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Renewal of Our Country Life

09 June 2020
Type Media Article

By Bernie Leahy, B&T Drystock Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare

In the poem “Legends for Eavan Frances” , the late Evan Boland, Poet makes a statement, “Our Children are Our Legends”. This sentiment is kernel to the hope and pride of parents whose children carry on the farm enterprise or rural business.

In spite of a small virus, Covid 19 stopping the whole world in its tracks, rural life has quietly come into its own.  The birds are “belching” out operatic style songs, The Whitethorns are spreading their perfume laden mantles all over the country and the farming community are doing as they always did in “Getting on with Life”.  Grass has to be grown, livestock  have to be tended, dosed, shorn, cows milked, fencing completed, turf to be cut and prepared for saving, mares got ready for breeding and of course the Wild Bird Cover GLAS Action tilled and sown.

Yes the farming community always have to get on with it as nature does not stand still.

A welcome life line has returned to the “Country Shop”. It has become a haven for grocery shopping that can even compete with the dreaded queues at supermarkets in the nearest town. Supplies of flour, bread, garden and hardware products were more easily sourced locally than in Loughrea due to the prompt action of local farm and grocery shop proprietors.

Blast from the Past!

I recall my father talk about the difficulties experienced during the 1932 -1938 Anglo Irish Economic War. He recalled the spectacle of the Phoenix Park stacked with turf donated by farmers to their city counterparts. Trade sanctions brought hardship to both communities rural and city but the country folk “footed” their way to the city to keep the “home fires burning”.

I had the privilege of being brought up in the grocery shop business in Loughrea where my father Sean was a bit of an Entrepreneur. His father Patrick Leahy after active involvement as a Volunteer in the War of Independence left the land to develop a small grocery shop in the town. He had to be innovative. He researched, with the assistance of his cousin, May Griffin, Kincullia, Loughrea but based in Boston, the exotic homemade Ice cream making recipes of the Boston School of Cooking.  He further developed the idea and set up Leahy’s Ice-cream Parlour in Barrack Street, Loughrea.

Sean Leahy carried on the business and was second in the West to add whipped Ice-cream to the parlour menu.

Striving to be innovative Sean researched window displays and won National Prizes for displaying ranges of exotic chocolates from the Cadbury, Rowntrees and Terry’s chocolate ranges. Not satisfied with bringing luxurious chocolates to the Loughrea environs, he added a Jukebox to the Ice-cream parlour to the delight of the Loughrea teens. They bopped to the latest catchy number s of Brendan Boyer, Dickey Rock and Sean Dunphy and the fabulous Elvis Presley, the Doors and the Beatles.

Rural Shops are coming into their own and it is uplifting to see this happen

In spite of pubs being closed by Covid 19 restrictions, Publican/Green Grocer,  Dessie O’ Brien’s of Kilrickle, Loughrea has “stayed the course” for local grocery shopping . Covid Barriers, distancing signs and disinfection points don’t deter the usual friendly banter at the old style counter top. He is busily planning his Covid style Pub re opening for 20th July when Government Restrictions lift.  Bernard Whyte’s of Mullagh, another family run business, is a Mecca for local Grocery, Animal Feed, Fertiliser and Hardware  and Fuel Supply with a small amount of Postal and IT services thrown in for good measure.

Houlihan’s of Abbey near Duniry is another family run grocery business which is thriving and providing a great service to the locals. Ms Houlihan has revived the family business after a period abroad and has now concentrated on developing a thriving local Supermarket which supplies locally produced vegetables and bakery products as well as essential every day needs.

Let’s not forget the benefits of supporting rural tourism in this year of “Stay at Home Culture”

There are numerous high quality rural based Agri-tourism businesses from Gardens to Pet-farms, Community Forest Trails and Archaeological Sites that have lots to offer in terms of family based holidays and farm activities. These need to be supported and this is the year to do that.

Keep an eye on Local Grocers Notice Boards and websites with latest activity guides.  Bord Failte, Local Chambers of Commerce, Discover Galway Publication (Galway County Council) should be consulted for updates.

Connection is what Matters

Many families have been able to reconnect with their farming childhood in being able to remote work from home. Potential Successors are now able to consider the benefits of keeping the farm in operation with a suitable Environment Scheme where the opportunity did not exist before.

Regional Development needs to immediately engage with improving infrastructure so that Rural Families can engage with Farming, Rural Diversification, Employment Creation and Local Hubs for Rural Businesses.

The Wild Geese (East Galway Task Force) is a task force made up of community leaders and volunteers. They hope that east Galway towns and villages  will be  been given the opportunity to become part of a unique digital ecosystem with the assistance of Galway-based digital agency Boon.

Government Broadband plan has committed to install 300 Broadband Connection Points nationally where they intend to provide 1.1 million people with access to High Speed Broadband over a 4 year period. Service Providers are available to link homes and businesses to Connection points. To check your status contact Broadband@DCCAE.gov.ie

Local Enterprise Offices are accessible through phone and email and have a range of incentives for small business owners e.g. Business Continuity Vouchers and Microfinance Ireland Loans. Contact can be made through their website info@leo.galwaycoco.ie  Sustaining Enterprise Fund (SEF) is another Government backed fund available for small and medium businesses to help with cash flow issues.  Having a good relationship with a business minded Accountant is another good tool.

Galway Rural Development provides funding for Rural Projects not involved in Primary Production and for bigger Agri tourism Projects but also run beneficial Rural and Social Schemes which enhance local communities.

Maureen Gahan, Food Service Specialist, Bord Bia, has encouraged food and drink businesses to avail of supports on foot of a forecast on “Out of Home Food Market White Paper”. This study predicts a fall of €5b revenue by the end of 2020. ”. This is a sobering figure for beef and lamb producers.

Rural Communities serve their country well.  In the light of Bord Bia’s report it is time for all of us and particularly the State, to support local as “Local is Best”!