No country for old men (First printed January 2014)

Golden Quill editorial winner 2015 — adjudged by International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors

In theory, home is where we all should feel the safest. It should be a refuge for all of us lucky to have a place to call home. It is the place where you can truly be yourself, far away from the pretence of modern life where, as characters in the great play of life, you learn your lines and your role before you walk out each day to act out your part.

I am often reminded of the image of Padraig Nally, in the months and years before the incident that changed his life, sitting there in the dark of night, listening to the wind coming through the trees that line the road to his house, cocking an ear for any deviation from the norm, his heartbeat quickening at any detection of disturbance in the lonely darkness. His ease returning only when eventually, the dawn arrived to throw a sheath of brightness over the land.

And this week, I can picture the terror of Michael McMahon, a lonely farmer in an isolated country house in Clare, who alone and frightened, threw his precious belongings into two bags, slung them over the bar of his bike and cycled thirty miles through the dead of night to check himself into a nursing home at first light. He did this because he had just spent several terrifying nights in his home where heartless thugs took his cash, pretended to be armed and threatened him, taking the money they knew he had in the house and telling him they would burn him and his house if he told anyone.

It might be just a coincidence that Mr McMahon was robbed just a few days after withdrawing cash from a bank, as banks have become far less confidential than they used to be and are supposed to be, but this country is becoming less accommodating to the elderly people who have worked a lifetime and who just ask for security and tranquillity in their later years.

I regularly see elderly people in bank queues in this city be indiscreetly asked by bank staff what they are queuing for, ostensibly to offer them customer services, but inadvertently informing the remainder of the queue that Brigid or Joe is in to withdraw cash.

For all the advancement of this country, to be in a state where old people are forced to leave their homes and most of their lives' memories behind them so that they can find comfort in a nursing home, rather than spend another night in the place they once called home, is a terrible one. To have people feeling so vulnerable, so frightened that they are forced from their homes, is a sad indictment of the country we now live in.

Tonight, there are people in your neighbourhood who have not seen anyone all day, who are closing the doors and praying away the hours of darkness so that at least when morning comes, they will have the ally of the daylight to keep them safe until darkness falls tomorrow night. Spare a thought for them but do more than that if you can. Check on your neighbours, try to reduce their loneliness, give them the security of your concern, so that the balance of power is not placed in the hands of thugs. If you are a business or a bank, may the customers who you once so valued feel valued again. By denying people the right to feel secure we are robbing them of their dignity. By making people invisible, we are just pushing them to the sidelines where they become easy prey for the thugs who roam the country at night.


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