Farm Ireland

Friday 15 December 2017

'People in Dublin laugh at local radio announcements about a lost cow'

Grassroots Diary

Claire McCormack

His passion for writing about rural life was ignited when Tommy Marren was just a school boy in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo.

Born and raised on a family farm, the Midwest Radio presenter recalls how every evening he'd land home from school, get out of his uniform and jump straight into his wellies and overalls.

"My childhood was all about farming, going to the bog, saving the hay and oats, the whole lot. I'd be out farming before I'd sit down to do homework," he said.

Elderly farmers, wise pensioners, and colourful characters in his local community also supplied endless creative fodder that has had a lasting impact.

Midwest Radio's Tommy Marren. Photo: Brendan Nugent
Midwest Radio's Tommy Marren. Photo: Brendan Nugent

"I always had a great fascination with the language used by old bachelors living in Tubbercurry because they had nobody to help them, they were great characters and I'd write down the old sayings they'd come out with, I was surrounded by material," he said.

Although his interest in writing emerged when he was a teenager, Tommy only began writing seriously in 2007.

"I've written five major plays and they've all been about rural Ireland. I was born in 1962, so I grew up post having to walk to school in your bare feet and having two meals a day. We had shoes, telephones, electricity and running water. But I was always interested in listening to older people telling stories of the era I had just missed," he said.

"They had no mod cons at their disposal, yet they were able to eke out a way of life and a great ability to converse with one another and help one another in a way that we weren't used to ourselves growing up," he said.

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In 1985 Tommy starred and co-wrote comedy sketch 'Heaven Help Us', which won an All-Ireland Senior Scor title. In the early 1990s he penned a comedy entitled 'Band of Gold', however, 'The Banshee of Crokey Hill' was his first major success followed by 'It's the Real McCoy', which he describes as his most popular play.

Tommy, whose latest production 'Nobody is Talking To Me', set in the 1960s, will hit the stage next year, says there is still a huge appetite for rural stories.

"When we started doing rural play it was predominantly for the blue wrist brigade, the older generations, retirement groups, ICA groups were coming to see them but as word spread, younger people are loving it," he said.

After 27 years at Midwest Radio, in Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, Tommy says sharing rural stories is more important than ever,

"In Dublin they laugh at our announcements of a missing cow or stray cat, but that's what local radio is, it's community. We give people what they want, not what we think they want," he said.

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