Friday 17 January 2020

Metropolitan Meelin

I'm reading the spooky fascinating and profusely illustrated Deserted Schoolhouses of Ireland by archaeologist Enda O'Flaherty. He has a website that will give you enough of the detail if you're too mean to buy a copy of his book. Not all the schools on his website are abandonned:
Affane/Sluggara school [1914] in County Waterford still has a roof and is being used as the village hall. In our neighbourhood, Rathanna National School has become the community hall serving funeral teas, amateur dramatics, subtitled films and Buddhist meditation to different section of the local population. Funerals bump meditators and cineastas off the schedule. 10km away, there is an active painting group in Killoughternane school which also serves as the jump off to regular pilgrimages to St Fortchern’s Holy Well down the road. All of these schools served the community which was within walking distance back in the day when there were a lot of homes in remote rural Ireland each housing a lot of children preparing for confirmation and emigration. Family sizes got smaller as people ignored the Pope's views on contraception. Small farms daughtered out and got consolidated into larger holdings. The old farmsteads fell to ruin after transitory use as byres or were bought by city-folk as a weekend bolt-hole. And over the decades since WWII, the school catchments have been consolidated also: one central school for an area previously serviced by several. School buses negotiating narrow winding lanes consequently make my morning commute hazardous.

One of O'Flaherty's dead-schools is Milleen NS in Co Cork. As an aside to his essay on the school building (also 1914), he shares the local claim ‘Welcome to Meelin – Ireland’s Highest Village’. Insofar as I think about that sort of thing, I had always accepted that Roundwood, Co Wicklow held that honour. Roundwood's population of 950 makes it a biggish village and its height is reported as 238m. Glencullen, Co Dublin is much smaller [N = 200 people] but a little higher at 251m and has one of Ireland's most famous pubs Johnnie Fox's. Meelin is 250m above sea-level. Meelin / Milleen / An Mhaoilinn, apart from being confused as to spelinge, claims to be 250m up; population here is ~600. The Irish do love their tea but this controversy about who has the highest village feels like a storm-in-a-tea-cup. How do they decide where the datum is? The post-office? The village pump? The church? The steeple? The average height of the townland?

Another reflection is how piffling these record heights are. Our front gate is 230m above sea-level and I don't think that any of us get altitude sickness. So many of our major conurbations are at sea-level: Arklow Belfast Cork Dublin Ennis Foynes Galway . . . are all tidal . . . all in the front line for climate change.

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