My Own Place

by Gabriel Fitzmaurice

Like a dog and its master,
Like a ship on the water,
I need you, you bitch,

I need you, you bitch,
Thus ends a poem I wrote many years ago about my native place. The poem was called ‘Lovers’. When questioned (in the pub – where else?!) about the title, I replied rather cockily, “Love is a conflict”. I suppose I meant by that, that when two interests clash, there is an inevitable conflict.

The sentiments expressed in the above poem are very much a young man’s sentiments. A young man facing up to the consequences of his choices. I had chosen to live in ‘Newtown’ in 1975, believing it to be still the village of my childhood. Nowhere ever is – I found out that pretty quickly! I should, of course, have a learned that lesson in Leaving Cert. Máirtín Ó Direáin, returning to his native Inishmore, laments:

Mé ar thóir m’óige ar bealach,
Mé im’ Oisín ar na craga,
Is fós ar fud an chladaigh,
Mé ag caoineadh slua na marbh.

(I seek my youth on the road,
I am Oisín on the crags
Wandering on the strand
Lamenting the hosts of the dead).

But I didn’t learn from Ó Direáin in Leaving Cert. Youth seldom learns from other’s experience – youth will risk experience of its own. And so, having qualified as a National Teacher in 1972; having taught in Avoca, Co. Wicklow and in Limerick City, I chose to return to the village of my childhood to take up a teaching post in 1975. I have lived here ever since.

The village of my childhood was Newtown Sandes, so named after the landlords’ agents, the much hated! Sandes family. As far back as 1886, the locals sought to change the name. After a public meeting in the village, the citizenry agreed henceforth to call the village ‘Newtown Dillon’ – for John Dillon, the M.P. who was involved in the national and land struggles at that time. (He attended that particular meeting in the village). But habits are hard to change, and, little by little, people forgot about ‘Newtown Dillon’, preferring the familiar ‘Newtown Sandes’ instead. In 1916, the name was changed to ‘Newtown Clarke’ for Thomas Clarke, one of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising. ‘Newtown Clarke’ suffered a similar fate to ‘Newtown Dillon’. In 1939, at the instigation ofFr. Dan O’Sullivan, the local Parish Priest, a move was made to have the name officially changed to ‘Moyvane’ (‘The Middle Plain’), the name of the townland on which the village is situated. Eventually, in the late 1960s, the name was officially changed to ‘Moyvane’, though for years afterwards one could still see ‘Newtown Sandes’ on road signs! (This created terrible confusion. I remember being accosted by an irate and confused lorry driver looking for ‘Newtown Sandes Co-op’ who had followed ‘Newtown Sandes’ on the road signs only to end up in ‘Moyvane’ !) Some of the more popular road maps still carry the name ‘Newtown Sandes’, which adds to the confusion. Moyvane is a small, sleepy straggle of a village about seven miles from Listowel in North Kerry, and off the main road. So much off the main road that one could say that life, like the traffic, is passing us by. Significantly, a high proportion of the parishioners have motor cars which they use increasingly to transport them out of Moyvane for shopping, for business, and for entertainment. There is a sense that the motor car, like the telephone, is keeping the people in touch with the life that is passing them by. As the son of a small shopkeeper who earned his living in Moyvane, I have mixed feelings about this rush to the Supermarkets. The local shop epitomized the community. One shopped in the local shops – more often than not, one got much needed credit until the Creamery cheque was cashed, or one drew the Pension or the Dole. That same shop was a place to congregate, to ruminate, and to spread the news. It had an important social function. But times have changed. One simply cannot live in the past. All the same, I have my doubts about the Supermarket mentality: the Supermarket mentality stands for consumerism and anonymity, neither of which greatly appeals to me.

Derelict buildings in the village are being pulled down. There are still more that need to be pulled down. Old people dying, leaving old houses which soon become derelict. Children break the windows by throwing stones. (Hard to blame them – such windows weren’t too safe when we were kids, either!) Old people dying. The young getting out. The story, not just of this village, but of the whole of rural Ireland. Why would anyone want to remain?

I suppose it’s fair to say that most of the people who live in Moyvane were either born here or have married into the parish. If one can resist the bright lights of places far away (‘faraway cows have long horns’ !), and if one can earn a living here, Moyvane is a very good place to be. The pace of life is as slow and easy as the cattle that up to recently ambled through the village, morning and evening, to the milking parlours in the village farmyards. One doesn’t have to develop a paranoia about locking things up: if you forget to lock the house at night, the chances are it won’t be burgled; if you forget to lock the car, it’s unlikely ’twill be stolen. The people are a gay and friendly people who are passionate about sport – the traditional passions are for football and greyhounds, but now the younger generation are excelling at basketball and badminton, athletics too. The pubs are convivial, and, at times, boisterous with hilarity and song.

In villages such as Moyvane, the old adage rings true: ‘ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine’ (‘people depend on each other’) for people do help one another and are concerned for one another. If, on occasion, this concern is carried over, by misguided busybodies, to prying, I wouldn’t or couldn’t describe Moyvane as a Valley of Squinting Windows.

Curiously, in such an arable countryside, there are no Protestants among our farming folk. There are no Protestants – full stop. There is no Protestant Church, nor the remains of one, in the parish. There are two modem Roman Catholic Churches in the parish – one in Moyvane village, described by Barrington, in Discovering Kerry, as “of an ugliness indescribable”! The other, in Knockanure village, contains, among many beautiful contemporary works of art, a carving of The Last Supper by Oisín Kelly.

Yes! Moyvane is my own place. If I have mixed feelings about it – well, I have mixed feelings about myself! There are advantages and disadvantages to living here. But that is true of everywhere. In the final analysis, the best I can say is that I am happy here. I don’t suppose I would write “I need you, you bitch, Newtown” now. But the best love is never based on need. Love is based on giving, and I would give Moyvane anything I have to give.