Ireland’s fittest families are terrifying – and beware those who come bearing funky songs
If you were to take a person from the ancient world – a woman from medieval London, for example, or a man from 1980s Kildare – they would be very confused by what’s going on in Ireland’s Fittest Family (Sunday, RTE 1).
Watching four members of the McCann clan hanging from metal bars suspended 20ft over the Irish Sea, it would appear that they were being publically punished for some terrible crime (licence-fee avoidance, perhaps). But as events proceed, it seems that, terrifyingly, these are volunteers and this is a competition devised by those evil geniuses at RTÉ. Overseen in its third year by recovering D’Arcy acolyte Mairead Farrell, when European civilisation collapses (in 2023), Ireland’s
Fittest Family will be how we choose our leaders.
For now, we are introduced to each family, weaker members of which have been left to die on nearby hillsides. These people run for pleasure and not because they’re being chased by local children or diseased bats. They have trophy cabinets filled with trophies, not empty crisp packets. Competition has bonded them together and not ripped them apart into bitter, feuding, will-parsing factions, like it did with your family.
In short, they are exactly the kind of people you’d expect to hang happily from an iron bar until they lose their grip while people shout things like “keep on hanging” or “hang on a bit longer” and the song Hangin’
Tough by New Kids on the Block plays in the background.
(Incidentally, Hangin’ Tough by NKOTB – a song in which five boys with excellent hair posture as a street gang and threaten to “put you in a trance with a funky song” – is the toughness level I personally aspire to.)
Ireland’s fittest families are not like your stupid family. Certainly none of them has to be dragged to the suspension contraption like a cartoon cat, grabbing passing lamp posts and screaming: “I don’t want to hang on the bar! I don’t want to!” which is what you would do.
No, they go to the bar calmly and are thankful for their experience. “It was a lovely sensation actually, just hanging,” says eerily relaxed 48-year-old Mary O’Brien Devine, who manages to cling to the iron bar for two minutes before plummeting into the depths, and may have been driven mad by the experience.
But the “hang a family from an iron bar” game is only one part of the episode. Six families in total are taking part, each in two batches of three, and one family from each batch will be eliminated from the competition.
Once the winner of the “hang a family from an iron bar” game makes it through to the next round, it is, in Mairead Farrell’s words, “time for the [remaining] families to fight it out in the Eliminator”.
Now, this is not followed by each family choosing weaponry from a selection of pikes, buzzsaws and axes, for the Eliminator is actually just a glorified obstacle course devised by someone who’s been working through their own family issues.
Firstly, one member of the family must heave a big net filled with baggage to a huge height (“This is awful to watch,” says one of the coaches sadly) before running to release the rest of their family from a shipping container (“The McCanns are finally out of the container,” says Mairead chillingly). Then they must run, jump and climb over several obstacles before ascending a ramp to a podium, signifying their superiority to their rivals and, let’s be honest, you, you loser.
Luckily, at this stage, thanks to the general wide-eyed can-do-itive likeability of these strange creatures (I’m not sure I’m even part of the same species, to be honest), I start enjoying myself and coming up with my own tactics.
These include: hanging on the bar longer than everyone else in the first round; running faster and being stronger than everyone in the second round; or, more realistically, using my journalistic skills to persuade another contestant to carry me on their back like a baby. “Interesting technique,” I imagine Farrell saying in voiceover, as a 20-year-old GAA player hauls my weeping, inert form over the finish line.
Anyway, all good things must end. “After a gruelling day, we’ve lost two families,” says Farrell sadly (the losers are, presumably, humanely destroyed).
Love and marriage
The McGraynor family are among those who make it through. One of the sons (not the one who has an anchor tattoo on his bicep, like Popeye) admiringly observes how his father single-handedly dragged his mother up the ramp. “That’s why they’re married, I suppose,” he says.
“I’m sorry I’m getting a bit emotional but it’s a lovely thing to do with your family,” says the McGraynor patriarch. “To your family,” I find myself correcting him from the sofa.
Kieran, of the triumphant and triumphalist Davern family, whose torso is triangle shaped and tattooed, like an occult Mr Man, concludes by offering a dark picture of the future. “We’re always going to be chasing you, we’re always going to be hunting you down,” he promises.
Yeah, you heard him – he’s talking to you. And what have you got to defend yourself? That’s right, the lyrics of
Hangin’ Tough by New Kid on The Block. When Kieran comes bearing down on you, the lust for victory in his eyes, the best you can do is to try putting him “in a trance with your funky song”. Yeah, that’s all you’ve got. That’s all you’ve got going for you.
One of the sons admiringly observes how his father single-handedly dragged his mother up the ramp. ‘That’s why they’re married, I suppose,’ he says
Mairead Farrell (centre) and her team of superior life forms