Has there ever been a better time to be a culchie? It would appear not. Back in the old days - ie, last year - being from the country somehow made you less cultured, less educated and less relevant. But look at us now, the height of fashion now that isolation and stand-offishness are en vogue. Once we were ridiculed for smelling of the land, now we revel in the simple ability to smell anything at all.
Before, estate agents would be crowing about a home's proximity to a large urban space - from here on in it will surely be a case of the most desirable homes being in 'prime locations in the middle of effing nowhere' or 'not visible on any map drawn up since the 18th century'. There has never been a better time for you to consider moving to an old pile located at the damp end of a Mass path and in Ballygonowhere, because this, my bumpkin friends, is our moment.
There were many who advised us against moving to the country - we lived in the heart of the town and my family home was a bumpy five kilometres outside it. Town, a three-bed semi, was too small for the six of us; country was big and old and needed a lot of investment. Friends and family said to sell both; financial advisors concurred, and it was only after a succession of bank staff explained the basic economics of mortgages to me that I had to agree that we had some tough choices.
But as I am a shameless sentimentalist, I decided that we would go with an act of financial dullardry and sell the town house, renovate the country house and then live there with no money but very nice triple-glazed floor-to-ceiling windows. So we sold, and then engaged in a Brewster's Millions-style rampage - fancy lights, lovely tiles, enlarged rooms, improved heating efficiencies. Look on our tasteful works, ye mighty, and despair. Except obviously nobody will be looking on them as it is impossible to find our house.
And this is where country living really comes into its own. Anyone living in an estate or the suburbs must have had an absolute nightmare for the past two months as they struggled to keep clear of people who lived a matter of metres away, or keep their kids from running out and leaping into a 35-a-side pile-on in the middle of the green.
For us it was straightforward - there is nowhere to go, and very few would normally venture along our road. Obviously some townies got wind of the splendid views and human-free roads of our area, for we have spent the last eight weeks engaging in that most cherished of rural Irish pastimes - being suspicious of others.
I'd be down the end of the garden wrestling some briars when suddenly some strangers would appear; sometimes on foot, sometimes atop a bike, some in family pods, some in gaudy pelotons like a string of festive sausages. Who are these people and what are they doing enjoying my rural idyll, I wondered as I nodded coldly in their direction.
It got to the point where I was making mental notes of the registration of every car that passed, and occasionally squinting overhead at the odd plane that streaked across the sky. But we are now through the period of cold-war paranoia and Bodysnatchers-style pointing and screeching, and it's OK for people to go for a bit of a walk, so I say to them - why not just up and move to the country?
Come on out, the air is clear and pure, aside from the odd blast of slurry and you get used to the smell of good old-fashioned dung a lot faster than exhaust fumes and that weird smell on Grafton Street when the stone gets hot. The hills of Ireland are alive with the sound of smugness, so why not come on over to the winning team, shtick on the wellies and revel in country arts like septic tank maintenance and figuring out if a rat has fallen down your well?
Who among us hasn't watched Cheap Irish Houses and thought 'wow, I could do wonders with that badger set in Sligo' or 'that lean-to of clay and wattles made on a rat-infested island is the place for me'? Obviously there are other, better homes, ones that don't require massive renovations, and the downsides are worth considering - good broadband is an essential, no matter where you end up - but for us, this pandemic has taught us to finally appreciate life in the sticks.
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