Friday, December 31, 2004

An Unexpected Visitor

While drowsing in front of the fire just now, An Spailpín had a very strange dream. I dreamt that the sitting room floor opened up in front of me and who should arise from the hole with a whiff a sulphur only the Devil himself.

"A Spailpín," he said, for the Devil has the Irish of course, "I am He that was called Lucifer, the Brightest of the Angels while in Heaven, and am now called Satan, which means The Enemy. I am risen from my infernal pit to ask you to make one of three choices: you may either watch the RTÉ smugathon that is The Panel, or you may watch Showbands, the Kerry Katona vehicle which RTÉ seem to have pumped money into even though there are many fine holes in the ground that need filling, or you may come with me to the hob of Hell itself, where you will be sautéed for all eternity. Cad a thaitníodh uait, a Spailpín? We have no time to lose?"

"A Nick, a chara," sez I back to him as I put my arm around his scaly shoulders, "is there any chance I could bring me own briquettes?"

I'm awake now of course, and I realise that it was all a dream but do you know, I'm not sure if I wouldn't make the same choice sober? RTÉ are some boys.

A New Year's Resolution for the Irish Nation

There's a fascinating story in today's Independent that may tell us something about who the Irish are and where we are going as a nation while 2004 makes its exit and 2005 takes its bow. It seems that the considerably majority - fourteen out of a total of seventeen - of accidents invoving the LUAS, the new light rail system in Dublin, are caused by cars running the lights.

This type of accident is unique to the Irish experience. It does not happen in other countries. In the report, Ray Allen, CEO of the Railway Procurement Authority, who are in charge of the LUAS, cites one accident where the first car that jumped the light missed the tram - it was the intellect in the second car, the one chasing the first red light breaker, who wasn't so much late for the last green as early for the next, that got broadsided.

Ray Allen says that there isn't a head left unscratched between the Gardaí and the RPA from trying to figure this mystery out, these accidents that are atypical of experience anywhere else that has a system to comparable to the LUAS. Perhaps I may make a suggestion?

Red light jumping is endemic in Dublin. An Spailpín himself has often floored it on the first twinkle of amber, not so much from a need for speed on my own part but blind terror that the foglamped yahoo behind my was going to bash into my stopped motor at the lights if I didn't exit and try my luck. The next time that you jump a light in Dublin - and, friends, we all know that you will, whether you want to or not - take a peek in the mirror, and you'll see you have one follower at the very least.

What is the reason for this idiocy? Well, the fear of getting rear-ended is An Spailpín's chief gripe. But I have also noticed just how much of a hurry we're in, how high the pressure builds when you're in traffic and how much, after a pronlonged period of being stuck, you're inclined to make the most of the open road. Factor in the fact that, if you don't cross the lights now, the standard of driving in Dublin is so extraordinarily poor that there's a good chance some goose will simply block the junction from incompetence or raw selfishness and you'll be another hour on Pearse St - well, while we can never forgive we can very easily understand.

The reason that the traffic is so very badly congested in Dublin is spectacularly poor planning, of course. The standard whine from the Corpo or Dublin City Council or whatever it is they're calling themselves now is that heavy traffic is the price of our fancy city living and we must accept it. Just as we were supposed to accept dysentry, cholera and streets strewn with sewage before some saint invented the flush toilet. Or just as we accepted that we got wet in the rain before someone invented the anorak. For God's sake, what sort of an excuse is that, that it's just the way it is? Surely these goons' job is to ensure that nothing is ever the way it is, that they're working their buns off to make sure everything is getting better and better all the time? What else is the point? Do you want proactive or reactive public administration?

The planners are several years off the pace with how quickly Dublin has developed. The developement of Dublin is therefore and in consequence highly unplanned, and the bizarre traffic and housing patterns are a result of this tremendous and glaring lack of planning. And the reason that development outstripped planning is because greedy and avarcious politicans couldn't stuff the gelt into their pockets quickly enough. And the reason these venial swine were in charge in the first place was because we voted them in. We, the people, in whom all authority derived from God is invested, may use that power as wisely or as foolishly as we see fit.

For 2005, let's try to wise up a little, before the whole Eastern seaboard breaks off into the sea? Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Midlands Eviction

"It's well I do remember on a bleak November's day,
The landlord and his agent came to drive us all away;
He set my house on fire with his demon English spleen
And that's another reason why I left Old Skibbereen."

Today's news that the Minister for Justice, Mr Michael McDowell, and his wife, Professor Niamh Brennan, have finally been granted planning permission for their home outside Roosky, Co Roscommmon, will have come as a relief to all concerned citizens of the Republic. Not alone is the Minister's decision to move to Roosky a fine blow in the Government's continuing fight for decentralisation, as, of course, most people in that area are high-tailing it in the opposite direction, but the memory of eight hundred years of oppression and eviction is far too strong in the peasant folk memory for the nation to have been able to withstand the pain of seeing Mr McDowell and Professor Brennan put out on the road while the henchmen and hired thugs of Roscommon County Council razed the little homestead to its very foundations.

How terrible it would have looked on television, the battering ram of the Ros (and how appropriate that is in the land of the sheep stealer) crashing through the front door of the family home, that same door that had sheltered Michael and Niamh and all the little McDowells from the harsh winter of the Irish midlands. The Council overseer twirls the ends of his moustache, watching Michael make one last dash for the house, the home, the castle that he had raised from the mortal clay with his very hands, only for McDowell to be fiercely and fiendishly driven back by the scoundrels in Roscommon County Council's employ, smelling vilely of today's Woodbines and last night's plain porter.

Professor Brennan, the ever-loyal wife, rushes to where her man lies beaten and broken on the roadside, lying in the ditch among the nettles. She cradles his head in her arms and wraps him in her shawl to protect him from the driving sleet. "A Mhícheál, a stór, a rún," she croons, "don't be worrying yourself - tomorrow is another day, and the if the green land of Erin can find no place for you and I and our family, then the golden island of Amerikay, where you can look a man in the eye without tipping your cap to the gentry, will find us refuge."

"Do you hear that, you black hearted swine!," she cries, fiercely shaking a wiry fist at the moustachioed overseer, "there've been McDowells in the Ros, the constant heart of Ireland, since 2002 and it's neither you nor your sleevens that'll be driving us away!"

And then she goes back to comforting her man, while collecting the shards of his shattered spectacles that lie on the roadside. The children huddle together, numb from the cold and frightened of the future, while the flames begin to break through the roof of that place that once they had called home.

I'm telling you, it would have looked just terrible on the Six O'Clock News this evening. I am relieved.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Are Champion Sports Branching Out?

An Spailpín was just driving through the city at night, having an Iggy Pop moment, listening to Friday Night Eighties on the wireless in his chariot, when he heard the most remarkable ad.

The ad was for Champion Sports. It concerns a young man who unwraps a gift from his mother.

"What's this?" says he.

"It's the strip of your favourite team," replies the mother.

"But it's the away strip. I wanted the home strip. Everyone knows the home strip is better than the away strip. You've ruined it," says the stripling, before finishing with "I hate you."

And then the strangest thing happened - some sort of reverie descended, possibly due to my driving through a cloud of that gamma radation that made so much money for Dr David Banner's tailor. Either way, something got into my system as I thought, I laboured under the illusion, I somehow got the impression, that the ad went out to say that if mothers didn't want to face such harsh words from their succubi, they ought leg it down to Champion Sports fairly lively.

But I know this can only be the awful side effect of that gamma radiation, a cloud of which must have been blowing in from Wales or somewhere. Surely no sane person would run an ad like that and expect to sell soccer shirts to the mothers of petulant young men as a result. As such, I can only presume that Champion Sports are branching out into the corporal punishment business.

I'm sure that in the real world, instead of attempting to blackmail mothers who went through God only knows what to deliver of the infants in the first place, Champion Sports are supplying a corrective, a coporal punishment solution, to put manners on one's stripling in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

It can only be the case, then, that Champion Sports are pleased to introduced a product like Dr Whippy's Stingray, hand crafted by artists from the two most basic of woods - the ash plant, for flexibility, and the sally rod, for durability. Dr Whippy's Stingray makes a lovely ffffttt! sound as it whizzes through the air, before connecting smartly with the botty of the chastisee. Next time out, if Junior is delivered the away strip of Accrington Stanley, he will say thank you, and say it pretty damned promptly. So that's a relief.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

An MBA Ain't What It Used to Be

Trinity Southern University, Texas, is one of those Halls of Academia that awards online degrees. For $299, they awarded an MBA degree, a Masters in Business Administration, to one Colby Nolan of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Nolan did not have to attend any classes - it isn't entirely clear if any classrooms actually exist at Trinity Southern - but was awarded the MBA on the basis of Nolan's resume, which listed Nolan's experience in retail management and baby-sitting.

There is only one little snag - Colby Nolan is a six year old black cat belonging to a deputy attorney general of Harrisburg, PA, and Harrisburg, PA, is currently engaged in suing Trinity Southern University con brio - the state is seeking permanent injunction, civil penalties, costs and restitution for violating consumer law and restrictions on unsolicited e-mail ads. You can read about it on - once you pick yourself up from the floor.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

So. Farewell then, Bewley's

And in my mind's eye I can see him still, the infant Spailpín supine before a black and white PYE television set in the late 1970s in the West of Ireland, listening to Gay Byrne going on and on about what Dublin is like at Christmas when Gay could have been using that valuable time to show even more of those marvellous toys.

Greybo was saying, in that peculiar sing-song that he has, about how wonderful Dublin gets after the 8th of December when the county people come up to Dublin "for to do the bit of shopping, do you see, and they like to meet under Clery's clock and get their bits and pieces, and then off to Bewley's for the cup tea and the sticky bun. Yehwha', Gay? I say, off to Bewley's for the cup of tea and the sticky bun Missus. Lovely. Just lovely. All right. All right. And now here's something I think you'll really enjoy, it's Red Hurley, backed by the Billy Barry kids, to sing The Little Drummer Boy. Take it away Red!"

Poor Gay has long since been taken away himself, and now they've taken away Bewley's as well. National institutions ain't what they used to be.

Whether or not Bewley's ever was what it was supposed to be is what An Spailpín has been wondering these past few days, as he reads the posters outside Gratten's Parliament calling for the people of Dublin to unite to save their bunshop. And if a Spailpín may borrow from a Beatle, Bewley's has probably been dead for about the same time as Elvis, the corncrake, and the door on the latch. If it ever existed at all.

An Spailpín is continually disappointed by his capital city, and his debut visit to Bewley's of Grafton Street was the first inkling, in the mid-nineties, that old Gaybo might have been spinning a bit of a yarn when he was going on about those sticky buns.

I wonder if all the people that are so lonesome after Bewley's ever used to visit the damned place. I have, more than once, and it's been quite hideous every time. The head buck cat of Campbell's Catering, the owners of Bewley's, remarked that it just wasn't viable to run a café on Grafton Street. You may rest easy in your bed tonight sir - by charging six Euro for a cup of tea and a sticky bun that was as hard and as edible as a slíothar, you did your best to make a shilling on Grafton Street.

Dining in Bewley's was not dissimilar to dining in Manhattan only if one was in the habit of taking one's meals at Grand Central Station. There was hustle and there was bustle in Bewley's of Grafton Street, but a reflective cup of scald, a smoke and philosophical discussion of the world? Pick some other joint fella, we're moving it along, getting along, getting ahead.

