A bit of dignity in Disneyland

If you've seen The Field or Ryan's Daughter, you'll know what the real Ireland used to be like. The essential ingredients were rain, incest, loneliness, poteen, village idiots, graveyards, farmers dumping fertiliser in pristine rivers, mountains, mist, terrific funerals, tears, beauty, doomed love affairs, being patronised by Yanks, sheep with no road manners, mawkish playwrights and miserable memoirs.

This kind of depressed isolation had it's own peculiar appeal. Gorgeous, neurotic and reclusive French film stars would eschew the bright lights and retreat to chateaux in our uttermost west because they wanted a winter of peace, quiet, guilt, inner spiritual torment and the rest. And they wouldn't be disappointed.

Guilt used to be Ireland's speciality, which was all the fault of the English, from whom we had learned Victorian prudery.

But Alain Delon needn't bother anymore, unless he wants to catch the Tullylish Burning Sheep festival, or wishes to make a new cult horror film in Ballyjameduff (I believe the working title is The Wicker Cow).

Real tradition has turned into tourist spin, with about four million arts-and-crafts festivals taking place every year.

Rural Ireland is not what it was, largely thanks to the Celtic Tiger, the decline of the Church, and the influence of satellite television.

We have lost touch with reality and become a kind of cultural Disneyland.

This is not a totally bad thing; I've been to Disneyland and, trust me, it rocks.

I'm quite comfortable with this unreality, actually, after all these years of New Labour, whose latest wheeze is 'dignity' nurses, whose role, apparently, is to go round hospitals ensuring that people are treated with dignity.

This new idea fulfils New Labour's criteria for success perfectly: it a) sounds good; b) costs a lot; and c) will make absolutely no difference, except add an extra layer of bureaucracy.

I have a cheaper option. I recently purchased a nodding dog, installed a motion-activated microphone in it, then set it on the wall opposite my surgery door. As patients leave, it nods at them and says: 'You may have to wait 18 months for that out-patient appointment, but chin up.' Then it nods in a respectful farewell. I call it my Dignity Dog.

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