A personal view by MICHAEL PATTWELL
SOMETIMESI look around me in our beautiful city of Cork and I despair. On the odd occasion that my wife and I go into the city to attend the theatre, cinema or other event, we are tense and nervous until we get out beyond the university gates on the Western Road.
Drunkenness, semi-nudity, loud, noisy and boisterous behaviour and young people staggering out in front of cars are common.
At times like those, I think of the people who gave their lives so that we could control our own destinies and build a nation where we could live in contentment and without fear.
In the year, indeed the very week, of the 90th anniversary of his death, I cannot but wonder what Michael Collins wanted all those years ago. Is this what Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone, O’Donovan Rossa and Pearse strove and died for?
It is popular now to mock the late President de Valera for his “The Ireland That We Dreamed Of,” speech made in 1943. It is often mistakenly referred to as the “comely maidens dancing at the crossroads,” speech.
He said: “The ideal Ireland that we would have, the Ireland that we dreamed of, would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort,
devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit — a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the
contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that men should live.”
In modern terms it is, of course, somewhat archaic but what is wrong with it as an ideal? It sounds better to me than what we have now — old people afraid to go out or even to be alone in their homes; gangs of youths, boys and girls, roaming the streets; the so-called ‘smart’ people stoned out of their minds on cocaine they paid as much for as would feed and clothe a couple of children for a week; houses bristling with burglar alarms, CCTV cameras and locked gates; cars and motorcycles regularly smashed, stolen and destroyed; pedal cycles having to be chained and padlocked to steel railings and bollards; churches being locked by day because of fears of what they might be used for or of theft from them; children having to be driven to and collected from school and who are no longer safe on our public streets and parks.
The list could go on and on.
I don’t know what the answer to the problem is but whatever it is, we clearly haven’t been doing it. We have failed and things are going from bad to worse.
In a word, the answer is education but not the system of education we have now. If anybody drove through the streets the night the Leaving Certificate results came out, it would be quite clear that even among those who have had education and are destined for the trades and professions, there are those who will over- indulge in alcohol and other intoxicating substances and when they let their hair down, they are as difficult and troublesome as those from less privileged backgrounds.
Any education must not only be aimed at young people of school-going age but it is essential that it takes in the parents of those young people as well. Sending a child to school is of very little value if the home influence doesn’t back it up. Homework clubs and other community-based projects are great and have great value but without parental commitment, that value is limited.
Area regeneration is unlikely to be the answer too. Remember that in the areas where this is being tried, the houses that have been knocked to make room for bigger and better houses were new only 30, 40 or 50 years ago and in a tip-top state of repair. I wonder what the new houses that are being built now to replace them will look like in 20 years’ time. Houses and playgrounds don’t form and foster values. Parents, the wider family and
communities must do that.
I don’t know what the answer to the problem is but I hope there is somebody out there who does because, as far as I can see, we are in great danger of being swept away by greed, violence, intemperance and selfishness. Will we ever get to the state of affairs so shockingly and brilliantly depicted in Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road? I think we may, and perhaps sooner than we think.