I believe that there are those that say it wasn't so much the sticky buns but the architecture that's the great loss in Bewley's. An Spailpín knows only one thing about architecture, and that is that you can't eat it. Those who were going to Bewley's to gape out the windows mustn't have been very hungry. Or else had long ago damaged the dentures on those titanium buns and were taking no further chances.

Watching the sad faces on RTÉ and Sky News this evening as the dear old padlock went around Bewley's front door, I began to wonder if anyone had ever really believed this nonsense about Bewley's, that it was some sort of uber-café where the elite meet to eat and greet. Surely a chophouse is a chophouse where-ever you go. As such, I conducted an experiment. I flicked over to TG4, to see if the Bewley's closure had impacted in Ireland, as opposed to Dublin. Nothing. Not a peep. The notion of Bewley's as a Platonic dining ideal appears to be uniquely an invention of the Pale, rather like their needing to win the All-Ireland to save the very game of Gaelic Football itself. So farewell then Bewley's - pull the door after you.

Extreme Commuting

A simultaneously fascinating and depressing article in today's USA Today about the 21st Century phenomenon of "Extreme Commuting," where some poor unfortunate Yankees take up to ninety minutes to get from home to work.

The average commute time in the States is 25.5 minutes.

The reason the Yanks are hitting the highways is the price of housing. Again, according to the article, the median cost of a house in Los Angeles was $405,000 last year, which works out at 304,000 in Euro. This is naturally out of the question as a price for a place to live, so what they do is they give themselves ninety minute commutes so they can buy a house at $275,000, which is 205,000 Euro.

An Spailpín was so stunned by this that he paid a visit to to see what 200 grand in Yoyos would get him. The answer is a field in Lusk, which doesn't even have a house on it at all. Not only does not it have a house, it doesn't even have planning permission. You can't even build there! What are you meant do? Pitch a tent?

Did I mention that those ninety minute journeys are over seventy miles? Wonder how long it'd take you to get to the IFSC by car, famously the beating heart of the fabulous Celtic Tiger, if you started from seventy miles away?

Why aren't we rioting in the streets? What's wrong with us?

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Dumbing Down

The punters that take The Spectator magazine may be one half Little Englanders and the other half Colonel Blimps, but by God they know where they stand on the great issues of the day.

One of those great issues in Great Britain at the moment is education, and the standard thereof. Those resisting efforts to raise the bar a little and not end up sending halfwits to University - like poor Prince Harry, I suppose - maintain that standards haven't dropped, that they are in fact just as high as they ever were.

Up to a point, Lord Copper. Check out this utterly marvellous entrance exam offered by King Edward's School, Birmingham, in 1898. An Spailpín grew to man's estate quite some time ago, and wouldn't have a snowball's of getting into King Edward's.

The exam was for eleven year olds. Case closed, I think.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Brian O'Driscoll, Captain of Ireland

If only they could get O'Driscoll to shave off that cursed smig he'd be perfect. O'Driscoll is an exceptional player; it's possible that his predecessor as Irish captain, Keith Wood, was more loved, as he was closer to the Plain People of Ireland than O'Driscoll will ever be, but we should cherish comets like O'Driscoll. Their flaring passage in the heavens is all too short, and soon darkness will return. We should make the most of them.

O'Driscoll's three try hat trick in Paris is over four years ago now, the first time he really announced himself on the international stage. There was that funny business he was doing with his hands after the try, a mixed bag in the Championship, and then the Lions tour. And suddenly, here he now, Ireland and the world's best rugby threequarter.

As a player O'Driscoll really has got it all. Critics of his kicking are talking through their collective chapeaux. His tackling is impeccable, as epitomised by his hauling down of Australia's George Smith by the dreadlocks in the last World Cup. Live by the curling pin, die by the curling pin. His eye for a break is superb, and his balance is beyond extraordinary. There were times during last Saturday's game against South Africa, as O'Driscoll dodged between the South African tackles in a midfield maelstrom that was like watching Jason sailing the Argos through the clashing rocks of the straits of the Bosphorus, that you had to ask yourself how could any human being be so parallel to the ground and still remain upright. It was as if he was performing a drunken reverse limbo, where you have to go forwards rather than backwards, and all this after a big feed of poitín.

And still no bother to him. O'Driscoll's attitude is exemplary. Twenty-first century rugby isn't "just a game," and the Corinthian ethic is long gone from professional sport, but still something of it seems to suffuse O'Driscoll. The next time he leads Ireland out, perhaps for that relaxed upcoming fixture against the USA (although my money is on Humphries to captain Ireland that day), or else for the game against Argentina, see the broad smile that O'Driscoll brings to the game. See how he always has the crack with the mascots. O'Driscoll knows the difference between price and value; the RTÉ panellists may have a cut at him for promoting whatever brand of pop it is he promotes, but in his other behaviour O'Driscoll is an exemplary sportsman, aware that the Great Scorer takes account of how you play the game.

The only time when I've seen O'Driscoll noticeably tense before a game was on Saturday. Who would have thought Jake White shooting from the lip would have got the Irish dander so? And get the Irish dander it did; while the anthem - which is Amhrán na bhFiann, of course, not some other thing about puppets on strings who are provincially equidistant and of equal pride and parity of esteem - was being played, a tear clearly ran down O'Driscoll's cheek. John the Bull Hayes was as the Niagra Falls, although that could have been partly attributed to the idea of going against Os du Randt for eighty minutes and the thought of the dark deeds that would be committed by the two monsters in nomine patria, but to see O'Driscoll, the man that at other times has been so relaxed; well, it was remarkable.

But not, perhaps, as remarkable as the performance that Ireland put in the ensuing eighty minutes. The press gave the credit and the man of the match bot of Bolly to O'Gara, but O'Gara gave the credit to the pack. O'Gara is playing long enough to know what it's like when you don't have eight tough guys to serve you ball on a plate, and he prefers it this way, thanks. All eight were superb. The front row, which looked like chaff to the Boks' mill up until two o'clock on Saturday were outstanding. Paul O'Connell and Malcolm O'Kelly would have driven devils back into the fiery pit of hell if those devils had been wearing the Springbok on their breasts. Anthony Foley and Guy Easterby were outstanding, while debutant openside flanker Jonny O'Connor claimed at least six balls on the floor from the teeth of the South African beast, according to a hawk-eyed friend of An Spailpín who was at the game. And when I tell you that same man had his house raided by the gendarmes in the early hours of Sunday morning due to the neighbours' complaints of overly boisterous carousing, you make take it that O'Connor made quite the impression.

But, when An Spailpín is old and grey and full of sleep, and the green sward of Lansdowne road is reduced to the size and aspect of a living room where spotted and sickly young men come to represent their fatherlands at some sort of Xbox Olympics or something equally ghastly, it's O'Driscoll I'll remember. The O'Connell, Kelly and Connor boys marching and churning through the Saffy ranks yes, O'Gara's two beautiful pinging touchfinders to the left and right corners in the first twenty minutes hinting that this would be Ireland's day, Geordan Murphy, of reduced impact but still considerable genius on the wing, but most of all, Brian O'Driscoll, chest parallel to the ground, right hand holding the ball, the left touching off the ground to maintain momentum, hips swinging and swivelling, short legs churning, pumping and stamping as he cut the best midfield in world rugby to ribbons once again. What a hero he is.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Like Father, Like Son

I understand that the Billy Keane that writes an occasional sports column for the Irish Independent is a scion, son and heir of the legendary John B. If so, he's the apple that didn't fall far from the tree.

Sports journalism is a tricky business, in that while any ass can do it, it takes a very special donkey to do it well. Billy is that donkey. He has the correct perspective, in that he notices that sport is both immensely important and hopelessly trivial, all at the one time. What makes Billy unique, though, is a mastery of metaphor, simile and image that is Virgilian in its comprehensiveness. Check him out on today's rugger between Ireland and South Africa to see what I mean.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Bualadh na mBokke i mBaile Átha Cliath

Sular imríodh an cluiche idir Éirinn agus an Afraic Theas, dúirt Jake White, bannisteoir na Afraice Theaise, nach mbeadh ach triúr Éireannaigh ar fhoireann na hAfraice Theaise. Tar éis an cluiche, agus an Afraic Theas builte ar an dára uair ag Éirinn, an chéad uair ó 1965, cuireadh an cheist air arís, cé mhéid Gaeil a bheadh ar a fhoireann anois. Rinne Jake meangadh gáire; “gach aon cheann acu,” ar seisean.

Ba fhearr an lá é ag imirt rugbaí, an 12ú Deireadh Fomhair 2004. Bhí lá brea ann, an ghrian sa spéir ach gaoth fuair leí, an fód daingean faoin chós. I rith an tAmhrán Náisiúnta, chonacthas deoir ag teach síos grua Brian O’Driscoll, captean na hÉireann; bheadh Éirinn reidh don throid.

Fiche nóimead thart san chluiche, na foireanna ar chomhscór, a náid a náid, bhí an imirt ag casadh mar long i stoirm mhara, an lámh uachtar ag na hÉireannigh uaireannta, ag na Springboks uaireannta eile. Duradh i dtithe ósta ó mBaile Átha Cliath go gCape Town go mbeadh an chos ar bholg ag an nAfraic Theas ins an chlibirt. Chuirfidís ruaig ar na hÉireannigh ó maidin go hoíche, agus ar deirdeadh, brisfeadh droimthe agus croíthe na hÉireann ar charraig an cúigear daingeann na hAfraice Theas.

Ach ní mar a thuigtear atáthar i gcónaí. Chuir Jake White ceist ar bhród tosaí na nÉireann, agus thug siad a bhfreagra do ins an áit a dhéanfaí an scrios is mó – ar an bpairc. Taispeánnann cúig nóimead san dára leath conas mar a bhítí i rith an cluiche go leir. Bhí na Springboks ag teach ar ais ins an cluiche, agus a imreoir is fearr, Schalk Burger, leo arís tar eis an charta buí. Bhí an Afraic Theas ag deanamh léigear ar cúllíne na hÉireann, agus ag ionsaigh an t-aon bealach amháin a ionsaíonn siad – do bhuail siad go daingeann i gcoinne na hÉireannach, agus, nuair a chuireadh stop orthu, thógaidís an liathróid arís agus bhuailidís suas go daingean leí arís. Sin é an stíl a bhuaigh an Afraic Theas a clú agus a caill mar cheann de na tíortha rugbaí is fearr sa domhain, ar feadh na blianta fada, ach, i mBaile Átha Cliath ar an 12ú Mean Fomhair, theip orthu. Cé crua ab ea na Springboks, ar an lá, bhí na hÉireannaigh níos crua.

Is beag é an difríocht idir an bua agus an theip. Scríobhadh sula seo gurb é Schalk Burger an t-imreoir is fearr ag an Afraic Theas, agus ba é. Ach cé gur sár-imreoir é, is fear óg é – níl ach bliain is fiche d’aois aige, sílim – agus, cosúil le gach fear óg, níl sé comh glic ná ba cheart dó. Cuireadh é san bhosca peaca ins an dara leath, agus tá seans ann gur chaill an Afraic Theas an cluiche nuair a chaill siad Schalk Burger.

