I’m sure you could find it out on the Internet somewhere if you wanted to. But where’s the fun in that? There is nothing to beat turning the page of the Tullamore Tribune and finding, much to your surprise that Paolo Coelho’s masterpiece, ‘The Alchemist‘ is the favourite book of County Offaly. That is the serendipity of a newspaper. And no newspapers are more serendipitous than the Local-n-Regionals.

The book, which is essentially a fable about finding your destiny, has many powerful lines – none more so than “Lead will play its role until the world has no further need for lead; and then lead will have to turn itself into gold” And you can see the effect that this statement may be having on the behaviour of the people of the area. Behaviour which lands them in court.

It’s not clear from the Tribune’s court report, whether the two lads from Wexford who were caught in the town selling fake expensive bracelets had read The Alchemist but the court report does give some other valuable insights: “Their solicitor said it had taken him some time to explain the principles of copyright to the men”. Who could blame them for struggling with the concept when Offaly’s favourite book is about the transmutation of cheap metal into something valuable?

Reading the court reports in local newspapers is like watching EastEnders if the police in Walford actually did their job instead of just arriving when there was an explosion. So many minor misdemeanours are picked up on by An Garda that we readers are provided with a glimpse into the minutae of the human condition. (At the expense of unfortunate defendant who is named and shamed in front of the whole parish.)

Some are contrite in court. Their solicitors provide assurances that the defendant is seeking help for his troubles. Others adopt a ‘might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb’ attitude. And they just go for it. “F**K YOU JUDGE YOU OLD PR*CK!” reported the headline in the Carlow Nationalist gleefully a few weeks ago as a defendant let loose at all and sundry in the courtroom. In an article which employed no fewer than fourteen blush-sparing asterisks, a picture was painted of a man on the edge. He went on to fire his solicitor who he accused of “working for the guards”.

Throughout the length and breadth of the country the wheels of justice grind remorselessly on and give ample opportunity for wonderful headlines in the local paper. “Stole His Mother’s Car”, “Fined For Arguing With Sister”, “Cavalier Attitude to Insurance”. And the piece de la resistance from the Corkman a few weeks ago: “CAHIRMEE FIGHT MAN HAD BATON DOWN TROUSERS.” There, but for the grace of God go all of us.

On a happier note are the Local Notes. The Local Notes are tangible proof that the heart of rural Ireland still beats proud and strong despite all the septic tanky, fly-tipping and potholed vicissitudes which threaten it.

These are the news items we all want to hear. In the process we find out things we didn’t know existed. For example the Limerick Leader’s Cratloe Notes revealed before Christmas that the whole area was looking forward to the Annual Cratloe GAA Sheep Gamble. I googled ‘Sheep Gamble and apart from an online version of the Cratloe notes, could find no definitive explanation for what a Sheep Gamble might be.

Sometimes you can reveal too much detail. In congratulating the Cratloe captain on his upcoming marriage to a girl from Down, the journalist also revealed the entire Championship team would be at the wedding in Down that Saturday. Thus providing the Cratloe Burglar Assocation with some invaluable knowledge about empty houses.

Local newspapers also have their priorities right. What is it that’s really important in the lives of their readers? The Donegal Democrat knows well and you can see this local knowledge in their quotes of the week. Do the people of Donegal really need their paper to tell them what Sarkozy said to Merkel or what a Minister said in the Dáil when explaining why the government was reneging on an election promise? No, of course not. What they need to know is what the new manager of the Ulster Bank in Letterkenny said on his appointment. For the record he said: “I always thought – wouldn’t it be nice to be manager of this bank and 20 years later I’ve finally managed it.” Another quote of the week was from Evelyn Cusack of Met Eireann who confessed that the following week “could be frosty”.

Finally, the crowning glory of most local papers is ample column area afforded to a local curmudgeon to fulminate on the ills and travails of modern life. Normally in the local notes people stick to the script. Cake Sales, Obituaries, Neighbourhood Watch. But every so often a correspondent will go off-piste. The marital difficulties of Sinead O’Connor tipped Sean O’Callaghan of the Leitrim Observer over the edge leading him to issue barbed advice to local lads as well as attempting to warn off newer residents of Ireland .

The monotony of Christmas was somewhat broken by the bust-up of Sinead O’Connor’s marriage number 4. Any eligible Irish boy who would like a bit of publicity and have his photo appear on everything except the radio should make a move on her in the likely aftermath. The sooner the better we would advise before a Pakistani or a Pole would come at the Reverend Mother – once clad in priestly garb.

Now if you are a member of the Pakistani or Polish community, intent on dressing up as a priest and planning to woo Sinead O’Connor – be aware. Sean O’Callaghan of the Corraleehan and Aughawillan notes has your number.

As a country we buy more papers than any other in the world, so next time you are at the newsstand, try to shop local. If don’t, believe me, they’ll know about it.

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