On Sundays, when I was young(er) we used to eat roast chicken. No roast chicken since has come close to the way my mother cooked it. It was lovely, comforting, clean, basic food. That is one of the things I remember most about Sundays. That and going to Mass - that pretty much covered the pre afternoon segment of my pre teen Sundays.
The afternoon period was usually left open but, like thousands of other Irish families living out their lives circa 1987, we’d usually “go a run.” Since this column goes online these days I should specify to our non Irish readers that going “a run” didn’t mean that my mother, father, sister and I donned spandex and tried to create a Doherty family personal best. Far from it. We’d get ourselves into my dad’s Ford Fiesta, stick on a country music tape and for those three or four hours on a Sunday afternoon, the world - well ok, the county - was our oyster.
Going a run meant we went on a trip to whatever part of Donegal suited us that particular day.
The ‘run’ had a few key elements. Firstly, and obviously, it involved the drive to our chosen destination and back. Then there was the hour or two in between when we’d go to a nice cafe and have something to eat. A visit to a souvenir shop was also a mandatory part of the afternoon out. I attribute all subsequent visits to the dentist to the purchasing and devouring of bars of rock. Rock and roll, it wasn’t, but it was the way we rolled, and thousands of others like us in the Ireland of the eighties.
Now, I live in one of those towns we used to visit.
Moville, when people did ‘Sunday runs’ was thriving with the best of them. Packed with northerners and southerners. Definitely one of the most scenic parts of Donegal, in fact probably up there with the most beautiful parts of Ireland, it really pulled in the crowds. My husband’s maternal grandparents owned a busy shop in the middle of the town, There were hotel rooms galore and a string of places to eat. That was the eighties, when Sundays were for runs.
Sundays aren’t really for that anymore. Life isn’t really built that way, and all around the country, small towns who made a profit from the disappearing ritual are dying on their feet. There’s a need to reinvent and it has to come quickly.
Last week, a gift shop which had been trading in Moville for over 30 years, announced its closure. It survived one recession, so it can’t totally be attributed to that. There are no hotel beds in Moville now where there had previously been three hotels trading. They too had all come through the last recession as well. In that case, does the winding down of the seaside economy go hand in hand with the general state of the nation. Probably not?
Sundays, now, are the property of retail parks and shopping centres and when they aren’t it’s generally considered bad form to force your child away from the tv to inflict a two hour drive with their parents on them. In fact, I’m sure if you look hard enough there’s probably a law against it.
I have to hold my hands up and say Sunday afternoon drives are a rarity for my own family these days too. With a husband who works weekends and a house that only gets a deep clean the days I’m off work i.e. Sundays and Mondays, the few free hours of the weekend usually involve doing very little beyond relaxing. In that sense, we are contributing to the demise of Sunday as a business day for small towns.
Times have changed and I feel sorry for the people who have to sell something new to an increasingly demanding customer.
Smaller towns in Ireland that once depended on the Sunday afternoon market are in need of a business revolution and how hard will that prove when people have less money in their pockets than ever before?