Each summer for the last 50+ years, the small town of Rosscarbery hosts a Family Festival in mid August. On the lineup: Sandcastle building, a disco in the square for tweens, slippery pole contests, fun runs; dog, pig, and mouse racing; a dog show, concerts in the church, a bake sale, and something known as the Monster Rag. A quick internet search shed no light on what this might be, but a few locals described it as a public routing of bad behavior, so we set our calendars to mark the day so we wouldn’t miss the spectacle. We held a place at the front of the barricades and waited for our friends Dan and Sinead to arrive, as Sinead promised to interpret the floats for us. Near the beginning of the Rag, our next door neighbors John and Kathy showed up too, and soon I spotted our beloved electrician, GerFuck, edging his way toward us as the music started to blare. Familiar faces began to bloom in the crowd, as the people we had met over the past few months drifted into the square: Ger from Atkins in his HiViz vest was directing traffic in front of us, grin spread for ear to ear; the waitress from Pilgrim’s restaurant (she’s originally from Wisconsin) floated by in her civilian clothes; Kathleen, the famous baker we had only heard about joined the back of the crowd and stood on her tiptoes to shake hands with us up front.
Seizing the opportunity to quiz the crowd while in the midst of the Rag, I asked what the significance of the name might be. Everyone shook their heads and said, ummm… Monster as in big, I guess? And Rag like bloody or to make fun of…. I think? Later I told Tom that I found a parallel in the Shirley Jackson story “The Lottery” where they pick a person at random to sacrifice for the good of the town and the crops, but they don’t know how the ritual started or why they do it, but they continue to do it because stopping is scary and the outcome unknown. That is where the similarity ends, because the Ross Monster Rag serves a very clear function as a steam valve where the rural community can come together and poke fun at the people who have caused a rip in the social fabric over the past year. Anyone can build a float as long as they register and are approved to ride, and the topics range from the humorous to the dastardly. In small towns where everybody is in everybody else’s business and no one slips by unnoticed, this ritual is a way to renew a bond that may have been frayed by a person’s poor choices or to solidify a sense of proper behavior. Often the people being Ragged On are right there at the front of the crowd, lifting their glasses and playing the good sport.
The one that was the most humorous to me was a float depicting The Pike Bar. Apparently the new owner wanted to have it be a tourist destination, barred some locals, and allegedly ran a flophouse AirB&B operation upstairs. Sinead said to check the Booking.com comments and AirB&B comments to see the details. Each year The Pike used to run The Festival of the Bard (poet) and the title of the float is The Festival of the Barred. The new owner was said to have remarked that the locals need to be re-educated if they want to drink in his bar. Ooof.
The weather has been a beast in Ireland this year. First snow in decades and hottest driest summer in 40 years. Also, a hurricane and other assorted mayhem on the meteorological scale. What better way to depict that than a water sprayer behind a leaf blower, the sunshine throwing gummy treats to the crowd, and joggers just trying to have a fun run while being simultaneously drenched and blasted. The crowd got a real laugh from Weather Red Alert.
The good news: New bathrooms were built at the tiny neighborhood beach called the Warren. (It’s not called that on maps, natch.) The bad news: there’s only one stall per gender and the doors don’t lock. The lad in charge of the public scheme is in the left hand side of these images in a navy blue jumper, holding his beer and laughing.
A fight in the local fast food joint that ended with a bunch of 18 year olds getting hauled off in the paddywagon was the focus of this float.
Assorted other floats included a goat getting lifted 15 feet into the air, some grannies voting for a granny grant of 1000Eu per year for childcare support, and a cross dressing Yes to the Dress person commenting on the self-involved behavior of a local woman who appeared on the TV show.
And a good time was had by all!