Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Ó Riada sa Gaiety

Sometimes, it's hard to see the love. RTÉ released a Best of Scrap Saturday maybe two years ago, retailing at twenty lids old money I believe, and would you believe it, the lazy shameless swine showed no sign whatsoever of having bothered to go through the tapes at all. There was no evidence of late-night arguments and heated discussions over what could make the final edition and what had to be left beside, as should happen with all Best Ofs. There were no extensive sleeve-notes on Scrap Saturday and the tremendous impact it had at the time. All posterity got was an arbitrary episode from the show that they didn't even bother to divide up into tracks, on the off chance that people might before some sketches over others, along with two special episodes of the show, Scrap Charlie and Scrap Ireland. The inclusion of the Scrap Charlie show was legitimate as it was a classic and featured Mr Haughey, the show's most enduring character, but the inclusion of Scrap Ireland, a once-off live show produced as a stunt for the launch of Radio Ireland in 1997 - someone must have been having a laugh. Just not the poor punter who shelled out twenty bucks.

The last Best of Luke Kelly to come out was another disappointment. I don't doubt for a second the good intentions with which it was released, but to call it the Best of Luke Kelly is patently wrong when so much of the Dubliners' sixties material was unavailable due to arguments over rights. And it's all very sad, as Dermot Morgan and Luke Kelly, who have been giants of Irish cultural life, deserve better.

Imagine then, the sweet relief and the very real joy experienced by a smitten Spailpín twenty minutes ago when he opened his brand new re-released and re-packaged CD of Ó Riada sa Gaiety, the most famous of the records Seán Ó Riada, Ceoltóirí Chualann and Seán Ó Sé released during Ó Riada's short life. It's beautiful, it really is. There is a long, bilingual booklet with sleevenotes by four - four! - different authors, including Ó Riada's son Peadar, and there are three extra tracks thown in as well into the bargain. I felt like cheering, I really did.

The reason this is big news is because Seán Ó Riada was the first man to give musical respectability to Irish traditional music. By forming Ceoltóirí Chualann, by orchestrating the old tunes, by playing traditional Irish music in concert halls wearing dinner jackets, Ó Riada showed the country and the world that traditional Irish music was not some drunks sawing away at fiddles on fair days, but one of the great ethnic musics of the world, fit to take its place with the great ethnic musics of the world.

Treat yourselves and give it a listen. And in case you're wondering why Track 7, Marbhna Luimnigh, sounds so familiar, that's because yes, it is the music from both Miller's Crossing and The Shawshank Redemption. Small world.

Thank God for Gael-Linn, and please God they'll do as impressive a job on the rest of the Ó Riada back-catalogue. The man deserves that much.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Hey! Kids! Leave That Teacher Alone!

On a day when the News at One on the radio sees a story about a horsie as its most appropriate lead, both the Irish Independent and the Irish Times are leading with stories about profound crises in the schools system.

The Irish Times has got its hands on a Department of Education report, meant to be published last year, that reports deeply distressing levels of illiteracy and innumeracy in primary schools in disadvantaged areas of Cork, Limerick and Dublin. Absenteeism is rife also, and the Times quotes the report's summation of the problems that face teachers in these disadvantaged areas: "Some school communities, it finds, are characterised by high levels of unemployment, single-parent families, low levels of parental education, lack of pre-school facilities, substance abuse, poor diet, absenteeism and a lack of parental involvement in schools." Nice.

The Irish Independent, on the other hand, conducted a survey of 300 national teachers and reported back shocking levels of teacher intimidation, harassment and abuse: " Half the teachers report constant disruption in class or avoidance of work 'often' or 'very often'. Unruliness in the yard is the next most common incident followed by verbal abuse of one pupil by another, which happens 'often' in 42pc of cases and 'occasionally' in a further 36pc. One in every five teachers surveyed say that actual physical assaults on pupils by other pupils 'often' occurred in their school in the current school year and 40pc say such assaults occurred 'occasionally'." Also nice.

Where the INTO survey trumps the Government survey is in laying the blame. Ninety per cent of teachers in the Indo's survey either agreed or strongly agreed with the proposition that all these problems begin in the home.

If parents are not willing to get it into Wayne and Charlotte's little skulls that a good education is their single, solitary, shining hope of escaping the ghetto then those kids are lost. The Governmental report has three reccommendations: more coherent planning, the setting of literacy and numeracy targets and (unspecified, naturally) changes in teaching methods. Which three reccommendations are about as much use as a toothpick in a swordfight. If the Government wants to address the problems in the schools it has to realise that a huge underclass is growing that is growing increasingly alienated from society as a whole, and it will eventually grow to an extent where there will be no common ground at all. And then we'll really find out what class war is.

