One of my fondest childhood memories is sitting by the fire with my grandmothers while they tell stories from back then. One of them was very exotic – at least by our standards.
amo Sarah was born in Pittsburgh in 1911. When she was a little girl, her family went in the opposite direction to all other Irish immigrants, sailing east to Connemara against the tide of thousands moving to Boston and New York. She told us that she hid her shoes in stone walls on the way to school so the other kids who went barefoot wouldn’t scold her for being a fancy Yankee.
Another of her favorite stories was about the time she and some other young people decided to walk the 30 miles from An Cheatrú Rua to Maam Cross to see the Galway-Clifden train rush by. I’m not sure if she was wearing shoes that day, but her eyes lit up when she talked about hearing the train in the distance, finally seeing it on the horizon and watching it take off again, and never dared dreaming of that day she might even travel with one.
Trains were for the rich back then. If you’re a country Irishman, you might still feel the same way today. The disused Clifden Railway is the latest line to be touted as a greenway. The success of the Great Western Greenway, stretching from Achill to Westport in Co Mayo, means that a tourist bike must now be placed immediately on any stretch of disused track – forget a more holistic approach to transport.
Imagine planning laws being used to reclaim tracks while ensuring routes are altered to best suit modern purposes, including paths for cyclists and walkers alongside them.
Across the country we have cities crying out for a train they used to have. The western rail corridor is an obvious example. Some of these are operational, notably the reopened Limerick to Galway line.
Unfortunately, it looks like it’s doomed to fail. You can board the train in Limerick at 5:55am and arrive in Galway at 8:09am. The same journey can be completed in your car in half the time. The next train will take you to Galway just after 11am. Tell your boss you’ll be there in time for tea. This is being emulated across the country and used as a reason not to invest in railroads: “Sure, no one is going to use them.”
Meanwhile, parallel to the disused line to Tuam in North Galway, people sit in places immortalized by Saw Doctors lyrics. Thanks to the M18, the N17 no longer exists. However, due to a lack of investment in public transport in the area, people still wait a long time before turning left at Claregalway.
The highway is a necessary and welcome development, but it cannot be called progress while the railroad rusts. People sit dejectedly in cars as the headlines inform them of the recent gas price hike. The same people inevitably worry about which room will keep them warm that evening.
You’ll hear talks from climate experts and politicians living in Ranelagh or Rathgar as they struggle to get home with the only option left: the car. We are not slaves to the car. We’re not idiots either. I know people who have persuaded tourists to buy bottles of fresh Connemara air or gift-wrapped sod. We wouldn’t burn money in our cars if there was a better option.
A recent study by the Center for Transport Research, involving researchers from Trinity College Dublin, concluded that EV grants in Ireland benefited high-income people. Electric cars are luxury goods, most of which are concentrated in south Dublin. Here, people have access to well-paying jobs that they can reach by dart, luas or bus. The electric car can take them to school or even to Connemara or Westport for the weekend.
The West Coast is more than just a pretty place to visit. Thousands of people call it home, and they have lower incomes per capita than most who decide what’s good for us.
I dare say that rural exodus would be less of a problem if it were more viable to live and earn a living. I can hear the whataboutery already. “Trains are not viable and nobody is there to use them.” No, trains in their current format are not viable.
Why aren’t we open to change? Denmark has a similar population and yes, although the country is smaller and flatter, they do struggle with water and coastal erosion. Yet they have railroads, light rail, and bike lanes to beat the band. It is possible. We need to find an Irish accent instead of yelling about it not being possible.
Certain words strike terror into the hearts of country folk. CO2 taxes, fuel costs, lawn mowing bans, An Taisce, the Greens. Your intentions are good. Your news is terrifying.
All rural Ireland sees are objections while being hit for taxes with no alternatives to help us avoid them.
It is in everyone’s interest to work together to try to reverse the damage that climate change has already done. Why do we only support those who can best afford it? If it’s not economical to overhaul our rail network, why not help those who need a car find a more sustainable option?
This country berates the less fortunate. Soon they won’t be able to afford gas at all.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/commuters-in-the-west-being-left-behind-in-the-rush-to-halt-climate-change-41463747.html Commuters in the West are being left behind in the rush to halt climate change