Monday, April 29, 2013

Aodhan Ó Ríordáin and the Urban-Rural Divide

The fact that Aodhan Ó Ríordáin is pro-choice in the matter of abortion is only news to people for whom it’s news that ducks have feathers. What else would he be? What else could he be?

Equally, the fact that Ó Ríordáin chooses to be discrete – until last summer, of course – about how he shares this information isn’t really news either. He is an Irish politician, after all. There may be some of that vocation to whom you could feed a five pound bag of nails and not expect five pounds of corkscrews to be egested after due time, but my goodness there wouldn’t be many.

What is much more jaw-dropping is Ó Ríordáin’s attitude to people from County Monaghan and, presumably, most of that place outside Dublin that the general population think of as “Ireland.” He’s not gone on them, to say the least.

Ó Ríordáin’s wife is from Monaghan and it seems that he finds going up to visit the Farney folk something of a trial. Ó Ríordáin remarks, in the course of his gloriously indiscreet interview in yesterday's Sunday Independent, that “I go up there and sometimes I just scratch my head at some of the . . . just the . . .”

Words fail him at the horrors he’s seen. You can imagine him holding his nose walking down the streets of Castleblaney or Clones, pinkie extended, alternately horrified at the milieu to which he’s exiled yet still able to marvel at the local yokels walking upright and what not.

Not that he’ll be going back anytime soon, of course. Someone from the cast of Tallaghtfornia has a better chance of solving Fermet's Last Theorem than Ó Ríordáin has of seeing the next dawn should he choose to enjoy a Saturday night pint in the Busted Sofa in Clones or anywhere like it. In fact, the thing most likely to keep him intact in Monaghan may be a belief among the Farneymen that it’s Ó Ríordáin’s wife’s people who should have first claim on satisfaction. But the silver-tongued socialist might be better off not chancing it, just in case.

Not that a Monaghan exile would be any great sacrifice to him, judging by his comments. Ó Ríordáin seems to be a prime specimen of that peculiar type of Dubliner for whom the existence of some sort of rural rump anywhere outside of Dublin is something of a mystery.

The continent exists for weekends away and wine-tasting, Great Britain for setting a certain tone and standard, you know, and the United States for Macy’s department store. But for Ó Ríordáin and his tribe, that strange place north, south and west of the M50 is like one of those medieval maps that show nothing but great empty spaces, speckled here and there with bendy dragons, fierce and fire-breathing.

It’s a peculiar trait of the Dubliner to be insular even amongst his own. This is true across all social divides. A fellow from Finglas could live his whole life and never visit Cabra, even though it’s the next parish to him. A native of Terenure might get lost in neighbouring Templeogue, and have to turn his jacket inside out in order to break the spell and come safely home again.

But the insularity between urban (meaning Dublin, by the way – try telling a Dubliner that you are not a culchie because you’re Cork, say, and Cork is also a city, and see how far it gets you) and rural Ireland is more pronounced among the middle than the working class. Not that the working class particularly care for culchies, of course, but loyalty to the GAA and some of the tropes of republicanism cause a certain nostalgia when they hear of places like Aughrim, Kilmichael or the lonely Banna Strand.

For the middle classes though, Ó Ríordáin’s attitude is not at all uncommon. They are charmed to see Munster rugby players wearing the emerald green of Erin but Marian is always more likely to ring Brian O’Driscoll’s pater before a game than Paul O’Connell’s. And of course, if there were no culchies, who would populate the Garda Síochána, and hold the line marked by the river Liffey?

But the notion of being in the actual culchie heartland, far away from Fade Street or the Dundrum Town Centre – well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. “I just scratch my head,” as Aodhan Ó Ríordáin so eloquently put it.