In this era of concern about child abuse, what greater abuse could a parent perpetrate than to deny his or her child's entitlement to an education and, through education, a chance to a better life? Teachers are not babysitters, nor parents by proxy. If the horses aren't led to water, they are not going to drink. How parents in disadvantaged areas can be persuaded that their chief aim in life should be to ensure their children's lives do not turn out like their own is a difficult question, all the more so if the parents are of the opinion that their own lives are just fine, actually. An Spailpín is only sure of one thing as the barbarians approach the gates - wringing the national hands in the opinion pages of the Irish Times isn't going to do it.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Michael McDowell, Olukunle Eluhanla and Irish Attitudes to Race and Immigration

An Spailpín's spidey sense detects no small amount of back-slapping and smug satisfaction in the media over Minister for Justice Michael McDowell's decision to rescind his earlier deportation order on Nigerian student Olukunle Eluhanla. Mr Eluhanla will now be allowed back to Ireland to complete his Leaving Cert, that famously cruel exam which most of our own young people would go overseas to avoid, although what happens to him after he completes his Leaving Cert remains a matter for conjecture.

An Spailpín remarked to a prescient friend once upon a time that one of the marvellous things about the Irish was our remarkable innate politness, that we never insulted a man or hurt his feelings if we could help it. Same friend curled his lip and corrected my observation to saying that the Irish never insult a man to his face - once his back is turned we have no problems declaring him a blot on the landscape and a menace to all.

So it is with our immigrants. The media cheerleading for multi-cultural Ireland (which means multi-cultural Dublin, of course - you'll still be waiting for your plate of couscous when you stop off at Mother Hubbard's on your way back down the country) is not reflected in the attitude of actual people, who, as that poll on TV3 last night showed, think that unicultural Ireland is just fine, actually. They are loathe to admit it in case people don't think they're sound, but the populace in general thinks that Africans belong in Africa, and not in Artane or Athlone.

Unless the situation is personified in the form of Mr Eluhanla, of course. Then it's all a case of what can we do to save the poor craytur, who has only one dream in life, that of five honours in the Ardteist. Then it's time to break in twain the galling chain and bring Olukunle home. Eamon Dunphy is wrong in his analysis that the public outcry in favour of Olukunle Eluhanla proves that the nation is not inherently rascist - it just proves that there is no rule in Ireland that does not have an exception.

This duality on the Irish nation's part was best explained to An Spailpín by a man he knew in New York many eons ago, a man called Frank, and appropriately so. Frank was a philosopher, and few were the points of life on which Frank did not have an opinion, frankly expressed.

Frank thought that if a black man arrived in Frank's home town in the West of Ireland, the black man would be the most popular man in the town. Everybody would want to be his friend, because he was so different and so cool. Nobody would be able to stop themselves from buying him pints and talking to him about life in the bush. It'd be just fantastic.

If a second black man turned up, that'd be just great too. The people would know that it had to be lonely for Sambo knocking around the town on his own with no-one to talk to about the lions and tigers back home, and now he has a buddy who understands the bush just like Sambo does.

And then a third black guy arrives in the town, and when three of them go down to the local for a couple of pints of an evening - when in Rome you know - the boys would look up from their pints, say "Jesus Christ, would you look at those fucking niggers," and resume the position once again.

Three was the threshold figure for Frank - I've often wondered what it is for Longford. I get the quesy feeling we'll find out one terrible morning though, and then Pat and Marian and Joe will spend the day wringing their hands and wondering how this could ever have happened. Big mystery alright.

One final point - Sham Shmyth has some interesting reflections on the longer reaching implications of Mr McDowell's changing of his mind. Sham administers the customary Dublin media belt of the crozier for those who have their reservations about the imigrant population coming here: "They conveniently ignore the fact that many areas of the services industry such as restaurants and hotels, not to mention retail stores, would grind to a halt if they did not have non-national staff to call upon."

I know for a fact that Sham is not a racist - he couldn't go on half as many junkets to New York if he was - but doesn't his services and retail stores grinding to a halt argument mean that the only reason immigrants should be here is so that the indiginous population have someone to supply them with cigarettes and change their linen on weekends away? What if immigrants coming here don't want to skivvy for the next forty years - how many honours do you need in your Leaving for that? If an immigrant doesn't fancy handing stacking loaves of Brennan's bread in Spar in Milltown does that mean that we, the State, leave him in Lagos to Hell?

If the only reason we're allowing the level of immigration we are is to keep retail stores and restaurants ticking over, does that mean that if you as an immigrant don't want to waitress or chambermaid that we as a nation don't want to have anything to do with you? That is the logical conclusion - if a wave of immigrants arrive who just want to study Irish say, the retail stores and restaurants are nicely buggered, aren't they? Do we have to launch a probe to Mars to see if we can have a few little green men behind the till in Centra? Have we thought this one through at all, or should An Spailpín Fánach just stick to bluffing Gaelic football and writing badly in Irish?

