Culchie: Country person, as in country bumpkin, or country shrewd, someone from deepest rural Ireland.

Last week I went in search of this exotic species, except I’m one myself - despite my New York life.

Back in Ireland for a spell I now know you can take the woman out of Roscommon but you can't take Roscommon out of the woman. Never were truer words spoken. Last weekend I found myself and two friends zipping through the back roads of lovely Leitrim en route to the annual Culchie Festival, in Mohill.

Three culchies, a sat-nav and an I-Phone couldn’t offer directions to Mohill but luckily a novel invention called signposts eventually led us to Leitrim's biggest cultural event of 2010.

For those of you are not aware, a culchie is defined as a person from the country, in essence the opposite of a city slicker. It's a derogatory term most frequently used by city urchins who are more fond of visiting tacky holiday resorts in Spain rather then venturing into rural Ireland.

Mid afternoon, and the sun was shining as we pulled into Mohill. Walking down the main street there were bodies everywhere dressed in appropriate culchie attire. Slacks, plaid shirts, over-sized tweed jackets, wellington boots and the mandatory bailing twine belt.

“I’ll take the blond!” one of the culchie competitors barked before posing for a picture in front of a Massey Ferguson with me and my friend.

The men were out in force as cars and passersby hooted their horns and stopped for pictures as these were not just any men, these were good wholesome, sheep stealing, tobacco chewing Irish country men. A breed onto themselves. They would battle it out over the weekend for the coveted title of “King of the Culchies”.
Fergal D'Arcy interviews former King of the Culchies

The rules are simple
  •  No Dubs allowed to enter. (City folk!)
  •  No Women allowed to enter
  •  Contestants can be married or single,
    age 21 or over.
  •  It would definitely be considered an asset if you were able to entertain at will, at any time of the day or night, with a story, song, musical instrument or a dance or just be a general character.

The festival had kicked off the Friday evening before with festivities including Swearing Culchie Style, and the announcement of Leitrim's Super Gran 2010.

We joined the circus just in time for local celebrity Fergal D'Arcy's attempt to break the Guinness World Record for putting on the most underpants in one hour. But before Darcy's nail biting performance the crowd got stuck into some camel racing.

Shortly before 3pm D'Arcy, a popular i102 radio personality took to the Culchie Rig (stage) to prime himself for his challenge. Sponsored by Charlie's Bar in Roscommon, Fergal was confident he could beat the world record and with the help of some friends throw on 100 plus pairs of jocks in under an hour.

Independent adjudicators were in place, stop watches at the ready and piles of white underwear were neatly stacked on a table as the event kicked off with a thunderous cheer from the ever expanding crowd.

The first round of the Y-front challenge was no problem for the limber DJ as he bounded around the stage in excitement. But once he had jumped into 100 pairs of underpants the Galway man had to call in support from his troops who helped D'Arcy elegantly step into the remaining underwear while he leaned against a bar stool. Brotherhood at its best

Among the crowd a white haired man played his bodhrán (Irish drum) for the duration of the challenge which added a sense of urgency to the occasion as spectators looked on in awe. Young and old were there to witness the Guinness World Record being smashed when the i102 DJ managed to pull on a total of 241 pairs of underpants. 100 more than the original record. History was made in Mohill as the crowd erupted. 

After the excitement died down the crowd dispersed to the various watering holes in the town to quench their thirst. My friends and I retired to O'Callaghans, where two sprightly ladies were throwing beverages out to the masses.

But this was no ordinary bar. To the untrained eye O'Callaghans looked like a grocery shop where wooden shelves were stacked high with various food items. A fridge beside the counter displayed a selection of Irish cheeses. However a door next to the NCF fridge at the back of the shop served as an entrance to the attached pub. Irish logic, a pub and shop under the same roof, the winning combination instantly doubles your business!

After we wet our lips we sauntered on down the street for Culchie Karaoke where contestants showcased their vocal talent on stage with Big John. Caroll’s bar was packed to the rafters and it was only 4.30 in the afternoon!

At the front door the 2003 winner Eoin Coffey informed me that he had met his wife at the festival in 2001 and they have tried to come back every year since. People come from all over Ireland to join in with the annual festival which celebrated its 21st birthday this year.

Soon after and sad to leave the craic, our little culchie brigade had to hit the road and leave the festivities behind us. But we did later hear that Shane McKeown was announced as the 2010 culchie of the year late on Sunday night!

The culchie festival was a reminder of all things Irish and the simplicity of country life. When I woke up on Saturday morning I didn't expect to be surrounded by tractors and wellington boots by lunchtime. Years ago I abandoned my culchie roots to attend college in the Big Smoke (Dublin) and then venture across the pond to New York to embrace a cosmopolitan existence.

But last weekend I was reminded of the place where I come from. The friendliness and sense of community were unmistakable as I breathed a sigh of concession. I may aspire to be a city slicker but I would always be a culchie at heart.