When we were growing up, we never thought that people like the county council employee or the teacher or the guard ever cared about the filthy lucre. They were people who did the job cos it was part of what they were. In our minds, they were the salt of the earth, who came to their jobs because they had a calling, a sort of vocation brought to them on the road to Damascus, when they were struck by a strong light and told by a booming voice “Son, your future is in forward planning and Section Fours. Now go forth.” Young gardai then were not reared on diets of CSI and Midsomer Murders. No, they were hewn from Connemara rock, with necks like a jockey’s b.. ahem, like a jockey, and with a chest that ensured the silver insignia on their shoulders sat two yards apart. Teachers were normally the lucky ones in a family who would have the good luck to have had a grandmother or an aunt wealthy enough to send just one of them to third level while the rest stayed at home, fought over the farms and descended into a lifetime of alcoholism and inappropriate thoughts.
They were people made of sturdy stuff, these public servants to whom we all looked up to, to whom we doffed our caps in case the day came when you needed planning for the site down by the sea, good marks in your exam, and a dog licence without having to go through all the rigmaroll of filling in forms.
Every town and village in rural Ireland was dominated by the public servants. They were the heart and soul of the local community. They were the ‘runai’s of the local GAA club, they organised the Scor na nOgs, they were the ones who threatened to tell your mother if you were caught stealing apples from the many orchards that populated Ireland then and which are nowhere to be seen nowadays.
And in almost all cases we obeyed them because we believed that they really believed in what they were doing. We felt they were better than we were because they had a moral guidance that the rest of us could only ever wish for. We felt impure in their presence in the belief that their role was to minimise the extent to which we would fall into the wrong hands. They were good people and every place benefited from having them.
We assumed they faded into retirement with nought but a cat, a book, and enough for the fire to keep them going. We imagined they would enjoy a retirement reading Ireland’s Own and writing polite but perfectly constructed letters of outrage to the editor of the Advertiser, complaining about dogs fouling the Prom and young people having no respect.
And so, it is with a little bit of sadness that this week we learn that thousands and thousands and thousands of them were dazzled by the attraction of thousands and thousands and thousands of euro.
To think that the polite muinteori of Ireland would be tempted to give it all up while in the early evenings of their careers, for a fistful of dollars is shattering our perfect illusion. To think that while we were having Peig Sayers beaten into us, the instructor was thinking of Caribbean cruises and painting classes and new BMW X5s is disappointing. To think that Garda McMountain was fighting crime and looking with envy at the drug dealer’s yacht. To think that the planner grew frustrated granting the green light for houses he could never afford, is enlightening.
Rural Ireland has lost these people for ever. The heart and souls of our community, post-Tiger have taken the soup and grabbed the filthy lucre while the rest of us can only look on in envy. Happy retirement to you all. We’re happy for ye. Honest.