Happy Easter one and all.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Peter O'Toole on Sports and Life

Fantastic interview in this morning's Telegraph with the great man. You have to register for the Telegraph but it's worth it for this interview alone. What a hero.

"Paris is another great weekend. I once did three movies on the trot there and was virtually resident for two years. The ritual was that we would all met at Café Moustache, which was owned by Sidney Chaplin, son of Charlie. Much merriment, of course, but before the morning grew too old there was always a 100-yard challenge race down the tree-lined boulevard for able-bodied males which I am proud to report I once won while still wearing my Donegal tweed jacket."

How could you go wrong?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Arnold Still Racing from the Room

Dublin City University has a Murder, She Wrote appreciation society. It's hard to know how to react to that. Hope it goes well for 'em, I suppose. I do find it very strange, though.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Tórramh Tommy Carr ins an Ros

Beidh Tommy Carr tugtha don seipéal trathnóna amárach, sílim. Tá eis na mionnta fada agus an beirt cailiúl sin, rí-rá agus ruaille buaille, i gcumacht i bPeil an Ros, bhí Tommy bocht á selig ag slua daoine i gcroí na hÉireann, mar a chuireann siadsian orthu féin. Bheul, tá ceann Thomáis acu anois, ach an bhfuil na peileadóirí acu comh maith? Tuairim go dtaitneodh leo go maith dá gcuirfí John O'Mahony isteach mar bainisteoir, ach ar chur éinne an cheist ar Johnno féin? Is bréa le Johnno foireanna maithe a chur chun chinn, in ionad foireanna uafásacha a shabháil ón ndrabhlás. Ab fhéidir le Johnno stop a chur ar foireann Ros Comáin a mbabóga a chaitheamh amach ón gcliabh?

Ta cara an Spailpínigh ina bhainisteoir ar na buachaillí Fé 12 sa bhaile - b'fhéidir go mbeadh eisean níos fearr don Ros ná Johnno. Taitníonn é go maith leis na páistí, agus, nuair atá na paistí go maith, tugann sé uachtar reoite dóibh. Narbh bréa é sin do Laochra Ros?

Soccer is a Game Without Honour

Henry Winter has almost got it right in today's Telegraph about UEFA's current Chelsea Inquisition. Winter points out that if UEFA are serious about taking on the problems that beset the World's Most Popular GameTM, then Jose Mourinho's beloved mindgames are very small beer indeed compared to the lack of ethos in the modern game.

Winter focusses on racism, but racism is a sociological, not a soccer, issue. A man is a racist or he isn't, irrespective of whether or not he's at the soccer or at the opera. The thing that most bedevils soccer is cheating.

Cheating is rife, rampant, and an accepted part of the game now. If you dive in the penalty box when no contact has been made, you are a cheat. You are a man without honour, and should be treated as such. But it happens weekly, and no shame seems attached to it. In fact it's encouraged, sometimes tacitly (the phenomenon of the "streetwise" player), and sometimes blatantly, as per Iain Dowie's remarks prior to Crystal Palace's game against Chelsea at the weekend, to the effect that if Chelsea were going to act the maggot in the penalty box, so would Palace.

When the anti-racism wristband craze was racking up about a month ago, Roy Keane suggested that players wear an anti-diving band, to show that they're against that particular practice. Keane's suggestion was either ignored, or treated as some sort of a joke - he's a crazy facking Mick, inne? - but Keane, as ever, was on the money. An Spailpín was watching some game - I think it was in the European Championships, I'm not sure - where some buckaroo was rolling around on the floor and nothing the matter with him, when the disgust became too much for Johnny Giles up in the commentary box. "It's supposed to a man's game!" said the former Leeds hatchetman.

An Spailpín has a friend who's nephew is learning the ancient game of hurling on a foreign field - London, to be precise, where the child is resident. This cara an Spailpínigh went to see the young lad playing one Sunday morning and was astonished at the rolling around these young lads were doing after the slightest contact. But they knew no better, as that's all they see from their heroes all the time.

The most amazed witness to all this was the grizzled old veteran from Tipp who was training the young lads. This chappie would have learned his hurling in the sixties in the Golden Vale, when every pull was a funeral. In his day, if a man was rolling around after a bit of a trimming, it was a good sign, as it meant he still had the use of his limbs.

Modern soccer is predicated on a charter that protects and encourages cheats and cowards. UEFA ought to be ashamed.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Brat Whisperer

There's a fascinating interview in the Telegraph with Monty Roberts, who is the original "horse whisperer" on whom the movie of a few years ago was based. It seems that Roberts has turned his attention from horses to those other wild animals, children, and now his horse whispering techniques are being used in "inner city" schools to calm dissaffected youth.

When An Spailpín thinks of feral youth the animal he thinks of to soften their coughs is the cat of nine tails sooner than a horsie, but I do see how violence can breed violence. More power to Mr Roberts if he can make it work - as long as someone is trying to put some bit of smacht on the little monsters.

