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28/07/2017 / hbrowne4

Teresa’s West Clare, fifty years progressed By Teresa Fenton

In 1969, I had finished my life apprenticeship and graduated from the Kilrush nunnery. I hugged Co Clare farewell to clickety clack my way to University College Dublin to become a teacher. Because my dad was the wannabe teacher, not me, I opted for marriage and motherhood instead. This vocation caused the hands of the clock to fly around and the pages of the calendar to jump off the wall in a frenzied whirlwind of madness. During those special years, trips to Clare were few but I was in the fortunate position to take holidays at beautiful resorts across Europe, with maybe only a dozen trips to amazing places on our wonderful scenic little island. When the girls became women, and went to College I resolved to get to know my lovely county of origin, a lot better and to see it through new, clearer eyes, eyes not fogged up by the daily cares and demands of school, and chores at home and duties that come with life on a small farm.
I now had no agenda but to arrive in Clare a few times a year, alone, with the full freedom to prowl at will and delve into places, nooks and crannies that escaped my attention in those early years. I was hell bent on seeing my native county through the realistic and fresh vision of, maybe a tourist, maybe even the longing eyes of an immigrant returning from America. Starting in 2008 I looked with awe at the changes and enjoyed the success and the prosperity that I could see everywhere I
went. So much had changed, for the better, I felt so proud of us, a small island sitting quietly, in its understated way, in the Atlantic, between Great Britain and the bigger island of America. The trips were to be many but short as I was still seeing clients, in my private practice as a psychologist in Dublin. But now that I work part time, longer trips and treats were in store.
My first, and delightful eye opener was the sense of safety I felt on the roads. I felt, with a sigh of relief that a lot fewer lives will be lost because of dangerous bends and twists on the Ennis and Cooraclare roads being made straight and safe for Clare’s people. Thank you, Clare County Council, for that wisdom, foresight and hard work to achieve funding for, what is the most costly of enterprises- construction of any type. These great changes have not had any negative effect on the beauty of the landscape that they are part of.
Neither do the amazing new houses that have sprung up everywhere especially around the Kilrush Cooraclare area. I slow down to a snail’s pace (probably annoying other drivers) to admire the sheer elegance. Two storey mansions, that were, in olden times, only the properties of the ” well to do” of the area- the priest, doctor or teacher, are to be seen sitting proudly in their own expansive grounds. These, I am told, belong to locals but many were built by new blood, new ideas and new professions choosing to reside in county Clare. My Granny’s old house (the shop in bygone days) has been elevated to palatial status, with chic new decor, by Geraldine Joy Mac Mahon. A trip to Killimer, only a name to me as a child, is now a visit to busy hub where cars, vans and lorries queue up to board Clare’s wonderful Tarbert ferry the ” Shannon Breeze” Such progress. A trip that, in the olden days took a few hours to get to Kerry now takes twenty minutes, brings with it the gift of time saving, petrol fossil fuel economy and of course offering a spectacular trip on the beautiful Shannon river. Well done genius ferry company for your proactive attitude.
Proactive and progressive are definitely great words for Trump Towers of County Clare! When I heard of this new arrival I must admit that, on my next visit, I feared having to behold a horrible vista. With some dread, I drove past the big sign at the entrance and along the sandhill flanked boreen. I hoped that Shakespeare was right, that “present fears are less than horrible imaginings” He was! Instead of massive slices of glass, neon and steel, my delighted eyes beheld a most tasteful mix of local stone, wood and lush verdure. A general sense of softness was palpable, and American golfers, Clarefolk and sheep lived in harmony, even including Mexicans, without a wall or a solar panel in sight!
