Our improved infrastructure has brought families closer
Ireland has shrunk. Though always fairly small, until recently it seemed like a vast continent because, even until the 1990s, little had changed since the 12th Century when Giraldus Cambrensis described Ireland as a land “without roads”.
Friday evening journeys from Dublin to Cork in the late 1990s would routinely take six hours or more. As we sat in five-mile tailbacks outside Monasterevin, we had plenty of time to ruefully note that, with a flight time of a mere five and a half hours, it was actually quicker and easier to get to New York.
In the past, travelling across Ireland meant lumbering through swamps, fending off bandits and fording rivers – and that was before you even got to the McDonalds near the Red Cow roundabout, as it was then known. Now that has miraculously metamorphosed into the fancily-named Red Cow Interchange, and all is interchanged utterly – the terrible beauty of Ireland’s motorway network is born.
These epic swathes of silky-smooth tarmacadam make it possible to journey from Galway, Limerick or Cork to Dublin for a day’s work. They also mean that families and friends who live far apart can visit each other with ease. When, as happened in our family recently, a relative is sick and in hospital, it is now a simple matter to visit them, even on the other side of the country.
So it was that I gathered the kids and set forth on a journey south to Cork last weekend. I had taken a half-day off work and raced home to pack up the children for the now two-hour breeze of a journey southwards.
Just after lunch, we glided past the all-too-familiar steeple at Monasterevin at which I had spent so many hours staring, back in the days before motorways were invented.
A short but pleasurable calculation revealed that we were now – quite legally – travelling one kilometre every 30 seconds. If Fianna Fail want to spring Lazarus-like from their political grave next election, I would suggest a simple campaign slogan: “Remember, we built ye the roads”.
Yet while this new, faster, sleeker Ireland has many benefits, I miss something about old decrepit version. My children, I reflect, will never know the battered beauty of the old Ireland, where the bus would break down in Buttevant, and you had to hitchhike home in the rain, to be picked up by a gang of unruly nuns in a Ford Fiesta, or a friendly farmer in a rust-bucket held together by baling twine.
A very old man once said that before the car, no one was lonely: when everyone walked or travelled by horse and trap – neighbours met and chatted on the road. But since the car, we rush by one another, cocooned and unspeaking.
We passed ancient castles and abbeys as we slid southwards through the heart of medieval Ireland.
My four-year-old son recently got a knight costume and now wants to be a knight when he grows up. He realises that, as a knight, he will need a castle and so no keep is passed without comment. My daughter took advantage of the opportunity to take a nap.
Before long, the snowcapped Galtee mountains loomed ahead and we passed over that sacred threshold, into Cork.
The value of infrastructure is usually expressed in cold economic terms. Yet its deeper value perhaps lies in its ability to get two grandchildren from Dublin to cheer up their beloved granny in Cork University Hospital before visiting hours end on a Friday afternoon.
As they scampered into the ward, my mother’s face lit up as the kids piled delightedly on top of her bed. She was even home the next day, in fine fettle, busily making meals and reading stories to the kids.