I first became aware of Doonbeg in west Clare as a fourteen year old when I spent the summer in the nearby town of Kilkee.
We did not have a car, so we relied on a local taxi driver, PJ King, to take us around the area. On one day of glorious sunshine, when Kilkee was full to overflowing, he suggested going to the White Strand.
In the years since, White Strands and Tránna bána have become a mainstay of my travelling
However, in the mid sixties, the White Strand at Killard near Doonbeg, was my first experience of such a soothing and beautiful scene, and I found it quite enchanting in the real sense of the word.
We were the only people there and across the bay, we could see an equally deserted stretch of pristine sand edged with the white froth of surfing waves, which we were told was Doughmore strand.
We stopped at the local pub and got a sense of a small community, still based largely on farming, a challenging way of life, then, as now. My first impressions of Doonbeg, then, were extremely positive.
Each year we returned to Kilkee and I found out a little more about west Clare in general. I met a girl named Mary McGrath who was working in our hotel. She was the life and soul of the place, hailed from Doonbeg, and was a font of local knowledge. Mary and the number of folk from Doonbeg I met over the years came to represent the town and its values to me.
One of my hobbies is the study of history and I soon uncovered the tale from the War of Independence which related to a Residential Magistrate in Clare called Lendrum.
After he had been killed in IRA operation, the local Crown forces were determined to apprehend the perpetrators of the attack – and by all accounts were none too mindful about the process of law.
Some time later, the Captain of the Doonbeg Company of the IRA, Mikey McNamara and the Chief of the local IRA Police, Wille Shanahan, were captured by the Black and Tans, and eventually tortured and murdered. Once I had discovered their graves in the Republican Plot at Doonbeg Graveyard, I made it a routine to stop and pay my respects each time I passed through the village.
Shanahan was from Doughmore and McNamara from close by in Mountrivers. They were Doonbeg men and are still remembered with pride by many locally. To me, they represent the historical values of Doonbeg and west Clare – where community and neighbours were put before all else.
However, should you Google “Doonbeg Republicans” these days, you will come across a long list of articles pertaining to Donald Trump and the property he owns at Doughmore. The golf course, club and hotel complex backs on to that long strand and has brought fame and notoriety in equal parts to Doonbeg.
And, to me, that seems a shame.
By all accounts, the project itself reflects the Trump house style in its overblown tastelessness and there have been recent conflicts over his desire to build a wall (no really) between the strand and his property to offset the effects of erosion, from the Global Warming he professes does not exist.
Over more than fifty years I have grown to have affection and admiration for the folk of west Clare. It is a beautiful place to live, but not the easiest location in which to thrive.
So when local folk put out the bunting for Trump’s visit this week, it’s easy to understand the dollar signs in their eyes. There are all sorts of estimates for how much the Trump project brings in to the village. Some are wildly overestimated, others fail to take note of how much of that cash remains in the local economy.
It’s also true to say that, as a mere visitor, albeit with an interest in the area, it’s really none of my business – but I’m not sure that precludes me from having my say, whether or not local folk agree with me – and , clearly, many do not.
So maybe it’s better to widen out the discussion.
Ultimately, it’s not about Trump and Doonbeg, it’s about the west of Ireland, the Irish government and economy, and people’s choices.
But before I leave Trump, can I share some of the experiences we have had here in Scotland when it comes to his “investment” in an area.
Up at Menie, in the north of Scotland, building a similar complex, he made all manner of grandiloquent promises about jobs, the scale of the project, and the amount he would invest. In addition, he verbally attacked local people who would not sell out their land to him, and built a huge earthen wall (there we go again) around their property to cut them off from his land.
Like Doonbeg, and his other property at Turnberry in Scotland, the investment has been minimal compared to what was promised, and huge losses are being incurred. It’s what Trump does: promises big and then goes into administration when losses are insurmountable. Atlantic City in the USA is still trying to recover from the collapse of his casinos.
The business people of Doonbeg may be happy to grab the additional income while they can, but they should be doing so with one eye to developing a more sustainable business model against the day when Trump and his projects are no more.
Of course, there is nothing new about US President’s linking to Ireland – 22 of them have claimed connections, and since John F Kennedy’s visit to Wexford in the sixties, we have seen Reagan visit Co Tipperary and Obama’s link to Co Offaly amongst others.
Trump has no such connection. His background is German and Scots – though there is little likelihood of his visiting his mother’s homeplace on Lewis, as locals have suggested they would run him out of the place such is the disgrace they feel he has brought to it.
So, while we could accuse former Presidents of cultivating the Irish American vote by visiting their “Roots”, there is no such agenda for Trump – a man so careless of family heritage that he frequently claims his American born father was born in Germany. He will visit Doonbeg on the same basis as he visited Troon in Scotland and his weekend golfing jaunts in America – to promote the Trump name and business, and to add more taxpayers’ money into his depleted coffers. He cares not a jot for local people or their history or their business.