Posh, I was beginning to think, posh Tullabrack now has an equestrian centre! Such progress, I am immediately reminded of my own “equestrian” childhood, where the pony brought the turf from the bog and the kind O’Grady family gave me a lift to Mass in their horse and trap, saving me almost a three-mile trek. Posh Anita’ the lovely lady from South Africa is offering art classes and most beautiful works of art for sale – and all at what once was little ol’ Tullabrack school cross! Talking of the pony and the turf, another shock was in store for me, another positive one, Im glad to say. The bad old days of backbreaking, vertebra crunching work on the bog seem to be relegated to the yellowed pages of history. Mary Geraldine tells me, with great glee that nowadays a huge digger arrives, digs the precious stuff, puts it into a machine that cuts it and squeezes a lot of the water out. This leaves a product that needs only four or five weeks in the open windy bogscape for it to be bone dry and ready to supply many a long winters night with warmth, both physically and emotionally. What in the name of God, I ask, would our poor grannies and grandads think of this new-fangled miracle at all? Painless turf would simply be too much of a paradox for them to contemplate. “What? No more chapped hands, sunburned neck, cramping calves, aching back or painful sleepless nights?“ I hear them gasp in disbelief. Heaven, they would probably call it, and I agree wholeheartedly with them.
Lovely Cooraclare village, while retaining the fond memories I have of nights at the ” youth club” disco, Sunday Mass (another chance to spot the local gorgeous males) and the slow, dark river, has many new areas of progress too. Gone is the old hall behind Tom Macs shop but now on that site, it’s the turn of the children, who can play safely on swings and whirlies of all sorts. But for sure, our swing, a rope tied between two trees, or our fabulous see saw- a plank on a big fat log or mud cakes have their special place in my heart still too. The Considines of Gowerhass had a very elite version of these AND peas growing in their garden (that we were allowed eat from the stalks) and boasted a magic paddling stream which was all of one inch deep!
The old village hall idea has been replaced with a wonderful new community centre where you can enjoy everything from bingo to lavish parties. Best of all for me is the joy of sitting under the bridge beside ” the pigs elbow”(as our poet Frank O ‘Brien affectionately called it) of the river. I do not know who to thank for this little oasis of calm, the grassy space, the tree, the flowers and the seat where I can sit and have conversations with myself that I cannot have anywhere else. This little ritual has to be part of my county Clare retreat from now on as I wander down from Tubridy’s warm, welcoming and nurturing house of comfort, and just great grub.
As I sat over coffee with the lovely Mary Geraldine, gazing over the bashing, crashing waves of the Wild Atlantic and at the tasteful bronze of “Dickie” Harris playing racquetball, I notice that one aspect of “progress” that has not affected my beloved county, well not the West anyway! As I sit at the welcoming “Diamond Rocks” cafe in Kilkee I observe that “the screen disease“ has not hit this area, yet. Not one person, at any table, beside or behind us had their eyes fixed on a screen – I pad or I phone! Not even one! Hurray! They were having lunch in the way it WAS done fifty years ago, they were actually talking and laughing with each other. I am joining my hands and looking Heavenwards in gratitude for this lack of “progress” in the wild and gorgeous West. “The Wild Atlantic Way”
Of course, while chatting about my excitement at all of the wonderful developments I have spotted, with Mary Larner, Ann and Martin Tubridy, the Mac Mahons and many more, my list of positive changes began to grow and grow. Milk, that in bygone days was brought to the creamery by horse or tractor in small tanks is now collected direct from farmyards in tankers. Vanished have the grass cocks and trams of hay of my youth. Now machines drive into the meadows and when they have done their magic all that is left are many giant hay Swiss rolls!
Moneypoint power station opened in 1979 providing valuable employment, when later, Glynns flour mills closed with a loss of 200 jobs. Jobs, I hope are to be had in plenty now, with all of the new developments that I see all around me, including the new reclaiming and renovating of the wonderful Vandaleur walled gardens, just off Moore Street. Oh, the heady scent of success and progress!
But, dear reader, you could choose to ignore any or all of the above ramblings as the demented, nostalgic, rose tinted observations of a returned (Dublin) exile. Why? Because as I drove towards Ennis, on my return to Dublin, with the window open, a familiar rural scent jolted my olfactory neurons. The smell of sileage, – that pungent, earthy odour that, as children we all thought, utterly obnoxious, now seemed sweet, natural, familiar and lovely!
Maybe I only imagined all of the above long list of amazing progress? No, it is excitingly real, and thank goodness it looks set to continue.


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