We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive. …” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about 100 miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?” – Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
“Culchies” are a strange breed indeed, lovely people, but very strange. For city folk from Dublin or Belfast like myself they’re an odd bunch parodied for their propensity to almost solely wear brown shoes and checked shirts tucked into god awful bootcut jeans finished off with a tan belt. They exist in Liverpool too, they’re the people at the bar asking for Red Diesels (vodka and red bulls) and unironically enjoying Cotton Eyed Joe. But what is it that makes these people tick? I decided I had to investigate. An All-Ireland Gaelic Football semi final between two proud culchie counties & neighbours Tyrone and Monaghan seemed the ideal way.
I was very wary of being found out and exposed as a non-culchie. I didn’t own a Monaghan or Tyrone shirt, my jeans are all fairly nice and I exclusively wear trainers unless I’m at a wedding or funeral. With this in mind I wore the only thing which would detract from my appearance as an outsider, something which would immediately disarm and confuse. A t shirt with Big Bird from Sesame Street was just the ticket, and unsurprisingly it turned out to be the main topic of conversation throughout the day. I’d be introduced to folks, and their first remark wouldn’t be about how bad Antrim were or asking who I wanted to win but “Jesus is that yer boy from Sesame Street?” Remember folks, I see the future while you’re all toiling in the present. I also found a straw cowboy hat and wore that, I was basically the Yodel Kid but even more annoying.
Getting from Belfast to Dublin is very easy, 2 hours on a bus that picks up in Belfast City Centre and drops off in the heart of Dublin. My plan was to arrive in Dublin at 12:30, giving me 30 minutes to walk from town and find a pub to meet my culchie mates who were travelling down from Tyrone. I found a nice quiet pub with cheap Guinness (other Stouts are available but why would you waste your time seriously). Sadly they were caught in traffic, and thus I had to embark on the loneliest of solo pints in a pub which for an inexplicable reason had all of their tellys turned off. “Oh ye gods, why have I been foresaken like this” I thought. Anyway, they eventually turned up and sadly at 3:10 it was time to leave and actually watch the match. We arrived into the ground at about 3:25 which gave us 5 minutes for another pint and as we climbed the steps of the Hill 16 terrace the referee threw the ball in. I’d never been prouder of my timekeeping in all my life.
Anyone who’s visited Dublin will probably have heard the story of how Hill 16 was built out of the rubble of O’Connell Street after the Easter Rising in 1916. It’s not. As with the rest of the 82,000 capacity Croke Park is built out of something else, it’s built out of a will and arguable necessity to be different. The GAA itself was set up to counter Foreign Sports such as Football, Rugby & Cricket and to provide a purer Gaelic athletic offering for Irish people. Croke Park was also the scene of one of the worst atrocities in Irish history when 13 spectators along with the Tipperary captain Michael Hogan were murdered by the British Auxililary Police and Black & Tans in response for the assassination that morning of various British agents by Michael Collins and his ‘Squad.’ More information can be found here.
We left to go to the bar 5 minutes before the end of the first half, and only returned 10 minutes into the second; what we saw of the game was enjoyable enough, and my Tyrone pals were delighted to end up 1 point victors. I was happy as it would ensure the rest of the evening would have a more upbeat atmosphere. The plan was originally to go back to Omagh, which is in County Tyrone and stay with my friend. Plans quickly changed in their post-match euphoria and it was decided we would instead be going to Copperface Jacks, colloquially known as Coppers – think PopWorld on Acid. After a couple more pints we decided this was in fact a bad idea and instead embarked on the worlds greatest test – sneaking cans on a bus. It’s nearly 3 hours to Omagh without a toilet on the bus, but the idea of the journey without cans is worse still. It was when we arrived into there and found a pub that was having a lock-in that I realised I truly wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Just watch the below clip, even after watching back multiple times I’m not 100% sure what is being said. “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?” At least they liked my hat.