Leona O'Neill: Country music is taking over young Irish minds

Country music used to be something your da might have tapped a toe to, much to your embarrassment. Now, though, it's taking over the minds and lives of Ireland's youth – and if you think your teenager is above jiving the night away with pair of chaps, watch out, writes Leona O'Neill

Nathan Carter must shoulder a lot of the blame for leading the young people of Ireland down the path of country 'n' western

THERE'S something very peculiar happening to today's teenagers.

Under the cover of darkness, in old barns in the middle of nowhere and in community centres in the outskirts of cities and towns, they are experimenting with Stetsons, spinning spurs and donning chaps.

There is white powder on the tables, and on the floor. But people aren't sniffing it up their noses – they're rubbing it into their hands so that their palms don't get sweaty when they are jiving.

Parents, I hate to break this to you, but your children like country and western music.

When I was a teenager country music was the most embarrassing sound known to mankind. You might have had to endure it at wedding reception outside the city, or perhaps your mother was a big Kenny Rogers fan.

Even if you partial to a spot of Dolly Parton, you'd listen to Islands in a Stream in the privacy of your own home with the curtains closed. You'd never tell your friends – they'd disown you immediately. These were the days before scientists discovered that high-pitched sounds affected teenagers and would play Foster and Allen albums on loop over loud speakers to deter them from hanging around outside shops.

But these days songs about rocking people's mothers like wagon wheels and asking people woncha do stuff, like kicking back and popping down and having fun on country roads are all the rage. I don't understand it, but then maybe I'm old.

Over the past couple of weeks I've attended two music festivals, one in Derry, another in Strabane. They were both geared towards young people. They had big stages and loud speakers and I thought to myself as the sound engineers got it all together, the rave music is going to be blaring out of those sound systems shortly.

But no, an hour later Ireland's answer to Garth Brooks was warbling through the microphone about his broken heart and there were teenagers in checked shirts and actual cowboy boots doing some kind of strange dance moves in pairs below the stage.

As I stood there, open mouthed, staring at them jiving and doing the hucklebuck, happy as you like and totally civilised, I thought to myself, this would never have happened 30 years ago. Back then there would be a guy with a pink mohican on the stage screaming into the microphone and a load of punk-rocking, angst-ridden teens with safety pins in their noses pogo-ing in a circle trying not to spill their tin of beer or burn each other with their cigarettes. How times have changed.

Every weekend throughout this land, barns are packed to the rafters with jiving teenagers as country stars belt out the tunes from the stage and the cows look in from the fields, fondly remembering the days when barns where the very place they and their cow mates frequented, not cowboy-hat-wearing youngfellas from Claudy.

A few teenagers I know say they love the barn dances because there's a friendlier atmosphere than the nightclubs. There are no drugs and no fights. Frostbit Boy, Ruairi McSorley told me jiving is the ugly man's ticket to getting a woman. So it's a win-win situation all around and that has to be welcomed.

I don't know, for the life of me, when country music turned a corner and was made cool again, but it's happened and there's nothing really we can do about it.

And if you think this won't reach Belfast and your own teenager, you are sadly mistaken. This is Ireland's coolest cult. It might have its roots in rural Ireland but it's coming your way and there's nothing you can do about it.

Don't say I didn't warn you when you're banging on your teenager's bedroom door telling them to turn down that bloody Foster and Allen album.


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