Millennials by now need little introduction – this is the generation born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s or early 2000s, depending on where you look for your information. They’re the ones who’ve typically postponed marriage and are less likely to be religious than previous generations (but who on the other hand may definitely identify as ‘spiritual’). They are also - and crucially in this context, I believe - the first truly global generation and the first generation that grew up with the internet. And (this bit is 100% me), they are over-confident of their own abilities and hold an unjustifiably high opinion of themselves generally.
My Millenial acquaintance, a confident young person who had enjoyed the best upbringing that rural life could offer, but who now, having also enjoyed the best education the State and his parents could buy, had evolved into a well-got urban white-collar professional, was on a brief return to the rural homeplace.
He took the time to express in this affected, pretentiously bland accent they all now have, how incredibly amusing he found it that a former neighbour still spoke in the traditional, authentic burr of the area, the same accent the Millenial grew up with. It was just hilarious, he said with a laugh.
Nettled, I inquired what exactly was quite so funny about a deep, rich, authentic rural Irish accent.
I added – only personally speaking of course – that I felt increasingly saddened by the fact that rural Irish accents seemed to be disappearing; that most people with a rich rural accent were now in their late forties or fifties and upwards.
The Millenial remarked coolly (as millennials do on being challenged) that it was just a matter of perspective.
It was a sad fact that so many young Irish people are repudiating the authentic accents they grew up with. I pointed to his own generation; to the many who speak in very carefully modulated, ironed-out YouTubed tones which bear no relation to the accents they grew up with. I mentioned how so many children and teenagers in small rural Irish towns speak in undeniably American accents.
We have changed, it seems, from a country with a proud patchwork of rich and wonderful indigenous accents to a society where many people speak in either anonymous, emptied-out, plastified tones or mimic the natives of a violent, sprawling continent on the other side of the world.
The Millennial upstart responded that I needn’t worry; there were still plenty of traditional accents in certain parts of Cork city. Haw Haw Haw. That was very funny, he thought. I said no more. I felt like clobbering him.
Instead, I thought about how disconnected we have become from the environment around us, from our nature and from our culture and traditions. How there are so many transatlantic influences and so many impacts on young minds that the old ways, the old traditions, the old voices and the authentic Irish accents have got lost in the fog of noise around us.
It has come to the point that rural Irish accents and ways now seem laughably naive to our young people, even to those who grew up in the heart of the country.
Few people seem to notice the paucity of swallows and crows in the skies and on the telephone lines, of ladybirds and grasshoppers around us and the lack of wildflowers in the hedgerows.
Yet as we continue to desecrate it, we still sell this image of our land as a green environment, despite the fact we don’t have any healthy bogs left, and you’d be nervous about letting a small child paddle in a local stream for fear of what could be in it.
That sweep of green we see from the windows of a descending airplane feels, in this context, ever more poisonous.
It’s only been five years or so since the ecologist Padraic Fogarty warned that Ireland’s natural environment is disappearing at an alarming late thanks to over-fishing, industrial farming and industrial pollution decimating habitats and destroying the countryside.
I thought about how Lena Angland, mother of a young family, has come up with a way to lure families back into the natural environment. Lena, the creator of the environment-orientated Wanderful app, recently became a finalist in the STEM category for the Network Cork Businesswoman of the Year awards. A few years ago, this mother of three from Innishannon, invented the Wanderful app as a result of engaging in regular family walks where her children were always enthusiastic fairy trail roamers or pirate hunters.
Meeting fairies behind tiny doors in tree trunks or discovering hidden wildlife in the woods was the subject of frequent chats and much wild imagination.
Somehow, Lena has managed to marry tech with the environment and maybe this will work. Maybe Lena’s amazing app will seduce our tech-obsessed, disconnected people into bringing their children back out into the forests and the countryside.
Check out Wanderful on Instagram and facebook @worldofwanderful or check out www.wanderful.ie