Is é céann de na fáthanna go bhfúil an rugbaí comh spéisiúl mar atá sé ná go bhfuil an cluiche comh shimplí agus comh chasta ag an uair cheanna. Tá fhíos agat ins an rugbaí, nuair a chailleann foireann amháin seilbh na liathróide agus tá cúpla fear ar an dtalamh agus an liathróid á lorg acu, go bhfuiltear an-dheachar a rá cad atá ceart nó mícheart a dhéanamh ag na h-imreoirí. Déantar gach peaca idir neamh agus an domhan faoin charn choirp sin, agus is ea tuairim an réiteora a bheartaíonn cé acu atá i gceart. De Sáthairn, ba ea thuairim an réiteoir go raibh an liathróid á mharú ag Burger fad a bhí sé ar an bhfód, agus mar sin, cuireadh amach é go dtí an mbosca peaca.

Ach a léitheoir, b’fhéidir go mbeadh tuairim éile ag réiteoir éile ar lá éile, agus cad a tharlóidh ansin? Ní fhéidir linn a rá, agus is é sin cuid tabhachtadh den imirt an rugbaí ar an gcaidhean is áirde, a fháil amach go tapaidh cad a thaitníonn leis an réiteoir agus cad nach dtaitníonn leis. Tiocfaidh an gliceas ar Bhurger fós, agus nuair a thagann sé, rachaidh Burger ina imreoir is fearr sa domhain.

Tuigtear uaireannta go bhfuil gach rud simplí sa spórt agus san shaol. Nuair atá an chraobh buaite againn taitníonn an ghrian níos teo, agus ní bhíonn aon gheimreadh comh fhuair mar an geimreadh a thagann tar eis cluiche cailte. B’iontach an bua a bhreith ar na mBokke, agus ba bhinn é an bhlás nuair a chualathas Jake White agus a fhocail á ithe aige, ach níl sé tabhachtach seachas mar scéal don leabhar chuntais tar eis an bhricfeasta ar an maidin De Domhnaigh.

Ní cheart don lucht rugbaí na hÉireann a bheith ro-shásta fós; más mhaith leo rugbaí na hÉireann dul ó feabhas go bhfeabhas, ní fhéidir leo a bheith sásta le bua i gcoinne an Afraic Theas agus é a leanadh le briseach ins an chéad cluiche arís. Nuair a shroichtear ar an gcaidhean árd, is gá caidhean níos áirde a bhriseadh. De Domhniagh tar éis an bua, bhí fhíos ag an domhan rugbaí go raibh neart nua sa rugbaí dulta. Is gá d’Éirinn é a chruthaigh anois, chun a thaispeáint gur rugadh aimsir óir rugbaí in Éirinn arís. Is bréa an dúshlán é.

Monday, November 08, 2004

An Faisisteachas Culthúrtha, An Ghaeilge, agus Newstalk 106

Fad a bhí an Spailpín ina luí tráthnóna inniu ag eisteacht leis an raidió, thit sé ar an Right Hook ar Newstalk 106, agus an oideachas á phlé acu. Is é George Hook an craoltóir ar an Right Hook de gnó, ach bhí an saineolaí rugbaí imithe inniu agus fear darbh aimn Ger Gilroy ina ionadaí do.

Ar aon nós, bhí an oideachas á phlé acu - ciallaíonn sé sin ná go gcuireadh an lucht eistiúl a dtuairimí féin isteach chuig Ger mar téacsanna agus léúdh Ger Gilroy iad amach agus chuireadh sé a thuairim féin leo. Ceart go leor. Chuir duine eigin téacs chuig Ger a rá narbh ceart é an caighdean Gaeilge a chuir ar múinteoirí na mBunscoil, mar tá roinnt maith múinteoirí cailte againn, ón Sé Chontae nó áiteanna Gallda eile, toisc nach bhfuil an Ghaeilge acu.

D'aithnígh Ger go mhór leis an tuairim sin. Is "cultural fascism" é, dár le Ger, gurbh gá do mhúinteoirí na mBunscoil caighdean Ghaeilge a chomad. "Cultural fascism," ar ndoigh. Bhuel, tá plé mór ar siúl no ag teacht in Éirinn faoin bhféiniúlacht - bhí an Ombudswoman, Emily O'Reilly, ag caint an seachtain seo caite faoin creideamh agus na measanna atá in Éirinn sa lá atá inniu ann, mar shampla. Tar éis titim an Eaglais agus teacht an airgid, tá chuid dár bhféiniúlacht caillte againn, agus is gá dúinn é a thabairt ar ais, nó rud eigin eile a chuir isteach in ionad an seanshaol. Ach nuair atá rudaí Gaeleach á lorg againn, cad atá níos Gaeleach ná an Ghaeilge? An "cultural fascism" é sin, a rá gurbh rud Ghaeleach í an Ghaeilge?

Níor chuir mé téacs chuig Ger, faraor. Ar an lámh amháin, níl an saibhreas agam chun tecsanna a chur ar caoga cent an téacs, agus, ar an lámh eile, ní doigh liom gurbh fhéidir le Ger an smaoineach a thuiscint. Ní bheidh an Chathaoir Fealsúnachta in Ollscoil Heidleberg á théigh ó thóin Ghearóid ar feadh cúpla bliain fós.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Lifelong Season, by Keith Duggan

The canon of Great GAA Books is not one that reflects the role of the GAA in Irish life. Breandán Ó hEithir’s masterful Over the Bar remains head and shoulders above the pack, but what a scurrilous pack it is, comprised, in the main, of hack jobs, honest but uninspired histories and curiously bloodless and poorly ghosted autobiographies.

At last Ó hEithir’s book has something of relative stature to talk to in the offseason. Keith Duggan has been one of the outstanding GAA writers since he arrived at the Irish Times and now he’s written a book that is commensurate with his great talents.

The Lifelong Season is a series of pen-pictures of GAA life. Duggan profiles some of the people that have made the GAA what it is, and brings them to life with aplomb. Christy Ring is in there of course, the first and, in many ways, the only true icon of the GAA that rose above his own local allegiances to gain the respect and, eventually, the love of hurling followers all the world over. The Gaynors of Kilruane and Tipperary are there, as Len Gaynor, a veteran of the notoriously full-blooded Kilkenny-Tipp games of the sixties recounts that the hurl was used as much as a shield as a device for propelling the sliothar. And Duggan draws a masterful portrayal of the greatest ever Tyrone footballer, Frank McGuigan, whose story is that of so many GAA stars who were consumed by the flames of their own starring role.

In the chapter on Ring, Duggan remarks on how important it is that the story of Ring is recorded correctly, which means is written down. As Duggan wryly remarks, folktales do no travel down mobile phones; the deeds of Ring must be properly and permanently recorded, or else Jack Lynch’s graveside oration will be proved wrong, and the greatest hurler of all time will become just another name of the past.

The resistance of the GAA world to have books written is astonishing, and very difficult to understand, apart from the traditional rural distrust of the man with the pen. The introduction to Val Dorgan’s memoir of Christy Ring, published two years after Ring’s death, is instructive, where Dorgan recounts how he had to beg the Ring family to let him write the book. More of these books must be written, if the heroes of the games are to remembered, warts and all; thank God that a we have a writer of Duggan’s stature willing to take on the job.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Boring, Boring Masses! Boring, Boring Masses!

Those of you who had the misfortune to be on religious retreats during your schooldays will remember that a common topic for "discussion" was the question of whether or not the Mass was boring. The standard response was the Guilt Trip, as first exercised by Jesus Christ Himself on the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Could ye not wait up one hour with Me?" The priest running the retreat would put on a big hurt puss and ask us if really, were we so bad as to begrudge one hour to Him? And we'd shuffle our feet and say, no, not us, not after the crucifixion and everything. And the next Sunday when we became so transcendentally bored that our heads fell off and rolled out of the pew and out the door of the church, once we'd safely retrieved our heads we weren't that bothered going back to the Church. You have to be practical about these things.

Well, a fascinating article in the Spectator posits that the reason that the Mass is so boring is because the Church made such a hames of the transation from the Tridentine Rite. If you sit down with a latin missal in one hand and a latin dictionary in the other, you will slowly realise that the two things are not the same thing at all. Fascinating. The current Pope, as part of his long fight against Vatican II, is trying to return the Mass to feeling of the Tridentine original, and to ensure that Masses are the same the world over, as they should be in the supposedly Universal Church. He ought to bring back the Latin entirely, but that might be just too much to hope for.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Bob Dylan and Bono

RTÉ reports that Mr Bob Dylan, an entertainer, has high words of praise for a Mr Bono, also a entertainer, in Mr Dylan's new autobiography. Hmm. It seems to me that in describing Bono as having "the soul of an ancient poet," Dylan is talking a very modern form of shite.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

In a Mayo State of Mind

This is a true story. In 1996, in the interregnum between the drawn and replayed finals of the All-Ireland Football Championship, the waiting became unbearable for a group of Ballinamen. Having exhausted all profane methods of supporting the Mayo Senior team on the path to glory in the preceding summer, realisation dawned that it was now time to try the sacred.

As such, that group of Ballinamen piled into a motor car early one morning and drove west with the sun, through Westport, into the townland of Murrisk. There they parked their car, and, as their Mayo forebears have done for generations, those Ballinamen climbed Croagh Patrick, the Reek, to honour God and to ask for His favour.

At the top of the mountain, on one of those gloriously sunny days that sometime dawn in September, they looked out across the Plain of the Yew Trees, which is what the name "Maigh Eo" means. Those five Mayomen stood with the broad Atlantic roaring at their backs, and gazed at the county to which they had long sworn fealty. It all became too much for one of them. "Eli, Eli," he cried, as he fell to his knees, "my God, my God, how can anywhere this beautiful not win an All-Ireland?"

Eight years on, God, in His mysterious way, has yet to answer that prayer. That summer of 1996 ended in disappointment, just as every summer has in the fifty-three years since Sam Maguire last visited Mayo. And now Mayo stands once again on the cusp of a return to what the county regards as its rightful seat at football's highest table, and her people once more can only wait and hope.

Brendan Behan once remarked that neither Irish nor Jewish people have a nationality, they have a psychosis. It would be interesting to know what Behan would have made of the Mayo condition, surely one of the most conflicted identities of all the Irish counties.

What is a Mayoman or a Mayowoman? A person that lives in Mayo? Not exactly. All the great songs of Mayo are written from a vantage point outside of the county: "Far away from the land of the shamrock and heather"; "It was just about a year ago since I left old Erin's isle"; "Take me home to Mayo." Not only is it not necessary for the Mayoman or Mayowoman to live in Mayo, it seems as if Mayo, the real Mayo, is as a Platonic ideal, an imaginary, idealised construct that doesn't exist in reality.

What is this idealised construct, this "Mayo"? Whereas other counties throw out their chests and claim alpha county status - the Premier County, the Rebel County, the Kingdom - Mayo arrives at the feast with her cap in her hand, hoping for the crumb from the rich man's table. People think of "Mayo God Help Us," but it's worse than that. The motto under the Mayo crest reads "Dia is Muire Linn," which can be translated as "May God and His Blessed Mother Help Us" - Mayo needs every dig out she can get.

