Friday 19 January 2018

A broken phone box was once the biggest news in town

By Colm Lambert

Colm Lambert.
Colm Lambert.

Joan Burton is making us think of Jaws this week. Or Jaws 2, to be precise.

The tagline of that movie was 'Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water….'. Now, the Labour Party leader is bringing about a case of 'just when you thought it was safe to turn on the news again'. Because no sooner have we heaved a sigh of relief at being finished with what turned out to be one of the most annoying (the same sex marriage) and definitely the most pointless (the presidential age) referenda ever, she's calling for another one.

To make it worse, it's on a topic that's guaranteed to bring the real hardcore loopers out, on both sides. Yup - it's the 'a'-word. Abortion. Burton and the rest of the Labour Party top brass are even saying that a commitment to hold another referendum on it will form part of their Programme for Government as the next general election comes round, sometime in the next twelve months.

Apparently they're taking the result of the same-sex marriage as a sign that there's a swing for further liberalisation of our Constitution and legislation - despite the fact that many of the so-called liberals who supported a 'yes' vote in the same sex marriage referendum weren't liberal enough to tolerate anybody with an opposite view. These past few weeks, you may as well have said that you park in disabled bays or beat other people's children as say you were thinking of voting 'no'. Apparently, anything other than a resounding 'yes' meant you weren't a fully-functioning member of a modern society.

Witness the scorn heaped upon Roscommon-South Leitrim for being the only constituency in the country to return a 'no' vote. The people there were painted as backward culchie thicks and hicks by several people, including at least one prominent commentator who really should have known better and who ended up apologising for her remark. It's one thing being a bad loser, but bad winners are worse.

Overall though, the 'yes' vote was welcomed and heralded around the world as a sign of how much Ireland has changed in recent decades. And there's no doubt that it has - as you can see each week even in the 'From Our Archives' section of this newspaper.

Back in the 70s, for example, there was barely an eyebrow raised when a politician wondered as to the wisdom of allowing women keep their public sector jobs after getting married - apparently, this 'wasn't giving single girls a chance'. Imagine the uproar if somebody came out with that line today.

It's also almost quaint to look back on some of the things that were big news at the time. In these days of early morning and late night shopping everywhere - and of course, 24/7 retail online - it seems even funny to look back on headlines from the late 70s that told how shops in Wexford would open on Thursdays on a trial basis for a few months, giving up the traditional 'closed day' that many of us had either forgotten about or never knew about in the first place. Then there are notes and snippets about clubs and activities that have long since fallen by the wayside - the Wexford HAM Radio Club, for example, or microwave demonstrations at ICA meetings.

Even how the news was reported was different. For example, forty years ago last month - in April 1975 - the main front page story for three weeks in a row on what was then still called just 'The People' (it didn't become the 'Wexford People' until 1994) was about a vandalised telephone box in a housing estate in the town. Week one was about the vandalism itself; week two was about how two men had appeared in court over it; and week three was saying how much money it cost to fix.

In stark contrast to what the running order would likely be today, the paper of the first of those weeks also had news - in just a few paragraphs at the bottom of a left-hand page - of a terrible tragedy in the county, where a two-year-girl was found dead by her father, having drowned in a shallow puddle on the family farm.

There were no details as to the where or the who - and no follow-up details in the next edition either.

So, we don't know who that poor man was, or even if he's still with us at all, but our heart goes out to him. How he must have been haunted every day since by the memory of what he found on that awful day, and what grief he and the rest of the family must have suffered over such a harrowing loss.

It's enough to make you hope there is indeed a Heaven, so that daddy and daughter can one day be re-united, for far long than the all-too-short time they had together on earth.

Wexford People

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