But we really should be looking at the reasons behind local folks’ determination to welcome Trump and take his money. Many have said this week that they deplore his politics and values but are “separating the man from his policies”. This may appear to be a Jesuitical level of sophistry, but I would suggest that anyone who grew up in west Clare over the past fifty or sixty years would perfectly understand their thinking.
Put simply, there is no other option. This is an area that has been grossly underfunded and overlooked by successive Irish governments literally from the foundation of the State. You would have to go back to the long diminished Shannon Free Trade Area and the Ard-na-Crusha power station well over fifty years ago to see any notable governmental attempt to regenerate the area.
My background is in Leitrim – a county which has suffered similarly. If you feel my statement is overly harsh, examine the increasingly desperate letters written to DeValera by Blasket Islanders in the late 1940s, asking initially for something as simple as effective radio communications with the mainland and ultimately, after a young man’s death from appendicitis, begging for evacuation. And this was to a President who claimed to believe the “soul” of Ireland was to be found in the West.
As recently elected Councillor, Cillian Murphy, of Kilkee, has pointed out, in north Clare, the Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s biggest tourist attractions, yet the majority of tourists are bussed there from Dublin and spend very little time or money in the local area. What Clare gets from this “tourist boom” is crowded roads and a disinclination from some tourists to vist the area because of how overcrowded certain areas become.
In Kilkee itself, the ill fated property boom led to a huge number of houses being built in and around the town, but these are largely holiday homes and the current year round occupation of Kilkee property hovers around 30%. How is a town to survive long term on such a model? Until recently in this holiday resort, not one of its major hotels were open for business.
Times change and God forbid we should be looking for the west of Ireland to become some kind of heritage theme park. Indeed, it is organic change which offers the best hope for these areas, a change built on local people and their talents, adapting to contemporary conditions.
A national economic plan which depends on low Corporation Tax and similar incentives, will, by its nature, attract the multinational conglomerates who roam the world looking for such opportunities. When better conditions are offered elsewhere, they up and leave with no thought to the local economy they are leaving behind.
Unfortunately, this can work politically and economically in the short term – as in boosting a party’s chances in the next election – but provides no sustainable model for the workforce or locality. What we have seen in Ireland is a steady growth of the economy around Dublin and an increasing struggle in other areas. Sadly, the current government, and to be fair its predecessors, either have no desire or no idea how to decentralise wealth and power, or how to redistribute it in a fairer and more sustainable manner.
This explains how folk in Doonbeg are only too ready to welcome the odious Trump to their place – he is, almost literally, the only show in town.
However, with support and vision, there are other possibilities.
For most of the twenty or so years I visited Kilkee regularly, from the sixties onwards, the only place to eat, apart from the hotels, would have been Manuel Di Lucia’s Savoy Cafe which was a chipper, hamburgers from the Central Stores, or the odd sandwich in a pub. Now there are a number of local restaurants with well cooked local produce and varied fare, producing high quality menus.
The trip out to Loop Head was once a lesson in depopulation and hard times, but now local businesses are starting to blossom in places like Carrigaholt and Kilbaha, again with local folk and skills being utilised and showcased.
Focus, cooperative working, vision, and ethically sourced investment can help these areas grow and proper, keeping young people in the area, or tempting graduates and others to return to their homeplace. It requires leadership and hard work and a willingness to keep on approaching government and other sources for the kind of start up funds and support that make the difference between ideas and practical progress.
Rural areas in particular have been badly let down by governments for whom the ideals of the Republic seem to have been replaced by the dictats of self interest.
I think the people of Doonbeg and hundreds of similar communities deserve better than to become prey to any passing venture capitalist.
It’s about time that folk no longer needed to perform the difficult task of holding their nose while opening the till to bank the income forged on the back of dodgy businesses run by degenerates like Trump. It’s maybe too late for this generation – but surely we owe it to the next.
Doonbeg, like Ireland, is not about business or even land or locality. It is about people, and people who deserve to be able to make a good living out of local resources without having to prostitute their values.
This area and its coastline has so much to offer and has the people to manage that, if they are given the support.
It should be built on the values and commitment of folk like Shanahan and McNamara, Mary McGrath and all the other Doonbeg families who have put so much into the community through the generations and deserve to be so much more than the backdrop to an international privateer’s fantasies.
The folk in Doonbeg cannnot be blamed for grabbing the profit while it’s on offer, there’s little alternative, but it’s the knowledge that one day, they or their children will pay the price for such short term economic planning that makes this week’s activities so depressing.
The blame is not with the people of west Clare, nor even with Trump, whose extremely limited view of the world prevents him from operating in any other way – it lies 200 miles to the east and has existed really from the foundation of the State.
Res publica – about the people.
Something has been lost in translation.