We were sparing with the world’s resources!

We were sparing with the world’s resources! Artist: Adam Pomeroy

Every generation likes to embrace a cause, and almost every generation thinks its elders are responsible for messing up the world. So it is unsurprising that some of the young activists on the ‘climate change’ school strikes blame oldsters for causing global warming by greed and careless living.

Did we? Maybe so.

Still, it might be useful for some of these crusading youngsters to know a little more about how previous generations lived.

Some of us grew up in a world where most families didn’t have a motor car – that vehicle which does so much to pollute the planet. We walked or cycled to school, or waited for the bus. I know women of my generation who cycled 10 or 12 miles to a country school, sometimes in the pouring rain.

I know people who didn’t have electricity until the middle 1950s, when they were school children in Co. Monaghan. There are people in Connemara who can remember a time when houses had no running water – water was still drawn from the local pump.

In my Dublin childhood, plastic was rare. Tea, sugar and other comestibles were weighed out in brown bags. You got a pennyworth of sweets in a scrap of brown paper shaped into a cone.

I used to visit an aunt in Limerick where the bacon was particularly delicious: the pigs had been fed on the peelings of apples and potatoes, and sometimes even the slops of Guinness – the pig being a perfect recycler.

Convents were adept at using old tea-leaves to clean wooden floors and corridors.

You had a bath once a week, on a Saturday night. Men didn’t change their shirts daily – they affixed a fresh collar to a shirt already worn.


Old clothes weren’t just junked, they were altered and re-used. People wore hand-me-downs, and the dressmaker was skilful at re-fashioning a worn garment into something useful.

Laundry was often done by hand until the ‘twin tub’ washing-machine appeared in the 1950s. But the mangle still had to be turned manually, and then the clothes were hung on a line to dry – no energy-gobbling tumble-dryers then!

A larder was a box affixed to a cool part of the yard. It conserved food without using energy or electricity.

Vegetables and fruit were eaten in season, not wrapped in plastic bubbles and imported from halfway across the world. If you ate apples in spring it was because last autumn’s had been conserved locally.

Yes, we welcomed many of the changes, especially where they reduced drudgery. But on a balance of probability, the oldest generations alive almost certainly used less of the planet’s energy and resources in their youth than youngsters do today.


Since before the Renaissance, the subject of the Annunciation has attracted painters, and I was much struck by a modern interpretation by Adam Pomeroy at Ennis’ Cathedral of Ss Peter and Paul. It’s a picture [above] which really holds the eye: Mary as a teenager – as she was – faced with something quite awesome, her simple head covering suggesting a connection with the Middle East. People visiting the church come over to look at it intently, I noticed, and ponder on it.

The artist is originally a native of Norfolk but has lived in Co. Clare since 1999 and is working on a series of paintings based on Bible themes. The inscription under the oil is, incidentally, also in Polish.

It’s good to see the church showing the work of artists. There should be more of that.


Don’t waste your time, Mr Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn has promised that if voted into power, he will make St Patrick’s Day a national holiday in Britain. Nice of a declared atheist like Mr Corbyn to have so much care for Ireland’s Christian evangelist!

I doubt it will happen. Protestant cultures seldom take to saints’ days. Even when imposed, they almost never have popular resonance. Repeated efforts to make St George’s Day a holiday have failed to obtain any broad appeal.

The British invented ‘bank’ holidays to compensate for want of saints’ days, and even Christian holy days, like Good Friday, are now sometimes called ‘bank’ holidays. Easter Monday is now a ‘bank holiday weekend’ and Pentecost has disappeared altogether into ‘bank holidaydom’.

If Jeremy Corbyn does formally make March 17 a public holiday in Britain it will soon be, I regret, just another ‘bank’ holiday.