This autumn, 40 years will have passed since I left home having finished in secondary school. I’ve never lived west of the Shannon since then and, in all likelihood, I will never do so again.
The adult life that I’ve lived and the places I’ve lived in – mainly Dublin but I also spent eight years abroad – reflect, in large part, the times I’ve lived through. The same is true of every generation but it’s also the case that each generation forms its own, very different viewpoint of the world and their place in it.
My generation – those of us now not far off 60 – straddles a few different eras in Ireland’s recent history and the influences that shaped our view of the west and the wider world stretch well back into the 20th century. The west was very different then and not always for the better either.
Growing up in the sixties and seventies in that corner of East Mayo that was known as ‘the Black Triangle’, it became ever more apparent to me as adulthood beckoned that I would not live out my life in the place I’d been reared.
The previous generation knew this was true for most of us too and they gave us the best gift they could by making sure we got a good education, a process that had been made far easier by the introduction in the then recent past of free secondary education.
Where have the years all gone? Now I find myself approaching the end of a working life, at a time when a very different generation is coming of age in the west. The Class of 2020 has, I’m sure, a hugely altered view about the world compared to my generation. That’s as it should be, as it must be.
I’d like to think that from their vantage point – notwithstanding the unique issues Covid-19 has put on the table for everyone in 2020 – the place that has reared them doesn’t have the same air of defeat and resigned pessimism that it so often appeared to have back in our day.
I don’t, for example, recall our having any great sense of pride in the county when I was growing up. Mayo is a place of often astonishing beauty but this was only something I gradually awoke to myself well into adulthood. Now it’s commonplace to hear Mayo people speak so positively about the county and how lucky they feel to have been born there. This is a recent phenomenon and it’s a hugely welcome one.
When I left home in 1980 so much of what connected me to the west was, for years, also largely left behind. I sense that for this generation those ties won’t be sundered quite so easily, given how much more connected the world now is, even if connectivity is, particularly for rural Ireland, still a work in progress.
Huge challenges exist for the west in the modern era, perhaps made even more intractable by the enormous turbulence the still-raging coronavirus is leaving in its wake, to say nothing of the existential threat posed by climate change.
I’ve no easy answers, I’m afraid, nor can I offer any quick-win solutions that might alter the economic fortunes of that part of the country that always seems to have to battle to get anything like its fair share of the nation’s resources, still less its focus.
My sense is that this is something that the generation of westerners now coming of age will have to be prepared to fight for, as so many of those who went before them did for so long too.
Aghamore native John Gunnigan is a qualified economist who works in telecommunications and is based in Dublin. He is also the man behind the popular Mayo GAA Blog and co-hosts The Mayo News Football Podcast. This piece first appeared in Tuesday’s Mayo News as part of our ongoing What’s Best for the West series which is examining opportunities and challenges for the west of Ireland.