Thursday, 3 February 2011

Community

I've not felt like reading much lately, but one of my knitting chums loaned me 'The Bodhrán Makers' so I felt I had to make the effort to get through it. It doesn't take much effort. It's very easy reading.

"Set during the '50s in the village of Dirrabeg, in the South West of Ireland, the book presents the harsh life of the close-knit community of Dirrabeg, a community facing extinction in the mid-1950's. Many of the young have left for England or America, where there are opportunities and chances for secure lives..  ...... It's a vivid fresco of a world that doesn't actually exist any more." Community in Dirrabeg is rooted in family and the inter-dependance of neighbours and significant others. The idea of 'community' in the 21st century seems more contrived by comparison.

A fear I had when moving out of London to live in a small market town was that the neighbours would live 'in one another's pockets'. What I feared most was a loss of independence and the ability to choose the people with whom I would interact.  I thought I was moving into the sort of community that existed in small towns and villages in the 1930s, 40s and 50s; where neighbours knew one another's comings and goings and where social contact was frequent and newcomers were expected to conform and take an active part in the 'community'. I was still teaching in London, an hour and a half's commute each way by car, and was reluctant to spend what  energy I had left at the end of the working week participating in community matters.

Are the ideas of  what community was like 'in the good old days' merely sentimental nostalgia? There are problems in belonging to what appears to be the most homogenous community. 'The people of Dirrabeg take solace in their families, old friendships, music, dance and porter. But there are conflicts - between 'town' and 'country', and against them is a Church whose rigid dogma offers little comfort or understanding to combat the pains of life. Some of the priests are sympathetic yet they are powerless in the face of the patriarch, Cannon Tett. Assisted by his housekeeper, Nora Devane, he hears and sees all - and judges without mercy.' 


Nowadays, families often live far apart, work is no longer within walking distance, and the opportunities for forming social contacts in the locality in which we live, are limited. Two-career families have little time to spare for community involvement. If community is rooted in family and local social interaction, the possibility of taking an active role in civic society has certainly diminished since the era in which The Bodhrán Makers is set, and that, I believe, is detrimental both to individuals and society.