An Spailpín's father - an Seanspailpín - used to tell a story that sums up the Mayo condition, of being born into a place of tremendous natural beauty but being unable to survive there, and having then to make a living elsewhere. It concerned a man whose few paltry acres could not keep him and his, and, with great sorrow, he had to tie a rope around his prize goat and take the goat to the top of the mountain, where the goat was going to have to make the best of it while his erstwhile master went home alone. "A stór," the farmer addressed the goat before their sad parting, "you mightn't have much to ate, but by God you've got great scenery."

And throughout it all, as every Mayo man in history was handed a ticket to America or England along with his first razor, there was one thing that kept the Mayo head up, and that was Mayo's remarkable prowess at football. We may send our people to tramp the world, but back home, by God, our footballers keep the Green and Red on the map.

Except, of course, that they don't. Mayo have won three All-Irelands in one hundred and twenty years, leaving them behind both Wexford and Tipperary as footballing powers, and neither Wexford nor Tipperary is a footballing power at all. Where did this idea of Mayo football prowess come from? It is certainly not from the statistics, as a return of three Championships from one hundred and twenty goes is not the sort of return that leads to such lofty notions.

Could it have something to do with the nature of Mayo football itself? Few teams that play so attractively, as Mayo always have down through the years, fare so poorly as a result. Could it have something to do with the jersey itself? Mayo's green and red is one of the unique strips in the GAA - Kerry wear the green and gold of Leitrim for instance, while Galway wear the maroon and white of Westmeath. Only Mayo wear green and red, which gives them a unique identity, and gives a correspondingly unique sense of identity to the people of Mayo, at home or abroad. And once you realise that you are elect, that you are of Mayo and no-where else, it stays with you from that first revelatory moment.

There is an ice-cream man in Ballina who trades under the banner of Joseph, even though it's rumoured that Joseph is not his name at all - more of the Mayo dualism, where nothing is ever as it seems. And, when you were a little boy with a hand barely big enough to hold the two shilling bit at which ice-cream retailed in those days, Joseph would always ask if you wanted the Mayo colours on your cone. You'd nod your assent, Joseph would reach for the bottles of green and red syrup that are always next to his taps, and you would walk proudly away under your green and red banner. You now bore the Mayo stamp, and you will take it to the grave, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad.

And now it's all for the better again in Mayo's football world, the heartbeat of the county, the one thing that the Plain of the Yew Trees uses to distinguish her from the rest of the land of Erin. After the horrors and trauma of last year, and the year before that, and before that again, on into the dark past, past Lynch and Lemass back to the time of John A. Costello and old Dev himself, Mayo are back in the big time, seventy short minutes away from a pinnacle that is one half Promised Land and one half Holy Grail to the long suffering men and woman who've listened to their county and colours mocked time and again walking down the vale of tears that is Dorset Dolorosa after Mayo have been beaten out the gates - again - of Croke Park.

And how appropriate it is that this team of John Maughan's, himself a returned emigrant of sorts, is backboned by men like Ronan McGarrity, James Gill, David Brady and Kieran McDonald, men who have left, as so many Mayo men and women have left, only to return again to try and raise a green and red banner in Jones' Road. And how marvellous too that Mayo's return to the big stage is against Kerry, whose thirty-two All-Ireland leaves them at the top of the tree around whose roots Mayo have been so firmly stuck for fifty-three Championships. God? Are you listening this year, God? God?

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Planning Ahead

"Damn it Valentine, you never plan ahead, you never take the long view. I mean here it is Monday and I'm already thinking of Wednesday."
Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) to Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon) in the movie Tremors, 1990.

Planning ahead has not been a problem for a Californian banker called Michael Mahan. Six months ago Mahan contacted the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team and spent $25,000 buying the entire right field bleacher section of Dodger stadium, every single seat, for October 2nd and 3rd.

There is method to Mahan's madness. One of the stories of this year's baseball season has been the quest of San Francisco's Barry Bonds to hit 700 career home runs, something that has only been achieved by two other players, and another milestone on Bonds' journey to equal and surpass Hammerin' Hank Aaron's all-time record of 755. Bonds has been scoring the homers at a rate of about 42 a year, meaning that when Michael Mahan did his sums he calculated that it was a reasonable bet that Bonds would hit his historic 700th home run in the stadium of the San Francisco Giants greatest rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers. There's one month left in the season, and Bonds is stalled on 699. And as such, Mahan's investment is coming into focus.

It's already paying off, as ESPN reports that Mahan is selling the seats, bought at a group discount of $3.50 a seat, for $15 each, and (and here's where genius shines brightest) he's also made anyone that buys one of his seats sign an eight (8) page contract ensuring that Mahan and the person that catches the 700th home run ball are both equal shareholders in that ball. People have fallen out over home run balls before, and Michael Mahan is taking no chances. Planning ahead, as I say.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Put a Spailpín in the Park!

A chairde, a dhaoine uaisle, a mhuintir na hÉireann; after consultation with my family, long hours walking the land of Erin lost in my thoughts, channeling the spirit of Seán T. O'Kelly (who, of course, was exactly the man to look for when you needed spirits, as the naggin never left the frock coat pocket when he was out on Presidential business I believe), and looking into my heart, I, An Spailpín Fánach, of no fixed abode, have decided to put myself forward for the post of Ninth President of Ireland.

This is not a decision that I take lightly. In fact, I'm taking it with a pinch of salt. I have surveyed the field that are curently interested in the position, using a magnifying glass to catch Mr Ryan of An Comórtas Glás of course, political pygmy that he is, and I've decided that the competition is a lot less stiff than that it is to make it as a Grade 3 Civil Servant or to Upper Deck Hogan, both battles in which An Spailpín has flown his colours in the past.

My qualifications for the post of President are impeccable, and open to full public scrutiny. As a former resident of Dublin 7, the People's Park was like my front lawn at that time, where oft I gambolled of a evening in spring. I shall open factories and féiseanna cheoil with the same sense of style with which I opened cans of cider in my youth - held close to the ear, for that satisfying psssffft! sound.

I have lived the life of the citizen of Ireland, knowing full well the life of the emigrant, the computer whizzkid, the man of letters, the owner of a copy of Ulysses and a U2 album on tape, and most of all, the life of a dole bunny back in the days when we believed in things. I have drawn the Government wage often in the past, and I can spend your tax dollars once more, con brio, the way your money should be spent.

You will say that spending money on an election is a waste; you will say that it could be spent on our hospitals, our schools, on some sneaky scheme to bring back corporal punishment to welt the living Jesus out of the hooligans who infest our streets without the Irish Times getting wind of it before it's too late. To this I say: boo sucks. The cash is there and I could do with the laugh.

Tabhair don Spailpín é! An Spailpín for the Park! Put the Arsing About back in Áras an Uachtarán! But for God's sake, don't risk your sanity listening to what passes for intelligent political debate in this country. You'll be old before your time.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The End of the World as We Know It

The Sun newspaper has translated ten of the classics of Greek and Roman literature into Sun-ese. To paraphrase another top writer from the scorching Med, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here."

Friday, September 10, 2004

Seventies TV Shows and the Movies

An Spailpín reads in his Guardian that Hawaii 5-0 is the latest seventies TV show to be made into a movie. I'm getting a bit sick of this - I was more or less alone in my regard for the remade Charlie's Angels, which I argued was far superior to its contemporary, the risible Matrix, when 'twas neither popular nor profitable, but now they really are beginning to bore me. I ignored Starsky and Hutch, was horrified by what I read about Charlie's Angels II, and hardly flickered an eyelid when I read that Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott had been cast in the Dukes of Hazzard movie.

But there is one seventies TV show out there that demands, above all others, to be made into a movie, and with the sort of multi-million dollar budget that it would need to bring its awesome concepts to life. Now is the time for Wanderly Wagon: Your Move, Mr Crow.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Abáir Amhrán, Agus Sam á Seilig ag an gContae Mhaigh Eo

Ar mo dhuiseacht ar an ndeireadh seachtaine, agus An Spailpín ar ais in a áit dhúchais, chuala mé mo chéad amhrán Mhaigh Eo don feachtas seo. Bhí an amhrán bunaithe ar an seanamhrán Méiriceanach, Jesse James, agus b'uafásach an céirnín é, gan dabht. Ach ag an am chéanna, chuir sé drithlíní tríom, go bhfuil Maigh Eo ar thaobh an Chraobh arís.

Smaoinigh mé ar na hamhráin eile a chualamar agus Maigh Eo í gCluiche Ceannais na hÉireann - síos i mo óige ins an Hothouse (bhítí an-té cinnte ins an teach chéana) í mbaile beag bocht í Muigh Eo, agus Up Mayo le Doc Carroll á seinnt acu trí nó ceithre uair san oiche. Mise fluich leis an teas agus an beoir, agus ag crith le neart na h-óige agus blás Mhaigh Eo.

Is ea Sam Maguire's Coming Home to Mayo an amhrán is cáiliúil ó Maigh Eo agus Maigh Eo ag imirt peile í Mean Fomhair. Níl morán meas ag an lucht mhór ar an amhrán sin, ach cuireann an céirnín sin cumhneacht orm ar an ndóchas a bhí le Tom Tom Byrne agus linn go léir í Maigh Eo í mBliain an Tiarna míle naoí gcéad nocha a sé. Ach an amhrán peile Mhaigh Eo is ansa liomsa is é an amhrán gan morán clú nó cail air - ba ea Up Mayo, amhrán a taifiú in aghaidh an ailse i 1997, agus Maigh Eo in aghaidh Ciarraí i gCluiche Ceannais na hÉireann. 'Sé Up Mayo an amhrán spóirtiúl leis an méid is mó filíocht a chuala mé riamh - cén sliocht filíocht eile a insíonn níos mó faoin stár Mhaigh Eo, nó stár na hÉireann, ná

"You miss her in the evenings since Mary went away
She's a big job in New York, she's doing very well they say?"

Nó cá faightear slíocht filíocht tuathúil comh h-álainn le

"Drive a tractor through the rushes, toppin thistles as she goes.
A new king comes to Connacht, I'll have you all know
That you're going someplace special when you're going ... Up Mayo."

Ar slí go gceantar speisiúil agus tú ar slí chuig Maigh Eo. Tá neart fhírinne ins an liné brea sin. Maigh Eo abú.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The Not-So-Mean Streets of Manhattan

A fascinating and chastening op-ed piece in this morning's Daily Telegraph as Boris Johnson reflects on the legacy of Rudi Giuliani's zero tolerance policing measures during Giuliani's tenure as Mayor of New York.

Giuliani's insight was simple and masterful. If someone behaves like a criminal, in performing a criminal act, that someone is, ipso facto, a criminal. As such, not only are the police well within their rights to haul that someone away and chuck him or her in the slammer, it's the police's duty to do so. If he or she reoffends, slammer. If they still haven't learned, slammer. If all his or hers brothers and sisters are criminal, slammer. Slammer gets full up? Build a second slammer. Pretty soon you have safe streets, because people have either learned that it does not pay to misbehave, or the entire urban population is incarcerated. Whatever happens, you will no longer experience getting hassled by junkies walking down your own High Street, as happens on Dublin's O'Connell St, for instance. Maybe we ought to give it a crack over here? If we can ban smoking in pubs, you'd think we'd be able to take steps against junkies shooting up heroin in public streets or on the top decks of Dublin Bus.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Sir Cliving at the Crossroads

The BBC are reporting this afternoon that Sir Clive Woodward is to step down as manager of the English Rugby Football team. Sir Clive is annoyed with having to put up with a lot of oul' guff from the RFU, and he has always dreamed of coaching soccer. The BBC make no mention of whether or not a representative of the Galway County Board has been flown to the Home Counties to see if Sir Clive wants to take on John O'Mahony's old job.

