Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fools' Gold? The Sporting Year in Review and Preview

I am the monarch of the sea...Here is Eddie O’Sullivan. Here is the Triple Crown trophy. See Eddie. See the trophy. See Eddie make a right gom of himself parading around Twickenham last St Patrick’s Day with the (newly minted, by the way – don’t think JPR or those boys every saw a goose dish the like of it) trophy, the second Triple Crown won by Ireland in the past three years. France and Wales have both won Grand Slams in those same three years but here’s Eddie O’Sullivan going around like the guy that broke the bank at Monte Carlo. Who’s zooming who, as that old song went?

An Spailpín cannot deny that the years have made him bitter and the gargle’s dimmed his brain, but really – are the Irish sporting public the victims of one of the greatest snow jobs in sports history? Eddie O’Sullivan is coaching a team that is favourite to win the Six Nations Championship for the first time in over twenty years and he himself is current favourite to coach the Lions in South Africa in 2009 but O’Sullivan himself, egomanic and all as he appears to be, is aware that he will have to clear many’s the hurdle between now and then.

Starting on February in Cardiff, of course. The collective mental collapse of the Welsh team this year, as so sadly epitomised by that rambling TV performance of Gareth Thomas' in the autumn of 2005, is like nothing An Spailpín can remember or has read about, and perhaps its most devastating legacy is how badly it tainted Wales’ tremendous achievement in winning their first Grand Slam since 1978 earlier that spring. What a thrilling performance it was, and how begrudged it has been by those who couldn’t tear themselves away from the propagandists of the bully beef school of modern rugby. When an artist with the ball in hand can no longer set a stadium on fire it’s time to give up on Webb Ellis’ game, and the 2005 Welsh reminded us all of just how devastating a talented backline that’s given freedom to run can be.

Of course, we in Ireland have our own backline too, which we are constantly reminded is the best in the world. Hmm. In fact, the Irish team, made as it is more or less in toto from the Leinster backs and the Munster forwards, should be more than the sum of its parts, just as lunatic soup is considerably stronger than its ingredients of porter and cider. But just as An Spailpín implores his readership never, ever to drink that foul concoction, so too does he implore the greatest of caution in placing faith in the Irish backline, which, at time of typing, is looking likely to be: Murphy; Horgan, D’Arcy, O’Driscoll, Trimble; O’Gara, Stringer. In the event of an injury from 15-11, Dempsey goes in at 15 and Murphy or Horgan are moved as appropriate. In the event of an injury to O’Gara, O’Sullivan phones in the forfeit, in the interest of national humiliation not being televised live if we can help it.

Each man of that seven is talented of course, in his own way, but it’s far from a classically talented line, in the way that each man has his little quirks, to say that least. Horgan must be as slow a winger as exists in the professional game, for instance. Murphy’s defence has been worrying at times, while Jim Glennon, TD, made the interesting point on the radio recently that one of the reasons the Leinster pack doesn’t get the mushing that always seems in store for it is because Leinster play with four flankers – the two boys attached to the scrum, and O’Driscoll and D’Arcy beside them. O’Driscoll is as good as we’ve seen, but the totality of the backline – if that’s an intelligible phrase – is a little more brittle than our own media would perhaps lead us to believe.

How brittle, exactly, we may find out in Cardiff, as the Welsh appear to have put psychosis behind them and, after so many barren years, kicked new life into their infamous out-half factory. James Hook, the Ospreys’ fly-half who came on for Stephen Jones in the autumn international against Australia, was a revelation and will surely start at 12 behind Stephen Jones against Ireland. Henson goes back to fifteen, Thomas and Shane Williams on the wings, the best scrum-half in the world flicking it out to them – what’s not to like?

Where Ireland should edge it is in the pack, of course, with Denis Leamy the find of the year and Paul O’Connell now one of the truly great figures in world rugby. However, Ireland have no depth at all, and if, God forbid, injury should strike, big, big gaps will appear, gaps that will be ripped open by Welshmen full of hwyl and the thrilling sight and sound of Katherine Jenkins singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.

