I was driving home on a sunny afternoon recently, when I spied two women walking down the road ahead of me. I did not recognise them as they neared but as is customary, I slowed down and lifted one finger off the steering wheel as I passed. Imagine my shock when not only did they not salute me in return, but they didn’t even glance in my direction. In fact, they completely ignored me.

Now, the area where I have lived for a generation has grown considerably in the last five to ten years. Houses have been popping up here and there and more on are the way. In fact, I am frequently surprised when taking a back road that I’ve not travelled for a few months. I come around a bend and there is a huge house in the middle of what used to be a muddy field full of cows. The new houses are all big, beautiful, white, and modern. Solar panels and separate two car garages are the norm. Houses rarely sell for less than half a million euros around here, which is well above the national average house price of 300,000 euros according to the Residential Property Price Index for 2022. Who knew that what used to be described by the ESB as “an isolated rural pocket” would become an affluent neighbourhood?

Overall, the increase has been a good thing. The developments have mostly been done by local builders and the homes all quickly filled with families. The school and pub are flying it, and the GAA is thriving. Overall, the community is buzzing. In fact, the only real downside is that the new owners of these big houses also tend to have big cars, which makes walking down the road dodgy, which in turn means that less children walk or bike to school. But I digress.

As I pondered the strange behaviour of the two women on the road, it occurred to me that they must be new arrivals. Perhaps they came from a large city? I recently went to London and though I passed more people in five minutes as I stood trying to hail a taxi in Shepard’s Bush than I do on my road in a year; I only actually interacted with one other human – the cabbie who picked me up. (He was lovely mind you. Born in London to Irish parents from Kerry.) I’m a city girl born and raised. I know how not to make eye contact on a crowded urban street. I am comfortable with putting every human I pass into a little ‘Do not acknowledge unless necessary box’ as I go through my day. But one of the joys of living in a rural setting is that we do not ignore other people. I really enjoy the brief acknowledgment of shared humanity that a quick salute brings. There is also something graciously old-fashioned about a good salute. It’s from a different, more relaxed time. To lose it would be a shame. (Besides – How else will you know if you’re being shunned?) 

Saluting is important. It recognises that you have passed another member of the human race. It is only common decency to mark the fact that you have made a connection no matter how tiny. It is why I love the countryside more than big cities. In cities there are too many other humans to salute them all. In the countryside you have the time and space to give a little gesture of recognition. 

For those new to rural customs, including visitors who may be reading this around Paddy’s day or the West Cork Rally, here is a handy guide to West Cork salutations:

– When passing someone you don’t know, one finger is sufficient, except if passing requires extra manoeuvres like slowing way down to avoid the ditch. In that case four fingers are lifted in a nearly full hand salute.

– The full hand salute is used when passing someone that you know, but not necessarily well. The full hand is lifted in a quick movement. Like a military salute but not as high up.

– The full arm extension is used when saluting a good friend or family member. The full salute is accompanied by a full nod of recognition. Handy for when you see a friend across the street but don’t have the time to stop and chat.

A salutation is like a little message to each other: “I see you.” It’s like a West Cork version of Namaste. Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Tina Pisco

Tina Pisco is a best-selling author, who has lived in West Cork, Ireland for the past twenty years.

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