The Growth of Privacy; Day 7 – Family Ties and Close Communities.
FEBRUARY 5, 2020
When I really think about it, the thing that was most prized, most valued, really glorified in our household and wider family was just that, wider family.
Who we were, where we came from, how this network of relationships interrelated with one another.
There were, of course, many values that were very important at different levels, but I think that this one ran the deepest: the importance of who we were and where we came from.
My father always had huge respect, fascination and knowledge of family relations and family history. Growing up these were the stories that we were told. “You can’t beat breeding”; if there was a phrase to exemplify it, that would be it.
But the context of who we were and where we came from extended beyond straightforward blood ties. Neighbours and community were equally important, or at least as influential.
In the townland where my grandfather lived, and where his ancestors had lived for generations, there were two male Florence McCarthy’s (in case you were thinking my name was a weird one-off), both heads of their respective household, one known as FP (Florence Patrick), my grandfather, and FD (Florence Denis) a cousin across the lane.
And further up this lane, there was a small little cottage in which lived the Pauls. (I haven’t had an opportunity to check yet, but I’m pretty sure Paul must have been a patronym too): Sonny and Julia Paul.
Sonny and Julia were not relatives of ours but they were immediate neighbours of my father’s family and so every weekend when we would call to Garralacka, we would have to call to visit Sonny and Julia.
This was an essential part of the community, just calling to visit regularly, spending time exchanging local news and gossip, discussing the weather, the progress of the agricultural year, whatever. It was always a huge priority of my father’s and, as young children, while we often found it pretty boring to sit around as the adults seemed to talk forever, it was just part of what you did.
Sonny had suffered some injury many years before and was confined to bed. To be honest I don’t remember ever seeing him; he was upstairs in that tiny cottage and we never ventured further than the main room inside the front door. As I think now about the challenges of invalidity and caring for people as they age in our affluent modern society, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Sonny Paul who was invalided and confined to bed upstairs in that tiny cottage for what must have been decades.
Julia was a wonderful woman and we were always dying to see her. Looking back now the cottage was rudimentary. There was no running water, as I remember buckets and pales with lids lined up against the wall as the source of water. The only heat in the building came from the fire in the hearth. There was a revolving bellow beside the fire, on which you could turn the handle and it would blow air up through grate to fan the fire. We used to love turning the handles and making the coals glow red.
Julia would also offer us cordial and biscuits. And while we would take and greedily eat as much as was given to us, my father would always refuse after we had received one.
At the time I always thought he was just being strict with us and polite to her, but when I look back on it now I realise that those treats she would offer us were extravagant luxuries from Julia’s household budget, living as she did without any visible income apart from whatever meagre pension Sonny might have been entitled to. And my father would have been very conscious not to allow us to unconsciously exploit her generosity. Their scarcity made those biscuits and that drop of cordial ambrosial in my memory.
Sonny and Julia had no children and after they died the small cottage fell into disrepair at the end of a lane that led nowhere. I have been back there since and all that is left are the walls; the lane is closed in with briars, and Sonny and Julia’s memories have been returned to nature.
This small close community is the source of many fond memories like this for me; even if, when I think back on it now, what seemed novel and interesting to me in many of those things as a child, may have involved a very poor and hard life for some of those we visited.
As I grew older, the closeness of that community and the emphasis on family and connectedness got in on me. Once I become a teenager I began to resent it. I did not want everyone to know who I was and where I came from; when people said they “knew all belonging to me” that was not something I wanted to hear as someone struggling with developing my own identity.
As so, I moved away from it, both physically and emotionally. I imagine that’s the reason why many move to cities and abroad from rural Ireland; one man’s supportive community can be another man’s claustrophobic squinting windows.
That simple time seems universes away from our global connected world of today. But yet similar considerations arise.
One of the things you could never get away from in that small community was that everyone knew who you were, and what you did or didn’t do was pretty well visible to all.
In our networked digital world who we are and what we do online is similarly exposed. Except now it isn’t our fellow members of the digital communities who are aware of who we are and what we do, instead, it is those who control the data.
Flor McCarthy is one of Ireland’s leading lawyers and a recognised expert in marketing. He has particular expertise and hands-on practical experience in privacy, data protection and GDPR issues for marketers. He is certified by the Law Society of Ireland in Data Protection Practice and lectures lawyers on data protection practice and compliance. He is managing partner of a multi award-winning niche legal practice. He has been in private practice for over 20 years and has been elected by his peers to sit on the exclusive Council of the Law Society of Ireland, the governing body for Irish lawyers.
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