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Villages under threat: Can we shout stop?



When we first holidayed in France, about eighteen years ago, we were stunned by the sight of so many abandoned villages.


  Many towns and villages in rural France are full of life; but hundreds more aren’t.

  When villages wilt in France, they do it pretty starkly. It is not unusual to drive into such French villages and see almost no sign of life. Many of the buildings are dreary and tired looking, as are the pavements and walls. There is a beauty and stillness about these places, but also a sadness, a mystery.

  It’s happening for a variety of reasons. There’s significant depopulation because of the age profile of the residents, lack of jobs, cultural changes. A factor, no doubt, is the reality that in a large country, many of these villages are a long way from the nearest big town. Young people are abandoning such villages. Most young people have no interest in farming. Many older people have moved to bigger towns, including to holiday homes. Businesses which are no longer considered relevant have closed their doors and shrunk into the shadows of their past. 

  This ‘village dying’ is not unique to France but it’s very striking in France. Small farms are disappearing. Once-vibrant houses are emptying. The lure of the city is all-powerful. The young are leaving and the old are left with memories.

  France is beautiful, and these dying or dead villages have a wistful charm, but ultimately it is a sad, indeed heart-wrenching sight.

  Could it happen here? Has the process started? Such a bleak landscape – actual dead villages – is a long way off, but it may happen if current trends continue. 

  Already, some of our tiniest villages have had the lethal injection applied. Some villages with two or three landmark buildings in them only needed a closure or two to seal their fate. Thankfully, even most of our very small villages still have a beating heart. But they are under threat.

  Bigger villages and small towns will also be under threat in the coming years if things don’t change. Sometimes when there’s a birth, there’s also a death. Thus, a new multinational arrives in Roscommon, and it coincides with post office closures. The post offices are going the same way as the shops, pubs, banks, Garda Stations, bus routes, dental services, small farms and much more.

  Much of this may be unavoidable, and much of the change may be manageable. And of course nothing stays the same forever. But not everyone can live in cities. Rural Ireland ought to have a great future, cultural/societal and other changes notwithstanding. But to have that future, infrastructure needs to be enhanced, not stripped. And people need more proactive input and less lip service from politicians.

  Rural communities themselves, they won’t be found wanting. We’re still a long way from the silent, abandoned French villages. But the stillness will descend in decades to come if we don’t continue to make enough noise now.


Can anyone stop this man?


I had a bit of a go at ‘The Special One’ on Twitter last weekend. Maybe I was a bit unfair this time. But he’s really been getting on my nerves lately, with his silly, tedious outbursts…

  The so-called ‘Special One’ is of course José Mourinho, the manager (for now at least) of Manchester United. If neutrals like me find his behaviour boring/annoying/childish, I can’t imagine what it’s like for Manchester United fans! I am assuming that most of them are well and truly fed up with ‘Sideshow José’.

  Still, he may have had a point at the weekend. José hit back at Manchester City before last weekend’s games. A master of deflection, he himself raised the issue of a new documentary film which celebrates the shifting in the balance of power in Manchester, where City are currently top dogs. It seems the film, while essentially about City’s rise under Pep Guardiola, features some fun-poking at the expense of United and Mourinho.

  ‘The Special One’ moaned about all of this to the long-suffering media. The Mourinho soundbyte that stood out? “If you are a rich club you can buy all the top players but you cannot buy class”. Nice one José, in fairness!

  From what I’ve read since the weekend, it does seem that City took some relish in poking fun at Mourinho in the film. So his frustration is understandable. That doesn’t take from the fact that his conduct of late has been childish, self-centred and arguably detrimental to Manchester United.

  On Saturday, where it matters, the fortunes of City and United were revealing. Manchester City 6 Huddersfield 1. Brighton 3 Manchester United 1. Pep doesn’t have to play the Deflection Game.

  The fans live for the glory on the field, not for the soundbytes in the studio. It will be a surprise if the marriage of The Special One and the second best team in Manchester doesn’t end in tears and recriminations – maybe even before Christmas!



Warning: It’s an alternative TV Guide…


Introducing an occasional series, PH provides a wry ‘preview’ of some of this weekend’s tv highlights…


Eastenders (Thursday & Friday: RTE 1, 7.30 pm; BBC 1, 8 pm)


Probably episode 25,000 (or is it 25 million?) of the great BBC soap. Most men say they’ve never willingly watched it – proof that fake news existed before Trump. It’s the East End of London, where bizarrely, there’s only one pub. Only one café too, I think (I really don’t watch it!). How can this be? Luckily, all of the main characters frequent the pub and café…and you can enjoy their strange tendency to discuss the most personal issues in either location. Also, look out for the tense exchanges at the market, where residents of Albert Square – instead of just saying hello or buying bananas – confront one another and bicker, before one of them storms off and the other person stares into space.

Daniel and Majella’s B&B Road Trip (Thursday: RTE 1, 8.30 pm)


Another chance to see Daniel O’Donnell and his mortified wife book into rural B&Bs, host wild parties and throw televisions out the window before storming off and leaving the bill unpaid. Actually that was the original idea, but Daniel and Majella rejected it. Instead, it’s a more sedate concept, whereby our hero and heroine call to charming B&Bs, causing no havoc, other than heart palpitations for swooning hostesses. Each show features Daniel singing and dancing in ‘the local’, but don’t let that put you off. In fact, joking aside, Daniel and Majella are good sports, the hosts are salt of the earth (and it’s nice to see how much it means to them). All good fun – and no televisions were hurt in the making of this ‘Could only happen in Ireland’ series (bar maybe one or two belonging to viewers).

Francis Brennan’s Grand Tour (South Africa) (Sunday: RTE 1, 8.30 pm)


Comedy/thriller/horror in which a mad Irishman (played by a hyper Francis) kidnaps unsuspecting people from the Midlands and keeps them captive on a bus, only releasing them for short breaks, and entirely at his own whim. Deceptively cheerful yet ruthless, ‘Francis’ forces his victims to walk behind him, allowing them to speak only when he raises a small flag in the air. The ‘South Africa’ episode is particularly compelling. Initially the locals fear for their lives, before Frances shows a more relaxed side, saying ‘Afraid of me? Go away out of that!” before continuing on his merry way, setting new land speed records in the process. Unmissable (not).


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