And why not? According to today's Indo, everyone else has been asked.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Twenty-First Century Mayo Seventy Minutes Away

I understand that Pat Spillane has written in this morning's Sunday World that the standard of yesterday's All-Ireland semi-final replay between Mayo and Fermanagh was not as high as the standard of football played at Junior B level. I don't know, of course, as An Spailpín doesn't take the Sunday World, but I would suggest that if the standard of junior football around Templenoe and environs is that high, then Pat ought to stand by the county he served so well by alerting the current Kerry selectors, who could always do with more souls before the mast.

And yet, I can't get it out of my head that this junior football that is played at the same level as the best game An Spailpín has seen in the Championship this year is not played in Templenoe, nor Kerry, nor any other county in Erin; it is much more likely to be played in some fantasyland rather like that described by James Stephens' in his lovely and lyrical novel The Crock of Gold.

Pat, as is his custom, is more than likely pulling the nations' leg. As the GAA's leading voice of harmless mischief, Pat is firing his usual fusillade that begins "back in my day…" Pat must be closing on the fifty now - how tiring this act will be should he persist with it when he really is an ancient.

Kerry have added a hint of steel to their play since the two years when Armagh and Tyrone so traumatically questioned their manhood. Other than that, this is pretty much Kerry as we have known them over the past number of years. Interchangable genii at inside forward - what other bench could boast Johnny Crowley and Mike Frank? - and a fine midfield led by Dara Ó Sé, but an unremarkable back division notable chiefly for their investigations into the tensile strength of the O'Neills' jersey, and a half-forward line remarkable for being not remarkable in the slightest. A far cry from Denis "Óige" Moran and P. Spillane himself.

Mayo have their problems too, of course. The fullback line creaks like some very old floorboards, the goalkeeper is undergoing a long dark season of the soul, and all Mayo teams must by their very nature fight against the sheer weight of history, expectation and that peculiar level of psychosis that all Mayo people claim as a birthright.

But, at the same time, Mayo are the form team in the country. They are strong up the middle, with Heaney, Nallen, Brady, McGarrity, McDonald and Mortimer; they have the best player in Ireland in McDonald pulling the strings in attack and in Conor Mortimer they have the finisher of whom they always dreamed in the dark days.

Mayo are a work in progress, and what a wonderful position to be in with four weeks to kill before they finally find out if they are to end that fifty-three year wait. How terrible it would be if they had peaked in that marvellous performance against Galway - instead, only nine or ten survive from three months' ago, and, by the time the referee blows his whistle at five to five on Sunday, September 26th, 2004, there could be even fewer.

From a man who was accused at having lost at least one title on the sideline, if not two, John Maughan, with the aid of selectors George Golden and Liam McHale, has developed into a wily fox indeed. And a tremendously brave one as well.

A rumour swept through Mayo like a burning flame on the eve of yesterday's game that there had been a huge fight between Maughan and David Brady, David Brady being known as a man that doesn't care to hide his lights under a bushel. The benching of Brady and the presence of Fergal Kelly in midfield with McGarrity gave truth to the stories, but, when Mayo's fat and fate were both in the fire, Maughan, to his eternally credit, put personal issues aside and sent in Brady. And to David Brady's eternal credit, he too put the county first with another outstanding display.

This determination and unity of purpose is not something that Mayo are used to in the past half-century, and it's not something that Kerry have seen in this year's Championship either. The Kingdom has been said to have breathed a sigh of relief after Tyrone followed Armagh into that good night in the quarter-finals; one has to wonder are All-Irelands that easily won.

The cobwebs are not gone from the Mayo psyche just yet, as witnessed by their freezing under the harsh spotlight of favouritism against Fermanagh last weekend, but Mayo are unlikely to be encumbered by that tag again. After all, where else but in Kerry or in Dublin would a forward be considered one of the most dangerous in the county after only returning one point in four games? This is Mayo's year.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Twenty-First Century Mayo One Step Closer to Sam

Mayo 0-9
Fermanagh 0-9

It was not immediately obvious to the Mayo hoard tramping through the rain after Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final muttering "that feckin’ Brady/McDonald/Mortimer/Maughan is only a bollix, I always said it, I always knew it," but a week’s reflection will instruct them that Mayo have, in fact, laid the foundations for their first All-Ireland win in fifty-three years.

This is a bold statement after a game where Mayo played as badly as the Grand Guignol horrors of Mayo supporters’ worst nightmares; when Mayo lost James Gill to a sending off; when it seemed that, to borrow a phrase first coined by a Charlestown man about a Castlebar man, if Mayo had ducks, they would drown.

The fact of the matter is that Mayo did not drown. Mayo, as Championship contenders, are still in the Championship. Previously, when Mayo put on an exhibition of choking, of which Sunday’s exhibition was well down there with Mayo’s lowest standards of the past, that was the ball game. This time, Mayo did not suffer the ultimate sanction, which is loss, and elimination from the Championship. This time, Mayo drew, and live to fight another day.

Punditry will start its reflections on the game with "All credit to Fermanagh," and Punditry will be wrong, as usual. For Fermanagh, the drawn game was a disaster. Fermanagh had Mayo writhing on the ground, but they failed to deliver the fatal kick to the head. Mayo selector Liam McHale and Mayo manager John Maughan both said after the game that it was a game that Mayo did not deserve to win, that Fermanagh should now be in their first ever All-Ireland final. The reason that McHale and Maughan know this, of course, is because if you substitute Fermanagh for Twentieth Century Mayo, you have the whole sorry Gaelic football history of Mayo in the past half-century, the team that never pulled the trigger in fifty-three years. Maughan and McHale know exactly what it is to leave it behind them, just as Fermanagh did on Sunday.

Mayo had an absolute disaster in Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final, when so many of the players on whom Mayo had built their church were blinded by the light. Burke had another nightmare with his kickouts, the Mayo fullback line looked soft, Brady was the Invisible Man without the bandages, Gill got sent off, the clown, Dillon anonymous, Conor Mortimor bottled it and Brian Maloney was cook too. The triumvirate of McHale, Maughan and Golden are not to escape the lash in this regard either, blatantly failing to make the changes that were necessary once the smell of fat frying became known to all with noses to smell. One of the indicators in the Championship so far that the era of Twenty-First Century Mayo had dawned was the speed with which the sideline make switches, such as the springing of Peadar Gardiner in the Connacht Final when Gary Mullins was getting trimmed by John Tiernan. On Sunday, nothing stirring on sideline as they watched in horror.

But here’s the thing – in previous Championships, when whatever it is in the Mayo blood or psyche or water that causes this choking, Mayo choked against teams that did not let them away with it, like Cork, Kerry or Meath. Fermanagh did let them away with it, and, as the week wears on, they will have plenty of cause to wonder about what might have been. It’ll be interesting to see how that impacts on Fermanagh’s Freewheeling Football the next day.

Nobody who choked did it deliberately, of course. By saying that certain players choked, I’m not saying that they disgraced their family or the proud old jersey that they wore – I’m saying it as a self-evident fact, just as rain being wet is a fact, or that match traffic is a bitch. That’s just the way it is.

How to react to that choking is the interesting thing. Lots of different, and often terrible, things happen in life, and that will always be the case. It’s how we react to reverses, rather than the reverses themselves, that will determine who we are.

An Spailpín knows all about nerves – as one of nature’s True Cowards, I have been known to jump three feet in the air should a butterfly clear its throat. Before the teams lined up for the parade, I saw Conor Mortimor in animated conversation with Kieran McDonald, and I now wonder if Mortimor had a touch of the collywobbles beforehand, as can happen to anyone. The thing to do in this case, then, is to go to the young man afterwards, and say "remember those collywobbles you had at the start of the game Conor? Didn’t you do well after all that to nearly win it for Mayo at the end? Well done, kid." For what do we fear but fear itself?

In picking the bones of the game, everybody will have formulated their own theologies about what should be done, whom should be benched and whom should be called to the colours. It quickly becomes an unfortunate exercise in what-aboutery – I could cite the appalling weather, or the pernickety refereeing of Michael Collins, who was sufficiently prissy to make one suspect he editorialises for the Irish Times in his spare time. Personally, if I were managing the team, I’d have hauled Brady ashore after fifteen minutes, and have hauled off Peter Burke immediately after he kicked out over the sideline. If I hadn’t taken him off, when Burke did it a second time I would have thought very seriously indeed about a pitch incursion to go as far as him to give him a good shake.

There will be tubs thumped all over Mayo this week saying this man should play and that man should play. Again, everyone has their favourites and their bugaboos. But to rend the Green and Red garment now while Mayo are still in the Championship, while for once Mayo have dodged a bullet instead of taking one behind the ear as is their custom, is folly. For Twenty-First Century Mayo, the dream continues.

POSTSCRIPT: Logical consistency appears to have no role to play in GAA analysis. Paul Curran and Kevin McStay have just been on The Sunday Game. The boys reckoned that Mayo were cook, terrible, rotten, whereas Fermanagh are a fine team of footballers who’ve been hatefully underestimated all season. They did not go on to explain why, if one team was horrid and the other Godlike, the match finished in a draw. Nor did they explain why, when asked to chose who would win the replay, both men were as one in picking terrible, rotten Mayo to beat Godlike, fantastic Fermanagh. Who will analyse the analysts themselves, as Juvenal might have wondered if he’d been a GAA man?

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Tickets and the GAA

How interesting to note on that the GAA have been shooting themselves in the feet once again as regards their bizarre system of ticket allocation.

The situation is that, because "word went out" that last weekend's quarter final football games between Armagh and Fermanagh and Tyrone and Mayo were sold out, people actually believed it. As such, the GAA lost 175,000 of potential revenue from tickets that could have been sold, but weren't.

Isn't it interesting to note that notion of word going out too early? The Croke Park source quoted in the story isn't bothered that the word that went out was a downright lie, that the game was sold out when it wasn't sold out at all, or anything like it; what concerns this backroom buachaill was that word went out too early. If only the boys had been able to keep a lid on it for another twelve hours, we are to understand all would have been well.

What sort of thinking is this? What business model are the GAA following in the way they sell tickets? If the tickets for the quarter-finals were on general sale just like apples or any other commodity are on sale, the GAA would always sell out their games because they have a product people want to support. The arcane chicanery that goes on with regard to ticket allocation - tickets going out to clubs, tickets coming back from clubs, tickets going out once more to clubs and so on - is supposedly in order to keep the games pure, that only the f´i;orghael may attend. Harumph - ask your local tout on All-Ireland final day what club he's affiliated to and let me know your answer. I'd be interested to know.

It couldn't be because certain GAA administrators like to lord it with the Golden Tickets at All-Ireland time, could it? That'd hardly be the case. The following story is surely just a figment of An Spailpín's imagination: Once upon a time, a certain county had reached the All-Ireland. And this certain county had a secretary (which is where the real power lies, by the way - none of your oul' chairman nonsense) who was rather idiosyncratic in his ways. So idiosyncratic that it was not unusual, in the fortnight before the big game, to see a queue of people outside the door of his house, his private residence, waiting for him to condescend to open the door and sell a ticket. When he felt like it.

