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How Abbeyfealegood shone a heartfelt and humorous light on life in rural Ireland


by Edaein OConnell
21st Apr 2020

Abbeyfealegood, directed by Alex Fegan, was a stunningly heartfelt and humorous piece of television 


There’s something about a small town, isn’t there?

The togetherness, the security, the sameness – it’s intoxicating. If you come from one, you’ll know what I mean. There’s a certain pride that comes from being one of their own.

But there are also mixed feelings.

Sometimes you hate it and sometimes you love it. Mostly though, you cherish it.

And never ever want to let it go.

Abbeyfealegood proved this last night in what was a stunningly heartfelt and humorous piece of television.

The RTÉ documentary focused on the 16 barbers and hairdressers which litter throughout the town – it has  more per head of population than any other town in the country.

This is a feat in itself.

Rural and hearty

I live 15 minutes away from Abbeyfeale. It’s right on the border with the Kingdom and sometimes I forget that it’s not a Kerry town. Limerick people will kill me for saying that but I cried when the county won its All-Ireland in 2018.

Surely, there is some merit in that.

I have sung songs in The Ramble Inn until early hours and have travelled the main street to take the dreaded green bus back to Dublin many times. Plus, the town has a Tesco which is a rarity in Kerry.

It’s small, it’s rural and it’s hearty. And like many other towns, it has suffered in recent years and has gained a standing that doesn’t fully reflect its state.

Abbeyfeale was once a town of 64 pubs, a haven of socialising, but with many of those pubs and other businesses closed, there is little space for meeting people. This is where the hairdressers and barbers step in.

Like all of these areas, it’s the people who breathe life into its streets.

The hair salons, in particular, are a hub where people equally share as they do hide. Everyone knows the sacred relationship that lies between the hairdresser and the customer.

This bond was highlighted in incandescent colour last night.

Humour and hurt

What was so charming about last night’s program was how intelligently it flitted between humour and devastating emotion. One minute, we were laughing about the married couple who only communicated through the dog (“It’s true, the postman told me”) and the next, tears were delicately falling.

For most of us, death is the heaviest of subjects but it was discussed openly with sentiment so honest your heart would ache.

We were told of the pain that comes with the loss of a child. Two of those spoken to had lost daughters in road traffic accidents and both talked of the difficulties they faced in the aftermath.

Another spoke of his son who died by suicide, while Florrie the barber stood still with respect behind him as he shared his story.

Suicide and mental health were so often pushed under the rug, particularly in the rural Ireland of yore. However, it was inspiriting to see those issues expressed with truthfulness.

This honesty will help many, I’m sure.

Spirituality and belief are strong. The people of Abbeyfeale have faith in life and in each other, and through dark times there will always be light. The wheels of existence keep moving. Though it’s hard and you may not want it to, life moves on. Though pain will linger, you grow and you adapt and someday there will be something to look forward to.

As was said on the program last night “there is no place in this world for hate”.

While Canon Neville reminded us there is no experience more profound then love.

Community

For Abbeyfeale, the documentary has shone a light on the distinct personality of the town. From the fireplace that sits in the middle of Florrie’s barbers to one young hairdresser speaking of the Kardashian effect – the town blends the past and present seamlessly.

It’s important for rural towns to keep both alive.

Community spirit is strong and that sense of togetherness has never been more important to hold onto than now.

Last night’s documentary was a lesson in the human condition. Humanity is fragile. We move from joy to heartache in a split second but our experiences are never singular. It was uplifting and sometimes sad, but it was life-affirming.

As a country, we have so many wonderful villages and towns full of interesting and dynamic people with similar stories to share.

And this documentary showed just how important it is to tell them.

You can watch Abbeyfealegood on the RTÉ Player now


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