We’ve always been told that Cork is a bit special. As the only Dublin cousin of a Cork family, I know how serious the crime of being born in Dublin is viewed by the southern tribe. Forgiveness is rarely mentioned or even entertained; tolerance and pity is the best that such a deracinated creature can expect.
Many years ago, as a seven-year-old, I was sent to Ballyvourney to my cousins when my mother went back to college to do exams. It was bizarre for this suburban Jackeen to be in the company of people who were incomprehensible in two languages. But I struggled on. On my first day in the tiny village school (with one teacher for all ages), my cousin introduced me to the headmaster with the words:
“Muinteor, this is David my cousin. He’s from Dublin.”
The old man didn’t look up from his roll book. He didn’t say something welcoming like — “Dublin, little man? Interesting, welcome to Ballyvourney!”
Without looking at me, he took a drag of his fag and responded:
“Dublin is it? Sure what harm?”
Implying that the poor amadán Jackeen can’t help the awful misfortune that has befallen him, sure we’ll just have to put up with it in the class for a while.
This was my first experience with what we could call Corkonian exceptionalism. It wasn’t my last. Forty years later I still experience the same exceptionalism when I’m reminded regularly by the next generation about the tallest building, the straightest road and the longest building. That’s the thing about Cork. Things that mean the world to them, mean little to the rest of us. It’s like the rules of any club — only club members give a hoot. Is it a sign of confidence or insecurity? I’m not sure. But that’s Cork for you; and the census confirms that Cork is in fact a bit like a club that you rarely leave and are rarely allowed to join.
Cork people leave Cork far less frequently than people from any other county in Ireland. And far fewer outsiders are “encouraged” to move to Cork. It also shows how brave my mother was as a teenager in the 1950s leaving her three sisters, mother and father and heading to Dublin with her suitcase and her dreams.
According to the census, such flightiness is not common. The People’s Republic of Cork is alive and well. Only 16% of Cork people moved county between 2011 and 2016. This compares with 44% of people from Leitrim who moved out of the county in the same period.
For Cork, maybe “Cexit” will be the next big political move in Ireland as the people of Cork democratically cede from the rest of Ireland, forming their own autonomous republic with a hard border, its own currency, the Shandon, which can be exchanged seamlessly for bottles of Tanora, Beamish, Murphys and drisheen. A People’s Republic with customs posts north of Mitchelstown, west of Bantry and east of Youghal could be financed by a Yacht tax imposed on anyone spotted in bright yellow oilskins by officious tax collectors from Kinsale to Baltimore during the summer.
If not hard Cexit than maybe a soft Cexit with an electronic tagging on the M7 the odd time that the locals are forced to travel to Dublin for a match of some sort; although in fairness, they don’t get many such opportunities in recent times.
Whatever about the obstinate Corkmen, who clearly don’t move out of the Rebel County, the rest of us are constantly on the move all around the country. We see extraordinary fluidity in the western countries of Roscommon and Leitrim and nearer to Dublin in the counties of Westmeath, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. Irish people are on the move at a significant pace and most of us are settling in that giant arc from Drogheda to Mullingar, that sweeps south eastwards through Port Loaise to Carlow and on to the sea at Arklow. This is Ireland’s babybelt. This is the future of the country and indeed if a maternity hospital should be positioned anywhere, it should be in Naas or Portlaoise. This is where Ireland’s babies will be born; not in Dublin 4 because, along with Dun Laoghaire, Dublin 4 is the oldest place in Ireland and least fertile place in Ireland. Arguably ,it is the worst place to put a maternity hospital!
Ask yourself, when was the last time you were ploughed off a footpath in Ballsbridge by an outsized stroller that didn’t belong to a young mother queuing for a US visa?
Not only is the new maternity hospital owned by the wrong people, it is in the wrong bloody place. In fact, there’s a smaller possibility of an Irish baby being born close to St Vincent’s Hospital than a Cork person dipping their toe into Limerick!
In all, 263,551 people moved around the country in the twelve months up to April 2016. The largest numbers of these were Dubs who are always on the move internally within in the county and further afield. Nearly 100,000 Dubs upped sticks last year. And almost 20,000 left the county for the suburban dream of Westmeath, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow.
In total, just under 25 per cent of the Irish population lived in Dublin City and suburbs in April 2016, and it accounted for 30.2 per cent of the movers within the previous year. Strikingly, larger towns outside Dublin are growing quickly too. This is new. Nearly one in five of all people who moved last year moved to large towns and, interestingly, Drogheda is now Ireland’s largest town with a population of nearly 40,000. Within Dublin, the fasted growing town is Saggart. This shouldn’t surprise anyone as there is land out there. The coast of Dublin Southside and Northside is gradually getting older and will soon be the oldest part of the entire country.
The main census showed that the urban population grew by 4.9 per cent while the rural population grew by a far more modest 2 per cent but rural Ireland is not dying as you might think from listening to radio shows. Nearly one in four of us are still living in rural Ireland and that population is rising. Babies are definitely being born. Probably the most startling statistic is how we are a sea loving people who don’t like fish!
1.9 million of us — or 40% of the population — live within 5km of the sea, yet Ireland has consistently one of the lowest consumption of fish per capita of any European country!
So what do we make of all this? Well the census is a blueprint for planning. It is data-driven. We now know where we live and can plan schools and hospitals accordingly. Clearly a national maternity hospital located where no one is having babies is a bit daft! And as for Cexit, well these days anything could come to pass!