An ode to the ould fella

Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a country pub, but ould fellas fill me with a tenderness I reserve only for them.

Twinkly eyes in weatherbeaten faces, leathery hands and even the odd tuft of ear hair – bonus points for a flat cap and an odour of cattle – bring out the same sort of fondness in me as old sheepdogs. You know the kind of dog. Greying muzzle, a bit lame from that time he was hit by a car, and cloudy eyes. Weary, but gentle. Too weary to bite you, anyway. Or maybe just toothless.

One of the best things about your traditional ould fella was that they were brilliant at dancing. A grand-uncle of mine was famous for his stepdancing, and the ubiquity of dance halls, even in the most rural parts of rural Ireland, meant that most of them were great at waltzing, jiving and anything that was in fashion in that distant, misty time when they were young. A photograph I have of my grandparents dancing at their fortieth wedding anniversary shows that, even in our least musical of families, my grandad – articulate, educated and long gone from the farm he grew up on, but nonetheless a classic ould fella – could dance respectably.

But there’s no denying it. They don’t make them like they used to. The nouveau ould fella is on the rise. It’s responsible for every other ill of modern Ireland, so obviously I blame the Late Late.

There are plenty of ould fellas in public life in Ireland. I’ve been known to say there are too many of them, and perhaps they should shove over and give us young wans a chance. But professionally, of course, you can’t be showing off your fondness for ould fellas. People might pick you up wrong.

Part of the problem is that today’s ould fellas wouldn’t be caught within 100 feet of a flat cap, probably the fault of whoever styled Boyzone in the early 1990s. They also wouldn’t go near a cow. And, well… they don’t know they’re ould fellas. They might have gout,or arthritis, or erectile dysfunction or various other diseases that only come with the general state of being an ould fella. But they talk about it. To women!

They drink wine. And wear brightly coloured jumpers with little pictures of horses on them. And they talk about their feelings. And they smoke e-cigarettes instead of pipes.

No self-respecting ould fella would do those things. Worst of all, the new breed of ould fella is unable to dance.

And thus they are sullying the proud tradition of ould lads everywhere with what has become known as ‘dad dancing’. From these nouveau ould lads down to men my age, there are only two forms of dancing now on display.

One is jumping up and down holding a pint. And, over a certain age, that couldn’t be good for the joints. The other is the knee-wobbling, slow-arm-pump Dad dance.

My own Dad wouldn’t be caught dead. A waltz or nothing. And nothing, in many cases, is the best decision. Personally, I think he combines the best of the traditional ould fella (flat cap, rollies, unwillingness to discuss feelings except at weddings) with the best of modernity (an open mind and an interest in Leonard Cohen). Then again, I would say that.

The latest, and possibly most extreme ever, example of dad dancing is a viral video made by Cadbury’s chocolate, in which Eamon Dunphy and Johnny Giles – two of these nouveau ould fellas I mentioned above – indulge in a bit of chocolate fuelled banter, before dad dancing along to ‘yes sir, I can boogie’.

Boogie? Boogie? Tis far from boogie they were reared. It seems Derek from Crystal Swing is the baby-faced keeper of Ireland’s ould fella flame. The next generation’s flat caps are Cadbury purple ties. Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.






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