- 07 Sep 21
Bruce Springsteen once opined that it’s hard to be a saint in the city – and it ain’t a cakewalk being a culchie either. Indeed, fears of social marginalisation and Dublin Bus are enough to send the hardiest of culchies running. But the fact is, there are many sights and sounds to be savoured – and not just in Coppers…
I don’t drink Bulmers, I don’t own a pair of tan shoes and I have never set foot inside the four walls of Coppers – but I am a culchie.
‘Culchie’ is the term used to define anyone born and reared outside Dublin and its neighbouring counties (aka The Pale). To trace the obscure etymology of the term offers up a host of explanations, none of which may be true. It is said, for example, to have something to do with French oysters; the word ‘agriculture’; or to come from the town of Kiltimagh in Co. Mayo, which in Irish translates to Coillte Mach.
It may, alternatively, be derived from the Irish term “Cúl an tí”, meaning “the back of the house”, as – in days of yore – domestic servants would have to enter through the back door of their wealthy masters’ abode, to avoid planting their grubby feet on the floors.
As for the word ‘culchie’, it conjures images of Tayto sandwiches in Croke Park, bales of hay and checked shirts. Culchies are supposed to love ham – as in ‘hang sandwiches’ – and wearing t-shirts in the rain. They stand against the wall, one thumb tucked into a belt-loop on their jeans and the other nursing a pint.
I am 22 years a culchie now and I have honestly never had the pleasure of meeting any such specimens. Maybe they’re in Cavan, or Carrick On Shannon or even the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Fictional or not, as a culchie in college in Dublin, you carry the spirit of these mythical creatures with you in the eyes of every Jackeen you meet.
Don’t Lose Your Culchie
If you do happen to be the mythical creature who drinks Bulmers wearing tanned shoes in Coppers, keep it up!
Being a culchie is special and unites you with a group of people who will stick together to the death, at least whenever Mayo are playing Dublin.
There is a sense of community, a special bond, between culchies from around the country. This can be a huge help if you’re struggling. Don’t under any circumstances try to put on a different accent. Your culchie twang is a badge of honour that distinguishes you from the rest of the pack. Use it.
It seems that people from Dublin see culchies as near-mystical creatures when they first meet them. We have our funny phrases and wild stories about places they haven’t heard of. I mean, who ever heard of Sneem? Similarly, we can talk knowledgeably about things they haven’t seen, like milking the cows.
You’ll soon twig that people from the capital don’t really care what way you talk or dress – they’ll look down on you anyway – so it’s better to accept your culchie heritage. You can even try flaunting it on a night out, playing up every stereotype just to witness people’s fascination and awe.
Remember, you’re only going to live in Dublin for three or four years. In the long run, you’ll have to retreat from the high cost of renting a flat in the capital, so there’s no point in diluting who you are in the pursuit of a couple of years of acceptance among Dubs.
You’ll be found out anyway.
Offaly? I’ve Never Heard Of It…
Meeting a Dub on a night out can be harrowing. You introduce yourself. They do the same and ask, with a sly look, where you’re from. If you mention any county outside of Dublin, Wicklow and Meath, they hit you with the line they’ve been savouring quietly all night in preparation.
“That’s hardly a county is it? I’ve never heard of it.”
They’ve never heard of Cork, like.
Some Dubs are completely oblivious to what goes on outside the capital by choice. The pride they take in their bigotry is astounding. It’s the verbal equivalent of putting on a monocle and taking out their gold pocket-watch to tell you they have more important things to do. “Laois?” they cry. “That’s what you put on a dog, isn’t it?”
Not all Dubs are like this of course. As I always say, some of my best friends are Dubliners. But as a culchie you’re faced with wilful ignorance at every house party, or in nightclubs that do free entry before 10pm.
Non-culchies usually talk knowledgeably about how shite the county you’re from is, without ever having been there. Jackeens, after all, would hardly dare venture down to where the muck savages eat their turf and burn their ham.
At the last Electric Picnic, a girl from Dublin tore strips off me about how shite the country was, and insisted that there was nothing there apart from cows and muck – while she sat in a very big field in the little town of Stradbally.
I’m not sure they mean what they say. Maybe they think they’re being funny. Either way, the best thing to do is laugh. That way you won’t get a box.
I’m Too Drunk To Be This Lost
For someone from the rural part of culchie-land (yes, some places are more rural than Mullingar), Dublin is a hive of energy and activity. It may be a bit of a shock to see so many cars, buses and people jostling each other, but it’s also very exciting.
Tapping your Leap card makes you feel like you’ve just landed somewhere in the far distant future; and the diversity in pubs and cafés is a welcome refresher from any culchie’s local.
Combine these factors with the mind-melting excitement of being away from home, completely independent and surrounded by other people your own age and a rush of blood to the head is understandable.
On night one of Fresher’s week, you realise that you are finally able to be who you want to be.
As in, “I really can be the one who drinks 45 pints in two hours. I don’t have to worry about waking anyone up when I get home. I can get drunker than I’ve ever been...”
Fifteen pints in, you’re stumbling around O’Connell Street or getting sick on Dublin Bus. If you’re able to find your way to the bus stop, that is.
Which just goes to show that there’s a lot to take in during those first couple of months of being in college in Dublin, like: where’s the feckin’ bus stop? It’s like sensory overload on all sides at all times. You’ve got to adapt to college life, independence and the city itself simultaneously. Most people get lost in some way but it’s all part of the fun, as long as you have a few friends to look out for you.
Nights out in Dublin are very different to what goes on back home. The bouncers don’t know you for a start. And they can’t understand your muttering after you’ve downed a skinful of booze. So you have to be careful. Some of them do karate.
The capital is full of traps. For example, it’s easy to get sucked into wherever Vipsy – it’s an app, stupid – has a deal on, but there is so much more to nightlife in Dublin than Harcourt Street. There are also communities for just about everything in Dublin – so with a little bit of perseverance you’ll find your people. Or they’ll find you. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
College will be very different this coming term as people (hopefully) emerge from the pandemic and return to lecture halls. Just make sure that you have got rid of the bit of hay behind your ears before you make your first appearance.
Finally, for those culchies arriving into the city on buses and trains, don’t be scared. You can always turn around and go straight home and no one will be any the wiser. Otherwise, be prepared to take a little time to adjust. The first thing is to dispense with the wellingtons: they’re very slippy on the cobblestones in Temple Bar. Once you have settled, you’ll discover that culchies and Dubs may be different in some sense, but they have this in common. We are all human beings. At least, I think we are – though I hear that venturing out on the North side of the city might rapidly disabuse me of that notion.
That said, we can all unite in our anger over the ludicrous rent prices and our love of Aldi wine. By the time you’re finished in college, you’ll surely understand.