And he didn't always feel like it. One punter, after waiting for hours, finally got to meet the great man, and asked for two tickets. "Why two tickets," An Runaí asked him, "have you got two arses?"

And we're meant to shed real tears then when they make a balls of their schemes and end up down money on the deal? Well boo. Hoo. Hoo.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

How Mayo Can Beat Tyrone and Shock the World on Saturday

Tyrone will run out in Croke Park on Saturday as red-hot favourites in their All-Ireland quarter-final against Mayo, and rightly so. They are All-Ireland Champions after all, they’ve decimated all opposition since their Ulster Championship wake-up call from Donegal, and the Tyrone system of play is as revolutionary as the Down revolution of the ‘sixties.

However, the notion that Mayo County Secretary Seán Feeney should telephone the GAC to arrange the walkover would be mistaken. For, although he may not realise it now, it will eventually dawn on as astute a student of the game as Mickey Harte that Mayo will present Tyrone with as varied a set of headaches as Tyrone will present Mayo, and those punters who enjoy an enticing investment with their bookmakers would do well to take the points on Mayo, if not the generously-priced 5/2 shock win.

These are two teams that the country hardly knows. The chief reasons for this is the tokenism and sloth that characterises the majority of GAA journalism, when the old shibboleths associated with all teams – teak-tough Northerners, fancy-dan Mayo, whatever you’re having yourself, this is on expenses – are routinely trotted out, and it also has to do with the nature of the teams involved themselves. A Fermanaghman once told your correspondent that the difference between a Southerner, or a Free-Stater, if you really feel like straight-talking, and a Northerner is the difference between the good china that you keep for the station and the mug from which you drink your own tea after a hard day in the bog. Free-Staters watch the Tyrone horde swarm around the man in possession in such numbers that the opposition player quickly disappears is the everlasting grip of the Red Hand, and they wonder: what the Hell has got into those guys? It is a level of commitment and belief with which Southerners are unfamiliar, born of a lifestyle where the wearing a parish jersey was to risk an anonymous bullet in the back on a quiet country road. In the North, this is not just a game.

Belief has the basis of the Armagh and Tyrone All-lrelands of 2002 and 2003. Armagh set the standard, but then Tyrone, who had been disappointed on the highest stage for so often, reached and surpassed that level of desire. That’s what’s so frightening about the prospect of playing Tyrone for Southern teams – it’s not that the players are so much superior, as they’re not, but because the system seems so impregnable. You may be able to beat fifteen men, but how do you beat an idea, a belief, a creed?

By developing a creed of your own, of course. We don’t know if the new Mayo system has evolved or been planned, but whatever its origins, the remarkable way that Mayo have played in the Connacht Championship of 2004 is the greatest challenge to the Tyrone hegemony that we have seen in the past two years.

Since the Tyrone system was first seen in its full effect in the semi-final against Kerry of last year, the one Pat Spillane memorably described as “puke football,” people have said that the correctly struck pass will beat the Tyrone system. The laws of physics dictate that a kicked ball will always travel faster than a man; if the ball is gone when the massed defenders arrive, or better again in just that split second before they arrive, then the Tyrone homestead, in front of the Tyrone goal, is a fold suddenly exposed to the wolves.

Kieran McDonald is the man to hit those balls. The enticing of McDonald back to the Mayo fold is the single most important thing that the Mayo brains trust of John Maughan, Liam McHale and George Golden have done this year. Against Galway and Roscommon, McDonald played at a level which the football public had never seen before, combining the best elements of the midfield general of soccer and the stand-off half of rugby to dictate play in a way that no one man has dictated play since the era of Mick O’Connell – that same era that was cut short by the Down revolution, incidentally.

Mickey Harte will spend this week trying to figure out how to stop McDonald. The first solution, in this craven world, is the cynical one; however, people have been trying to burst McDonald since he was a schoolboy player, and nobody’s done it yet. It would be nice to think that the referee, whomever he may be, would make it a point of his afternoon’s duties to protect an obviously targeted player, but this Spailpín’s romantic heart has been broken once to often to believe that will be so.

Presuming that McDonald is allowed play, from where does he get the ball? This is what makes the game on Saturday so fascinating. The country hasn’t realised it yet, but the way Mayo play now, with McDonald conducting the Mayo orchestra, is every bit as revolutionary as Tyrone. Brian Dooher is Tyrone’s scavenger in chief? Three of Mayo’s six starting forwards are picked to win breaks in midfield, with pointscoring a secondary consideration. Two can play at that game. If the Red Swarm stay in the defensive third of the field, behind their own fifty yard line, they will have only two Mayomen for company, the Mortimer boys, and the rest of the Mayo team will be feasting on midfield possession, the possession that the Swarm normally win to feed Mulligan and O’Neill so they can get the points that win games. If the Swarm come out to root and scurry for possession, the idea is that whatever scraps Mayo’s five-man midfield can win will be fed to McDonald, who will then set up one-on-ones with a Mortimer of his choice and a suddenly isolated and lonely Tyrone defender. And it will be interesting indeed to see how that pans out.

After fifty plus years of disappointment, Mayo people nearly fear success as much as failure. Sunday’s draw did as much as any draw that’s happened this summer to add to the whispers that the fix has been in for the Qualifiers, but that is an argument for the long and football-less winter. In the meantime, Mayo can only dance with the girls in the Hall, and that means Tyrone on Saturday. Because Tyrone are the only possible opponents for Mayo now they are therefore the best possible opponents, and what finer way could there be for Mayo to announce their return as a football power than by the destruction of the Champions? If the bizarre and unprecedented Mayo formation, of a two man inside line, one man on the fifty, and three big and two small men i lár na pairce, can negate the Tyrone system, then that Tyrone advantage, which brought them their All-Ireland, is suddenly denied them, and then it’s just a question of who’s got the best players. And who wouldn’t ask for that?

Monday, July 19, 2004

Twenty-First Century Mayo

Mayo 2-13
Roscommon 0-9

All along Main St, Castlebar, at Sunday midday the Roscommon faithful stood outside the pubs and bars, pinting and smoking in the summer sun, in eager anticipation of the Connacht Final. One of the sheepstealers, outside Tom-Tom Bryne’s, lost control of his inflatable sheep – it blew onto the road, where it met its end under the wheels of an 00 Mayo registered Ford Transit van. Little did the Ros faithful know, it was an omen of things to come.
Two and a half hours later, Roscommon came howling out of the dressing rooms from the under the scoreboard of McHale Park, to be met with howls of welcome from their adoring support. For the first ten or fifteen minutes, they loosed the hounds of war on Mayo, hitting the hosts with everything they had, and were particularly unlucky when John Tiernan scythed through the Mayo rearguard to push a shot of goal just wide of the far post.
The Cake wasn’t to be so lucky. After two frees from Conor Mortimor levelled the scores at two points each, Ciarán McDonald found James Nallen, who found Trevor Mortimor who found the back of the net. The Cake had been sliced, and Mayo weren’t to look back. For so many years of his time in the stewardship of Mayo, John Maughan’s critics damned him as too slow to make changes. Maughan hasn’t spent the past five years whittling on his porch – he has moved on. Gary Mullins, the find of last year, was hauled ashore when it was clear that he was getting skinned by Tiernan, and Peadar Gardiner was commissioned to put the chains on Tiernan.
The Mortimor goal, and the introduction of Gardiner, were twin blows from which Roscommon never were to recover. Frankie Dolan, who, along with the Cake and Francie Grehan, has been seen as the avatar of all that is Ros, had another bad day at the office, so bad that he was confined to barracks at half-time, and Ger Henaghan sent on in his stead. Roscommon were 1-7 to 0-2 down at the half, and, although they traded scores with Mayo in the third quarter, Mayo’s superiority was such that Roscommon were bailing water from the Titanic with a saucepan.
The Roscommon midfield superiority never materialised – Seamus O’Neill fetched impressively at the start and in patches through the rest of the game, but there was nothing he was capable of doing that would have stopped Mayo in their current incarnation. David Brady, only recently returned from Australia, gave his best ever performance for Mayo in many long years of service, through good days and bad. James Nallen, another warrior from 1996, remains his imperious self, and the Mortimor family are becoming what the Donnellans are in Galway.
But shining above them all was Ciarán McDonald. His return was not without its critics, some of whom are no doubt still balefully sharpening their claws and waiting for their chance. They will have to wait, for the Crossmolina man gave a display at centre-half forward that was unparalleled in its dominance. For so long Mayo teams played like men that had only just met in the dressing room and were only on nodding acquaintance with each other; on Sunday Ciarán McDonald claimed the sceptre and led his people. His ghostly presence terrorises defenders, who have visions of him slipping away and ripping points over from great distances – this threat is always real from McDonald, as his beating of four Roscommon backs to travel laterally, turn and shoot against his angle of movement for a despairing Shane Curran to desperately fist the ball over the bar exemplifies. But now, for the first time, McDonald has men around him who understand what he’s about, and he fed them the manna that all forwards crave, the perfectly flighted and delivered pass.
Roscommon never had a chance. Tom Carr mused after the game about whether or not John Tiernan’s goal would have made a difference. It would, in the sense that Roscommon would have lost by seven points and not by ten, but no other. Micheál Meehan’s goal didn’t save Galway - Mayo were not to be denied, as their talents came to fruition on a day when the sun shone through the clouds in Castlebar.
Roscommon did have one note of deliverance after what had been a desperately chastening day for them. Roscommon have drawn Dublin in the final round of the qualifiers, and this gives them a real shot at redemption. Dublin are a name with little to back them up – after getting bombed out of the Championship by Westmeath on their first day out Dublin have travelled the chicken and chips circuit of the GAA, far away from the bright lights and Evening Herald supplements, and tried to rebuild themselves by feasting on minnows such as London, Leitrim and Longford. But Roscommon will present a stiffer test, once they realise that apart from what they might read in the papers, there is little to this current Dublin outfit other than faded sky-blue glory.
As for the Connacht Champions, they have three weeks or so to grow and develop further. Mayo are now in the last eight, and fear no-one. The county is energised, and believes once more. Mayo will return to Croke Park for the first time since Cork humiliated them two years ago in the final kick of Pat Holmes’ reign as manager a different outfit – this is Twenty-First Century Mayo.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The Great Jimmy Breslin

Jimmy Breslin enlists a very famous name in his Newsday column to wire it up to George W. Bush and the Republican Party.

Most people think they can write vitriol, that they can give someone a verbal hiding when they want to, and all they end up doing is sounding hysterical. Breslin is meant to be a very cranky man and difficult to get on with but my God, can he do his job. And he's been doing it for over forty years.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Bible Translations

I read to my utter horror and abject despair in this morning's London Times that there is new translation of New Testament that's been given the blessing of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr Williams praises the transation as a work of “extraordinary power” that is “so close to the prose and poetry of ordinary life”. The poetry of ordinary life? The poetry that sees original Hebrew and Greek names modernised from Peter, Mary Magdelen, Andronicus and Barabbas to Rocky, Maggie, Andy and Barry, apparently.

Here's the scene in the Pilate's courtyard on Holy Thursday, when Peter - oh, I'm sorry, Rocky - denies Christ: "Meanwhile Rocky was still sitting in the courtyard. A woman came up to him and said: 'Haven’t I seen you with Jesus, the hero from Galilee?' Rocky shook his head and said: 'I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!'

