By John Flaherty Abbeydomey 1996
It is true to say that the half-century up to now brought about more far reaching changes in rural Ireland than any previous 50 years. All aspects of life, social, cultural, religious and agricultural have been affected, some for better, more for worse. The immediate post-war era was certainly one of depriva tion. Conditions gradually improved over the following decades, leading to all the luxuries and freedoms of today.
The arrival of rural electrification in the early fifties had a major impact on the quality of life. Domestic and other appliance followed, which removed the drudgery from many activities.
It was regarded as a near miracle when, at nightfall, one pressed a button on the wall and the whole room lit up with a brightness never seen before during night hours. It is hard to appreciate the benefit of electric light unless one lived through the period of the candle and the oil lamp.
After the light, some items like electric kettles and cookers. There is now available an electric device to perform practically every domestic chore. The skill and dedication of women in pre-electric days was never really appreciated. The way they cooked meals and baked bread with very basic utensils on open fires had to be admired. Their workload was much greater on the days of the threshing of the corn and the digging of potatoes, when "Meitheals" had to be catered for. A"Meitheal" was a large group of workers organised on a particular day to do a particular job quickly. That system was known as "Comharing", which meant that neighbours came together in numbers to assist each other.
With electricity came imported entertainment from the radio and later television, and the modern record-player replaced the old gramaphone. Prior to that there was at least one "Rambling House" in each townland, where people assembled at night to talk, exchange views, and play cards. Sometimes dances were held in the big kitchens of those houses on the night of the threshing, and on other important occasions such as the night of the Stations. It is remarkable that the arrival of electricity must be associated with the decline of the Rambling House. It appears that tastes changed and the radio and T.V. replaced conversation in most houses. There was a number of Rambling Houses in the Kilflynn area, all of which ceased to function in the early fifties. But against all the odds, forty years on, Sonny Egan of Garrynagore has revived the Rambling House concept in his house on each Tuesday night during the winter months. Sonny's must be unique in the Ireland of today, and is different from that of old, so far as he has much bigger crowds who come from far and wide and the emphasis is more on music and dancing.
Another place of local entertainment which declined within the last fifty years is the village dance-hall. That was due mostly to the increase in motor transport and the demand for more luxurious ball-rooms with bars attached. That demand hasbeen met in the towns, usually by the bigger hotels.
One of the most famous of the village halls was the Central, which stood on a site west of Brennan's Funeral Home. It thrived in the late forties and early fifties and was demolished many years ago. Some of the other halls functioned into the sixties and seventies. Nearer the village of Kilflynn stands the old Sinn Fein Hall which was built in 1918 and served as a clubhouse and later was used for dancing and meetings etc. It has gone out of use totally since the establishment of St. Columbas Centre in the village.
There is no doubt that there has been a decline in religious observance over the past half-century. Attendance at church services has fallen, as has the number of vocations. It is hard to point a finger at one cause, but perhaps the modern liberal and so- called pluralist society has had some impact. People have generally become more materialistic over the years.
Perhaps the greatest changes of all have occurred in farming. Every aspect has changed utterly in fifty years. There is practically no tillage in this area. Gone are the fields of corn and gardens of crops, such as potatoes, turnips and mangolds. All required intensive manual labour, both at sowing and harvesting stages. Consequently there was rarely an idle moment on farms in those days. Crowds of men and sometimes women were to be seen in the fields and gardens at various times between early spring and late autumn. By contrast almost all fields today are occupied by cattle, without a horse or a donkey to be seen, and only an odd incursion by mechanised farm machinery.
Hay is no longer saved in large quantities and silage is the main feed for cattle. Even on very large farms the silage can be secured in one day bymodern machinery provided by a contractor. The "Comhar" system mentioned earlier has gone out of use. In the period under review Ireland has become more industrialised. Employment once provided on the land is now available in factories and various commercial enterprises in towns-hence the movement of people from the rural areas.
Dairying is now the main farming enterprise. Cow herds have become bigger and fewer. It appears that the owners of smaller herds have simply gone out of business, with their land either bought outright or rented by the bigger land owners. In the old days cows were housed in cosy stalls. They are now left in cubicle houses surrounded by hard bleak concrete yards, from which they get no relief until spring. Where there was about 200 suppliers of milk in the Kilflynn area, the number now has reduced drastically. When once all suppliers had to deliver their milk to the local creamery, the village was a hive of activity almost every morning of the year. Alas, the creamery building is no more, and suppliers bring their milk to a lorry at the creamery site. The milk is collected at home for the others.
The modern milking parlour, with its glass bowls, pipes, hoses, electric motors, and massive refrigerated tanks is a far cry from the three legged stool and galvanised bucket as a method of milking cows. This enormous change could not have happened without electricity and it provided a very welcome relief to those concerned. Milking cows manually, like many other farm tasks was very hard work, particularly in warm weather.
The foregoing are just a few examples of the grand march of time. Time, that great explorer and that great restorer.