The “Point of No Return” comes to you this week straight from the southwest of Ireland.
As I write this, I’m in a car heading north from Killarney to enjoy a dinner and show at Bunratty Castle, located between the towns of Limerick and Shannon.
Originally, I had another column planned for this week, but I’ve decided to let this whole vacation play out first so I can give to you the full details on what has been a magical and memorable trip for me.
One of the great experiences for me this trip has been the opportunity I’ve had to mingle with quite a few locals.
Oh, rest assured, I’ve put a serious dent in the nation’s supply of Guinness and Jameson, and I’m quite certain I’ve also aided those with stock in Tums and Excedrin, but what I’ll take back with me more than any hangover has been the chance to learn what concerns the locals here.
Surprisingly, it sounds a lot like home.
Ireland is currently in an economic boom, though many fear they are at a point where the good times could be at a crest.
The nation has been unofficially dubbed “The Silicon Valley of Europe” as high-tech advancements have created a financial upturn and newly-created jobs have brought the population numbers to heights not seen since famine wiped out half to two-thirds of the population in the 19th Century.
Tourism numbers are high, and cash and new homes are flooding the landscape.
Stop me if you’ve heard a lot of this before.
See, like back home, people are wary of the growth. According to one report, approximately 16 percent of Ireland’s workforce is now employed in construction.
While the locals truly appreciate and welcome the tourism (fine, it’s not exactly like back home), the mass increase in population and the slow disappearance of fields and open space has them concerned. There is also quite a bit of grumbling about foreign workers taking many of those construction jobs, and an underlying fear of mass unemployment when the growth begins inevitably to slow down.
But, unlike us, they do appreciate that their livelihood is dependent on preserving the scenery and ambience of their traditional vacationer hot spots.
Scenic coastal areas, such as the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry, draw the vacationers in with their majestic beauty, and every effort is made to keep these spots as they’ve been for centuries.
The growth happens in the outlying areas, as whole towns have sprung from what were previously considered barren areas.
“Oh, if someone had tried to sell me some land over there 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have offered him $5,” said Paddy, a lifelong resident of Killarney. “But nowadays people line up to build houses over there, and they’re paying hundreds of thousands of dollars just for the right to do so.”
Contrast that thought process to Sussex County — and the state of Delaware, for that matter — where the thought process is to build up the beach area with massive development and oftentimes ignore the infrastructure needed to support said growth.
Where our officials see the coastal area as a place to draw money from and ignore, the officials in Ireland use the growth in the outlying areas to support maintaining the beauty of their coastal and historical areas.
This is one instance I’d have to say the Irish have it right over us.
However, I’m not as sold on their voting practices.
The general election is coming up in Ireland next month and the candidate posters dot every utility pole, building, business window and stray dog they can find.
After a few questions, I learned that when a voter walks into the booth, he or she votes for three candidates in each race — assigning a number value next to each selection from one to three.
A voter can either vote for three people of the same political bent, or spread them about more if they believe in a more diversified cast of leaders.
First off, can you picture any staunch Democrat or Republican in the United States spreading his or her vote to make things more “fair” by voting in some candidates from the other party?
Second, can you picture the state of Florida trying to figure out a weighted election? Do the hanging chads get consideration based on just how far the chad is hanging?
And, when was the last time you considered three people actually qualified in one race? I mean, the very basis of our democratic process has been “My guy stinks less than your guy” or “At least he never touched...”
But, from Ireland, I digress.