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Ill fares the land as most of us opt to be city slickers


Richard Curran

Richard Curran

Róisín Ní Thomáin

Róisín Ní Thomáin


Richard Curran

Most of us city slickers come from somewhere else. My mother was a Dubliner but her father was an immigrant from Vienna. My father hailed from Mitchelstown and his mother's background was in Lincolnshire. Yet I consider myself a true Dub. Go figure.

Richard Curran's film, The Battle for Rural Ireland (RTÉ1), was about those somewhere elses and what has happened to them. The flight from the land, of course, isn't peculiar to this country - for a week each August I stay in a house in the northern French countryside and most of the local villages are almost empty of shops, cafés, banking facilities and indeed young people. Here and there you'll see faded signs advertising hotels but the hotels have long vanished.

Anyway, there's nothing new about the Irish rural situation. In his great short story, Oldfashioned, written more than 30 years ago, John McGahern wrote of "the tide that emptied the countryside more than any other since the famine", and in recent years it's been taking people away again in huge numbers.

Curran himself has bucked the trend, opting three years ago to quit city living and settle instead with his family in the Inishowen peninsula where his wife grew up. But he's in a minority, though when you visit certain parts of west Cork you'd be forgiven for wondering whether there are any genuine locals to be found amid all the German, Dutch, English and Dublin trendies.

These are the people who were witheringly referenced in Curran's film by housing planner and pundit Conor Skehan when he spoke of the dangers of depopulated rural areas being turned into "huge national parks" in which the indigenous inhabitants become like "Indians on a reservation, priced out by fancy software writers from Rathgar who decide they want to pursue their rural idyll". That was a bit unfair to the pleasant south Dublin suburb of my childhood and youth, but I knew what he meant.

And some basic figures tell a lot about what has happened to the Irish countryside, not least Curran's mention of the 500,000 Irish farmers who sought a living from the land in 1951 compared with the 80,000 today, many of them simply eking out a livelihood.

In a film that strove to be positive but was largely, and affectingly, elegiac, Curran chatted to people confronted by the savage realities, emigrant actor Liam Heffron observing of the closure of the garda station in the north Mayo area where he grew up: "There's no garda needed anymore because there's nobody here".

And in Longford town, ailing business was forcing Michael Cooney to close down his men's drapery shop, a touching sequence near the end showing him and salesperson Phyllis locking the premises for the final time.

Can anything be done? Various IDA and other strategies were mentioned, but the outlook remains bleak. People, especially younger people, will always gravitate towards urban centres, as they've done since cities were invented. 'Ill fares the land', Oliver Goldsmith wrote more than 200 years ago in his great poem, and the villages continue to be deserted.

Overpopulation, on the other hand, is India's problem, though not its only one, as Leslee Udwin's shocking documentary, India's Daughter (BBC4), made clear. This concerned the gang rape and murder of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh after she and a male friend boarded a Delhi bus in December 2012.

What her six assailants actually did to this young woman was so disgusting I couldn't believe what I was hearing and it can't be repeated in a family newspaper, but what was almost as shocking was the attitude of the killers and of the defence lawyers.

One of the killers, currently under sentence of death, showed absolutely no remorse, arguing that "a girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy" and that Jyoti should have stayed "silent and allowed the rape - then they'd have dropped her off after doing her". And his creepy lawyer maintained that young women should stay at home in the evening and "not be put on the street just like food". In other words, they're asking for it.

Mass protests over this vile assault and murder have led to a toughening of the laws, to what effect remains unclear as rapes take place every 20 minutes in India. And a Delhi court has banned this film from being shown in the country. Very depressing.

On a happier note, what's not to like about the remake of Poldark (BBC1)? There's the ravishing Cornish coastline, along whose cliffs our dashing hero galloped every seven minutes in this week's first episode - causing this viewer to wonder if there wasn't a shorter route to wherever he was going. Well, none as scenic anyway.

There's our dashing hero himself, described by adapter Debbie Horsfield as "part Rochester, part Heathcliff, part Robin Hood, part Darcy, part Rhett Butler". That's a lot of parts to fill, though Dublin actor Aidan Turner fills them splendidly. Forget Jamie Dornan - Turner's a real dish: handsome, brooding and oozing charisma. Crikey, I fancy him myself and I'm not even gay.

There are first-rate villains, too, and there are also two fetching heroines, if you're that way inclined. Oh, and in tomorrow night's episode we're promised some skinny-dipping by our dashing hero. Beat that, Colin Firth.

The original Poldark television series was made 42 years ago, but I've no memory of it and from the few clips I've seen it looks a bit drippy. This, though, is the real deal.

And RTÉ2's new US import, American Crime, also began very promisingly as families gathered in the wake of a young man's murder and the violent rape of his wife.

Timothy Hutton plays the young man's father, a recovering gambling addict estranged from his racist and venomous wife, played by Felicity Huffman.

Indeed, racial matters look set to dominate a storyline in which the initial suspects are blacks and Mexicans.

Busker Abu (TG4) is really The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent or The Voice, though it's all done through the medium of Irish and presenter Róisín Ní Thomáin's relentless cheeriness makes Kathryn Thomas seem like a chronic depressive.

Oh, and its contestants are all buskers, though don't ask me why. And there are the usual threadbare tropes of all such televised talent contests.

There's seen-it-all judge Fiachra, there's wildly excited judge Síle and then there's the judge who's been encouraged to be the bad boy, a role played by a bearded gent called Aindrias as if his life depended on chewing the scenery. And though the programme is conducted through Irish, many of the contestants don't seem to speak it and so just grin at what's been said.

If there's a point to any of the shenanigans on display here, it entirely eludes me.

Indo Review