The Irish could be arriving in Croke Park with their tails between their legs yet, which would be a pity. It’s very hard not to feel conflicted still about this development – one benefit, of the few, will be that the greatest of all international anthems, La Marseillaise, will ring out across the hallowed turf, but everything else that happens – well, it’s been some time since An Spailpín has looked forward to an international rugby match as little. I suppose we should count ourselves lucky Victor Laszlo isn't there to lead the Garda Band, or else we'd be in for a right chasing.

As for the game that Croke Park was built for, it’ll be another fascinating year, thanks be to God. Administrators bend over backwards to make things difficult and disciplinary issues still plague the game but the Gaelic football championship speaks to the Irish soul as no other event, and for that we must be grateful.

Of course, while it may be part of us, that does not mean that we are very good at pinning down what exactly is that we’ve just witnessed, with Championship 2006 being a case in point. The Championship was won when Kerry beat Armagh in the quarter-final, of course. This is clear looking back. It is to Mayo’s lasting shame, and something that An Spailpín hopes John O’Mahony has noticed, that Kerrymen are completely correct when they remarked that their one year of hunger, after the loss to Tyrone in 2005, proved a greater motivation for Kerry than Mayo’s half-century and counting was to Mayo. Something to mull over there.

The rest of what the Kerrymen have been saying is all soft-chat, disinformation and black ops, of course. They’re fierce cute that way down in the Kingdom you know. For instance, their long and loud whinging – out of the sides of their mouths – about unfair northern tactics in recent years prevented the correct analysis of their win over Armagh, which is that the Kingdom out-puked the Orchard County. Kerry hit harder and wanted it more in 2006, just as it was the other way around in the second half of 2002.

Of course, Armagh and Tyrone did themselves no favours either by yapping all the time about systems and training and preparation and the south being twenty years behind in terms of progress and then wondering why their players didn’t get any praise. It’s because you spend all your time jawing about systems and training and preparation chaps. Slow learners, to quote a former Armagh player of a long yester year. And it was unfair, because it led to a lot of bitterness that was unnecessary and it denied stellar players like Steven McDonnell, Clarke, McGeeney et al to maybe get the recognition their tremendous skills deserved.

But standards in GAA journalism is a fight for another day. Now, in the bleak midwinter, when Gaels assemble over hot whiskey and cold black porter, all counties will hope again. Nowhere does hope bloom brighter – although that cagey tribe would be loathe indeed to admit it – than in Roscommon where, after over a decade of misery, the minors won the All-Ireland in a thriller and Kiltoom claimed Roscommon’s first club title in fifteen years. Even now, in his lonesome Dublin exile, An Spailpín can hear the Siren Song of the Ross:

Sligo, Leitrim, going through the motions;
Galway, Mayo, filling up with notions.
We’re staying off the porter, we’re reading books and bowlin',
We’re don’t go out at night, not even Frankie Dolan.
The Ross will see Sam shining bright
In Jimmy Murray’s Bar on Monday night.

Yes. Well. We’ll have to wait and see on that one, won’t we? If you hold a gun to your correspondent’s head and ask him who will lift Sam, there can be only one answer – the County Mayo of course, not least because after all the trauma of the past three years you might as well pull the trigger if Mayo don’t win it – you’d be doing your miserable Spailpín a favour. It’ll be good gas to see how the Mayo – Galway game falls in relation to the date of the general election. If Johnno has to face the polls after Mayo ship a walloping, not only will he not get elected, he’ll be doing damn well to save his deposit, in the unprofessional opinion of An Spailpín Fánach. But if Mayo do get a result – well, it’s game on, isn’t it?

At this stage your faithful correspondent must confess that all judgement is gone when it comes to football. Even to think about it is agony, having come so far. But, in the event of something terrible happening, and Mayo somehow not winning the thing, here’s a tip for anyone out there that likes a bit of a punt: all this myth about a big three is past tense. It’s hype. Yesterday’s news. It ain’t so. Sam is there for those who dare, and if you want a value for money punt on the All-Ireland football 2007, go with – God forgive me – Cork. Billy might be a hard man to love, but he knows what he’s at, and he’s not far away now. Remember where you heard it first. Happy New Year.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Adventures in the Motor Trade

An Spailpín Fánach has been enjoying an adventure with the motor trade, five days from Christmas and the season of good will. It’s been both instructive and enlightening, exactly what we want from all our adventures.

