From Bosco to TK to farmer’s tan, from Coun­try n’ Ir­ish mu­sic to ‘The Brits’: here are the true touch­stones of Ir­ish culture

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On Satur­day af­ter­noon at the Body & Soul Fes­ti­val, I’m host­ing an Ir­ish Times panel all about Ir­ish culture with co­me­dian Ali­son Spit­tle, writer Emer McLysaght and DJ Sally Cinnamon on the Won­der­lust stage. And no, we’re not talk­ing about Beck­ett or Joyce or Sinéad O’Con­nor or Love/Hate. We’re talk­ing about real Ir­ish culture: the arte­facts and prac­tices that get to the heart of who we are as a peo­ple. You know, things like . . .

The Late Late Show

The long­est-run­ning talk show in the world cleaves to an old model of chat in which a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the peo­ple – Gay Byrne/Pat Kenny/Ryan Tubridy – ed­u­cates us: “Be­hold: a Protes­tant! An Amer­i­can! Non-pro­cre­ative sex! A har­lot! An aubergine! Marty Mor­ris­sey!” Its pop­u­lar­ity has never waned, prov­ing, I think, that fewer peo­ple have ac­cess to the in­ter­net than pre­vi­ously thought.

Coun­try n’ Ir­ish mu­sic

Con­fused city-dwellers think that our na­tional mu­sic is the taste­ful folky trad that’s found at pub ses­sions. This was, in fact, in­vented in the 1980s by Protes­tant cheese­mak­ers as a means of en­trap­ping tourists. Drive 20 miles out­side Dublin and you will find the real sound of Ire­land pour­ing from your ra­dio. What is that sound? Why it’s the beat­ing heart of our peo­ple: an ac­cor­dion, a pedal steel gui­tar, the se­dated vo­cal de­liv­ery of a mind­ful­ness app and patho­log­i­cal lev­els of lo­cal­ism. Yes, the best place in Ire­land is, lest you think oth­er­wise, a small field two miles out­side Drumshambo and the best thing there is “a pretty lit­tle girl” who may or may not be your cousin. Let’s be hon­est, she’s prob­a­bly your cousin.

TK Red Lemon­ade

I went to a wine tast­ing in my home town once. All of the towns­folk sat in a cir­cle swirling wine around their mouths un­til fi­nally, a pre­co­cious small child put down his glass (it was the 1980s) and said: “This is just red lemon­ade.” “And good enough for you too,” shrieked the par­ish priest, rip­ping off his fake beard and polo-neck, “You pack of de­gen­er­ate West Brits.” Les­son learned.

I haven’t drunk wine, worn a cra­vat or taken the Guardian since. TK Red Lemon­ade is the drink of our na­tion. In the history books, it has many names: mead, am­brosia, Pa­trick Pearse’s Pa­tri­otic Go Juice, Vodka’s Friend, Psy­che­delic Nom-Nom. Ir­ish ba­bies are weaned on it, mak­ing them stronger and an­grier than other ba­bies. Yes, Red Lemon­ade: it stains our lips and adds fire to our blood.

Call­ing peo­ple ‘West Brits’

Ir­ish iden­tity is a frag­ile thing. Here are some things that could get you called a West Brit when I was grow­ing up: drink­ing wine, hav­ing two pairs of shoes, read­ing an English news­pa­per like the Observer or The Ir­ish

Times, read­ing, ex­port­ing your ten­ants’ grain dur­ing a potato famine, Pi­lates, sup­port­ing teams other than Man United, danc­ing in con­tra­ven­tion of your town’s Foot­loose laws, get­ting a job in Dublin, wear­ing sun­screen, in­suf­fi­ciently mem­o­ris­ing the Huck­le­buck, mak­ing jam, be­ing am­biva­lent about tran­sub­stan­ti­a­tion, beat­box­ing.


The Der­mot Ban­non of his day, this box-dwelling ginger hys­teric in­cul­cated a gen­er­a­tion into an ob­ses­sion with home-own­er­ship and com­plain­ing. Yes, hav­ing pur­chased my own box in sub­ur­bia from where I do my own moan­ing, oc­ca­sion­ally in

uafásach pi­geon Ir­ish, I can con­clude with con­fi­dence that we are all Bosco now. (Top fact: Hec­tor on TG4 is Bosco’s son.)

Singing ‘The Fields of Athenry’ cor­rectly

A plain­tive song writ­ten by Pete St John about the potato famine and en­forced trans­porta­tion, it is, of course, not com­plete with­out a lot of drunk peo­ple shriek­ing “Hey baby, let the free birds fly!” over the cho­rus. Why? Some his­to­ri­ans say the trauma of the potato famine turned us into id­iots, which makes the song all the more poignant, re­ally. See also: “Alice, Alice who the f*ck is Alice?” shouted over a song about sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety that iron­i­cally com­pletely ex­plains who Alice is, if the shout­ing peo­ple could be both­ered to lis­ten. (See also: The craic.)

