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June 2019
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2004-10-19 Irish are a nation of adaptors who are not afraid of change

Had I been told a few years ago that it would be an offence to light up in a pub in Ireland in 2004, I would have said "Never in a hundred years".


But as our nation's smokers prepare themselves to pursue their addictive pastime in the cold and rain outside the country's hostelries, I realise that we really are a nation of adaptors. Even during my short (ish) life, Ireland has had to learn to adapt to several big changes in lifestyle. No sooner had pound notes been replaced with pound coins than we were presented with the `Euro'. Already it is as though the `Euro' has been around for years.


Long before that, and before my time, the nation had adapted to Decimal Currency from `Pounds, shillings and pence'. The credit card has become an every day way of life, and banking now involves ATMs, online banking and minimal customer service. The old friendly corner shop `service with a smile' has become more or less a thing of the past, and service - if at times you can call it that - is more often than not accompanied by a `couldn't care less' attitude. Unless of course there is a slim chance of a tip, and thus, waiting staff are still generally courteous.


I remember when the "Bonne Chane" was the only place to eat out in Sligo, but now every cuisine is available to us - French, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Turkish and more. I remember when Sligo's phone numbers contained four digits, later five, now seven. We all now have mobiles, and send each other written text messages. Instead of popping down to someone's desk at the office - we email them! We even book our flights, car hire and holidays online, and seem to be employing the services of the travel agent less and less. And when we go on these holidays, we are no longer fed free on the flights, as our hostesses offer us refreshments from their `pay-bar'. Airline meals tended to be fairly mingin' at the best of times, so I, for one am ok with the `Bring your own' or `Buy ours' policy.


In airports we are forced to endure long winding queues in specially constructed barriers that accommodate hundreds. We pay for trolleys in airports and supermarkets, and for parking we either scratch a permit, `pay and display' or `park and ride'. The once frequent sound of the old clapped-out car back-firing has become a thing of the past, and many of us now take our cars by the hand to the NCT Centre, hoping they will pass the rigorous test. The newish penalty points system has us all now much more aware of speed limits, and seems to have helped the drink-driving problem.


And we are pretty good at wearing seat-belts, even as back-seat passengers. As speed limits are about to be converted from miles to kilometres, some of us continue to deal in miles. On the N4 just outside Dublin, where it says `Sligo 208 km', I still find myself mentally dividing by eight and multiplying by five, or referring to my speedometer for a rougher conversion. Most buses are driver-only and conductor-less. In Dublin we buy our Luas tickets by touch-screen ticket machines. We all have wheelie-bins (some have a second `Green' one for recycling), and many of us religiously recycle our glass, paper and clothes. Now we even see bins on the Dublin streets which have separate compartments for plastic, paper and glass.


Childhoods and Christmases have changed beyond recognition; childhoods have lost their innocence and the emphasis on simple pleasures, and Christmas has drifted away from its true message and become over-commercialised and `Disney-fied'.


But as a nation we continue to plod on and adapt to all these changing circumstances. Maybe because of our chequered history of occupation, we have been forced to adapt? However, the one thing we need to, as a nation, learn to adjust to is the influx of refugees and foreign nationals.


We seem to have a very short memory in that regard, forgetting that not so long ago we ourselves were a nation of refugees and emigrants, and as a nation of (generally) good adaptors, we need to employ a little more of the "Céad míl fáilte' for our new residents.