Gordon D’Arcy’s beard: when, and where, will it all end?

The big beard is in fashion, and Irish men are now partying like it’s 1899

Gordon D’Arcy’s beard: notable for its thrust. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Gordon D’Arcy’s beard: notable for its thrust. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho


Gordon D’Arcy’s beard. It deserves its own ghostwriter at this stage. It’s a glorious sight, notable for its thrust, shape and abundance. You half-expect a Japanese second World War soldier to emerge from it one day and finally surrender.

What is so terribly disappointing is that the Irish rugby player’s facial hair is the result of laziness. What a blow to those who presumed it was a determined effort. Who thought it a comment perhaps on how far a rugby player’s beard must go to remain alpha in a decade when every beta male is giving a beard a go.

Or hoped it might be both a subversion and a celebration of the hipsterism that has swept through the Ireland squad. But no. Not at all.

“During preseason you get a little bit lazy,” he told Pat Kenny late last year. “When the season kicked in I decided, ‘Why not? I’ll give it a whack.’ ”

You know how it is. You forget to shave for a couple of days and the next thing you wake up as the country’s foremost Charles Stewart Parnell impersonator.

D’Arcy has given it some whack, quickly becoming perhaps our most prominent beardo since David Norris lost his for charity.

The modern beard increasingly harks back to the ornate aesthetic of the 1800s, a style echo that has amplified suddenly over the past few years, so that it now reverberates across the chins of the western world.

The beard in Ireland began its comeback around 2008, although among the common man it was largely of the barely there, you-won’t-find-yesterday’s-cornflakes-in-here variety. It was only just a grade above stubble – except in a couple of places: the rugby pitch, where the French player Sébastien Chabal set a trend with a look that suggested he’d been thawed out after 10,000 years; and the Tyrone football team. Joe McMahon’s beard won an All-Ireland that year.

Variations on that beard – in its full neck-avalanche, where-does-it-begin-and-end glory – has become quite the style. Yet, although it has been such a feature of Irish history that there’s a least one academic study of beard-tuggers in the Book of Kells (some tug each other’s beards; others go solo), it was only last week that the first official meeting of the Irish Beard and Moustache Association took place.

The venue was a bar in Cork. They have, they claim, 300 members. Among them is John McCarthy, the inaugural winner of the national beard championship, now held at the Corofin festival every May bank-holiday weekend. His beard is very much in the wizard mould. And by that I mean Roy Wood from the band Wizzard. When McCarthy left Cork last weekend, his beard followed only on Monday morning.

Such is the modern penchant for beardophilia, it has economic consequences. Procter & Gamble this week complained that 2013’s fourth-quarter earnings dropped by more than €500 million, hurt not just by the global popularity of the Movember, the moustaches-for-cancer phenomenon, but also by the general fashion for moustaches, beards and whatever spectrum of increasingly Victorian facial shrubbery might lie between the two.

The Financial Times reported that, according to Euromonitor, “The profusion of facial hair reflected more relaxed dress codes in some offices, as well as high unemployment in southern Europe, which left jobless men with less reason to shave.”

I doubt that analyst meant this as either a fallback to moustached stereotypes of Mediterranean men or a slight on the ability of wispy-faced northern Europeans, including the Irish, to grow decent beards. But he managed both.

Anyway, like every report on P&G’s results, the FT blamed hipsters and the vogue for finely, often consciously ridiculous, sculpted hair. This is having such an effect on the wider culture that the UK shaving market is expected to contract by almost 1 per cent this year.

For those worried about the impact on manufacturers’ race to add as many blades as possible to razors, there is hope. P&G has identified men’s body shaving as the next growth market. This will probably end with razor makers loading 20 blades on the end of a giant handle. Which, coincidentally, might be the only thing short of a tactical nuclear strike capable of wiping that magnificent beard off Gordon D’Arcy’s face.


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