Who in the name of God dreams up this shit?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Ag Feachaint ar na Sasanaigh i dTithe Ósta Éireannach

Bhí Des Cahill ag caint le Sasanach éigin ar a chlár raidio uafásach Sportscall De Luain seo caite, agus d'éiligh an Sasanach go mbíonn na hÉirinnigh ag ligedh gáir mholta ar gach aon foireann a n-imríonn i gcoinne foreann Shasanaigh ins an comórtas Euro 2004. Ní fhaigeann sé cothrom na féinne, dár leis an Sasanach, nuair a thagann sé chuig an teach ósta agus gach duine isteach i gcoinne David Beckham agus a ghaíscí. Cuireann an drochiompar seo imní agus eagla ar an Sasanach nuair atá cluiche Shasana ar siúl ar an teilifís ins an teach ósta.

"Éist liomsa a bhoc," arsa Des, "dá mbeadh imní agus eagla ort i dteach ósta deas inné agus tusa ag feachaint ar an gcluiche agus cúpla pionta istigh sa bholg agat, cad a mbeadh ort má bhí tú ar Crossley tender ar an mbóthar idir Maigh Cruaim agus Cil Mhicheál ar an 28ú lá Deireadh Fomhair 1920 agus Tom Barry agus Óglaigh na hÉireann ag fanacht ort?"

Ní duirt Des faic cosúil le sin, ar ndóigh. Bhí sé ag clucáil cosúil le cearc ar ghor, gurbh mhór an trua é nach dtaitníonn Wayne Rooney linn. Amadán.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Alone, All Alone

How appropriate it is that it's Tipperary, the Premier County and the location of Hayes Hotel, Thurles, birthplace of the GAA, that should provide us with what could very well be the most revolutionary happening in GAA officialdom since the introduction of the qualifier system.

The facts, insofar as they can be ascertained, are these: aware that his side were playing Fermanagh in an elimination game this Saturday, Andy Shorthall, manager of the Tipp football team, asked the County Board, or, more accurately, the Mid Division Board, whatever in the Christ that is, to postpone a Mid-Tipperary senior hurling championship match between Loughmore and Thurles Sarsfields that was to have been played last night. The reason for Shorthall's concern was that he had two players on his panel, whom he needed for Saturday's game against doughty Fermanagh, playing for the hurling clubs, and he did not care to have them split and shattered hurling outside Nenagh in the gloaming of a late summer's evening so the fixture list of the Mid Division Board looks neat and tidy.

So Andy Shorthall asked that the fixture be postponed, allowing the Premier County to have its best players to wear its colours and uphold its honour against Fermanagh. And the Mid Division Board said no, we're not moving nothing, so there.

A depressingly common occurance. Lots of counties appoint lots of managers all over Ireland but, when it comes to streamlining the system and getting everyone in the county behind the manager, they just leave the poor dumb hoor twisting slowly in the wind. Then, when whatever county it is comes tumbling out of the Championship, the Knights of the High Stool remark to one and other that they always knew that fella was only a bollocks, or, in our Celtic Tiger times, go posting abuse like billy-oh on the Internet.

But Shorthall obviously doesn't fancy being a martyr, and how the Tipp board must bitterly regret appointing him now. For Shorthall is the sacrificial lamb that bit back - instead of throwing his hands in the air, Shorthall called the Board's bluff. He told the Board that if he couldn't have all his players, he'd quit, and that's exactly what he did.

Him, all his selectors, and, as of last night, all his players. There is nobody left to play football for Tipp, and, in consequence, Tipperary have offered Fermanagh a walkover in Saturday's fixture.

I heard on the radio where some buck from the Tipp County Board said that the players would come to regret this awful day (implying, of course, that the players were bad, bad men for turning their backs on Tiobráid Árainn). As far as I'm concerned, those Tipp men are heroes, and the first winners of this year's Championship.

For God knows how many evenings those footballers have dragged themselves away from warm firesides or the promise of cold porter to go running up hills and down valleys for the honour of the Premier County, all the while with an assortment of goons and rogues slapping them on the back and telling them what great men they were. But, when the backslappers were asked to cut these men a break, and give them some chance of flying Tipp colours in triumph after the game against Fermanagh, they all disappeared into the night to a man.

All that support for the minority game of football disappeared into the night. It was all so much hot air. Tokenism at its best.

So the players were right to stand by Shorthall, who was only standing by them in the first place. They'll probably suffer for it down the line - see what being the chief mutineer in Mayo in 1992 did for Peter Ford's chances of managing the Mayo football team since? - but it takes men to stand up and be counted, to say that that they're not there to be patronised or pushed around any more. Well done Tipp, the Premier County.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Mallacht na Cispheile ar ár bPeil Féin

Ins an alt riatla a scríobhann sé ar leathanach deirneach na Irish Times gach Sáthairn, deireann Keith Duggan go mbeith tionchar mór ag an chispheil ar an pheil Gaelach dá dtabhartaí an seans do. Is mór an meas atá agamsa ar Duggan - ceann de na iriseoirí is fearr in Éirinn faoi lathar, dár liomsa - ach b'fhéidir gur chaith sé an-iomarca uair i Meiricéa. Mar 'sé fírinne an scéal ná go bhfuil tionchar mór ag an Chispheil inniu, ach is drochthionchar é, drochthionchar a chuirfidh brón ar an contae a úsáideann é sula mbeidh an Craobh críochnaite.

'Sé an luas an rud is tabhactach sa bpeil - luas smaoinigh, luas gluaiseachta. Ach, in ionad luas, éiríonn an imirt go mall faoi tionchar na cispheile. Nuair atá imreoir ag imirt peile, is gá dó an liathróid a úsáid go tapaidh. Go glic, gan dabht, ach go tapaidh - má fhágann sé leis an liathróid, beidh sé buailte briste nuair a schroicheann na cúlaí. Gluaiseann an liathróid i bhfad níos luaithe leis an cic ná leis an dorn - ba cheart do gach peiledeoir beir ar an liathróid, feachaint suas, agus cic mór a thabairt don liathróid comh fada agus comh cruinn mar is féidir. Dá gcaithfí an iomarca uair an liathróid a chur faoi gluaiseacht níl faic déanta ach seans thugtaí den cúlaí a bhailigh le cheile, agus luíochán a ullmhú don fear bocht faoi deireadh leis an liathróid.

Tá brón agus buartha ar an Spailpín go bhfuil galar na cispheile ar larr ina chontae féin. Rachaidh Maigh Eo i gcoinne Gaillimh ar an 27ú Meitheamh, coicís ón Domhnach seo chugainn, agus leigh mé ar an Hogan Stand gur úsáid Muigh Eo an seachad gairid chun an liathróid a thabhairt amach óna gcúl féin i gcluiche i gcoinne an Mhí tráthnóna inné. Sin galar na cispheile, agus má dheannann Muigh Eo iarracht an seafóid cheanna a úsáíd i gcoinne Gaillimh, titfidh an Seoigheach orthu cosúil leis an iolar ón sliabh ins an dán cáiliúl le Alfred, Tiarna Tennyson.

Gearr síos na líonta, agus dean cliabh don ásal dóibh. Níl maith eile leo.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

The Big Fellow Rises from the Grave

While An Spailpín was out for an evening's constitutional just now, he was struck by a most remarkable sight - a swarthy young man was approaching him wearing a Michael Collins t-shirt. It was that picture of Collins in his Free State General's uniform, the one with his hands clasped and his head looking off to his left. The slogan on the t-shirt read "You've read the book, you've seen the film - now join the party."

"Those crazy Shinners," I thought, "whatever will they think of next?" Imagine then, my surprise when the chappie passed me, and I espied the Young Fine Gael logo on the sleeve.

Do you suppose the Tories would have a better chance of winning the next election if they put a picture of the Duke of Wellington on their t-shirts? No; neither do I.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

McWilliams Dicit; Mondus Audit

David McWilliams explains modern Ireland in one thousand words. Depressing certainly, but what superb analysis.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Van Helsing? No Fangs!

If anyone needs definite proof of the devastating impact of correct evening dress, consider society’s embrace of The Undead, after the vampire population proved to scrub up so well.

In the original Romanian and Eastern European legends on which Bram Stoker based his story of Count Dracula, the undead showed all the signs of persons that were very dead indeed, and had been dead for quite some time – mouldy of dress, unsteady of gait and unsettling of pallor. Stoker’s genius was to make his vampire an aristocrat with a title, a revolution that reached its zenith when Universal studios put the Count in perpetual black tie and eliminated that ghastly palm hair.

And the vampire has been with us since. Of Universal’s horror stable of the thirties, the wolfman hasn’t been seen as a titular character since Lon Chaney, while The Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster have only one reappearance since the Britain’s Hammer movies of the ‘fifties, and with vastly different results – Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein bombed, while Stephen Sommers The Mummy, to run with a metaphor somewhat, brought a moribund genre back to life. But, irrespective of the ebbing popularity of his monstrous compadres, the vampire has always been with us, from Bela Lugosi’s and Christopher Lee’s Count Dracula in the ‘thirties and ‘fifties respectively, through the Lost Boys of the ‘eighties (the clear progenitor to the vampires slain by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course), Neil Jordan’s Interview with a Vampire in the ‘nineties, the disastrous Dracula 2000 at the turn of the millennium, and now Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing.

The reason the Vampire Movie has proved so popular has to do with the balance it strikes between the remarkable power of the vampire, a power that we all aspire to in some way, and the awful price that the vampire pays. The vampire is our tragic hero, the man who has reached too far and paid a terrible price.

It is this tension, between the aspiration of being all-powerful (and irresistibility to Pre-Raphaelite women, of course), and the price that must be paid for that power, that is, the lost of one’s humanity and condemnation to eternal torment, that makes vampire movies so involving, that keeps encouraging us to suspend our disbelief for another two hours. The vampire is different to us in just a tiny degree, but it is this tiny degree, our essential humanity, that makes all the difference.

All the best vampire movies explore this tension. Count Dracula, in Francis Ford Coppala’s 1992 movie, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, isn’t so much a demon from the fiery pit of Hell as a fool for love; it is his unrequited love for Elisabeta – “I have crossed oceans of time to find you” – that makes us feel his tragedy, and therefore care for what happens him, while still thrilling to the horror of the events at Grimbsy and, most grisly of all, Keanu Reeves.

Even at a time and a place when all conventional standards of behaviour and morality are in abeyance, such as 1987, the essential tragedy of the vampire remains in the gory glory that is The Lost Boys, the Brat Pack punk rock vampire movie. Although Kiefer Sutherland’s vampire band begin the sea-change of vampires rather enjoying their vampiric ways that reaches its height in Buffy, Jason Patric as Michael Emerson is always aware of what he must surrender and leave behind to become a Lost Boy, and from this tension comes the drama.

It is the lack of this tension, a lack of a human equivalent to measure the vampire against, that is Van Helsing’s greatest flaw. It is undeniably one among many, but this is the most telling, and ultimately the most damning.

If Stephen Sommers is to continue in his monster movie vein, perhaps his next project ought to be Robert Louis Stephenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, as Sommers’ dilemma not dissimilar to that of the misfortunate Dr Jekyll, the man who experimented so successfully that he could not replicate his results. When The Mummy became the breakout smash-hit of the summer of 1999, Sommers’ was catapulted onto Hollywood’s A-List; miserably, it seems that in The Mummy Sommers caught lightning in a bottle, and he hasn’t been quite able to figure out how to do it again.