Tom Waits' Top Twenty Records

A fabulously eclectric selection from the fabulously eclectric husband of a Kerrywoman, as published in yesterday's Observer. Ya gotta love what he says about the first time he heard "Nessun Dorma" - "It was like giving a cigar to a five-year old. I turned blue, and I cried." Still don't fancy sitting through Troutmask Replica though.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Oh, Rugger!

An Spailpín has a friend who was heartbroken after Ireland's defeat to France last Saturday week. It was like the first time a man gets stabbed in the back by a girl - his lower lip was quivering, he was a mass of hurt and he just couldn't figure out how it could have happened. It was, he told me, the first time he attended an Irish rugby game where Ireland had lost.

And that explains it. This young man became rugby aware in the professional era, whereas An Spailpín vividly remembers Jimmy Davidson trying to graft "Team Ulster" onto Ireland, the Brian Smyth era, Rob Saunders, the whole damned lot. Today, twenty-four hours after Wales restored their Grand Slam tradition, my friend got a taste of old-style Ireland, and An Spailpín is not looking forward to meeting him tomorrow. Nor for the foreseable Irish rugby future, which looks, in a word, bleak.

The always prescient Keith Duggan sounded a warning note in his Sideline Cut column in yesterday's Irish Times. Duggan reminded us that Ireland picks its rugby team from a tiny, tiny pool of players. When Gordon D'Arcy twanged his hamstring in Rome, there was a big drop in quality in the Irish backline. This contrasts remarkably with France, as Duggan pointed out: "Stripped of his first-choice and then his second-choice centre, Monsieur Laporte had the luxury of capping the never-to-be-forgotten Benoit Baby, who proceeded to run riot in an all too French way. That alone pin-pointed the difference between the two nations."

Ireland, with the occasional overseas exception, draws its international rugby team from two teams, Leinster and Munster. By rights it should be three, including Ulster, who seem to be having certain difficulties embracing all that professionalism entails, but even then, when you're talking about picking a representative side from three teams, you're talking about facing the same selection choices as the Leitrim senior hurling manager - there are only three hurling clubs in Leitrim.

As was rightly pointed out in the TV analysis after Wales stormed through Ireland at Cardiff, it's not like there was a Campbell/Ward argument going on. Maybe you could argue about bringing Trevor Brennan into to the panel to add some steel at the backrow, or certainly argue about Donncha O'Callaghan at Number Eight, but other than that the Irish side was as good a XV as we can put out. And it wasn't good enough, end of story. The only real suprise is how we've been able to compete at the highest level as well as we have for as long as we have.

And it would also be churlish in the extreme to take anything away from what was is a superb Welsh team. Two legends of Welsh rugby, Cliff Morgan and Phil Bennett, have both sung the team's praises for playing in the Welsh way, which means supporting the selection of Shane Williams on the wing. The argument is the argument of wanting to win more than fearing to lose - modern rugby wisdom supports the selection of a behometh like Ben Cohen on the wing, on the basis that not much will get past him. For Wales and Williams, as it was for Australia and David Campese when Alan Jones was in charge, they'll let the other fellas worry about who's getting past whom.

Lions time. A number of Irish players saw their chances of a Lions test place go up in smoke yesterday. Brian O'Driscoll only added to his considerable lustre in Cardiff, while I have more to say on Paul O'Connell anon. On his first season as an Ireland player, Johnny O'Connor was exemplary. On a day when Ireland were lashed and battered by Wales, O'Connor took his inspiration from Dylan Thomas, and raged, raged, against the dying of the light. After an inauspicious start against South Africa and Argentina, O'Connor has now claimed the Irish openside as his own feudal domain, and edges Martyn Williams for my money for the Lions' openside.

Eddie O'Sullivan didn't do Ronan O'Gara's chances of Lions selection any good at all by hauling him off. O'Gara had not been having a good day at the office, but it wasn't one of his nightmare games either, like against France in the World Cup. However, once his own national coach lost faith in him he will have few singing for him at the Lions selection meetings, and Sir Clive Woodward's quote in this morning's Sunday Times that he is "fully confident" of Jonny Wilkinson touring means that Ronan O'Gara is now in very real danger of watching the Lions on the telly at home in Cork.

Geordan Murphy hasn't done himself any favours either. The Lions have seven games before the first test at Christchurch (including, disgracefully, one on home soil - does tradition mean nothing to people?) and Murphy will need to step up very high indeed to make a claim for the fifteen shirt. I have a surprise selection for fifteen myself, but first let me address some thought to the captaincy.

O'Driscoll has been favourite since the season began and, as Ireland collapsed all around him, he only added more and more to his reputation as the best rugby player in the world. However, O'Driscoll is still a back, and great captains generally live in the pack. The way Ireland finished their Six Nations campaign will have done him no favours of course, but Paul O'Connell remains a very tempting surprise selection as Lions captain. If you can find a book setting a tasty price on O'Connell as captain, take it.

