Hi-Viz jackets and de-culchification has ruined the way we look at the police in Ireland. I was stopped recently by a young lad who looked like he was embarrassed to ask me a question. There was a time when a Garda was seen in an altogether more respected light. If you come from outside these shores, I should explain that in Ireland the police force is called “An Garda Síochána” translated to the guardians of the peace. A single one is called a Garda and the plural is Gardaí (Gard-ee).
Now you see, back in the day you’d be afraid of your sh**e to cross a Garda. He’d give you a puck at the very least and you’d soon be put in your place. I say he for while there were female officers, (Ban Gardaí) they were another thing altogether for which I think I’d need a whole other blog. In my experience, back in the days of yore from whence I came, they were all very much big, agricultural men, who looked like they had spent their formative years pulling bullocks from ditches, wearing flat Paddy caps, collarless shirts with the sleeves rolled up past their elbows, and tweed trousers held up with braces and a length of rope.
They had proper Garda jackets with shiny buttons and in the winter, they wore thick long coats of navy blue. They were not men worried about being seen in the dark! Not for them the Hi-Viz jackets that make our current Gardaí look like security guards in a car park, oh no. They took pride in the fact that the only things likely to be illuminated in the dark, were the buttons on their tunics or the shine on their shoes. There is something about Hi-Viz that screams small-minded, bureaucratic, health-and-safety obsessed box-ticker. I’m sorry folks, it had to be said and if that’s your actual job title, I can only offer my condolences.
The Hi-Viz is one thing but the de-culchification is probably a more serious matter. Again an explanation for the unfamiliar. A Culchie (Kull-Chee) is any Irish person not fortunate enough to have been born in the great county of Dublin. There was a time when it seemed that every Garda you came across was a Culchie and there is a difference between a Dublin Garda and a Culchie Garda.
You see it’s a well-known fact, though not always accepted by those outside the pale, (and yes the original pale from which that expression comes was in fact centred on Dublin) that Dublin is the centre of excellence when it comes to Gaelic football. On the other hand, Dubs never quite got the hang of our other national sport Hurling. That is more of a Culchie thing.
With that in mind, your average Garda being a Culchie back in the day, let’s say some big heap of a lad from Tipperary, would be familiar with swinging a caman (the big stick used in Hurling), so they had a natural ability with the baton carried by all Gardaí. Dublin lads just haven’t got the same natural ability with a big stick I’m afraid, and like I said earlier, the sheer agricultural build of a fella from the bog compared to a soft-handed, soft spoken Dub, just held a bit more weight.
I haven’t even mentioned the hair. They let them have hair now too. Skinny, soft-handed Dublin Gardaí with hair meeting the collar! No wonder there is so little respect for the men in blue, or should I say bright yellow these days. What was wrong with a proper short back and sides? And… and… they have stopped growing moustaches. Once upon a time there wasn’t a sergeant worth his salt who didn’t sport a fine thick military moustache.
But still that’s not the end of it. They even removed the height requirement and replaced it with a physical competency test. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no giant myself but when it comes to me looking down on a small twelve year old, clean-shaven, long, haired, soft-handed Dublin Garda in a Hi-Viz… well I despair!
I’ll briefly address the women for there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Dublinification of the female side of the force has seen a significant improvement in the fashion stakes, at least that‘s my opinion. With the influence of the more cosmopolitan style of the Dublin ladies in the force, gone are the past-the-knee woollen skirts and 500 denier tights in favour of practical yet stylish slacks.
While the hair length for men has lowered their masculine threat level, the opposite has occurred with the women in the force as suddenly Gardaí of the female variety, (we can’t say Ban Garda anymore) actually look quite professional as opposed to something one might to expect to find holding a cell door open for you in Stalinist Russia.
At this point, lest you think I’m a misogynistic, racist, sizesist, pro-mustachio, Culchie hating, Hi-Vizaphobic, Dubliner stuck in the past, let me tell you something important. I am not saying that ladies from outside our fair city of Dublin are less fashionable – God forbid they’d string me up – oh no and indeedthere has been a rebalancing in the fashion stakes in recent years. I am of course making a historical comparison, least you forget. STOP I hear you scream. Why am I focusing on the potential for brutality in the men and fashion when it comes to the women? What sort of twonk am I? Well pay attention if that’s what is going through your head, I repeat -this a satirical piece, focusing on historical values … memories and attitudes translated from a time now long past. (I’m turning into an old geezer)
So too with the notion of the Culchie Garda for while it may seem like a derogatory term to the outside eye, there is not a Culchie in the country who doesn’t have at least one similar term for the fine gentlemen and ladies of Dublin, or indeed for the fella down the road from the actual bog. We in Ireland have a fine tradition of slagging – we take the proverbial out of each other pretty much all the time so fear not , no offence has been caused except when it comes to the mention of Dublin being the best team at the football – In Mayo that’s a sore point, but it’s their own fault, there is the curse after all…
And Hi-Viz wearers, I mean you no harm; it is just not appropriate attire for Garda who has to take on knife wielding, gangsters. It’s hard to take a man quite as seriously in a Hi-Viz, it just is. Builders rock the look but apart from that there can be little argument.
So what of it you might say. Well I’m not just picking on the fine men and women in blue, rather the way society has changed, expectations have changed and opinions have changed and how, little changes within the context of the big picture, can actually greatly impact on our perception.
Now that example has been exhausted let’s move on to politicians.. No… wait… that really is a whole new blog!
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