Longford Leader columnist, Mattie Fox
Stephen Collins is a fine writer, a lovely fellow, and is published regularly in the Irish Times. I usually scan his articles, always interesting, but read last week’s thoroughly, where he gave the opinion that the threat to rural Ireland is a myth.
It is understandable that Stephen would write that, because he lives in Dublin, works there, so it is inevitable that he absorbs the group think that exists, and flourishes, in the city.
In his article he gives this example to back up his argument.
He says that “according to the Census carried out in 2016, there are now 1.75 million people living in rural areas, up from 1.5 million 20 years ago.”
What he failed to do, was compare that with the total population. Twenty years ago, in 1996, the population of Ireland was recorded as 3.638 million. Of which 1.5 million lived in rural areas.
By 2016, the most recent records on file, the population had grown to 4.773 million, of which rural population was 1.75 million.
Therefore, from an extra growth of over 1.2 million, 250,000 became rural dwellers.
That can cause people who live in the metropolis to immediately think that the population in rural areas is suddenly representing a big increase.
Maybe it is more to do with the fact that most rural dwellers find that the country is now far more relaxing to live in, than the city, and also, the cost of living in Dublin calls for a whole new way of thinking, and earning, and providing for family.
How many thousands upon thousands traverse to and from the cities each day to work, for example?
It is hardly possible anymore to judge the health of the rural areas by the number of people living there.
In any case, surely when families grow, it is a default mechanism that causes the population to rise incrementally since not all families elect to move to the town when they get married.
The few who manage to get planning permission in this modern day of planners wanting to condense the population as much as possible – in towns – are still attracted to living in the country – whether planners like it or not – than to live in the sometimes suffocating atmosphere of the urban area.
A surprising number of those who experience rural life, in all its positives and negatives, eventually elects to live in the rural area.
This is an even more prevalent choice now, than it was heretofore, as people are more educated in the real ways of the world now.
So more and more people are wanting to live in rural areas, than ever before. This is the case especially while they´re in the full flush of youth and up to middle age.
Yes, maybe it’s attractive to older people to favour a move to the small towns or its surrounds as they reach an elderly age. Yet, many have no interest at all in town living and if forced to move there, they’d die, literally.
This is an undeniable fact of life.
Country living is in our natural DNA.
I´ve noted several writers portraying a mindset of disagreeing with rural dwellers who complain about post offices, and gardai, being removed from rural areas. All these writers cite the census as the b-all of meritorious assessment.
Well, anyone who thinks that a slightly increased rural population, means that these areas are thriving, know very little about country life.
They might get a fright when they venture outside the pale.
Maybe if Stephen – in fairness if he lived in the country - might realise the true impact when there´s no post office nearby within several miles, no bank, no ATM, no public transport, emergency services located thirty miles away, the nearest hospital could be at least forty miles away.
Then he might think again about justifying saying that rural Ireland dying is a myth.
It is no myth. It is a very real fact.