Wanted: ‘Well-developed women with plenty of road frontage’

RTÉ’s ‘Stetsons and Stilettos’ throws open the barn door on a thriving Irish sub-culture

The death of the slow set may not be directly linked to the decimation of the population of rural Ireland, although it can't have helped.

Before there was Tinder, before there was speed dating, before there was even the very first Facebook poke, romance was kept alive in dimly-lit village halls filled with the stench of fear and Lynx Oriental, and teenagers swaying, crotch-to-crotch, to the beat of Air Supply.

Then the slow set inexplicably, devastatingly, became uncool, and outside the main urban centres of Ireland, finding love suddenly got a lot more complicated.

Online dating "can be quite tricky considering you know everyone within a 50km radius," explains director of the country music festival, Cowboys and Heroes, Simon Power, in the second, oxytocin-fuelled and highly entertaining episode of Stetsons and Stilettoes (Tuesday, RTÉ One, 7pm).


Power is out to bring love back to rural Ireland at the country’s first ever singles country music festival, held in Co Leitrim. The girls are looking for “someone to come and help milk the cows in the morning”, while the lads are after “a good country woman” or, as one puts it a bit more baldly, “a well-developed woman with plenty of road frontage”.

“If we even had a couple of couples coming from this event, we’d be delighted,” Simon adds, in an accent that’s more Krystle nightclub than Crystal Swing.

One fine specimen of rural manhood is farrier Brían from Monaghan, who – between masterfully hammering horseshoes on to horses and wearing chaps with more swagger than Ryan Gosling himself -- has persuaded his fiancée Caroline to marry him live on stage during the festival.

This is Stetsons and Stilettos meets Don't Tell the Bride, and the only question is why it took so long for someone to come up with the idea.

Brían has taken over the wedding planning, and has ideas that would make Franc's toes curl. No, we're not talking sugared almonds wrapped in tulle. "We're trying to get all the girls to wear their hotpants, you know, Daisy Dukes. We're not holding back, we're going all out, so we are," he says.

"There's no hotel," says groomsman and Jonathan Rhys Myers lookalike Lee, visibly perplexed at how a wedding can possibly transpire outside a hotel. "We're in the middle of a saloon in Leitrim and he's getting married."

“We’re riding in on horses ourselves, Western style,” Brían adds. Of course they are. With two days to go, the lads have overlooked one detail: the difficulty of finding cowboy boots in rural Ireland. They’re going to have to settle for Chelsea boots, in slightly the wrong size.

It all seems like a lot of effort, especially considering fiancée Caroline is not actually the biggest country music fan. Luckily, she’s the understanding type. “I’m more of a fan of Brían. It can’t all be about the bride, I suppose,” she says stoically.

Does she have any worries about her husband-to-be’s plans for a Western-themed wedding in Ireland in June? “The rain,” she admits. “And maybe horseshit on my dress.”

Brían isn't the only one who takes his Clint Eastwood fixation to the next level. Twenty eight-year-old "unlucky in love" Ben has recreated an entire Western-style village in his back garden, complete with saloon, mission and, er, jail. Inexplicably, he's still single. But he's optimistic of finding a "good-hearted, spontaneous country woman" to be the "future Mrs Dillon" at the Cowboys and Heroes festival.

Poor Ben has one major obstacle standing in his way. He is the Marty Morrissey of the country scene, and not in a good way.

“He threw me around the floor like a wet biscuit,” one prospect says. “His chances if he can’t dance aren’t great. If you’re not a good dancer here, people don’t really want to know about you.”

Does Ben manage not to dislocate anyone’s shoulder in the search for love? Does Brían even make it to the altar? Do the female guests get the memo about the hotpants? Yes, just about, and apparently not.

The wedding is everything a wedding held on the main stage at a country music festival should be: there are cowboy hats instead of fascinators, and readings from Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton and Nathan Carter singing Caledonia.

In the end, even the sceptical bride Caroline looks won over to the charms of country music, and amidst the sweat and sawdust and hearty snogs, it’s hard not to feel that young urban dwellers – “townies” as one festival goer calls them – are missing a trick with their espresso martinis and their indie gigs.

High-energy and highly entertaining, Stetsons and Stilettos throws open the barn door on a thriving sub-culture of Irish life.

Ben, meanwhile, is practising his dancing skills and getting a “good effort” from the ladies. “He needs to loosen up, lose the red trousers and we’re good to go,” says one. “Yee-haw.”

It turns out there’s a life podna out there for everyone –- even those with the dancing skills of a wet biscuit.