In a town I know quite well, these are the numbers that are resonating this week. Not because some local octogenarian who spends €10 a week on her lucky dip has won some obscene amount of money. No, the number resonates the opposite of joy. These are the numbers that represent the new reality in small towns like the one I am referring to.
42 — That is the number of young men, men alone, who have left the parish for Australia...since Christmas. The New Year is but a fortnight old and already the heart and soul of that town has been ripped out. The local sports teams are devastated. They do not know if they will be able to field this year, well, field a competitive team anyway. There will always be young lads coming through, but to take 42 out of the available pick, then you are left with no hope. Indeed, the only hope is that every parish across the county is losing the same number of young people.
3 —That is the number of major businesses that closed...since this day last week. Businesses that had been in the town for generations, two, three generations. Businesses that gave to the town as well as benefited from it. Businesses which knew good times over the past decade when young people, flush with cash, opted to eat out every day rather than cook at home in their plush apartments which have sprung up over the place. Gone, doors shut, staff let go.
9 — That is the number of people who have taken their own lives in the general area over the last four or five years. Five of that number were since last summer. Families are left numbed by it all. Not knowing what to say. Friends are left shocked, wondering whether they fulfilled their duties. People look at each other, struggling to find the words.
37 — The number of families locally who each month wave good-bye to a father or mother as he/she flies out of Knock Airport to commute to work on the building sites of London. Young children find themselves growing up in a country that has changed, in a household that has changed. Young children who knew comfort and security but who are beginning to realise that not all is like it used to be.
11 — The number of months it has been since a property sold in that town.
39 — That is roughly the number of houses in the town in which electricity does not shine a light at night. My source tells me that this is the number of families who got their heat this winter from gas lamps bought in the local discount supermarket, which by last week had sold out as the families continue to buy them to see if they can get through the month of January without succumbing to the cold, which thankfully did not come this year. They have all had to stop paying their ESB bills, gas bills, so that mouths can be fed.
Did I mistakenly omit the bonus number. No, I didn’t. That’s just it. There isn’t any bonus number for small town Ireland.