Could Covid actually help kick-start revival of rural Ireland?

Our man Frank on rural regeneration, loving the Three Amigos, and how negligent Los Angeles cops revived fond memories of our columnist’s reign as Super Mario champion of Crosswell!

It’s a lovely sunny January Monday afternoon as I write this, and a letter to the Daily Mail (written by Sligo man Tom Towey) has caught my attention.

  In his letter, he notes that according to news reports, remote working has given rural Ireland a big boost. It seems that large numbers of workers have been inspired to sell their houses on the eastern side of the country and move back to more rural parts, and that many more are thinking about making similar moves.

  Tom points out that for years there have been calls for successive governments to introduce more balanced and progressive regional development programmes for the west and north-west of the country, but with very little success. He adds that, amazingly, there is no rail connection between two of the biggest and most important population centres in that region, Galway City and Sligo.

  He also notes that Knock (Ireland West) Airport could get a major boost by being serviced by opening up the disused railway line between Galway and Sligo, and concludes that it would be ironic if the thing that kick-started the return to rural Ireland of many people, after many years of decline, is Covid-19, rather than the actions of the powers that be in Dáil Éireann.

  On the subject of rural regeneration, a couple of weeks ago as I drove to Ballinasloe, we remarked on the number of unlived in and derelict houses that we passed by. I wondered why the Government couldn’t organise some sort of scheme to utilise those houses and make some inroads on the horrific homeless situation that currently exists in Ireland.

  Funny enough (I must be psychic), within a few days Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien announced a new grant of up to €30,000 to help people who buy derelict properties to renovate and live in. The grant, he said, would be a significant incentive to bring those houses back to life.

  I’m no expert on housing (or anything else for that matter), but I think there would also be a significant saving on planning permission costs, so this scheme seems like a positive step to me. It sounds like it may provide another boost to the recovery of our rural communities.

  Homelessness is still a huge problem in our cities and towns. Only last Sunday a memorial ceremony was held for 47-year-old Columb Fogarty, a rough sleeper (new term for me) who died on Moore Street in Dublin on January 16th.

  Mr Fogarty was a former presenter on Near FM radio station. He worked tirelessly to help the homeless and was a recovering heroin addict and alcoholic. He died on the streets, of natural causes, and since then (just over a week), two more homeless people have died on the streets of the Capital.

  Talking of homes and houses, I have recently watched the TV programme, Cheap Irish Homes, which features Maggie Molloy. Last week’s episode was set in County Roscommon, where she showed three properties to prospective buyers. Maybe I’m out of touch, but there doesn’t seem to be anything cheap about houses when the budget is €220,000. Anyway, it’s all about improving rural Ireland, and even if (as Tom Towey reminds us) it takes Covid-19 to kick-start it, who am I to complain?

Coming soon: live music, and a summer of fun and craic!

We all know that the last two years have almost been wiped out (by Covid) for so many sections of our society, especially the hospitality industry. However, of all the affected areas, the live music sector must have been the hardest hit.

  It was unfortunate timing for Covid to have arrived on our doorsteps just as live music, especially country music, was at its most popular level for many years, with country music venues popping up all over the country, featuring top acts playing to large and enthusiastic crowds. Overnight, the whole scene was wiped out, but two years later, all the signs are that life is coming back to the industry.

  Last week, as I watched TV3’s morning show, it was very refreshing to see the Three Amigos being interviewed. Jimmy Buckley, Robert Mizzell, and Gurteen’s Patrick Feeney make up the hugely popular Amigos, and watching them just chatting on the show would really make you want to see them perform live. They are great craic as well as being among our very top singers.

  The Three Amigos are embarking on a nationwide tour comprising sixteen shows, commencing in the Gleneagle, Killarney on the 30th of January. There is no doubt their shows will sell out, but I am hoping to get to see them somewhere during the coming months.

  Then, I spotted a discarded copy of VIP magazine lying around the house, and several pages featured pictures of Mike Denver, his wife Liz, and their baby daughter, Mia. I realised that with him being featured on such a scale, the countdown to the return of live music, big crowds and great music and dancing has really begun. Thank God say all of us – here’s to a summer of fun and craic!

  I’ll even put up with Garth Brooks coming back – although this time I didn’t bother with tickets as he still never replied to my handwritten letter inviting him to play live in Mikeen’s in Creggs. Maybe the Three Amigos or Mike Denver might come instead.

And finally…

I have to admit that I know nothing whatsoever about online gaming. The last game I played on any gadget was Super Mario on a Nintendo way back when our children were young, so I am the first to tell you that I have no idea what Pokemon Go is. However, over in Los Angeles, two police officers lost their jobs for ignoring a robbery in progress and continuing to play the game.

  Apparently Louis Lozano and Eric Mitchell ‘wilfully abdicated’ their duty by failing to assist a commanding officer’s response to a robbery in progress in a Macy’s department store. They sort of hid in an alley just feet away from the Macy’s store – and played on. Afterwards, they drove around for twenty more minutes while continuing to play the game.

  The men claimed they could not hear the radio and the call for assistance, but the in-car video system showed they actually heard it and agreed to ignore that call for assistance. Accordingly, they lost their appeals against their dismissals.

  It amazes me how anyone in a position of authority could be so stupid when almost everything we do is captured on some type of recording device. But then you look at Boris Johnson and maybe it’s not so strange after all.

  Anyway, my memory of Super Mario was that it was the greatest game of all time, so I’m off to Tommy Kelly’s or John Finn’s to buy myself a Nintendo. Maybe I’ll reclaim my crown as the Super Mario champion of Crosswell!