The situation is this – my lovely ten year old Corolla was broken into and ruined during the summer, as the miscreants attempted to drive the poor old yoke away and ended up simply destroying the steering instead. The criminals remain at large to this day … but An Spailpín had to go off and buy a new motor, the old Corolla now being reduced to scrap.

I bought an 02 Ford Focus – good, reliable car. An Spailpín is not bothered about motors as such, he just likes it when they start in the morning, and asks for little more. The garage give me €1500 against the ruin of a once-proud Corolla, and I was happy enough with the deal.

The first time I smelt anything vaguely resembling rodent about the deal was when the tax office rang and told me that, because I had bought the car on July 29th, the full tax for July had to be paid. An Spailpín reflected it would not have killed the garage to have tipped me off on this point – they’d know less, you know – but I let it pass, as my Lord and my God admonishes me to do.

However, as the seasons changed, I noticed that the car was suffering from windshield condensation more than somewhat, and this was causing me distress, to say nothing of piles of bunched up newspapers in the cabin from sopping the thing out. Your correspondent put this down to bad luck, and shed a further tear for his lovely Corolla. However, when I put my hand under the passenger seat looking for a map the other day and found it as wet as the Bog of Allen, I realised that this was serious. Therefore, I made an appointment with the garage where I bought the thing 144 days ago, and left her in this morning.

When I left in the keys, the lady behind the counter hit me with the bad news that I had a three month warranty on the car, not the year long warranty that An Spailpín was so convinced he had that he did not bring the purchase documents with him. This was a disappointment to me, and I shall be checking the documents v carefully when I return to Spailpín HQ this evening. But the car was there, it still had to be fixed, and I let them away.

The garage rang me again at half-nine. They told me that they didn’t know how long it would take to figure out how this leak is occurring. It could take one hour, it could take three hours. However, the charge per hour is seventy-five Euro, and was sir willing to stump up?

No, I told them. Sir is not.

If I had wrapped the damn thing around a tree and a team of men with welding gear were going Oscar Goldman on the vehicle, then maybe, but €75 remains steep even in that case. Seventy-five sovs for some buck with his hands his pockets to look in the window ever now and again to see if she’s fogging up? I think not. I told the garage that I would call up this afternoon, take the motor out of their way and get someone else to fix it.

The garage rang back at half-eleven. Turns out somebody in there rang Ford HQ just for pig-iron, and Ford HQ told them to stick a plate over the pollen filter and Bob’s your uncle. This took ninety minutes’ work – however, the garage, in its unlimited munificence, would only charge me the half-hour. Is that agreeable to sir?

“Why, that’s wonderful. I’ll be up this evening to collect it. Thank you so much,” replied a sadder and wiser Spailpín Fánach.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Moriarity the Mystery Cat

A woejus bastard, by all accountsAn Spailpín Fánach has been having a bad day. Perhaps this would explain my confusion at the publication today of the Moriarty Tribunal Report, or, to give it its full title – big breath – the “Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians and Related Matters Part I.” The Part I is significant, as we shall discover.

There has been a big media brouhaha over this publication – Charlie Bird, RTÉ’s Chief News Correspondent, was on Morning Ireland this morning, breathlessly telling the nation what to expect from the Tribunal report – or at least, that part of the nation that a, doesn’t know full well already and b, still gives a toss. Charlie Bird fascinates An Spailpín, you know – how many other journalists need a ghost writer to write their “auto” biography? His own life story, and he can’t tell it? I don’t know. But back to the other Charlie.

It seems clear that the Moriarty Tribunal has identified our late Taoiseach as a bastard, a bollocks and a son of a bitch. Fair enough. As the good book says, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Paul to the Romans, 3:23, you know). But there was one name that An Spailpín heard on a report this morning that’s been puzzling him all day, so I thought I’d throw it up here and see if anyone salutes.


Why isn’t anybody talking about Lowry?

Former Fine Gael TD and party fundraiser extraordinaire Michael Lowry is the reason that we have the Tribunals in the first place. If it weren’t for Lowry’s gross incompetence in the stroke department, not only would Charlie have got the State funeral he got anyway, but there might even have been human sacrifice thrown in as well, with maybe the whole thing turning into a riotous bacchanal just this side of a Mel Gibson picture. But instead Charlie was caught in the undertow in the Lowry mess and now the coffin dancers are limbering up once again for a jig and a reel.

