When the countryside comes to town - and hits the shops
Published 08/12/2015 | 02:30
Cities across the nation will throb with a different kind of beat today as country people enact an invasion as old as the State itself. December 8 is long enshrined as 'Culchie Shopping Day' amongst Dubs of my acquaintance - a designation with more than a little of the back-handed compliment attached.
It's a peculiar quirk of the Irish calendar that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception happens to coincide with the biggest shopping day of the year for country folk.
"It will indeed be immaculate if your Mother doesn't pauperise the family by the time she's finished on Henry Street," my father would say with a twinkle in his eye, a perennial family joke that never got old. Like the morning of an All- Ireland, December 8 was always a dawn rise, a 6am breakfast and a mad pile into the car for the long haul to Dublin.
With buses, trains and planes sold out as far back as the October Bank Holiday, the gridlock of Black Friday will be but a molehill compared to the mountainous snarl awaiting unsuspecting residents of the capital today.
While the country cousins - and, let's face it, we're all rural if you go back far enough - are no longer so easy to identify (the ankle-length black coats and headscarves are long gone), these unaccustomed visitors can be recognised by their permanently dazed expressions and a total reluctance to jaywalk across O'Connell Street at rush hour.
Then, of course, there's the absence of Clerys to contend with - a gaping void on a par with the vaporising of the Grotto at Lourdes. Returning south without at least one tell-tale bag from the legendary store will count as confirmation that "things just aren't the same anymore" in the Big Smoke.
Back in the store's heyday, Denis Guiney, the Kerryman who owned it for 50 years, even refunded country folk their bus and train fares if they spent over £5 at his tills. As a necessary back-up, Arnotts will probably still tick a lot of retail boxes for our Massey-Ferguson-driving brethren today, but it won't be a patch on the many encounters that began under that iconic clock.
If December 8 means barely controlled chaos in every clothing and homeware store, it will be balanced by the mayhem in those restaurants or 'eating houses' favoured by rural folk. The queues at Cafe Kylemore, Supermacs and Bewley's will be non-stop from 8am to 8pm, complete with double batterburgers and "an extra tea bag in the pot, missus".
Add to this mix the scores of lost children mewling for Mammy at lung-bursting volume, enlivened by a Tower of Babel insanity resulting from the collision of dialects spoken by jackeens and culchies. Truly, if David Attenborough is in search of a suitable topic for his next nature study, he need only stand on any Dublin street corner today.
Of all the people deserving of our sympathy on December 8, surely there is one who'll shoulder a heavier load than most. Santa, or Santy as he'll be forever known outside the Pale, will earn his oats today - in spades. Not alone will this pitiful, long-whiskered creature suffer a bombardment of demands for unrecognisable agricultural items like sulky spreaders, spike harrows and terragators, he will need the assistance of a United Nations translator in deciphering the impenetrable accents of Monaghan, Galway and West Cork into the bargain.
And given that country kids are just as adept at the cutting insult as their townie counterparts nowadays, Mrs Claus better have a long hot bath and double Powers standing by when Himself arrives home later.
Yet, for all the traffic chaos and social misconstructions that will test the patience of town and country alike on this special day, all will likely end up agreeing that "the lights have never looked better, in spite of all the changes." With bags full and wallets empty, the wagon train of rural humanity will slowly depart South, West and North as darkness falls - all counting the sleeps until the next time the spirit of Christmas rolls around.