There is another reason to pick O'Connell of course, and it has to do with rugby's unwritten laws. Do you think when Colin Meads saw O'Connell fighting with Robert Sidoli on the ground in Cardiff he immediately turned off his telly and sent the grandchildren from the room? Not hardly. Pine Tree would only have thoughtfully stroked a sentimental scar, and relished the tour ahead.

PROBABLE LIONS FIRST TEXT XV: Patterson (Scotland); Robinson (England), O'Driscoll (Ireland), Henson (Wales), Williams (Wales); Jones (Wales), Peel (Wales); Jenkins (Wales), Thompson (England), White (England); O'Connell (Ireland, captain), Grewcock (England); White (Scotland), O'Connor (Ireland), Corry (England).

If Wilkinson is fit he'll play at stand-off half, of course, but I'm afraid to say I think poor Jonny is done for. I wouldn't pick Thompson myself, but he's Sir Clive's boy and, at the end of the day, this is Sir Clive's team. Chris Patterson will be on most people's lists, if he's on anybody's list, as one-half utility back and one-half token Scotchman, but personally I like the man's style, and it's not his fault that he's on such a poor international team. Lions tours are about nothing if not romance, so Patterson is my pick to come from nowhere and set the Lions on fire. After all, it didn't do Tony O'Reilly any harm.

Friday, March 11, 2005

On Being a Ballinaman

The Ballinaman is not like any other man, just as the town of Ballina is not like any other town. To have a high opinion of one's own place is not new, of course - the late singer Frank Sinatra had great time for New York, often remarking that if you could make it there, you'd make anywhere. Percy French wrote movingly of Dromcolliher, finding the fact that there's only one house in Dromcolliher, for hardware and bacon and tay, not a bug but a feature, as the computer programmers say.

That's all very well for the Chairman of the Board and Roscommon's Poet Laureate. The Ballinaman indulges them, and his immaculate manners preclude him for pointing out the error. It was bad enough that Fate did not see fit to make Ballinamen out of Mr Sinatra or Mr French - there is no need for actual Ballinamen to add insult to injury by rubbing it in.

The Ballinaman sees the grand scheme. He can take in the big picture. When James Wallace Melvin left his home on Garden St, Ballina, on the last Saturday in August, 1886, on his way to Barney's Boreen and his founding of the very Gaelic football club that will give all Ballinamen and women the chance to grace the capital for a day or two this coming St Patrick's Day, he was asked by a fellow Ballinaman where he was going. "Pat," said JWM, giving the answer that is etched on all Stephenite hearts, "I'm off to set up a club that will shake all Ireland."

Anyone else would have settled for maybe the junior title after a few years and maybe a run in the Intermediate when some of the fellas are a bit older. Not a Ballinaman, who starts where he aims to finish - at the top.

The Ballinaman enjoys that trait that the French identify as élan and Spanish as Duarte. Even in his everyday speech the Ballinaman is an artist - specifically an impressionist. Just as Monet and Renoir identified the art and the beauty in the everyday in nineteenth century painting, and as Ravel did in music, so the Ballinaman elevates even the most basic of human intercourses to the level of Great Art.

Consider the Dubliner's entire conversational gambit which can consist solely of the words "all" and "right": interrogative: "awri'?"; assenting: "awri', yeah"; threatening; "awri'?"; exuberant: "awri, yeah!"; curious: "awri'?", and so on. Consider the Corkman and Kerryman who sometimes hardly speak at all but merely wink and twitch at each other, perhaps selling several cattle or sheep in the process. And compare that the to the glory of conversation in Ballina town, where the heights are aimed for and surpassed.

Take yourself back to your schooldays, when you cowered before a greater schoolboy Power than your own in Scoil Padraig, or, as it was evocatively called, the Boys' School - perhaps because the notion of anything as fragile as a girl passing those gates and surviving rather beggared belief - and remember how you were addressed, the richly beautiful language used to get across the most base of threats, that of physical violence. "I'll hit ya so many thumps you'll be begging me to start kicking ya." "I'll break ya up like a bar of chocolate"; "I'll open ya up like a bag of Tayto"; "I'll make more chips out of your teeth than they see in a week down in Caffola's." Impressionism, that school of art where the natural beauty of everyday life is cherished, reaches its fullest flower in the streets and schoolyards of Ballina.

Or it could be that you were the stripling that was doing the threatening - for they too are Ballinamen. If you were one of those worthies, I greet you too in fraternity in these days of days, the Eve of Ballina Glory. And while I'm it, might I take the opportunity to congratulate you on your being able to read? I would have given long odds on that proposition while quaking in terror inside my duffel coat in the nineteen-seventies.

