Joe Barry: Do you call that a crisis? I lived the 70’s and 80’s – we never had it so good

If, like me, you lived through the oil crisis and rampant inflation of the 1970s and 1980s, you may be surprised at the fear and negativity that is so widespread right now.

Although many farms and other businesses were failing back then, most of us survived and we came out a little wiser and ready to take advantage of the recovery that began around 1994.

Mortgage rates at 14 percent were bad enough, but with overdraft rates at a crippling 22 percent, it was a real struggle to stay afloat.

Farmland prices collapsed in the late 1970s and were accompanied by a deep recession that lasted until the mid-1990s.

The current crisis, if that’s the right word, with inflation and fuel shortages, is simply history repeating itself.

I hate to use the word crisis because most people in Ireland enjoy a lifestyle that is better than anything their parents and grandparents could have dreamed of.

When people complain about having to turn down the heat in their homes, I remember the relative frugality of the past.

But then it all depends on your state of mind. What our whining populist politicians are now calling frugality is an absolute luxury for most of the world’s population.

The endless horror stories we hear about housing, welfare, pensions and the cost of fuel ignore the fact that the vast majority of us can afford a standard of living that rivals that of the world’s wealthiest countries.

For some Irish people, being poor doesn’t mean having a huge widescreen TV or a new car; for people in poorer countries, it means they cannot feed their families or receive basic medical care.

In my youth, when we were severely reprimanded for every form of waste; We’ve learned to appreciate the important things in life and the wisdom to only buy something if you have the money.

When our old agricultural chain harrow finally fell apart, we built a new one by cutting down a large thorn bush and towing it behind the tractor. It worked perfectly and cost nothing.

When a tree falls in a storm, most farmers cut it down to heat the house. If there was a surplus, the neighbors were only too grateful to share the bounty.

A few decades later we reached a stage where no one could bother to cut down wood and bring the logs home. I’m sure this idiocy will change as fuel costs increase, but for a few years most people preferred to avoid the labor involved and just buy oil, gas and electricity instead.

Despite the bleak headlines, our economy is still doing well. There is no forced emigration.

Everyone is busy and busy except, of course, for the few who just don’t want to work. There will always be some that wouldn’t work with batteries.

Hotels, shops, restaurants, transport companies and construction companies are desperately looking for staff. Try to find an electrician, plumber or carpenter right now. A friend recently received an offer for some presses for his kitchen and was told he would have to wait until March at the earliest.

There are many examples of a successful economy and while some sectors are indeed struggling to cope with rising energy costs, many others are struggling to supply the rising orders for their goods.

I would point out that the people complaining about poverty and deprivation today simply have no idea what life was like in Ireland.

Sacks of flour were reused to make underwear and other clothing items. Socks were darned and shirt collars were turned down. My father told me that people were actually dying of starvation in Dublin in the early 20th century.


Inmates of the Bailieborough Union workhouse, Co Cavan, are served food – probably porridge – in a feeding trough, circa 1895

Compare that to our current unemployment benefits, sick pay, state pensions, great healthcare, education for all, and world-class care for the elderly.

We are way ahead of Great Britain or the USA.

Civil war, poverty, hunger, emigration, really miserable housing, bad wages and, in general, subsistence levels are a thing of the past.

I know what I’m talking about when I remember the women in black shawls working the fields in the West while the men toiled in the potato fields of Scotland or on the building sites of England.

It was tough back then and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The nostalgia associated with the old thatched cottages was just a fantasy.

Compared to modern homes, many were cold, damp, unsanitary, and stank of tuberculosis and other diseases.

We should pray that these particular aspects of our history will not repeat themselves.

Joe Barry is a farmer and forester on the border between Meath and Kildare Joe Barry: Do you call that a crisis? I lived the 70’s and 80’s – we never had it so good

Fry Electronics Team

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