King of the Culchies

That’s the title up for grabs in Lisselton, County Kerry. The Guardian’s Ireland correspondent Angelique Chrisafis reports on the attempt to reclaim the term ‘culchie’ by… well… culchies at Ireland’s national culchie festival – The title comes with “a new anorak, perhaps a sack of potatoes and maybe a new pair of wellies.”According to the report, “Any prize money would ruin the concept. You would get amateur actors in pretending to be culchies, and that, according to the locals, would be very wrong.”

There may be a serious point hidden behind the image of “bedraggled men between 21 and 61 [being] herded with sticks on to a cattle trailer. The men – in bad wigs, badly fitting jackets and the occasional cowboy hat – stamped their wellington boots until the trailer swayed in the wind”.

As the report says –

“The term, which came from the remote townland Coillte Mach in County Mayo, has come to mean a rural Irish person, anyone from outside Dublin. But it has morphed, say the culchies, into an insult, shorthand for thick “muck savage”, or “bogman” – the opposite to the sly city boys of Dublin they call “Jackeens”. There is some bad feeling at the festival that the word culchie has found its way into the Oxford English dictionary defined as “country bumpkin.”

The city-country divide in Ireland is growing and the landscape is changing. Across the fields and hills, old stone cottages are crumbling into mossy graves while canary-yellow and pastel-pink Southfork-style houses spring up, with vast front lawns and inventive stone cladding.

Ireland is one of the most centralised countries in Europe, with more than one third of its 4 million population living in Dublin. A small farmer in the west of Ireland might not have noticed the Celtic Tiger boom as they take on part-time jobs to keep afloat.”

However the final word should go to John B Keane, the Kerry writer whose play inspired the film The Field.

He defined a culchie as anyone who could walk confidently across a freshly pastured field and not put his foot in a cowpat.