When Bettystown had Bettys (A social history of gentrification)

Bettystown Bettys in their heyday circa 1963. Chief Betty controller Ted Cassidy can be seen keeping an eye on his Bettys.

This week in the Drogheda Leader we examine the effect that social gentrification has had on the Co. Meath village of Bettystown.

It is hard to believe that almost a decade has passed since a newly gentrified Bettystown evicted her last Betty. In the lead up to this seminal anniversary, The Faa Side casts its eye on the sociological impact on the once unpretentious seaside village and looks at government plans to host a special Gathering for diaspora Bettys.

There was a time when meeting a Betty in Bettystown was like shooting fish in a barrel. They were as plentiful as Drogheda Keiransis or North Sea cod. You could be sure that the women renting deck chairs and rubbing cooking oil on pasty women were called Betty and that the man giving the donkey rides was loved by one or more Bettys.

What changed? Why did the coastal village disown her own daughters? Lugs Pentony, lecturer in Working Class Studies at DIFE has a theory. “It’s the Celtic Tiger what did it. Pure and simple.”

Pentony may have a point. Increasing salaries and expectations fuelled by free access to education and too much TV led to the sociological snobbening of the area. Aspirant Dublin couples keeping one step ahead in the property game began to buy up plots by the sea, attracted by rumours of a tennis, bridge and pampas grass.

It didn’t take long for bored blow-in trophy mums who had studied French to discover the word crèche. Within months cottage industry child minders were side-lined; in their place sprung crèches with tax breaks, cheap foreign workers and kids called Blake and Pandora. Bettys found themselves surplus to requirements.

Next to go were the traditional workplaces of the Bettys. Out went the laundries and small shops that sold 99s and rock. Younger Bettys doing sandwich making and washing up apprenticeships were let go for sexier Polish versions and dishwashers.

The main drag became a haze of polo neck boutiques, Celtic jewellery and cafés that sold pesto and Bulgarian apartments. “Bettys are good for Pound Shops,” said one politician, “not house prices.” The Bettys who hadn’t downgraded to Laytown and Mornington found themselves eking a living in pub toilets, jostling for space with streetwise Africans to squirt perfume at rich women for tips.

While the 2006 Census showed a slight decline in Bettys, the 2011 count saw numbers plummet. Then in 2014, the once prestigious Miss Sweaty Betty Competition was cancelled due to lack of entries. Pageant organiser Betty Lawless realised she was the last remaining Bettystown Betty.

From her new home in Laytown, Ms. Lawless wrote to her local TD. A Facebuke campaign to bring all the Bettystown Bettys back for night in Funtasia was started. A fortnight ago, she received a cheque from government offices with instructions to organise a Gathering of Bettys for the Christmas week.

“It’s bleedin’ great news so it is! The only downside is that we have to share the Gathering with the Julians of Julianstown, who were bullied out of their hometown by Dubs for having a posh name. Like us in reverse.”