This piece of writing was originally going to be about Mayo County Council’s decision, some years ago, to name the N5 Charlestown bypass after John Healy and how that decision was a case of inappropriate commemoration.
It turned out differently. And here’s why:
John Healy (1930-1991) worked as a journalist first at the Western People and ended up at the Irish Times, where, in the 1960s, he wrote a series of articles about his hometown, Charlestown; the articles were later collected and published under the title, No One Shouted Stop: Death of an Irish Town. The book, one of the best collections of twentieth century Irish journalism, was a raging portrait of a community in decline: emigration, empty streets, abandoned handball alleys.
When Mayo County Council (MCC) decided to christen the road which bypasses Charlestown after the man who raged against the decline of the town, my reactions were: Why would they do that? Is it some sort of joke? Do they not see the irony in the decision?
So I began to write what I imagined would be a potential explanation of why the decision was made.
Here, briefly, was the gist of argument:
An unfaithful husband buys flowers for his wife. The bunch of flowers is supposed to be a symbol of the husband’s love for his wife but in reality is a symbol of his guilty conscience. Similarly, I thought, with MCC: naming the bypass after John Healy was the symbol of a guilty conscience.
That written, I opened Google and typed into the search bar: effects of bypasses on small towns.
265,000 results in 0.52 seconds.
A brief scan through the most relevant hits revealed a consensus: bypasses can actually help small towns to revitalize their economies.
I’d always assumed that bypasses damage small towns.
I’d discovered something, which was: while writing, and perhaps unconsciously, I seek out facts and quotes which conform to my preconceived ideas. Which means, I’ve got to ask myself the question: Is everything I write terribly slanted and prejudiced? Do I avert my eyes from what I don’t want to see? Do I listen to only what I want to hear?
What it comes down to is: I do not want my relationship with the world to be governed by assumptions. I want to be open. I want to be challenged. I want to be receptive to those ideas/facts/people which/who pull the rug from under my assumptions. Only then will I write honestly. Only then will I enjoy a full life.
(The jury, however, is still out on Mayo County Council.)