Why country people need to stop pandering to hokey stereotypes

Father Ted
Father Ted
Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

This week the eyes of the country were on Tullamore and the Ploughing, and why not? It is the biggest open-air event in Europe and the major rural event of the year. It attracts national and international notice.

The attention it gets and the way it is attended to is instructive. If we listen to and watch carefully the way the event is covered, particularly on national media, it might give us some clues as to why rural Ireland is always on the back foot when it comes to resources, infrastructure and services.

Our national television and radio stations, along with our national papers, decamp to Tullamore or wherever else the Ploughing is held. For the three days of the championships they go around goggle-eyed as they gaze bemusedly at these hundreds of thousands of people in wellies and strong boots who are so outside the norm for them.

Everything about these people is unusual to them, from their choice of footwear to their accents to the music they listen to. Stereotyping abounds and the coverage oscillates between a search for the quirky and charming to downright ridicule. You get the feeling that many in the commentariat can't wait to get back behind the safety of the M50.

I remember the first time I understood of what it feels to be stereotyped. I was a quite a young boy, and at that time comics and cartoon strips were our YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook.

One of my favourite comic strips was Blondie, featuring the hapless Dagwood. An episode in which Dagwood had occasion to call a policeman gave me what child psychologists might now call a 'No' feeling. On knocking at Dagwood's door, a big bursting policeman announced his presence with the words "Faith and begorrah, I'm Patrick O'Toole."

I found myself embarrassed and uncomfortable at how we as Irish people were portrayed and perceived.

The coverage of the Ploughing causes me to have many 'faith and begorrah' moments.

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One gets the feeling that life outside the Pale is regarded as a long-running episode of Father Ted, that farming is little more than an exotic hobby that affords country boys the luxury of playing with big toys while they listen to quick-step music with dire tear-jerking lyrics.

As rural people we often play to the stereotype, and many of our more populist politicians ham up their accents, attitudes and behaviour for crass political advantage.

Also, some of the events and competitions featured at the ploughing are framed to fit into this narrative of caricature and stereotype in the hope that the microphones, cameras and notepads of the national press might light on them.

This behaviour simply provides yet another opportunity to lampoon the country cousins and entertain the so-called urbane and sophisticated.

Rural Ireland is a sophisticated and eclectic place with as broad a range of people and life experiences as any of our cities.

At its heart is farming, an extraordinarily complex multi-billion euro industry and way of life that demands a menu of skills and abilities that would tax the highest of achievers in the much-vaunted tech industries.

In cultural terms there is much more to rural people than the 'hup-ya-boy-ya' slant that the mainstream media often likes to give to its rural coverage. That awful pre-All-Ireland programme, Up for the Match is a case in point, even when the Dubs are involved.

There is a cultural richness to the pursuits engaged in by rural communities. The myriad of drama groups throughout rural areas produce fine pieces of theatre in small halls up and down the country. Sitting around rehearsal rooms can be a cultural experience in itself where Ibsen, the price of lambs and the grace of Martin Hayes' fiddle playing can feature in the one conversation.

Our country and its consciousness are being sucked into the vortex created by the pace and concerns of life inside the M50.

Within arc of this manic motorway is what is regarded as 'the norm'. Life begins with the Luas line and finishes at the last DART stop. Those outside that vortex are outside the norm, and like geese on a pet farm, are there to entertain the urbanites when they want a break from real life.

So why would these people in strong boots and wellies want broadband, bus services, arts centres, guards or shops? Sure haven't they got tractors, 'Country & Irish' music and subsidies?

As rural people we should be careful not to be found colluding with this stereotyping and lampoonery. We need to start naming our 'No' feelings.

Indo Farming

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