This building boom makes me nervous about our future

Fergal Keane 'One day we may all wake up, look around and struggle to recognise our country'

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My neighbour Josie Lincoln launched her book last night. The whole parish turned out and filled the dining room of the Cliff Hotel. The crowd was so big that it flowed out into the gardens overlooking the bay. She was the local schoolteacher here for years, and has dedicated much of her retirement to recording the vanishing history of this small fishing village.

My neighbour Josie Lincoln launched her book last night. The whole parish turned out and filled the dining room of the Cliff Hotel. The crowd was so big that it flowed out into the gardens overlooking the bay. She was the local schoolteacher here for years, and has dedicated much of her retirement to recording the vanishing history of this small fishing village.

There are people like Josie all over these islands of the north Atlantic (to use the safe, "inclusive" description for Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales). They go about quietly recording the stories of the old and in the process remind the rest of us of where we came from, and what we have lost.

There were many speeches singing Josie's praises. A man played the melodeon and there were Irish dancers. Since she retired, Josie Lincoln has travelled around China on no fewer than three occasions. She is a traveller of the world who understands that the parish is the ultimate universe.

It was one of those perfect Ardmore summer evenings. We had sunlight until late and the bay was a great flat mirror across as far as the cliffs of Old Parish miles away. "Don't go into a lyrical rapture," my wife warned me, as I sat down to write. But I can't help it when it comes to Ardmore. Ardmore is the Republic of Summer. So consider this a love letter to Ardmore. An invocation of past glory, but a celebration of the present too. Ardmore.

The name summons up the happier memories of 40 years. My great grandfather was the village policeman (in the days of the Royal Irish Constabulary) and my grandfather was born here. He brought his own children here on summer holidays from the Thirties onwards. The spot where he was born later became Quain's shop which sold everything from paint to pork. You were served by a small army of women under the direction of "Cis" Quain whom my late grandmother always remembered fondly.

"Cis" and her husband Jimmy had come all the way from Ardmore to Cork city for my grandfather's funeral. That was in the Sixties when the journey took a lot longer than the swift hour of today. My grandmother put great store by such gestures of loyalty. These days the Quain's shop is no more, replaced by a thriving restaurant.

In this part of the country, the older people will always address you as the child of your parents e.g. "Are you Maura's Hassets eldest boy?" And this will be said whether you are 10, 40 or 60. Last night at Josie's book launch, people I hadn't seen for years appeared out of the crowd with stories. "I remember you alright on the bicycle coming across the beach to Ballyquinn," said one old woman. "You were coming to see one of the girls." And I remembered then the nights in the old dance hall where we danced to "Country and Irish" bands under a sign which wished "For Happy Homes, for Ireland and God"; I remember the journeys back and forth across the beach, stumbling in the dark and breaking an ankle, drinking cider from bottles bought in an ancient pub on a back road in Old Parish.

I remember how once we trespassed onto one of the big estates on the River Blackwater and were surprised by the estate owner's wife. I will never forget her words, uttered in the fruitiest tones of the English ruling classes: "Henry, come quickly. There is a mob of people on the lawn." There were three of us. The mob.

The previous paragraph is littered with the phrase I remember. What kind of age is it when those words I remember' slip so easily from the tongue? It is middle age. The age when memory is both penance and delight. What of the present in Ardmore?

As I write the familiar morning growl of the lawnmower is coming from the nun's summer house across the road. The good sisters come for the summer months and they are changed from the women I remember in the Sixties. Back then they wore dark habits and could seem forbidding to small children. We called them "Goddies" after my grandmother told us they worked for God. One morning they gave me sweets and patted me on the head. After that they seemed forbidding no more.

In the summer Ardmore is a place crowded with families from all over Ireland. And there are regular visitors from much further afield. Over the years of my personal memory, the village has changed very little. The old dance hall is gone, the wood and tin of the past replaced by a big new concrete structure; the road to Goat Island (favourite of all the swimming places) has been tarred, there are concrete steps along part of the cliff path to aid older visitors.

But until relatively recently the village seemed to exist in a charmed cocoon. "Charmed" from a visitors point of view at the very least. There has been no industrial development to speak of, and the landscape has been well preserved. If you had to make a living here all year around you might be inclined to say that "charm" doesn't put food on the table. The inshore fishermen who operate from the local boat cove have struggled for years against the ravages of stocks caused by the big trawler fleets offshore; fishing here does not provide a living. It can also be dangerous and has claimed the lives of local sons, among them Josie Lincoln's boy Liam who was drowned in the bay in 1982.

The Ardmore that I knew as a child and teenager is on the cusp of great change. There are plans for extensive housing developments around the village. The building work is already under way in many areas. The boat cove where I swam and fished in rock pools has been transformed by concrete; there are plans for a big apartment complex on the cliff near the ancient well of St Declan. Houses, houses everywhere.

The surge in development is a direct consequence of Ireland's Celtic Tiger economy. All over rural Ireland the building industry is enjoying a boom time as the newly prosperous population seeks summer homes. Never in the history of the state has there been such a concrete revolution. As a summer resident, I am wary of lecturing anybody about development. I am conscious too that when my grandfather built his own cottage on the hills above Goat Island many years ago, he was building on virgin landscape.

Nor do I know a single person in the village who could be said to oppose development per se. But reading Josie Lincoln's book, with its' rich evocation of the old Ardmore, a place which celebrated the values of community and neighbourliness, I can't help but feel a tremor of nervousness about the future. Ardmore is still a powerfully cohesive community.

There is a real sense of being in a place where people will go a long distance to help one another. It will also remain a beautiful place that people flock to visit. But it is the wider atmosphere of modern Ireland that worries me. There is a giddiness in the air in Ireland now. We are confident and we have money in our pockets, and we are racing headlong into the future.

Our Government purrs with pleasure, but neglects to consider that the country might actually need a plan to structure and control the development. And one day we may wake up, look around and struggle to recognise our country. And when the phrase I remember comes to our lips we may feel shame as well as loss.

The writer is a BBC Special Correspondent

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