Friday 23 August 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: 'You are now entering Rural Ireland'


Illustration by Ben Hickey
Illustration by Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

I'm going to have a gawk at Rural Ireland. The wife's coming with me; we're making a day of it. The little grandson is with us too. The daughter's gone to Spain for a few days, with her partner, Keith; they've gone to a wedding, even though she doesn't approve of marriage as an institution.

- It's designed to oppress women, like, she says.

-Unless it involves foreign travel, I say.

She grins as she heads out the door with Keith.

I've decided to like Keith. He has no interest in football, but he tries his best; he always does the bit of homework before he comes into the house.

- The season's over, anyway, he says.

- Yep.

- United didn't do too badly, he says. - Sure they didn't? At the end of the day.

A few years ago, I'd have ripped his head off and kicked it out the back for the dogs. Now, I give him a half-nod.

- Could've been worse, I say.

He glows whenever I see him looking at the daughter, and that's what matters.

So anyway, the little lad is with us, in the back of the car. We're off the M50 now, heading inland. He points at a tree.

- Woowill I'eland?

- That's right, love. Rural Ireland.

He points at a pole.

- Woowill bwoadband?

- That's it, I say. - All three billion's worth.

- Five billion, says the wife.

- Is that the latest figure?

She gets out her phone and checks.

- Five point two, she says.

I live in Ireland. At least, I thought I did. I grew up knowing there was a border and that life got complicated when you headed north. I grew up with the Troubles and trying to avoid anything to do with the Troubles - and the guilt that came with that attitude. But my kids were growing up as the Troubles were stopping and Ireland felt like a bigger place. Still small and handy, but - I'll put it this way: the country had bigger lungs and a much bigger heart.

We go up to Belfast a couple of times a year, me and the wife. We've stopped playing Spot the Border and we don't fret about sterling or our accents. Brexit will be a mess - it already is - but it won't alter my personal map of the country. But then there's this new place, a country called Rural Ireland.

- Have we crossed the border yet? I ask the wife.

She's got Google Maps out on her phone. We're in Meath.

- It's hard to say, she says.

We drove to Donegal a while back, to Bundoran, to pick up a rescue dog - a mad little mutt called Tracy that we'd accidentally agreed to take into our home. It's a long story, involving two bottles of wine, one iPad and a pair of eejits whose idea of a torrid evening on the couch is gazing at pictures of rescue dogs and going, 'Ah look, ah look, ah look - what happened there, am I after pressing something?' Anyway, the wife was driving and I was navigating and the road to Bundoran, and us in the car, kept crossing and recrossing the border. I could see the border on the screen and I got dozens of texts from Vodafone welcoming me to the UK.

Tracy's a smasher, by the way, a great addition to the other 14 dogs we've already taken into our home, who've actually eaten our home.

Anyway. Rural Ireland doesn't seem to have an official border yet. But it's only a matter of time, judging by what I've been hearing and reading.

I know: I'm exaggerating - I'm messing. But still and all, there's definitely something going on. The 'rural' used to have a small 'r'; it was rural Ireland. And I'd nearly swear that Rural Broadband was a prog rock band that I once saw on The Old Grey Whistle Test. I think one of my brothers had their second album, From Mars to Termonfeckin.

I'm looking at the little lad in the rear-view mirror. He's gazing out, enthralled. He kicks his legs out - he can't stop himself - and points.

- Woowill cows! Woowill cows!

Rural Ireland seems to have become a breakaway state, to the west, south and north of Dublin. That urban-rural divide was always there, especially in the summer months when Dublin was showing the rest of the country how to play football and, just to rub it in, ignoring the hurling. It was always a bit of craic, a joke that sometimes went a bit too far. Now, though, it seems raw. Even hostile.

- More woowill cows! G'anda!

- Oh, there they are, look it.

By the way, me and the wife in the car heading north-west; we're actually visiting one of our kids for the day. Him and his partner - they can't afford to live in Dublin.

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