Ireland has been in the news this week. We in the States have been hearing about an EU bailout in the billions for Ireland. Don’t worry, this will not be a piece about the intricacies of the Irish economy or Irish politics.
Instead, I’m going to write about a little village called Cootehall in Co. Roscommon.
As many of you remember, back in September 2009, I did a trip up the Shannon River. One night, we stopped at the town of Cootehall which was no place to write home about so I didn’t blog about it.
Here's a picture of our boat docked at Cootehall. I love that one of the fenders is not on the dock side of the boat.
Cootehall was one of our more desolate stops. There were no toilets near the dock. It took some doing to find a rubbish bin. There was a restaurant, but it was only open on weekends. There was one pub which opened in the evening.
There were also about a hundred newly built homes. They were on new and landscaped roads. They were all empty. The town was empty. Where were all the people? Even though I enjoyed the peace and quiet, I felt like I was walking through the ruins of civilization that never existed or film studio’s back lot.
It was surreal but not in a good way. I was standing in something that was part of a bigger puzzle that I didn't understand. I did understand that a lot of money had been spent on building houses. Then this week, I understood Cootehall a little more. If no one buys the houses, who will pay back the bank loans?
That September day, we eventually ran into a woman who reassured us that the pub would open in the evening. We went back to the boat and had a nice spaghetti bolognaise courtesy of Honey Bunny. Later, we drank two rounds in the pub and called it an early night. The next day, we set off early.
That was my experience of Cootehall fourteen months ago. Maybe today it is a thriving village, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the homes are still unoccupied. There are 300,000 unoccupied homes in Ireland. Most of them are on housing estates built during the boom.
In Cootehall, the homes just sat there and showed me an expensive dream that never came to be. What I found interesting was how bland the homes all looked. They had no character. They could be anywhere in Europe or the States.
By the way, when I was working on this piece, I googled Cootehall. The first hit on google was real estate listings for houses in Cootehall. It’s a pretty and quiet town. John McGahern grew up there.