By Mary Forde (née Goaley), 1925-2018.
This article first appeared in Anach Cuain 2008.
We hear so much recently about a recession, meltdown, downturn or other various terms but all meaning the same thing. We are warned that it will give us a much lower standard of living than we enjoyed for the last decade. Of course our age group saw and lived through more recessions than that following the recent prosperity of Irish people called the Celtic Tiger, so for us, the older generation, it’s going to bring back many mixed memories.
I was going to school when World War Two broke out. We knew little or nothing about war just then beyond what we learned from our history lessons and maybe what we read in the Far East magazine about war in the Phillippines. Indeed history was a school lesson some of us felt we had to endure with its pages of battles, dates and leaders. We in Ireland were just recovering from another kind of war – the Economic War as it was called – a period like the present one breaking in on us.
The living standards at that time were much different from to-day. There was no electricity which was a big draw back though one might claim that it caused us to be environmentally friendly in some ways much ahead of our time! We had one big advantage in the country places: we had our own home-produced food. We had large pits of potatoes in the fields; we had our own vegetables; we had our own milk and butter; we had hens and eggs; there were pigs to sell or kill as the need arose. At that time we had haggards of corn and hay; grain in the barn through the winter. Close to each house there was a long rick of turf for fuel with smoke curling up to the sky from every chimney. We had our local sugar factory in Tuam to assist in our tastes, now gone the way of all the others in Ireland. That was an unwritten rule for every farmer – you made sure to have a winter supply stored for the household, for your animals and fowl.
One of the few imports we needed was tea and didn’t we miss that. Irish wheat didn’t produce good white flour – I remember the streak of dough clinging to the side of home made brown bread no matter how well it was baked. Still we had plenty of brown flour to help in the making of caiscín. The people who really suffered the most were those in cottages with little or no land and the poor in the towns. But the country people were great at sharing among themselves and with their relations in the town. Saturday was a big day to go to the local town and women especially brought vegetables and maybe a hen or eggs to their less well-off friends and neighbours.
If a serious situation arose suddenly like another World War, I think we would starve inside a month as we are so dependent on imports and what is packed into the fridge. The EU regulations about what we should or should not grow would be of no good to us then and neither all this modern technology. In fact it could leave us in a famine situation. No doubt we are blessed by so many modern things but we should never forget not to abandon Mother Nature and our Creator. We can’t survive without either of them.
During World War 2, England’s army needed food and when so many of their able-bodied men had gone to war it became a golden opportunity for us in Ireland, recovering as we were from our economic war and we badly needed something to help us. The countryside was in real recession following the Black and Tans and our civil war when things looked so desperate with no sign of recovery. There were so few industries around then. Indeed then the beet factories were the only light we could see at the end of the tunnel in the west of Ireland. Sowing, thinning and harvesting beet was slavish work but still it meant some badly needed money for the farmers before the Christmas each year. I spent a few years in England when the war was over and it was still in desperate straits for food then. It was an eye-opener. You got 2 rashers, 1 egg and the equivalent of 2 lamb chops as a week’s ration of food. You had coupons and points to supply a month’s food and it would take the miracle of the loaves and fishes to make it go round. The Irish there were allowed food parcels when all fruit failed. Turkeys were sent over with rashers enclosed and farmers’ wives were busy gutting and cleaning those same birds to withstand a week’s travelling without refrigeration and it arrived in perfect order to eat and was welcomed by all and sundry. (However we heard of an odd parcel giving off a stench before they even left the Irish post offices).
It would be foolish to think that we can live nowadays exactly as we did in the past but we should learn from what older people went through and know that we can manage too in the changing times of downturn or whatever name we dress it in. As I said already, we are paying the price for letting the EU regulations about growing crops get out of hand. It’s a sad day when allowing weeds to take over our fields seems more important than the growing food. As well as that, all these regulations about washing and packeting vegetables seem to be more important than how they taste. The same thing holds for meat and eggs and so many other things. Maybe this time will be a wake-up call for us. Are we ready for it?