But it isn't all dialectic, colloquy and fine living - the Ballinaman has had to put his shoulder to the wheel too, and shed tears real and salty. Like any town in the West of Ireland, Ballina has seen hardships. Once you're eaten of Archie's curried chips, now nothing but a golden and spicy memory, it's hard to return to look Nigella in the eye.

She hands you a plate of calamari fritti, you think it's some kind of soap. You give the halloumi to the cat, who's glad to get it. "How about Fetta Gnocchi?" asks the domestic goddess, beginning to despair. "Didn't he play for Juventus a few years ago?" you ask. "You know, when Brady was still in Turin?"

And as Nigella collapses into a weeping heap, you take her by hand, shush her sobbing (because a Ballinaman always knows how to treat a lady) and you tell here that once upon a time there was a chipper in the West of Ireland that made the most perfect curried chips in the world - those perfect, old style chips cut from real potatoes and fried in real grease, smothered lovingly in a biting and impish curried sauce and then - and here was genius! - laced throughout with great big lumps of tomato, onion, mushroom and even on occasion slivers of chicken, all set to go off in a fusillade of post-porter taste sensation.

Persons of delicate digestion, for whom leading doctors had strictly regimented a diet of prunes and shredded wheat in gripe water, would punch granny in the mouth and kick her as she was falling for a punnet of Archie's curried chips. Archie was not a native Ballinaman and his shop is long gone, but when it was there Ballina led the world in early am cuisine. I don't know what happened to him but Archie, if you're reading this and you're in Croker on St Patrick's Day, I hope you have one hell of a time. You made a lot of people very happy for years and years and years.

As I hope all Ballina men and women are happy by five o'clock on St Patrick's Day, from rogues and rascals to princes and potentates. Before Minister Cullen arrived recently to give us four fine miles of new road (if he'd given us four more furlongs we could run the Grand National), it was usual for directions to Ballina to be given in distance from the main road. Not any more - with the grace of God and His saints, especially Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, whose feast day we celebrate when the All-Ireland Club Final is played, that main road will by sundown lead directly into Ballina and run from the Moy to the sea and the broad Atlantic itself. And James Wallace Melvin will finally have his club that will have shaken all Ireland. Go on, the town.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Is Ait an Mac É an Laoch

Léirigh Laochra Gael ar Seán Purcell an oíche seo caite ar TG4, agus ní haon ionadh é. Laoch mór na Gaillimhe agus na Gaeil ba ea Purcell, ar Foireann an Chéad agus Foireann na Mílaoise; buaigh sé Craobh na hÉireann i 1956; cuireadh an "Terrible Twins" air agus ar a chara ón gcliabh, Frank Stockwell; agus, b'fhéidir níos tabhachtach ná na cinn sin, léirigh an scannán Peil na Terrible Twins chun scíleanna peile a theaspaint agus a choimead ar scannán. Tuigtear gur léirigh an scannan ar iománaíocht Christy Ring scíleanna iománaíochta a theaspaint, agus tuigtear as seo comh laidir atá Seán Purcell i Stár an Chumainn Lúchleas Gael.

Ach thug An Spailpín faoi deara cé gur rug Gaillimh agus Seán Purcell ar an gCraobh i 1956, theip orthu i gcoinne Corcaigh i 1957, i gcoinne Áth Cliath i 1958, agus i gcoinne Ciarraí i 1959. Bhí íar-imreoir Chiarraí ar an gclár ag moladh Purcell go mórmhór, ach bíonn an Ciarrach i gconaí go deas lena namhad fad atá an bua beirthe aige tar eis an cluiche. Ní chuimhin liom foireann Gaillimhe 1964-66 á moladh comh mhór ag an Ríocht, an foireann Gaillimhe a chur an Ríocht faoin bhfód. Is scéal eile é sin, gan dabht.

Feicim dhá rud tabhachtacht as seo. Is é an chéad rud ná, más mhaith leat clú agus cail ort mar pheiledeoir, ba cheart duit an Craobh a bhuaigh. Is cuma gur theip ar Gaillimh trí bhliana le cheile mar thog siad an Craobh i 1956, agus tá siad gan smál as sin amach, is cuma cé mheid craobh a theip orthu tar eis sin. Ach b'fhéidir go bhfuil an dara rud níos tabhachtach don anam an CLG, agus an lucht feachana freisin.

San lá atá inniu ann, feiceann an ceamara gach liathróid tithe, gach pointe caillte, gach seans imithe go deo. Agus bíonn siad go leor á phlé ag Michael Lyster agus na saineolaí ar an Sunday Game, agus insíonn daoine do Des Cahill ar an Luain comh uafásach atá an fear sin nó an fear seo. An mbeadh scéal Seán Purcell comh laidir i Stár an Chumainn Lúchleas Gael dá mbeach seans ag Pat Spillane a scian a chur air, agus na trí chluiche le cheile ina theip orthu? Agus an bhfuil sé níos fearr go bhfuil Purcell comh laidir mar atá sé, go bhfuil an scéal iontach seo againne ar beirt chara ón gcliabh a thog an bóthar ón Sráid an Easpaig mar paistí go dtí Craobh na hÉireann buaite acu mar fir, gan sáneolaí a insint dúinn go raibh an t-adh leo san gcluiche sin nó san gcluiche seo agus ní bhlian maith ab ea é ar an oiread?

