Last Wednesday morning, I was driving into work and got caught behind an elderly farmer coming through Caragh.
I knew him to be such a person on account of the outline of his peaked cap, visible even from behind; by the fact that he was driving his 18-year-old Toyota Landcruiser no faster than his (presumbably twice as old) tractor would go; and that the aforementioned vehicle was covered in that distinct colour of brown that suggests a substance one encounters a surplus of in farmyards, and which might cause ladies of a delicate disposition to feign disgust whilst holding their noses.
Luckily I was early for work and in no rush — although some of the drivers behind me were not so lucky and made their displeasure known.
Our farming friend was unmoved by the horn beeping. Well, he was moved, but at no more than 35 miles an hour.
I was reminded forcefully, and once again, that modern suburban life is, as my grandfather would have called it, “a cod”.
I have a relative living in West Cork and anytime I visit I have to steady meself for the drive out the N71.
The N71, for those who don’t know, is the road which deviates from the N40/N22, which is the main artery bringing cars from Cork city out west, towards such far flung mythologies like Macroom and Killarney.
The N71 on the other hand, turns left off that road while you’re still in the suburb of Wilton, and heads south towards Bandon, Clonakilty, Roscarbery, Leap, Skibbereen, Ballydehob and Bantry.
Unless passing through one of the towns, the speed limit is either 100kph or 80kph, and I’ve found myself joking that far from being a deterrant to your average West Cork driver, it is in fact, an encouragement.
65kph is a perfectly reasonable speed to travel at, as far as they’re concerned, meaning that the 70kms I need to travel along that road take about an hour and a half, or more.
My east coast sensibilities tell me that what West Cork needs is a a bloody motorway so that I can get from Cork City to Skibbereen in a civilised 35 minutes!
“We’re a bunch of lunatics,” a fellow east coaster told me when I was ranting to him. “We’ve lost all sense of perspective. Why do think we need to be rushing everywhere?”
He’s right. Our farming friend in the ancient Landcruiser was sailing along over a 1,000 year old bridge, first built when only rich men had an animal to pull their vehicle.
Who in their right mind thinks we should be flying over such a narrow bridge so fast?
Just before Christmas, that same friend was looking down the barrel of possible redundancy and was considering his options. He went onto Daft.ie and looked for the cheapest place to rent in the whole country.
What he saw astonished him. If he was happy to move to Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Leitrim, Roscommon or the more rural parts of Cavan, he could easily find a perfectly nice, modern house to rent for about €550 a month.
What his search taught him was not that rent is cheap in Belturbet, but that in Kildare it’s ridiculoulsy overpriced.
“We’re running around like lunatics trying to earn enough money to live here,” my friend said. “We’re living in a bubble — we don’t even realise that it’s much cheaper elsewhere, that quality of life can actually be better.”
He spoke like a man who has pulled the wool from his own eyes, who has discovered a truth hiding in plain sight — that Kildare is increasingly becoming a hard county to live in on ordinary wages, and most of us can’t see it.