There’s something beautifully solemn and just a little bit sad about walking around parts of Dundalk these days.
Of course, some places in the town are still bustling and busy. But there are other areas that lie quiet, still and at rest. If you find such a place, cherish it. It won’t be that way forever. Nothing ever is.
Strangely, mine is the Finnabair Business Park, off the Inner Relief Road. It’s somewhere I go walking to clear the head and open the lungs a little. Remove the confinement of the four walls for the better part of an hour.
As you drift off the bypass, down a pathway into the industrial park you notice the fresh and modern buildings – all glass and steel; perfectly functional, but just a little limited in architectural execution.
Most of these fine buildings are still new looking even as the years have passed by, and some still are brand new.
You can see the evolution of office block design quite clearly as you ramble around the park. The likes of the Boylesports building, or the Enterprise Ireland office scream 1980s design – redbrick and colour with occasional jagged protrusions.
Others, the Irish Life block among them, are so new that the paint is probably still damp on the walls within. These more modern offices are bright, airy and favour glass and steel over simpler bricks and mortar.
I usually for a walk around 5.45pm (give or take 15 minutes). The business park is within my five kilometres and it affords, due to its synthetic ‘small town’ and circular streetscape layout a chance to walk further for less radial distance outwards – if that makes any sense?
Most evenings - in the past week or two anyway- the sun is beginning its slow decent coming up to six o’clock. The birds still sing aloud in the perfectly planned trees dotted around the park, but that’s the only discernible noise - bar the familiar, low hum from a warehouse or office block air conditioning unit.
Life and business is quiet here in March 2021.
With the sunlight draining from the day, the illumination from the empty office spaces glows outwards. Inside you can see the desks, the chairs, the screens on white walls and the inspiring quotes along the walls – once upon a time used to pep-up flagging employees.
Occasionally a runner skips past your shoulder – sometimes a little too close for comfort. And then a collared dog might bound towards you, whistled back by its owner just in time.
This walk around the business park is now the highlight of my day. On one brief occasion a hare even scurried across the tarmacked road and dived headlong into the bushes for cover.
Inside one structure, head buried in his phone, a security guard waits; never vetting anyone coming in or going out. His task of minding an empty building never truer than during this pandemic.
One sees this ‘small town’ now and thinks back to what it was pre-March 2020 – a hive of people, cars, construction, noise and life. Always movement, as people came off or went on shift – the 24-hour rotation of work ceaseless.
That’s gone now. But forever? Surely not.
There’s a small man-made pond in the middle of Finnabair Business Park. A nice water feature within such fabricated uniformity.
But nothing of note lives within it. Never has it would appear. There’s no fish or species calling it home. No nature at play.
At a certain point in my walk you arrive at the brow of a moderate incline. The road and footpath head upwards to meet the main avenue.
And there, just as you reach the intersection, the sea comes into view on the horizon.
It’s only this week I noticed it for the first time, beforehand it was too dark at that stage to see anything but the streetlights and speckled glowing windows. But now, coming to the tail-end of March, the sea is visible and the mountains beyond.
The Cooleys, and further back in the distance, the Mournes, might as well be the Andes or the Alps, such is our inability to surmount them right now.
It’s only when your options are so limited that you truly realise the scale of everything else. But the hills will remain there and one day, soon, we should all be able to reach them again.
By the time the old Heinz factory is facing you, the light has gone from another day. The din of vehicles on the bypass starts to build again.
There was a time, decades ago, when all this land was just that. When it was the countryside and the town of Dundalk lay in the distance.
Sometimes these days it almost feels like nature is trying just that bit harder to reclaim what it lost.
To roll the years back and recapture the auld sod.