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Wired with Whelan: The rumour mill can grind you down in the best little country in the world

Ireland - the best little country in the world for gossip


“Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”

Welcome to Ireland. The best little country in the world.

The best little country in the world for gossip.

The best little country in the world for tribunals.

Not the best little country in the world for whistle-blowers.

We don’t do whistle-blowers in Ireland. We do them in.

Growing up our mother would say: Your good name is all you have; your word is your bond.

So true.

Your good name. Your reputation. It’s all you have. Ultimately that’s all you ever really have. The rest is just possessions. Baggage.

We were also told that ‘sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can never hurt you’.

That’s not true.

Name calling can destroy you. Destroy your life. Destroy your family. The rumour mill can grind you down and destroy you.

We are the best little country in the world for gossip, rumour, hearsay and innuendo. Duirt bean liom go nduirt bean lei.

At the supermarket, at the match, after Mass.

Sure there must be something in it. There’s no smoke without fire.

A good few years ago a vicious rumour did the rounds like wildfire and devastating effect that there was brothel in Capard. The entirely false story convulsed Mountmellick and even made the pages of The Sunday World. Even though it was without any foundation and entirely untrue, there are still people to this day will tell you that there must have been something in it. It was a savage and deliberate attempt to destroy people and their good names. That there was a horse-riding stables in the vicinity only helped add to the salacious stories.

The rumour mill almost destroyed Maurice McCabe and his family. The rumour mill is a weapon of mass and after Mass destruction. In 30 years of journalism I have seen how rumour, gossip, back biting, hearsay and innuendo can have a devastating effect on people’s businesses, relationships and lives.

The rumour mill is the weapon of choice in a country that has a snaking regard for the cute hoor and sorting things out. Since the foundation of the State we have had an innate suspicion of authority, the system, the establishment. We prefer people who can sort things out and get us off; we prefer I saw nothing and the culture of cute hoorism rather than those who play it down the line and by the book. Snakes, turncoats, snitches, rats, informers – that’s what we call whistle-blowers. They disgust us said the Garda Commissioner.

We all know the story of the politician who turns to the Garda when the pub is packed for after-hours and challenges: Sergeant, do you want a pint or a transfer?

Welcome to post-truth Ireland. Post 2016. Post whatever you want on social media. Ireland, where everyone is in the know and no one knows anything. Ireland where no one ever resigns and everyone is resigned. Resigned to the same thing happening over and over again. Ireland the best little country in the world in which to start a rumour. The more vicious and vile the better it seems.

In this fertile swamp rumours thrive and multiply. In an age of malicious misinformation, alternative facts and fake news it is becoming more and more difficult to distil fact from fiction, the plausible from the parody.

But out this murky swamp steps a hero.

Lorraine McCabe.

Through thick and thin, for years, she was steadfast, determined, courageous and loyal. She stood by her friend, partner and husband Maurice McCabe. She protected her family against the most vile and vicious rumours and false allegations.

In Lorraine McCabe there is hope for us yet. Lesser people than the McCabes might have buckled at the pressure as the rumour mill ground down on them, being cranked and fuelled by the levers and agents of the State. Putinesque.

In all of this sordid affair the public trust in core institutions of the State have been grievously damaged. The authority, reliability and credibility of the Gardai, Tusla and the HSE are undermined and tarnished once more.

The last straw, in almost a ridiculous self-parody, Tusla delivered the apology intended for the Mc Cabe family to the wrong house – just in case all their neighbours didn’t already know of this sorry affair.

How can Tusla in its current incarnation be trusted to protect children or to vindicate the good name of those wrongly accused?

Writing in the esteemed columns of today’s Irish Times, my namesake, Noel Whelan states: FF needs something bigger to collapse the Government. 

Personally, I cannot think of anything bigger. I cannot think of anything bigger than the grotesque and sinister failure of three major institutions of the State whose authority and reliability have been shattered to the core, perhaps even beyond repair. In all three instances it may be best and necessary to start over from scratch. I cannot think of anything bigger than children first, children’s safety and child protection.

It is a tragic irony that it is a matter such as this, the biggest of all issues in a country that has been plagued by child abuse, which should ultimately lead to the demise of this Taoiseach. That Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s career should be book-ended by a Tusla file is a personal tragedy indeed, for a man whose finest hour was his handling of the child abuse reports only a few years ago.

It seems he didn’t count on us being the best little country in the world in which to do gossip and character assassination.


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John Whelan has been a journalist, commentator, columnist, political analyst, campaigner, politician and publisher ever since he was 17. Having been Editor of the Leinster Express, Offaly Express and the Leinster Leader he has also contributed extensively on a number of issues to all of the country's flagship titles and programmes including the Irish Press, The Irish Independent, the Star, the Sunday Independent, the Sunday Business Post, The Sunday Times and Prime Time. He is founder of Communicate Ireland a PR, public affairs, event management and media services company. He is the author of the popular camping blog, Vanhalla - Camper Heaven.