BY JON ALEXANDER
Ballina/Killaloe, a place I have so much time for. We started coming here as a family in 2007, although my parents had been here twice before already. It’s two small towns located on the border of County Tipperary and County Clare, joined by a bridge over the River Shannon. A charming little part of Ireland that reminds me of all the best bits of Devon in the U.K.
Whether you choose to sit in the local ice cream parlour, Scoops, or dine at the popular Goosers (which has the best Irish stew I’ve ever tasted) or you prefer a pool night in The Anchor, there’s plenty to occupy your time. Regular boat trips up and down the Shannon are offered, long walks through the gorgeous countryside and if you’re inclined, a local nightclub which attracts patrons from miles around – you’ll not get bored.
A local highlight is the Brian Boru Centre, dedicated to a former King of Ireland. Although a very brief visit, it offers a fascinating insight into the Irish and their history. There are numerous centres and museums across Ireland providing visitors with a rich culture and history – one that unfortunately has been dominated by violence. They also show the rebelliousness and resilience of the Irish people, which, in some respects, you can’t help but admire.
My last visit out here was in 2015, a few days after the historic ‘Yes’ vote that finally gave gay couples the right to marry. This wasn’t some law passed by the EU and forced on people, this was democracy at its finest. There were lots of posters up either for or against the legislation. The posters I had seen were respectful in my opinion, quite simple in their design and message, but they were everywhere…
The law was passed overwhelmingly in favour of the Yes camp and apart from the occasional disgruntled no voters appearing on TV shows over here, the result was generally accepted. A night in the pub one evening drew out some discussions but even those who lost the vote were still glad they’d had the chance to have their say and the vote seemed to be largely accepted across Irish society as they looked to the future.
I love democracy, even on those rare occasions when I lose! The attitudes of the Irish really made me appreciate it even more. It’s a real shame other EU member countries couldn’t take inspiration from this and start a wave of Yes votes across the continent but despite the EU proclaiming to be pro-gay rights they still don’t seem that eager to help establish them.
Moving on from that, as we travel to Galway for a day out, one thing that becomes apparent is the Irish love of signs. If you’ve never been to Ireland, trust me on this. They have signs to warn that you are approaching signs. You get a speed warning of 60km then five metres later that changes to 100km – signs to tell you you’re entering and leaving a wi-fi area and other random signs appear in Gaelic and English.
One note of concern I do have is the Irish reliance on EU funds. Wherever we go there are half completed roundabouts, roads and motorways that go nowhere because the funding has run out and so-called ‘ghost towns’ have sprung up which have a few rows of completed homes but only a few residents – no local services because they weren’t able to fund putting them in.
This is a country that has relied on the EU and the Euro too much. It’s affected them badly, the response when you bring these issues up with locals is for them to just shrug their shoulders and say “it is what it is”. I genuinely hope they can find a way around these problems and emerge stronger but having been here before the recession, during the recession and after the recession – I can genuinely say nothing has changed.
This limbo state does allow for an Irish Farage or Le Pen with a political party to emerge and gain ground, which would cause the country no end of problems. Regards Brexit and the EU I suspect the locals prefer to bury their heads in the sand.