Which is another part of what’s bothering your faithful correspondent. It’s the Part I of this report that I mentioned earlier – why is Haughey Part I, and not Lowry?

Now, the obvious answer is that it’s because Haughey is by far the bigger of the fish – he did the State some service, whereas Lowry did it none at all. But the thing is, the Tribunal has been dealing with Lowry and Lowry-related issues for far longer than it has Haughey. Also, Lowry was in there first. In fact, it’s been some years since Lowry was before his honour so you’d think the typing could have Ben Dunne (oh God, I’m good) by now. But it’s not. Instead we get the usual stuff about Haughey that the world and his wife knows already and that doesn’t matter a tu’penny damn to anyone’s life. And if anybody thinks all this chat does make a difference, maybe he or she can drop me a line and explain it, as I’m damned if I can see.

The only reasons that I can figure out for giving Charlie another couple of welts in the guts and kicking the Lowry thing even further into touch is because either a, Lowry is still alive and might remember where a few bodies are buried yet, b, Fine Gael is in such a heap that the spotlight is taken off them out of sheer pity for the wretched of the earth or c, both of the above. But that’s all I can figure. If anybody reading this thinks that Irish political graft and corruption is over now that Charlie Haughey is six feet under, drop me an email – I have a little parcel of land you might be interested in buying.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Law and Order? More Like Laurel and Hardy

What a terrible week it’s been in Ireland. Murder is now a common or garden occurrence, with €10,000 reported as the price of an assassination.

Earlier this week, your faithful correspondent was thinking of calling for Internment. An Spailpín is always intrigued, when reading in the papers that such and such a person was “known to the Gardaí,” especially when they can list off as worrying a list of offences/accusations has have been associated with Martin Hyland, who was shot dead in his bed in Finglas on Tuesday. Mr Hyland “was known to every detective in the city,” reported the Irish Times on Wednesday. Mr Hyland “had an impressive property portfolio and was more involved in gun crime and top-end drug dealing than any other living criminal of his generation.”

And every time he reads something like that, a voice goes off in An Spailpín Fánach’s hopelessly innocent little head that says “well, if he was known to be such a gangster, why in God’s name wasn’t he in prison?”

So An Spailpín thought of using this platform to call for a return to internment, that all these pookies be rounded up and camped out in the Curragh, as in the dear old days of the 1930s, 50s and 70s, and see if that would settle their hash. Happily, An Spailpín has been a little too busy for writing lately, and this has now saved my blushes. Because it is now clear to An Spailpín that this will never happen.

It’s the Pádraig Nally case that’s made it clear. Nothing to do with the case itself, but to do with one detail of the case, which is this: the late John “Frog” Ward, aged forty-two, had approximately eighty previous convictions over 38 court appearances.

Eighty previous convictions. Think about that for a minute.

That means that, presuming the convictions dated from when Mr Ward turned 18, Mr Ward broke the law on average 5.71 times a year, every year, for fourteen years. Those are facts – he was convicted in open court. These aren’t accusations or bias or anything else – the court records are there. And yet, with eighty previous convictions, he was still running around loose until he met his end.

And that then begs the question – just how many convictions to you need to have before the courts decide that the penny isn’t dropping for you, that you are a persistent offender, and that it’s time to lock you up for good? 100? 150? 200?

This puts An Spailpín’s internment theory into its proper perspective. There is no point in locking people up on the presumption that they have no regard for the law when we have people whose thirty-eight court appearances and eighty previous convictions prove beyond all doubt that they have no respect for the law, and yet are still free to roam where they will.

It’s a joke, and we’re kidding ourselves. God help us all in this banana republic, ten days from Christmas.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Monday, December 11, 2006

An Unfortunate Realisation

Number 53, who rows well, and livesAn Spailpín Fánach got his new 2007 Office Diary today. Black bound covers, A5, one day per page, lovely. And as I was enthusiastically filling in the significant dates around which my working life of next year will revolve, I suddenly wondered: was Ben Hur half as happy anytime they gave him a new oar? Oh God oh God oh God....

