A tale of two opposing Irelands as exemplified in West Cork...

The Ireland of the glossy supplements has little to do with the so-called ordinary people of this country, so says Colette Sheridan
A tale of two opposing Irelands as exemplified in West Cork...

While some people pursue a money-no-object lifestyle, others are fearing the winter energy bills, says Colette Sheridan

THE Queen is dead, long live the King.

Having played to 10% of the population, surely Garth Brooks has won the unassailable position as High King of Ireland, as significant as the kingdom of Brian Boru?

A one-tenth penetration of Ireland may not seem all-conquering, but when it comes to gigs, with inflated hotel prices for the fans from outside The Pale, it’s pretty damned good.

We think we’re sophisticated, having thrown off the shackles of the pious (and hugely hypocritical) old Ireland.

We like to buy bread that is called ‘artisan’, whatever the hell that means. Stick that adjective in front of everything, from an expensive two-bed in Dublin’s Stoneybatter (or Albert Road in Cork) to the feckin’ overpriced cup of coffee in your favourite boho café and you’ve got a marketing coup.

Whoever dreamt up that ‘artisan’ would be a seductive byword for all things cool and desirable deserves a prize from the advertising industry.

But could anyone have guessed that down home country music from Garth Brooks would be such a hit? I know he’s popular - but playing for five nights in Dublin? It’s quite incredible.

Many of us appear to have really bought into ‘expensive bohemianism’ (surely an oxymoron) but despite the weekend newspaper supplements with blanket food and wine coverage, reviews of achingly cool restaurants and aspirations to all things deemed tasteful (but never showy), there is another Ireland. It’s alive and well in West Cork (and Croke Park.)

Yes, I know West Cork is, for some, the centre of civilisation in terms of being probably the most desirable place in Ireland in which to have a second home. Go to Skibbereen Market on a Saturday morning where’ll you spot anyone from Jeremy Irons (I once saw him riding a pony and trap around the edge of the market) to the provost of Trinity College Dublin, Linda Doyle (a Cork woman) who has a house in West Cork. But, on a recent visit to the area, you could be forgiven for thinking that the townland of Lisheen had been ‘dressed’ for a nostalgic movie.

It was Sunday lunchtime. There were vintage cars and monster trucks on display, some from Drinagh Co-Op. Local folk were gathered outside Minihane’s Pub enjoying a pint (and definitely not a craft beer) in the autumnal sunshine.

You can bet that they weren’t discussing American politics (and the terrifying prospect of Donald Trump getting back in) or the fab meal they recently enjoyed in some Michelin-starred restaurant.

No indeed. It would have been local gossip and the crippling cost of energy and some wry comments about having to come to the pub to get warm.

The Ireland of the glossy supplements has little to do with the so-called ordinary people of this country. While their West Cork locale is coveted by people with money who want to pitch up there, it’s just ‘home’ for the natives who take no notice of celebs moving in.

Many people went a bit mad during the boom (remember that?) It was a thing to go to New York with an empty suitcase or two - all the better to be filled up with designer handbags and clobber bought at knockdown prices.

This was retail therapy for Irish people who couldn’t get rid of their sheckels quickly enough.

If they couldn’t afford a West Cork bolthole, then transatlantic flights were accessible for dizzying shopping sprees.

In writer and Irish Times columnist, Fintan O’Toole’s book, We Don’t Know Ourselves, he recalls writing (heretically, as he puts it) in 2005 that “life in Ireland now is surrounded by a constant low-level awareness that things don’t quite add up. There is a gap between the upbeat, boom-time atmosphere and the nagging feeling that the frantic, almost hysterical insistence on how rich we all are is a case of protesting too much. We see the evidence before our eyes - the houses, the cars, the Prada handbags, the designer clothes. But the great unspoken question of contemporary Ireland is ‘How can they afford that?’”

The answer that O’Toole gave was a four letter word, namely debt.

And we know how all the crazy consumerism ended.

Now, for many families, the encroaching winter is beckoning with its stark ‘choice’: Food or heat?

What have we come to?

This time, it’s not our fault. It’s more global, tied in with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and spiralling energy costs. We are now living in a time of penury.

Not even the more modest denizens of West Cork, with their small-holdings, are familiar with the kind of poverty their forebears experienced in times past.

But one thing’s for sure. They didn’t buy into the fierce notions of grandeur of the so-called sophisticates from the city.

They’re more Garth Brooks than the seriously snooty blow-ins.

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