Jonathan Kraut: The luck and efficiency of the Irish

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My wife and I just returned from a quick trip to Ireland to see my son and grandson. Although we moved on from the Emerald Isle to mainland Europe to extend our visit to include some cousins, I was struck by the simplicity of Irish life.

Ireland consists of 5 million souls. Metro Dublin, the capital and largest city, constitutes about 40% of the country’s population. That means that the rest of the country, about the size of Southern California, is very sparsely populated and most towns are populated by under a thousand residents.

These small towns are separated by miles of farmland with some occasional patches of wooded rolling hills. Most of rural Ireland now might remind of us when Santa Clarita was called Mentryville and later Saugus. I can imagine vast distances between homes and every few hours a horse-drawn cart coming down those dirt roads called the Old Road and Sierra Highway.

A typical traffic jam in Ireland is fifty cars coming into town and fifty cars leaving town down the same two-lane road at the beginning and the end of each work day. Drivers are courteous and generally waving to each other to go ahead and turn or proceed and waving a thank you back.

While it might take fifteen minutes to get into or out of a small Irish town at “rush hour,” no one seems to be in a hurry and no one seems to be late for anything. I have to admit there seems to be a very low stress level throughout the Irish population.

Ireland, green and experiencing a dash of rain several times a day, is mostly connected by two-lane country roads and actual highways are rare. The frequent rains and narrow roads make travel short in distance but long to negotiate.

A surprise about Ireland is the many millions of miles of stone walls etching out ever-present one acre (about 210 feet) by three acre farm segments.

There are five-foot high stone walls everywhere dividing pastures and farms. Although we traveled from coast to coast on a three-day excursion, I never saw mega-farms, miles of open range, or stretches of un-walled farmland.

I estimate that one hundred years from now, every patch of land suitable for homes will be built in the Santa Clarita Valley, with the exception of space designated for parks and as open space. We don’t want miles upon miles of walls carving out every acre of arable or level land.

The other big surprise about Irish society is that the Irish have taken to paying careful attention to preserving resources and minimizing costs.

Houses are tiny. Autos are mostly compacts. Rooms are small. Roads are narrow. Small, clean, and efficient is the Irish rule.

Showers are heated with an electric fitting behind the nozzle and switched on when hot water is in use and switched off afterwards. There are virtually no 50-gallon hot water tanks using natural gas to stay hot day and night.

Hot water radiation heaters, one in each room, are used only as needed.

Homes are small, bedrooms are tiny, and there may be one closet in the master bedroom if there are any closets at all. Most residences are what we would call condos- a two-story with adjacent walls on either side with other units and a small yard in the rear.

My son says 1,200 square feet with three bedrooms and small bathrooms is typical of a large family with children.

Conservation of resources and careful attention to efficiency are Irish formats we have not found a need to embrace. We are enjoying our excesses as the norm.

Perhaps we do not appreciate the extravagant environments we have created for ourselves. Our standard of living, expansive estates and broad streets, and filling large rooms to capacity with furnishings reflect a mindset of plenty and unlimited wealth.

We are spoiled. Spoiled means “entitled.”

Hopefully our efforts now to preserve and conserve will become the social standard and not the exception. These efforts start with a conscious society, smart planners, and thoughtful politicians.

Our expectations of the unlimited are not sustainable forever. We need to cultivate a new mindset or suffer higher taxes and continue to shovel the underclass into squalor.

One hundred years from now the SCV may look more like the Irish model of efficiency we so far have chosen to ignore. But are we willing to elect those who will do more with less, cut spending, and promote efficiency to get there?

Jonathan Kraut directs private investigations and private security firms, is a published author, Democratic Party activist, and SCV Interfaith Council member. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.

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