would be crazy to suggest that the awful recession was almost worthwhile.  I'm not that crazy, and there are real horrors and tragedies involved in it daily and weekly, especially emigration of our brightest and best, but there is a real silver lining being exposed too.

We will pass through this dark time. We always do.

Maybe the worst of it is already over and some kind of economic recovery has already begun. There is a little body of evidence suggesting this.

Maybe, and hopefully, there will not be so many dark clouds on all our horizons by the time the next bonfire night blazes on the crossroads and hills of hope.

One way or the other there will be some kind of silver lining.

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