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Genius in Our Midst - Time to Acknowledge Super Mario

Guth an phobailAn Spailpín Fánach was disappointed to read a rather sniffy profile of Mario Rosenstock, eminence grise behind the Gift Grub comedy sketches on the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show on Today FM. For An Spailpín’s dollar, Rosenstock is the most inspired and reliable comedian we have produced in Ireland for quite some time, and deserves to be acknowledged as such.

This acknowledgement will be some time coming from the Phoenix. As well as a biographical profile of Rosenstock - that sounded dreadfully familiar to one written by Stephen Price in the Sunday Times Culture Section a week or two ago - the Phoenix sniffed at Rosenstock for “lack of bite” and a vulgar need to try and turn a few bob from the gig.

To condemn a comedian for lack of bite, by which is meant a lack of a political viewpoint, seems rather beside the point to An Spailpín’s old grey head. Surely it’s the same as chastising Francis Fukuyama was not writing more zingers in his copy? I would like to think that if some comedian did possess the sort of political insight that is apparently currently desirable in a comedian, he or she would hang up their microphone, put away the Peter Cook DVDs and maybe run for election, so the nation could benefit. Wouldn’t it benefit them that much better than trying to do funny voices in the early morning rush hour?

Not that there isn’t more to Rosenstock than the funny voices, although his gift for mimicry is quite stunning, just as the late Dermot Morgan’s was. Anyone that thinks that writing a Bertie Ahern parody version of Lily Allen’s LDN, as Rosenstock has recently done, ought to take out their pencil and paper and send their efforts to me via email, and we’ll see how easy it is then.

It’s not just that Rosenstock is supremely gifted; it’s that he’s supremely gifted five days a week, just like any other working slob. This is not enough for the Phoenix, which turns up a haughty snout at the notion that “Rosenstock has shown himself to be all too willing to flog his routine on the corporate circuit.”

The ads in this week’s Phoenix, reading from the back: Audi A4 limited edition, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Sale, Michel Lynch: The Bordeaux Collection, a chartered surveyor, a private stockbroker, Halton Kelly Independent Property Services, Goodbody Stockbrokers – not a lot there for Jem Casey, the Workman’s Friend, to rhapsodise, I think. Pot, kettle; kettle, pot.

As with Dermot Morgan and Scrap Saturday, we will only miss Rosenstock when he is gone. Just how far back the chasing pack are can be seen by a visit to The Panel, RTÉ’s worse than appalling answer to Have I Got News for You. But please, don’t watch too long, or else you will surely lose all will to live and hope for the future. Rosenstock is operating at a completely different level, and he should be acknowledged as such.

An Spailpín’s own favourite comic? Why, Tommy Cooper, of course. Different class.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

How Very Embarrassing

As anyone that has flown recently knows, things have become very strict as regards what you can or can’t carry onto a plane, and what you can or can’t do once you’re on the plane itself. And this can lead to unfortunate situations such as occurred yesterday on American Airlines flight 1053 from Washington to Fort Worth, TX.

The flight had to make an emergency stop at Nashville, about half-way through its intended journey, because somebody on the plane got the smell of matches burning in the cabin. Concerned that a hijack or similar attack was imminent, nobody was taking any chances and down the plane came, where the FBI were waiting.

And there Mulder and Scully got to the heart of the matter. It turns out that one of the passengers had a big feed of curry, and peas, and porter, and beans, and every gassy stuff of which you can possibly conceive before getting on the plane. Once in the cabin, the inevitable happened – the poor think starting breaking wind the way that Steven Segal used to break heads in those fabulous old movies.

As we all know, botty burps come in two distinct varieties, so dissimilar that they make the Bactrian and dromedary camels seem as identical twins. The first is the loud but harmless – it’s frightfully embarrassing, of course, to sit there making a noise like someone has stuffed a bass tuba up one’s jacksie, but worse things happen at sea. In fact, if everyone enters into the fun of the thing, one can have a very jolly competition to see who can rip the loudest.

