Tagline: ‘Ireland’s Favourite Magazine for over 100 years’
Who is this magazine for? Despite its capital being less than an hour from London, my mental image of the Emerald Isle is pretty much just hazy caricatures. Shamrocks, Guinness and begorrah. Perched happily beside this casual racism on the brain shelf marked ‘Eire’ is a shamefully shallow pool of real knowledge. I think the Irish Prime Minister is called a Tea Sack. And thanks to an administrative error, I believe Ireland was briefly obliged to win the Eurovision Song Contest on a biannual basis by European law.
My only other points of reference are Irish comics like Dara O’Briain and Dylan Moran. The latter once described the rapid transformation of Dublin in the late ‘90s from a place where ‘people styled their hair with buttermilk,’ to an urbane, swish metropolis ‘where everyone is going out with someone call Fujuvia.’
Ireland’s Own is for people who still live in buttermilk Ireland. Villages where the fields are forever full of Athenry, and small towns of piano key teeth and comb-overs, where people ring the pub to order their Guinness forty-five minutes before arriving. The equivalent of a Sunday Express supplement, this mag is for dependably elderly middle Ireland, yearning nostalgically for the green, green past of home.
What did you get for your £1.20? You get 64 pages for a start, which rivals guffrag Heat for sheer value. Granted, the paper quality is noticeably lower than you’d find in glossy gossip mag. It has that grainy feel of the cheap bog roll you’d find in a rural pub toilet. But if it’s good enough for Private Eye, it’s good enough for Ireland’s Own.
Five thousand issues gives you plenty of opportunity to build up a strong stable of regular features, and Ireland’s Own doesn’t disappoint on this front. Along with your standard fare – the editor’s intro, puzzles, a couple of columnists – there are some fascinating innovations to be found. Who can’t fail to thrill at ‘Catch The Criminal’, a short story with a crime you have to solve? What about the charming ‘Song Words’, which includes lyrics to recent pop hits like ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ (released 1971), ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’ (released 1960) and ‘Johnson’s Motor Car’ (let’s hope never released)? Or perhaps ‘Irish Wildlife’, which this week takes an in-depth look at bladder wrack, which turns out to be a species of seaweed rather than a urinary tract complaint.
There are also some longer pieces alongside the regulars. In every single one – and there are eight – maudlin hangs over the words like fag smoke in a snooker club. In case you don’t believe me, this is the current status of the main subject in each article: war with many dead, war with even more dead, dead, dead, extremely old, dying, closed down, dead.
Features: The morose tone is set on the first inside page by the editor Cassidy’s opening column, which is titled ‘Disappointments’. To his credit, Cassidy doesn’t go for the typical ego-massaging photograph next to his byline. In the debit column, he has been drawn by an artist who depicts a face with a distinctly scrotal appearance and wearing what is unmistakably a cow pat on his head.
Cassidy gently jibes at the consumerist society and the ‘curse of comparison’, and says that he is ‘coming round to the idea that feeling content in your own skin…is worth more than any posh or expensive addendum,’ which is a particularly mature attitude for someone who has just been painted as a ballbag.
I hoped a happier note would be struck by John Corbett’s article on his memories (natch) of New Year celebrations in the countryside. Unfortunately, his article is afflicted both by the same sense of depression (‘we, in this country, seem destined to experience an endless series of recessions that force so many of our people to go abroad for a living.’) He also suffers from inverted comma incontinence. A superb example of this turns up in paragraph three, where John says of a New Year’s dance ‘even those with ‘two left feet’, felt obliged to ‘take the floor’.’ I was grateful for the guiding punctuation marks here, otherwise I would have immediately brought to mind the macabre spectacle of unsteady, reveling freaks ripping up the linoleum as a common feature of Irish Hogmanay parties.
But it’s not all sad news. The Marjorie’s Kitchen column defies the urge to throw off stereotypes and makes potato the core ingredient of her soup recipe. There’s a whole page of unfunnies under the banner of ‘the lilt of Irish Laughter’. And rather sweetly, the lonely hearts column at the back is called ‘Penfriends’.
More than anything else, Penfriends serves as a reminder that Ireland is not just Britain with blarney. It truly is a foreign country. I’ve certainly never seen the acroynms RC (Roman Catholic), TT (teetotal) or CW (Country-Western) on a UK dating page before. One advert is worth reproducing in full:
‘Dublin Man, 52, prays to God in silence, loves Dolly Parton, French language, card tricks, reading, water, milk, porridge, fresh air, long walks, St Bernard dogs, wlthf ladies in Ireland.’
It starts well and just gets better doesn’t it? You’re not going to lose any hesitant partners by professing your love of milk, so I reckon that’s a pretty strong move. I really hope the guy gets a few letters.
Adverts: The adverts with prime space next to the editor set the tone for all the rest – memorial cards (oh dear), stairlifts (mmm), and a device to fend off dogs called a ‘Dazzer’ – which I’m going to assume is an entrepreneurial response to a load of tasers falling off the back of a Garda lorry. In a rather revealing indication of the average reader’s mental alertness, the same Dazzer advert appears again on page 7. In case you had forgotten it from four pages earlier.
Elsewhere, there’s quite a lot of stuff that looks suspiciously like bollocks targeted towards to the hard of mind. The usual dodgy self-publishing scams are there, but this magnifier is a piece of snake oil genius.
Letters page: Not much in the way of letters, other than a couple in the Ask Pete section – posers to put to Ireland’s Own resident vet, Pete Wedderburn. Pete provides considerate replies to Eileen and Aileen’s stillborn pup and cat moulting worries.
Coincidentally, stillborn pups and cat moulting are the two subjects most lacking in comedic value.
Ireland’s Own is obviously not written for me; I’m not Irish, and I’m not old. Nonetheless, I feel I’ve come away from it with a deeper understanding of Ireland’s troubled, nostalgic psyche. As well as a much clearer sense of why their young people leave.
Let’s finish with a joke from ‘The lilt of Irish Laughter’.
— “That’s an awful looking horse.”
— “I call him Flattery.”
— “Why do you call him that?”
— “Because he gets me nowhere.”
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