The COVID axe has fallen again here in Ireland. It was sort-of inevitable. Gaelforce West has been postponed until next year. As we mentioned in the last post, these are luxury problems for folks like me, but in terms of the local economy out in the west of Ireland, these are body blows. And as any boxer will tell you, it is the two dozen punches to the midriff that does for you in the end.
Gaelforce organise races of all sorts around the country, but their heartland is out in the west, on the shores of Killary Fjord. You can read more about their story here (https://gaelforceevents.com/en/home-gaelforce-story). If you can attract several hundred hungry runners and adventure racers into your small community, well, it stands to reason there will be a decent amount of ‘spend’ going on. Hotels, B&Bs and other accommodation must be booked. Restaurants and cafés will be frequented. Shops will be sought out for snacks and drinks. All that money filters out into the wider local community. And unlike, perhaps, a city break, you can be sure most of that money is going to stay reasonably local too.
So when these focal points vanish off the calendar, there is a ripple effect, and it’s not a pleasant ripple like the gentle ones you create when you drop a pebble into a pond. Each one of these ‘ripples’ start to look like waves, and in the end, you can go under. I have no idea if there are any government supports for small enterprises like Killary Adventure (the company that arranges Gaelforce events). Sure, there are social welfare payments for workers who are laid off, but that’s only a temporary measure, and little comfort if your job is wiped out. And I have no doubt there are many more businesses like Gaelforce and Killary Adventure that are struggling badly in these very uncertain times.
These are the family businesses. The ones that grow organically. They don’t typically attract much interest from the ‘big boys’ in the grants business who are constantly swivelled towards further shores, on the lookout for FDI (foreign direct investment). And sure, multinationals are a great catch. (Like days of old, when you hauled in a whale to shore from your small fleet of boats; worth the wait sometimes. Spend the week trying to catch sprats, or hope to land the big one and feed the village for the winter…)
Well, if we are going to continue the fishing analogy, let’s throw in the classic ‘teach a man to fish’ reference. Businesses (particularly anywhere outside the major centres) are struggling in Ireland. COVID will sink quite a few. The clock is ticking, and the final tally won’t be known for some time. But there will be a reckoning and we can be sure that it won’t make the news; certainly not like the good news stories when the big tech or pharma companies come to town. So we need to make sure we are developing and nurturing local enterprise too. A hundred small businesses employing five people each may be more sustainable in the long run (and therefore more beneficial) than one business employing five hundred. Not least if that one business ups-sticks overnight and vanishes to another country (where oddly enough, we often find their labour conditions and rates of pay are poorer than ours here).
We have kept our hotel booking out west. Gaelforce West may be off for the year, but the west is still one of the most beautiful places in the world. And there is still a mountain we can climb, if we wish. And seas to swim. Dinners to enjoy. Beaches to walk.
It’s all still out there, and we plan to go out and enjoy it anyway. And leave at least a few quid behind in the pockets of locals. Not because it’s some patronising imbalanced feudal system of trickle-down economics, but a real social contract. It works, but it can be a delicate enough balance. And if those businesses are not there, they cannot employ local people, and we, as tourists, cannot ‘spread the largesse’.
The current – and very real – story here is COVID, which is not news to anyone. But this viral issue will eventually pass. And if not entirely pass, then it will be absorbed into the day-to-day running of things. We can talk about the economy, but in the end, it’s all about people, and society. Economy is just a part of that; it’s not the be-all and end-all. Indeed, to paraphrase a quote from Braveheart, economists couldn’t agree on the colour of shite.*
So we will head out west – not once, but twice – next month, for a couple of breaks. The second break is further west again, to Inishbofin. It was our honeymoon destination back in 1996. And we’ll be staying in a family-owned hotel.
And next year, with any luck, we can race around Killary Fjord and ascend Croagh Patrick with a few hundred other lunatics.
And if you get the chance, perhaps you might consider your local business too. Stay safe out there.
* Gotta love this quote from Wiki about Braveheart: In 2009, the film was second on a list of “most historically inaccurate movies” in The Times. In the humorous non-fictional historiography An Utterly Impartial History of Britain (2007), author John O’Farrell claims that Braveheart could not have been more historically inaccurate, even if a Plasticine dog had been inserted in the film and the title changed to “William Wallace and Gromit“.
And what all this means, in the end, is that the quote about the varying shades of faecal matter and the inability of so-called experts in economics to distinguish same was about the most accurate thing in the whole farrago. Though we admit it was enjoyable stuff, as farragos go…