Maybe it is nothing more than Guinness-fuelled gossip, a bit of bar-room bragging. Or perhaps it’s yet another well-spun yarn, the sort of tall tale for which the Irish are famed.
“Or maybe,” says Christine Davies, with an impish glint in her green eyes, “just maybe, it’s all true. Sure don’t the passing motorists wind down the windows and take a long, deep sniff when they drive through. Then it’s straight home to see the wife. Brace yourself, Bridget, we call it!”
As she pulls another pint behind the cramped bar of the Ringaskiddy Inn, in the centre of Ringaskiddy — a sleepy, picturesque village on the Atlantic coast, 10 miles from Cork — Davies does not need to ask for orders. She knows all the customers, she knows all their drinks — and, likely, all their confidences, too.
With little more than 300 houses, one shop and three pubs, Ringaskiddy is an Irish idyll. It’s a manana sort of place. The sort of place where, if you ask for directions, the locals will laugh and say: “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.”Purple foxgloves carpet the woods, tractors meander down the streets — their drivers thinking little of stopping in the middle of the road for a natter with a neighbour — and the pace of life is, well, leisurely.
Not for much longer. Ringaskiddy is about to be catapulted into the 21st century with not one but two Hollywood film companies fighting over its sudden claim to fame — as the home of the best lovers in Ireland.
That is where the prospect of a tall tale comes in.
Whether it is true or not, the locals are convinced that ever since Pfizer, the American-owned company that manufactures Viagra, started producing the drug’s active ingredient in its Ringaskiddy factory the townsfolk have become Ireland’s gold-medal winning sexual athletes.
A sniff of the fumes from the local factory, it is said, is all it takes for the sap to rise. Young and old men alike have taken on a new lease of life: such is their sexual prowess that there is barely a vacant bed in the local maternity hospital and the midwife is run ragged as loyal husbands have turned into lotharios.
“I’m telling you, it’s true,” insists Davies. “Let’s just say a few of my friends have sampled the local men and they say they’ve never seen the like of it! Talk about staying power! Those fumes have pumped new life into our men, I can tell you. I hear what the wives and girlfriends have to say. They come in here on a Sunday with big smiles on their faces. One told me the other day: ‘My old man is so frisky that I’m fair worn out.’ And she wasn’t complaining, I can tell you.”
When David McGrath, a writer of Irish origin, heard about Ringaskiddy’s boast that it was the romantic capital of Ireland, he hopped on the ferry to Cork, and did a bit of research for himself. Now he and fellow writer John ’Driscoll have completed a script which has been snapped up by Maverick Entertainment, the film company owned by Madonna. So far Maverick has spent £1.3 million on the project and is hoping to entice Colin Farrell, the Irish actor, to play the lead role.
“The whole thing is a brilliant laugh,” says McGrath. “I thought it was all made up but when I went there and heard the local yarns I had to do a script. People believe that even rural Ireland has become sophisticated and lost its charm but this proves them wrong. A tale like this shows that it is still a quirky place.
“The film will be called Something in the Air and it’s about three pals — one who can’t get an erection; one who can’t stop getting erections and one who has never slept with a woman. When the factory opens the men get frisky and the town becomes the sex capital of the world. If Colin Farrell agrees, he will play Bunny, the central character. Bunny is the local barman and a canny businessman. When he hears of the effect of the fumes he begins selling jars of air with the label: ‘One sniff and you’re stiff.’”
In the film, the drug will be called Priapus, after a Greek god of fertility, rather than Viagra, and instead of being set in Ireland Maverick has switched the location to a small, seaside town in California.
That news has disappointed Ringaskiddy’s locals who had hoped to win roles as extras. But the second proposed film, Holy Water, produced by Konigsberg-Smith and written by Michael ’Mahoney, another Irish writer, will be filmed in the village. “We have much to thank Pfizer for,” says one local. “It has breathed new life into our relationships and new life into the area.”
It has certainly brought much needed jobs. The company opened a site in Cork 34 years ago and now employs an 1,100-strong workforce. Since the pharmaceutical company’s arrival Ringaskiddy and its surrounding villages have thrived and it is now one of the fastest growing communities in Ireland.
When, five years ago, Pfizer was granted a European licence to sell Viagra, it transferred the manufacture of the drug’s active ingredient — sildenafil citrate to Ringaskiddy. From there the compound is taken to France and America where it is converted into tiny blue pills. The drug has made Pfizer the largest drug company in the world with a stockmarket value of £112.5 billion, and its sites at Ringaskiddy and nearby Little Island contribute £37 million a year, chiefly in salaries, to the Irish economy.
Over at the Viagra plant Pfizer is keen to play down the rumours. The factory doesn’t even have a chimney, its spokesman points out. “There is no scientific proof for these stories. As far as we are concerned, there simply isn’t any Viagra dust in the air”.
“But we do have a sense of humour,” she adds. “We take the stories in good part. It’s all just a bit of a joke really. A bit of Irish mist.”