The problem with The Mummy Returns was easily identifiable – it was about so tall, and wore short trousers. Taking no chances on anything being left out in Van Helsing, Sommers cooks up his movie in the same fashion as a good Irish stew, where the more is always the merrier.

It doesn’t work out. Van Helsing’s costume is designed to be either iconic or, more depressingly, easy to replicate as an action figure. Instead, the many layered Hugh Jackman looks like a man who’s expecting a cold snap, and has wrapped up really warm just in case. Kate Beckinsale is in a worse dilemma – she spends a lot of the movie running, leaping, fighting and swinging on ropes in a costume that might have required Olympic training just to draw breath. But she does look pretty, so we may forgive Sommers that.

What we can’t quite forgive is his third act, which Sommers stuffs with the brio of a schoolboy left alone in the gobstopper factory. Ideally, subtitles should roll under the action to remind the dazed viewer of what’s what; instead, the viewer just settles for booing lustily as the plot lurches from one bizarre extreme to the next.

Fans of true, teeth-chattering horror know that the sequel can only be worse. Those that love the children of the night, and the sweet music they make, will have to search elsewhere for their kicks. Miss Beckinsale’s own under-rated mean and moody Underworld perhaps?

Friday, May 14, 2004

Raiders of the Lost Ark - The Adaptation

Marvellous, beautiful article from Vanity Fair, republished in today's Guardian, about three Mississippi schoolkids who were so enthralled by Raiders of the Lost Ark that they decided to film it themselves, shot by shot, with themselves as the protagonists. Treat yourself - makes you feel like cheering.

Friday, May 07, 2004

I’ll Be There for Yuck – Friends Finally Ends  

Seinfeld, the Johnny Depp to Friends’ Tom Cruise during the nineties, was famously considered ground-breaking in terms of the TV sitcom genre because Seinfeld was, famously, “a show about nothing.” In years to come, once the glamour has dissipated from Friends’ remains, scholars will discover that Friends too was unique in its way, it being a “comedy without jokes.”

If the tide of our times needed a metaphor for how remarkably shallow we have become, the ten year popularity of Friends, the show without jokes, wins the watch. It’s shocking how popular that awful thing was.

Was there every a bigger pain in the ass than Ross in Friends? The only thing that made sense about the whine-Gellar was that he was palaeontologist by profession – who else but one who studies bones professionally could possibly be related to so scrawny a woman as Courtney Cox? I’m not saying you can count her ribs, but the woman is in severe danger of kidnapping by skiffle bands looking for a new washboard. And she was so lovely, and so normal, in Scream and the first Ace Ventura movie. Such a shame.

Tony LeBlanc is clearly a poor man’s Tony Danza, and more to be pitied than censured. The biggest lug of the six of them has to be Matthew Perry, who does more mugging than the average citizen of Tallaghtfornia. The man is shocking – it’s as if, when he sees a punchline in his script, it has a physical effect on him, rather like the passing of four of five bags of Portland cement might. He quivers, he shakes, he delivers his line and then he shivers to a halt, like a jelly doing a regular sixty miles an hour that has suddenly spotted a radar gun.

Why? It’s not as if he didn’t know that a joke was coming. Friends has (or more correctly, “had” – what joy to use a past participle in relation to Friends at last!) the most telegraphed jokes in the world. First you hear a distant rumble as the joke approaches, rather like someone rolling a bowling pin through an air-conditioning vent in a many-storied office. Then the regular boom-boom-boom begins as the joke nears, a sound not dissimilar to the start of the Rapture I believe. Finally, the Big Funny arrives, soundtracked by Aaron’s Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, the tune that so bothered the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Matthew Perry does his little St Vitus Dance, and then, thirty seconds later, the man in the air-conditioning reaches for his second bowl, and so the long day rolls on.

Friends has contributed one sentence to our lingua franca. It is this: “So, I was, like, Oh my God!”

You’ll notice that this seven word sentence means precisely nothing, which is an achievement in composition in itself, although one of dubious merit. You’ll also notice that two of the seven words, or twenty-eight and one half per cent of the sentence, relate to the first person; the first person nominative, “I,” and the first person possessive pronoun, “my.” This says a lot about the axis around which the world of a Friend revolves.

Friends was never about comedy; it was about narcissism, the tyranny of beauty and the joys of self-love. It will not be missed.

Friday, April 30, 2004

The Irish Language - How We Lost It, How We Can Save It

There was some poor soul from last Sunday’s march to protest the exclusion of Irish from the list of officially recognised European languages explaining his position to Vincent Browne on Browne’s radio show on Tuesday night. I use “explaining” in its broadest sense – the man was so poor that even the notoriously narky Browne took pity on him, and, rather than savage him as is his wont, Browne merely sighed deeply at the more meandering of the Gaelgeoir’s points.

All very depressing I’m afraid. The Gaelgeoir was an avatar of all that is wrong with Irish, and a miserable personification of why the language is virtually dead at the start of the 21st Century – he was rambling, unfocussed, and uncoordinated. He hadn’t thought out what he was going to say, and, even when Browne offered him the easy question of why Irish was so important, he dropped the ball on the tryline.

The Irish language is important is because it’s part of what we are, part of what makes us unique. Without it, we become even more of an adjunct to Britain and the US, another assimilated cell in the depressing homogenisation of the country that will soon make Kerry indistinguishable from Kent or from Kentucky. And that would be a bad thing.

The three oldest surviving literary artefacts in Western Culture are written in Greek, in Latin, and in Irish. Irish, as a language, has a tremendous pedigree, but it has never attained the status of Latin or Greek not because it is a lesser language, but because the Greeks and Romans were conquerers, and the Irish were the conquered. Language, like history, is written by the victor.

The mere fact that Irish survived at all is due in no small part to the efforts of the revivalists of the late Nineteenth Century. Prior to this, speaking Irish was just a burden, an impediment to a child’s chance of being able to speak the language of whatever faraway land where he or she could emigrate and find a new life for him or herself, a life that he or she could not find at home under any circumstances. The memory of the Famine was widespread; Irish was the language of the hungry, the poor, the dispossessed. English was the language of hope, and of a possible future.

As such, the Irish nation owes a huge debt to people like Douglas Hyde and an tAthar Peadar Ó Laoghaire – without their efforts, Irish would be lost to us entirely. Unfortunately, it is also because of their efforts that the teaching of Irish has been so uniformly poor, and why, after fourteen years of learning Irish in school, twenty per cent of our natural span, that so many of us leave school unable to speak the First National Language.

In setting about to save the dying language, the Gaelic League had two choices. They could establish a standard, a melding of the different dialects that survived in the country into a whole, or they could do as they did, which was to recognise the spoken language of the people as the authentic Irish of today, as opposed to the long-lost Irish of poets like the monk whose cat was called Pangúr Bán. The establishment of a standard was tricky; the might and glory of Irish as a language was long in the past, before Strongbow’s arrival – an attempt to impose a standard would always run the risk of being rejected out of hand by speakers who spoke the language of their fathers and their fathers before them, and who would reject this Standardised Irish as being no less alien than English. Irish would become a Gaelic Esperanto – spoken by few, understood by fewer, loved by none.

And so, they chose another way. The founders of the Gaelic League, and those that came after them, like George Thompson in the 1920s, saw the spoken Irish of the people as the true Irish, and if there were regional variations then so be it – all regions were to be cherished equally. Except Munster Irish, which was seen as more equal than others.

People say they love their children equally, but it’s not true – deep down, there’s a favourite, and the unspoken favourite of the Gaelic League was Gaeilge na Mumhan. A lot of that had to do with the Blasket Islands of course, where idealists could see Islandsmen facing into the broad Atlantic in those flimsy currachs and say here, at least, is the true noble savage of Rousseau; here, on an island of Kerry, is the Natural Man, the man untainted by “civilisation.”

As the country went through the birth-pangs of independence, much lip-service was paid to the language, and precious little done to guide it from infancy to childhood. Because all dialects were recognised, no one word or no one construction was ever entirely correct, and equally, no one word or construction was ever entirely incorrect.

This was confusing at first; when it came to neologisms, words that had to be invented to describe things that never existed before and therefore had no name, the situation became farcical. At one stage, Irish had eighteen different words to translate the word “telescope”; each one was equally correct in the eyes of the law, or such law as existed in formalising an Irish grammar and vocabulary.

Any conquered language is always in danger of becoming pidginised; that is, borrowing words from the conquering vocabulary because equivalent words do not exist in its own vocabulary. The vision of the nineteenth century saviours of the language, that the Irish that was spoken in such Gaeltachta that survived was to promoted above any attempts to set up a language academy along the lines of the French, the Welsh, the Finnish or the Hungarians, has become a millstone around the language’s neck. The Irish revival was built on a collection of patois rather than an exemplary text that demonstrated a correct standard of Irish. All languages are spoken in different ways by different speakers, but they all need a central corpus of vocabulary and grammar if meaning is to be retained.

One of indictments of the incredibly poor job we have done as a nation to save our own language is the excellent job that the Welsh have done in saving theirs. What we forget is that the Welsh had God on their side – the core text of correct Welsh is based on a sixteenth century translation of the Bible into Welsh, and that provides a tremendous resource for whatever the Welsh equivalent of a fíorGhael is to say that such and such a construction is true to the genius of Welsh, and that such and such is not.

The French enjoy the same with the Academie Francaise, which enthusiastically joins battle with alien words like “le weekend,” which, to the Francophile, lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. Poor misfortunate Irish lacks any such school of champions to defend her honour. The nearest Irish has is the Department of the Gaeltacht, but there is a question of what purpose exactly that Department serves, other than ensuring a constant stream of harp-stamped envelopes making their way to the residents of said Gaeltachta.

It’s a crying shame, and it’s about to get worse. The absence of a standard means that we, as a nation, are lacking a vital bulwark to fight the homogenisation of our culture. Because the language is dying, make no mistake about it. Vincent Browne’s interviewee indicated that the last survey conducted reported 100,000 people in the country speaking Irish daily – if speaking Irish daily constitutes being able to say sláinte then perhaps the results are accurate, but otherwise the language is dying on its knees.

I’d like to think that the advent of TG4, which has done more to make Irish cool than any other single initiative post Independence, will give rise to a generation that will find speaking Irish as natural as speaking English; that rather than being self-conscious about the language and associating it with school that they will use it as a emerald badge of distinction in an increasingly indistinct world. I’d like to think so, but I have no evidence one way or the other, and I am not by my nature an optimist.

The Government has to start getting serious about the language, and it has to start getting serious about the language now. We need to remember the proud history of the language, before the Strongbow, when the Irish monks brought learning back to Europe and Irish was a language of equal standing with Latin or Greek. We need to set up an equivalent to l’Acadamie Francaise to ensure that any new words coming into the language belong there, and that any leaving the language are doing so as part of a natural evolution, rather than as an act of linguistic eugenics. We need to say as a nation that this is who we are and this is what we believe in, or else apply for the franchise for the fifty-first state, or go knocking on the back door of Buckingham Palace and ask her Majesty if she will accept back her most humble, and penitent, servants.