Laying Low In Cavan

6th August 2021

“It’s lashin”, she said, when I arrived down to breakfast. And as her patrons filtered in, she repeated the observation to each. I began to believe it more.

The weather has, indeed, turned foul. Since yesterday afternoon, clouds have rolled in from the southeast. Met Éireann’s forecast shows several yellow exclamation-mark warnings. I have not determined if they relate to the threat of blight or of thunderstorms.

No matter. No biking. I’m staying put.

On first seeing the forecast, I did consider taking a train to somewhere else in a bid to outpace the rain. But, goddamnit, there are no trains in Cavan.

How can this be? And why is it that a grand swathe of the country – Donegal, through Leitrim, Roscommon, Cavan and Monaghan – has not a railtrack to its name?

It was not always so. The 19th century entrepreneurs of the Midlands & Great Western Railway bet a fortune on laying lines northwest, from the junction at Inny.

Things went well, until they went badly.

CIE, in a programme of rationalisation which ostensibly made rational sense, shut all these lines by 1960. The tracks were lifted, and, it is reported, often reworked into gates and fencing.

Thus, metal once wrought to afford people more freedom was repurposed to hem them in.

I made an impulsive decision to live this free day by the rules of #lieflat, a cultural movement out of China that has caught my attention.

Urban adults in their twenties have had enough of the endless ‘achieve! achieve!’ posturing of Beijing. They are fed up with “9-9-6 living”: working 9am-9pm, six days a week.

Their response? Tang Ping or 躺平 or #lieflat. These passive revolutionaries have discovered the ultimate protest against systemic avarice: lie in bed, in a pyjamas, doing absolutely nothing.

But I can’t pull it off. Lying flat has me bored by 9am, so I head for a massage and later to get my feet looked at.

The former was relaxing, given competently by a Thai lady with reassuringly little English who smacked me on the butt as a rather surprising signal that her work was done. The latter afforded a lot more opportunity for chat as the podiatrist chaffed away at the dead skin on my heels.

He spoke about Cavan, a town down on its uppers even before Covid, and how the Main Street was losing to out-of-town destination malls, where parking was free.

Town lore has it that a parking warden was re-assigned to another council role – so efficient was she in keeping roads clear that the merchants complained of losing business. The issue was not the cost of parking, but the permitted duration.

“A woman cannot get her hair done in peace if she has to worry about moving the car every two hours…”

We discussed how local economies can best be supported, and how the improbable detail of parking regulations can end up building community, or the opposite.

Cavan may be poorly served by rail, but it is eloquently represented by its local media. The Anglo-Celt (weekly, on Thursdays) is stellar print journalism; and Northern Sound radio, the soundtrack accompanying my hotel breakfast this morning, is equally, subtly, humanly, on point.

By following national and international current affairs so avidly, perhaps I have lost the connecting power of local news.

In the tightly curated pages of the Anglo-Celt, there is space devoted to farming, to funerals and to a front page cover-story on laneway maintenance – its opening paragraph a tour de force of narrative journalism by Séamus Enright.

“In the 14 years PJ Monaghan’s family lane has been on the local authority waiting list waiting to be fixed, he qualified as an electrician, buried his dad, emigrated to Australia where he worked for five years, and returned to Ireland to start building his own home.”

But the most revealing coverage issues from the courthouse.

All of life shows up here, resulting in a dozen or so stories – from a learner driver found guilty of driving while holding a mobile phone and being unaccompanied, to a woman fined for following a young girl into a shop and calling her a ‘fat bitch’, to the story of two siblings in their twenties convicted of holding a nineteen-year-old hostage in the mistaken belief that he had ‘ratted’ on one of them. The brother and sister duo subjected the teenager to all manner of assault and terror over several days, including carving 666 on his forehead and inserting a baton up his back passage.

I found the young victim’s impact statement so poignant, rhyming with the leaden sky under which I read of his woes.

He said that he and the main accused man had been good mates, but not after what had happened. He said that they used to have a laugh together, but now he could not laugh at all.

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