Is gá dúinn ár laochra, agus ár scéalta múscalta. Uaireanta cailltear níos mó ná faightear nuair atá an iomarca eolais againn. Uaireanta, cosuil leis an fear ins an scannán, ba cheart duinn nach an scéal ach an fínscéal a chur síos.

The Best Backline in the World?

Dick Best, the former England boss, has a thought-provoking article in this morning's Telegraph about the potential banana-skins dressed in sky and and navy blue awaiting the Irish and Welsh rugby teams in Dublin and Edinburgh this weekend, while all hearts and minds are on Cardiff on March 19. A lot of the article is an expression of the usual pieties (one of the many marvellous things about England's fall from glory is reading the likes of Dickie writing about how great it is for the marvellous old competition that England are not, in fact, dominating all around them. How Dickie must weep when he types those words) but Dickie makes one prescient comment about the Irish team that gives the sensible Irish rugby supporter that discommoding feeling of someone walking on one's grave.

"Their forwards have struggled to dominate, other than against Scotland, and the back play has been almost a one-man show," says Dickie. We've been hearing so often about Ireland having the best backline in the world that the nation is inclined to forget that best backline in the world exists only on paper, and that the backline that will line out across the paddock in Dublin 4 at two pm next Saturday is very far from the best in the world.

The absence of Gordon D'Arcy has taken the edge off the Irish backline. An Spailpín is not sold completely on D'Arcy's Godhead, and would pick Henson ahead of him for the Lions first XV, but it's hard to deny that without D'Arcy the Irish backs have lost some of their oomph. O'Gara remains a good but not great stand-off half, but Maggs is getting older now, and is now confined utterly to tackling and crash ball moves.

At least the presence of Kevin Maggs moves O'Driscoll out to outside centre, where his genius will find fuller expression. The question is what is O'Driscoll to think when he looks to his right, and sees Girvo waiting there?

Eddie O'Sullivan's loyalty to Girvan Dempsey is touching, but it's hard to imagine even Mamma Dempsey claiming her boy as some sort of attacking threat. Dempsey's great talent is his solidity as the last line of defence, but why then play him as the last point of attack? Surely if Girvo's place is indeed inviolate on Planet Eddie, wouldn't it make more sense to move Geordan Murphy to the wing, and give the 15 jersey to Girvo?

The daring move, of course, would be to drop Girvo entirely, leave Murphy at fifteen and pick either Munster's Seán Payne or Harlequins' Gavin Duffy on the right wing. Happily, the coach isn't daring by his nature, and two matches away from a Grand Slam is not the time to change horses on the chariot. But there is that horribly worrying feeling that the pack takes longer to start than a Ford Corsair, and that the Best Backline in the World ain't what it used to be.

The story of the mercurial French is more myth than reality of course, especially in the level playing fields of the professional era, and it's reasonable to expect Ireland to win by four as the bookies predict. But An Spailpín can somehow hear the crunch of those feet on the gravel of his grave, and it makes him just slightly uneasy for Saturday.

Banana Republic

The Travers Report is causing quite the brouhaha, isn't it? Vincent Browne was showing his usual calm and restraint in yesterday's Irish Times, when he claimed that the State's taking of pensions from persons in nursing homes was the biggest instance of theft in Ireland since the Plantation of Ulster. Pat Rabbitte, with his usual calm and restraint, claims in today's Irish Times that "if it was any other jurisdiction in the western world, Mr Martin would have resigned by now."

Good thinking, Pat. The system of claiming pensions in lieu of payment for nursing home fees has been in place since 1976, making it the responsibility of at least ten and perhaps even fifteen Ministers for Health, and Pat decides to pick Mícheál Martin out of the field? It's hardly the case of Mr Rabbitte putting political opportunism before the good of the State - if he were to be opportunistic about it, surely Mr Rabbitte would turn his guns on his party colleague Mr Howlin - after all, it's not like Mr Howlin doesn't have his guns turned on Mr Rabbitte.

I also read that the Government is facing a two billion Euro bill for compensation for this "greatest theft since the Plantation of Ulster." An excessive amount, surely? If you were in a nursing home in 1976 you surely walk the Elysian Fields now, where neither Earthly care nor Earthy compo can disturb your rest.

