Brendan Behan once quipped that the gardai in Dublin were "all lured down from the Kerry mountains with lumps of raw meat". Many opinion-formers in the Irish media appear to have a similarly unflattering view of Fianna Fail.
It's been 10 years since any member of the party held ministerial office, but it's as if normal service has been resumed in the past couple of weeks. The barbarians are back inside the gates again, and the only thing for decent people to do is swoon in refined horror.
When FF dominated Irish politics, it was possible to see this revulsion as a natural reaction against the party's strength. Now that FF is weaker than it's ever been, the visceral nature of reactions to FF becomes impossible to deny. FF has always been discussed by a certain class of would-be intellectuals as if they are, quite simply, not One Of Us. Instead they represent a species of Otherness which needs to be studied the way anthropologists study primitive tribes in the Amazon jungle. We can learn their ways to better understand them, but they'll never be people you'd invite to dinner.
The Barry Cowen story fits that prejudice to a tee. Drink-driving on a provisional licence is, as the agriculture minister himself acknowledges, a "stupid, stupid mistake". There's no justification for it, and the minister may still have awkward questions to answer.
But if one accepts that all crimes and misdemeanours exist on a spectrum, then this was clearly at the lower end of the scale. That's no excuse, but it is a necessary context. Those ready to make excuses for just about any bad behaviour from other parties, including apologising for murder, have instead leapt upon Cowen's admission that he fell short with a kind of cackling glee, as if it confirms everything awful about FF that they already knew. FFers are deemed to be exactly the kind of people you'd expect to get behind the wheel of a car after having a drink. Even the fact that Cowen was drinking pints is grist to the caricature mill. It wasn't even a good red wine.
The latest effort to whip up controversy because Minister Cowen used to be co-owner of a greyhound which was bred for pups seems to press those cliched buttons too.
Animals, in general, are treated abhorrently in modern society. It shouldn't be acceptable. But there are plenty of cruel practices, not least in the meat industry, that no one bats an eyelid about. Why single out this one dog? It's almost reached the stage where certain sections of the media will be digging up Cowen's school records to see if he ever got detention for being cheeky to the teacher, or for not handing his homework in on time.
Mainstream media outlets have to hide these subliminal messages about FF's innate coarseness in sneakier forms. The undercurrent that they're up to their old tricks again is generally the way that's done, and it invariably comes with a raised eyebrow and supercilious smile for those in the know.
Online, there's less need to hide the contempt. In the comments beneath one news item about Barry Cowen last week, one reader said seeing such stories about FF was "like slipping on an old jacket", adding: "You immediately remember exactly how it felt and also why you stopped wearing it."
A "greasy and smelly" jacket, agreed another commenter. A third quipped that there was probably a drinks receipt and a "Galway race card" in the pocket. "Shure, who needs receipts?" came back another, pretending to slur drunkenly.
It's not hard to see the nasty snobbery behind these stereotypes.
The website, politics.ie, hosts one of the biggest online forums discussing current affairs in Ireland. Last week, the very first reply to a post about the difference between FF and Fine Gael said "the FG crowd wash more frequently". On another thread, it was predicted that Barry Cowen would blame the media for his troubles, "like the backwards yokel that he is".
Clumsily caricaturing FF as unsophisticated and venal in this lazy fashion really is the last acceptable way to trumpet one's supposed superiority over the common people. Other parties make mistakes, but all can eventually be forgiven. When FF does the wrong thing, it's invariably taken as confirmation of a rottenness of character.
Stephen Collins once noted that many "urban liberals" also looked down their noses at Albert Reynolds when he was Taoiseach "either because of his rural roots or because they felt he was their intellectual inferior". In his book on FF, the late Noel Whelan quoted an example from The Irish Times' Fintan O'Toole: "When Mary Robinson said come dance with me in Ireland, and the people accepted the invitation, knowing what would fill a ballroom on a wet Tuesday night in Rooskey was not part of the equation". The sneering is palpable.
When Brian Cowen, brother of the current Agriculture Minister, became Taoiseach in 2008, US diplomats wrote a briefing paper on the new Government, later made public through WikiLeaks, which noted: "One political commentator declared that the 'Culchies' ... had come to town". The attacks on Barry Cowen echo that ugliness.
A few years ago, a piece on the satirical Waterford Whispers website actually reacted to FF's rising popularity in the polls by writing that the party's supporters were "largely made up of feral culchie folk, with very poor literacy levels. These people probably find it difficult to do everyday tasks such as tying their shoelaces or maintaining basic hygiene requirements."
It ended by saying: "Sources say FF have already started canvassing for the next general election in rural parts of Ireland, including Tipperary, Offaly, Leitrim and various other idiot-based counties."
On one level, it's just good knockabout fun, but there are plenty of high-minded commentators in the Irish media who genuinely do see the country in that light.
FF has its own brands of snobbery, not least a belief that they're born to rule and have a unique connection to the nation's soul. That entitlement is there in the title of Charles Haughey's collected speeches: The Spirit Of The Nation. Stephen Collins (quoted again in Noel Whelan's book) even noted that it wasn't just "urban liberals" who sneered at Albert Reynolds, but "the Haughey toughs" too. All this is worth mocking, but it's rarely based on class prejudice in the same way as media takedowns of FF.
It's an omnipresent part of the media discourse that FF and FG are essentially the same, but prominent media commentators clearly don't believe that is the case or they wouldn't be so embarrassed at the idea of FF with its hands on the tiller of State. They just don't feel the same cultural cringe with FG, Labour or the Greens.
That the bad ole boys from the sticks are back in town was always going to be the narrative when FF returned to office. Leo Varadkar provided the set-up during the election when he declared that FF in Government again "would be like asking John Delaney to take back over the FAI". The media is simply playing its allotted role in pushing the tired punchline to the joke.