Thursday 26 April 2018

Television review: It's now farm folk like city folk

  • Big Week on the Farm (RTE1)

New blood ... Gillian and Neil O'Sullivan
New blood ... Gillian and Neil O'Sullivan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

It's always great fun when RTE goes down the country to meet farmers. It is a tradition stretching back to the times when RTE "personalities" really were creatures of the most outrageous glamour to the people of rural Ireland, when a star of the magnitude of Bunny Carr would come to town and the people would go mad.

You will note that I used the word 'town' there, an indication that a lot of people down the country are under the impression that they live in towns, and that other people live in the country, though to the Dublin sophisticate these distinctions are perhaps not so important.

Anyway, when the great stars of RTE would come down from that wonderful place in which they lived - a far, far better place even today than the places in which most of the rest of us live - they too would be energised by the enthusiasm of the reception, and like JFK or Princess Grace, it would bring some extra charm out of them, to be among these good, simple people.

Then, like JFK or Princess Grace, they would go away, never to return. But with the general improvement in all our lives, these encounters are taking place more often, these visitations are happening at least twice a year now, at The Ploughing and Big Week On The Farm.

Aine Lawlor is usually there or thereabouts, carrying on the grand tradition, full of hearty enthusiasm for those who work the land, and their peculiar ways.

Since we are used to her doing current affairs, we get a strong sense that she is on a kind of a working holiday here, that she is leaving behind the grave matters to which she is in thrall and throwing herself into some lighter material.

Of course, in this as in most things the opposite is true, but that is how she is seeing it anyway as she lets herself go with that sense of elation brought on by the country people and the country air and its constant promise that at any given moment, Marty Morrissey may be about to arrive. At which you have lift-off.

So you can still discern the old template for these meetings of the RTE people and the inhabitants of that other Ireland, both of them doing that ancient dance.

But now the moves are changing. Perhaps it is just those inhabitants themselves who are changing because when Lawlor goes down the country these days, she meets farmers like Gillian and Neil O'Sullivan, who could easily be mistaken for… well, for RTE people.

Indeed, the one thing that emerged beyond dispute from this joyous week of cultural exchange is that Gillian and Neil should have their own show. They are both vets, who happen to run this big farm with spectacular views of Dungarvan Bay, but when the light catches them a certain way, they could be any young professional couple with three young children, trying to make sense of the whole damn thing.

Gillian used the word "challenging" to describe some agricultural problem. I live in rural parts myself, and I know a few farmers. If they are describing some problem to me, they will rarely say that it is "challenging". Indeed they will say things that they couldn't say on RTE, but then maybe that's why you don't see such men on RTE much these days.

Gillian's father had been a "progressive farmer", which doesn't necessarily mean that he combined a love of the land with a liberal-minded attitude to issues of social justice which he has now passed on to the next generation - but I'd like to think that it does.

You used to have a lot of "intensive" farmers on RTE, but that seems to be going out too, and they were mostly called Joe - "For farmers like Joe..." the reports would usually start.

There are not many farmers like Joe any more, and we hardly even notice any break with these old ways when we hear "For farmers like Gillian...".

It all seems to represent some final coming together of our two peoples as one.

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