Culchies. They’re amazing. Really. A truly Irish phenomenon. They reflect worldwide trends I suppose, but there is something very Irish about the culchy.
The only American term that really comes close is redneck, but… it doesn’t come close at all. Culchies, first of all, are from the country. Hence the term. So, no trailer parks or anything like that. In fact they tend to have a bit of money. They also don’t have red necks, as the sun only came out in Ireland sometime in the 1990s, ironclad proof in my opinion of the existence of global warming. They tend to be aggressively nationalist but not necessarily easy to mobilize in any Karl Rove sense of the word. Culchies are Catholic and mostly practicing but don’t have any redneck type desire to reach out and convert others to their faith. Isn’t everyone Catholic?
This is already getting difficult. I better start with a visual aid:
That’s Jackie Healy Rae with a constituent in Kerry. Mr. Healy Rae has been an effective independent in Irish parliament since 1997, where he campaigns for issues close to his heart, such as less stringent drink-driving laws. Ireland’s atrocious record on the road doesn’t bother him as much as the infringement of his constituents’ rights to drink eight pints of Guinness and still be allowed to drive home. So the man supports recklessness, or as my friend Ciaran once eloquently put it, carnage.
You see, Mr. Healy Rae is a good example for two reasons. Firstly, he exposes the importance of regionalism in the definition of the term. Dubliners generally consider all Irish people outside the greater Dublin metropolitan area to be culchies. Corkonians (rightly) take exception to this, with an indignant air fuelled further by their inherent belief that Cork is actually the greatest city on the planet held back by non-natives who just don’t ‘get it’. A New York of western Europe, as it were. It goes on and on, as people use the term culchy to denigrate the next most rural segment of the population. There is seemingly no endpoint, though I believe the final level of exemption is living in a settlement that has an Xtravision.
This is where the use of culchy gets tricky. Dubs take the easy route and essentially label everyone as being a culchy, but they’re missing the point. This brings us to my second point. Culchies are a vibrant and interesting people, though a bit ‘earthy’, let’s say. It’s essentially Irish culture without the sophistication. This results in a complete lack of self-consciousness. They are truly oblivious. Observe:
That man makes this blog so much easier.
Now, a lack of self-consciousness might not be a big deal for Americans, but in Ireland these things are important. The Irish, despite being exceptionally friendly, game for a laugh, and generally fun to be around, believe very strongly in cutting down to size anyone brazen enough to pop their head above the social parapet. Being overtly noticeable, therefore, is something to be avoided. Culchies feel the same way but they have no idea they’re sticking out so badly.
I was at home last weekend and there were some culchies at a family event. Nice people. But nevertheless, certain traits stick out. I retired to bed before three, because I can drink with Irish people, but not with culchies. They had spent the last hour on the dance floor dancing to late 1990s dance music and trying to flip each other through the air over a wooden floor. The following morning I woke up to hear a tale of how one of them sank into some strange maudlin reverie at half four in the morning while his friend paced outside the house waiting to physically beat my sister’s urbane friend. I am smiling now, thinking of it. I find comfort in familiarity.
They travel through the world with an almost violent sense of ignorance. I don’t mean they’re stupid, I just mean that they don’t care. My sister’s boyfriend, the alpha male of the group, spent the weekend bringing them to heel and looking mortified.
But he needn’t have bothered. I’ve been called a culchy myself. The trick is that all Irish people are culchies. It’s the ether from which we have emerged. The culchies remaining just can’t figure out why the rest of us are so stuck up. And they might be right. After all, culchies observe licensing laws by pulling their curtains at eleven at night when city pubs are kicking people out. They live amongst some of the nicest scenery on the planet. And although the rest of us might find them amusing, they really don’t care. In an Ireland transformed into an economic mini-Godzilla characterised by tax breaks and service industries, boring conversations about the property market and middle class city-dwellers trying to make out like they know anything about wine, the culchies are very bullshit-free. I just hope the shift from dirty Ford Mondeos to dirty Mercedes Benzes won’t change them forever.