The craic

We are renowned for this. As a peo­ple we are com­pletely de­fined by “the craic” though few for­eign­ers truly grasp what “the craic” ac­tu­ally is. (It’s “al­co­holism.” But that’s just be­tween us.)

Farm­ers’ tans

The Maori have tribal tat­toos; the In­di­ans have henna skin dye. Here in Ire­land we pre­fer to adorn our­selves with sun dam­age from neck to ears and fin­ger­tip to bi­cep. Do not judge. We are just as God made us. (See also: “The big Ir­ish head on him.”)

Mark McCabe’s ‘Ma­niac 2000’

The fifth best-sell­ing Ir­ish sin­gle of all time, it in­volves a DJ hav­ing a dis­so­cia­tive episode over a badly recorded techno track while a crowd at Clontarf Cricket Club cheer. It’s now the na­tional an­them, be­cause that’s what hap­pens when you pick a thir­tysome­thing for Taoiseach.

Say­ing “What’s that ee­jit on about now?” when­ever some­one “with no­tions” ap­pears on television

When I was grow­ing up, this sen­tence of­ten came from older male rel­a­tives and the most com­mon trig­ger was an on­screen ap­pear­ance from Bono. It’s a rite of pas­sage. When some­one finds them­selves watch­ing television and say­ing the words “What’s that ee­jit on about now?”, they have fi­nally trans­formed into their fa­ther.

The Rose of Tralee

Each year, the town of Tralee picks the best woman from a se­lec­tion of women sent from sur­round­ing town­lands in the hope of a good har­vest. This woman must then marry Dáithí Ó Sé, which is a type of man that lives in the Kerry hills. Sadly, the fes­ti­val is un­der threat from protest­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists due to the way the Roses’ cab­bage-headed es­corts are de­stroyed af­ter the cer­e­mony.

Car­rolls Ir­ish Gifts

So few of us prac­tise the old ways. Luck­ily every sum­mer, Span­ish and Ital­ian stu­dents ar­rive and pur­chase large green lep­rechaun hats and red beards at Car­rolls Ir­ish Gifts. Un­like less re­spect­ful stag-par­ties from the UK, these visi­tors don our na­tive garb with a sur­pris­ing de­gree of solem­nity, be­fore con­gre­gat­ing at my bus stop. It re­minds me a bit of western tourists wear­ing head scarves in Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries and I am hum­bled by this out­ward ges­ture of re­spect for our culture. “Be­ja­sus and be­gor­rah,” I say to these young peo­ple, which is Ir­ish for “the bless­ings of my peo­ple be upon you”.

‘The Brits’

Your back is a bit sore? Your bus is late? Your na­tion has been sub­ju­gated for 800 years? You’ve been fired for em­bez­zle- ment? Your spouse is leav­ing you for your dash­ing friend Den­nis, whose eyes, even you have to ad­mit, are quite dreamy? You have gout? Yeah, you know who to blame. Make a fist, nar­row your eyes, and mut­ter un­der your breath, “The Brits!” It feels right, doesn’t it?

The saga of Twink, Linda Martin and Teddy the dog

Death­less celeb­tresses Twink and Linda Martin were once at war. The rea­son for their an­i­mos­ity is lost in the mist of time but, if I know any­thing about feud­ing Celtic queens, it prob­a­bly had some­thing to do with cat­tle rustling.

Then one fate­ful day, Twink’s dog, Teddy Bear, was dog­napped by bas­tards. Twink was dis­traught. She made ap­peals in news­pa­pers and television. Whither Teddy Bear!? The peo­ple wept and ripped their gar­ments. The whole coun­try came to a stand­still. A na­tional day of mourn­ing was an­nounced. And, at that point, some­thing beautiful hap­pened.

Linda Martin, “a very pow­er­ful woman in the dog world” (Twink’s ac­tual words), reached out to her erst­while en­emy and with the help of her dog-world net­works, Teddy Bear was lo­cated and brought safely home. A na­tion re­joiced and af­ter the kid­nap­pers were ex­e­cuted, Twink and Linda Martin were friends once more.

This is a God­damned true f**king story and it’s the great­est story ever told. It has ev­ery­thing: Twink, Linda Martin, a dog. How it hasn’t yet been made into a six-part television mini-series is be­yond me, but I think I know who to blame (see: “The Brits”).

The Hack of Ire­land, with Pa­trick Freyne, Ali­son Spit­tle, Sally Cinnamon and Emer McLysaght, is on the Won­der­lust stage on Satur­day, June 24th at 3.45pm at the Body & Soul Fes­ti­val. bodyand­

Sadly, the Rose of Tralee is un­der threat from pro­test­ers due to the way the cab­bage- headed es­corts are de­stroyed af­ter the cer­e­mony

Dáithí Ó Sé, a type of man that lives in the Kerry hills with Rose of Tralee com­peti­tors

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