Sometime during the summer, about the time we were crossing the plains of Sto Helit on our way to the Ramtops for our summer vacation a memory passed through my mind. There is something about the M4 on a quiet sunny day that leads you to day dream. It can be dangerous, not least of all because you can lose concentration on the act of driving but mostly because you can have irrational memories. And I did.
I remembered a day, a few in fact when, as a student I sat in the large lecture hall for my philosophy lectures and how later in classroom seminars I engaged with other students in a philosophical debate on the topic of Education for Leisure. Back then we were naïve and didn't understand that philosophy is an academic pursuit in which you develop and put forward your own frequently unsubstantiated and unintellectual opinions. We blithely allowed ourselves to believe that we were magically born to the generation that sometime soon after we graduated would be working less and relaxing more as the world was reaching the zenith of automation and workers were becoming obsolete. In the great pantheon of irrational notions and now with the benefit of living hindsight that seemed to me on this sunny day to have turned out to be about as ridiculous as any thought can be. Still as we got closer to the Ramtops, and maybe somewhere around Lancre, I began in an absent minded way to revisit the notion. As we reached the Hub where the Widdershins Ocean and the island known locally as the Land of Fog were in full view, the idea became entrenched. So much for the concept of the lighthouse on the island.
South Donegal is a magical mixture of high sea cliffs, rolling seas and cultural and heritage intoxication and is one of the only places in this country where this madcap hypothesis of Education for Leisure could possibly hold true. There are no fundamental philosophical pretexts or subtexts upon which the theoretical notion of education for leisure may be vindicated and take it as read that the government has not poured extensive amounts of funding into education or attraction of high technology business or industry or indeed any business or industry in this region. They have not replaced that lack of strategy with aforementioned leisurely pursuits for workers. There has been no roll out of rural broadband which as we learned during the past weeks has just about reached its nadir. In fact the country in general has done nothing to match the determination and will power of the local people of Glencolmcille to try to carve out a future for themselves or their future generations.
In Ireland the evidence of eastern regional development and an east coast political bias is juxtaposed against a complete and utter lack of exhibition of any strategic investment in the Glencolmcille local area and is coupled with the wilful ignorance of governments to assist the local community. Therefore during the holidays and while being briefly out of contact with the outside world this social, geographical and environmental context that exists enables one to feel that here above all other places you are free from all work and that indeed there is some validity to the notion of Education for Leisure.
But we need to hold this thought and to progress carefully for it is potentially self defeating. Young people are leaving this and most likely many other regions of Ireland to travel to the 'bigger towns or cities' in pursuit of education, and a new and different way of life to that offered by rural Ireland. Many never return for there are few opportunities for the reasons of political neglect and lack of action outlined. Of course it is not enough for Generation X to read about or have an online and virtual experience of Ankh Morpork. The technological advancement made possible by education and research in the last 30 years when coupled with that same education, knowledge and pervasive information platform feeds a desire and hunger to live the different life. In parallel average family size has shrunk in the last 3 decades. In the 1990's when one or two young people left a family for 3rd level education there was still frequently 2 or 3 children who remained, grew up and lived locally and therefore the community was sustained and survived. Now when 1 or 2 young people leave to travel in search of education there often remains only the parents and grandparents. And in time they too will leave and the rural community they inherited, nurtured and created will cease to exist.
It is ironic that this phenomenon of modern day government neglect is occurring in the townlands in which Canon James MyDyer once championed the cause of rural life and the creation of local sustainable community industry. The fundamental root causes and symptoms, all of which have been the subject of debate for many years are manifest in a region beyond and around Glenties which annually plays host to the high profile political and academic debate at the Magill Summer School. Is it that those visiting commentators and politicians don't seem to care, or if they do is it only for the brief period of their stay? The evidence is that despite all the rhetoric and debate their subsequent actions don't do justice to their words.
It's time for a new and more ardent philosophical debate about education and its role in the future of rural life on the Ramtops.