Of course, if our public representitives, elected to serve the State, were really concerned about about this twenty-nine protracted robbery that no-one ever noticed, surely root and branch civil service restructuring is their first port of call? The evidence for waste and outright stupidity in the Civil Service is anecdotal but overwhelming - surely a good, hearty culling and starting again is called for? Unfortunately, as in most under-developed states, there are such a tranche of people employed in the Civil Service that they are more than able to revenge themselves on the man that would cut their jobs by cutting his damned job at the polling station next time out. You'd also have a huge crew of people on the dole whose chances of competing, after twenty years' institutionalisation in Civil Service best practice, with some computer whizz kids in India or China are slim at the very best.

An Spailpín doesn't see anyway to turn, and he is not looking forward as a taxpayer to footing a two billion Euro claim to compensate some hoor for the suffering of an uncle whom same hoor probably didn't even go and visit. There is only one solution for the right-thinking man or woman - book this flight to Ghana and start again. May God have mercy on us all.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Cows With Guns

Just fantastic. You need speakers.

I Think It's a Record

This morning, at An Spailpín's bus-stop, admittedly and undeniably close to the city centre, five, count them, one, two, three, four, five, buses all turned up at once. Two 130s, a 42, a 27, and the number of the fifth eluded me.

Five is a lot of buses. Meaning, of course, that when a lot of poor hoors were wondering where in damnation their bus was and how in Hell would they get to work, the answer was that the buses were all half empty in Dublin 3, wasting their time. I wonder is this a record?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Baloney Sandwiches

An Spailpín notes, with his basilisk eye suitably jaundiced and his eyebrow suitably arched, that Mr Brody Sweeney, the businessman behind O'Brien's Sandwich Bars, has joined Fine Gael and has hopes of running for elective office in the next general election.

Well, bully for Brody. To serve his nation is any Irishman's highest ambition, of course. I am interested, however, in how much media coverage Mr Sweeney has been receiving - he was on Matt Cooper on Today FM last night, and was being rasped at by the Dunph on Newstalk early this morning. And the question I ask is - why?

It is a rhetorical question, of course. The reason for the media excitement at the announcement of Mr Sweeney's desire to serve has to do with his place in the pantheon of Irish Business Heroes, among such giants as Mick O'Leary of Ryanair and that guy that's behind Ballygowan, the very thought of whom make Ireland's aspirant merchant classes come over all hot and shivery.

Which is fine, insofar as it goes. Mr Sweeney has made many dollars from his sandwich bars, and, as An Spailpín has hopes to turn a few shillings himself before he's called across the River Jordan, I'm in no position to complain about a man who has done just what I hope to do. But were I to be hailed as some sort of hero, as has happened for Mr Sweeney and his "Irish success story," I hope I would at least have the good graces to blush in embarrassment, if not outright shame.

O'Brien's sandwiches are a joke. They are ridiculously expensive, and, unlike the famous paint, do not do exactly what they say on the tin.

Conduct the following experiment. Proceed to your nearest O'Brien's - and there will be one near you, those hateful places are ubitquitous in modern Ireland - and order a ham sandwich. Pay handsomely for same, to the tune of four yo-yos or so. Retire to your laboratory to inspect same. Among the bread, butter, tomatoes, lettuce, onions and assorted vegitation and flora, how much actual ham have you got? One slice? That's not a lot, is it? How much salad have you got? Lots and lots? Hmm. Did you order a salad sandwich? No? How odd, then, if you ordered a ham sandwich, that you have so little ham and such a lot of salad? I wonder do they do a smoke and mirror sandwich? It would be more like it.

An Spailpín has only two morsels of advice for the electorate of Dublin North-East. The first is to caveat emptor, of course, and the second is to pack their own lunches.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Fíorscéal. Is docha.

Bhí ceoltóir Meiriceánach ann uair amháin agus thug sé cuairt ar Eorpach ar turas cheoil. Ba bhréa mór le cheol ar an stíl baroque leis, agus ar a chamchuairt ba bhréa leis ceol baroque, ceol GF Handel and JS Bach, a sheint ina cheolchoirm.

Ach tháinig an drochlá ar an bPoncán cheolta seo i gcathair éigin san Ghéarmáin, nó san Fhrainc, b'fhéidir. Ghoideadh a mala, agus gach aon píoc cheoil a bhí aige. Cad a dheanfadh sé? Chuir sé glaoch teilefón ar a bhean cheile sa bhaile í Meiriceá agus d'iarr sé uirthi teacht suas chuig a sheomra oibre agus a chuid scóranna a chur chuige mar feacs. Chuaigh an bhean insteach sa sheomra, ach cad a fhuair sí ach gach scór a chumadh i rith stár cheoil an domhain. Cad a dheanfadh sí?

Chuaigh an bhean bhocht ar ais agus d'iarr sí ar a fear cheile cad a dheanfadh sí - an gcuirfeadh sí gach scór chuige, nó cad a dheanfadh sí?

"Listen honey," ar seisean, "if it ain't baroque don't fax it."