Unfortunately, just as Superman must face his evil opposite from the Bizzaro world, so the jolly, prrapppt! fart has its own evil doppelganger, known only by the acronym SBD – Silent But Deadly. Where the loud fart leaps into the spotlight, the SBD hisses quietly into the world. And hiss it must, for it will not find a welcome. The Silent-But-Deadly, you see, has travelled all the way through the intestine from the pit of the stomach itself, picking up the various odours along the way, until hissing sibilantly into the mortal realm. But once you get the appalling, who opened the sewer stench, you’ll know that someone has been chuffing on the sly, and is producing SBDs by the cubic metre.

Which is exactly what happened this poor woman on American Airlines flight 1053. Fearing the social ostracisation that would inevitably follow her discovery as the releaser of the SBDs into the limited cabin space, she took the only recourse she could – she lit match after match, desperately hoping to burn up the methane that scientists are convinced are the active ingredient in SBDs.

What she forgot, alas, is that is no longer as safe to fly as it was, and her embarrassment lead to the forced landing, and came within an inch of being responsible for a considerable spell in choky. In the end, though, the Feds thought about all the beer and tacos that’s gone over the red river with themselves and, while banned from American Airlines for about a thousand years, the anonymous passenger retains her freedom, liberty and, to some extent, her dignity. Spare a moment to think of her tonight as the pints are drawing.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Baby, It's Cold Outside

December 1st, 2006. How very distressing. Still, let's make the best of it and enjoy "Baby, It's Cold Outside," as sung by the Prince and Princess of Wales. Marvellous.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Foireann Rugbaí na h-Éireann - Fáilte go dtí an Ceantar Bog

BÓD - an cat a bhfuair an t-uachtar?Tá foireann rugbaí na h-Éireann, chun imirt in aghaidh na h-Óiléain Chiúna, fógraíodh inniu agus tá ceist amháin fágtha i gcloigín an Spailpin Fánach - cár fhágas mo bhróga rugbaí? Má tá ar na h-Éireannaigh ciceanna imirce a bhuaileadh Dé Domhnaigh, cé a bhuailfidh iad?

Don chéad uair le fada an lá, beidh foireann rugbaí na h-Éireann ag imirt gan ciceoir imirce rialta. Tá Paddy Wallace ag imirt mar leath-culaí amuigh Dé Domhnaigh, chun sos a thabairt do Rhónán Ó Géara, agus chun súil a chur ar Pheadaí féin, ar ndóigh, ach cé a bhuailfidh na ciceanna? Ní bhuaileann Peadaí na ciceanna ar son na h-Ulaidh, mar tá David Humphries acu agus is ciceoir den scoth é Humprhries. Ach, mura bhfuil Wallace cleachta ag bualadh na ciceanna imirice, chuid tabhachtach an rugbaí sa lá atá inniu ann, cad a tharlóidh má thosaíonn ciceanna Pheadaí ag dul amú?

Tá an baol seo i gcloigín an Súilleabhánach - cén fáth eile go bhfuil Rónán Ó Géara ar an mbinse aige, ach chun eisean a chur isteach agus na ciceanna ag éalú ar Phéadaí bocht? Ach nach bhfuil fíor-fhios ag an Súilleabhánach ar treithe an Géaraigh, agus cén fáth nach dtógann sé an seans imreoir eile a fheicéal?

Beidh Jeremy Staunton ar an mbinse ag an Spailpín ar a laghad, nó curtha amach ag uimhir 10 ón tús. Ach níl aon meas ag lucht rugbaí na Mumhan ar Staunton óna laethanta a bhíodh seisean ag imirt mar lán-culsaí dóibhsean. Conas a n-éireodh an Géarach féin dá gcuirfi uimhir a 15 ar a droim, in ionad a 10, mar a chuiread ar Staunton? Ní chloistear faic faoi sin.

Tá Jerry Staunton ar imirt (agus ag cicéal na ciceanna imirce) thar barr le Foichí na Londáin faoi láthair, agus ag imirt ina áit ceart, taobh amuigh den chlibirt, ach ní bhacann le roghnóirí na h-Éireann ar sin. Ba bhreá leo cluichí pólaítiúla a imirt in ionad an cúigear déag is fearr a chur ar an bpáirc. Mar is gnách leo ón tús an domhan.

Ní chloistear faic ó méan cumarsáide na rugbaí ach an oiread. Ar chuimhníonn sibh, a lucht léite, ar an dtitim amach a d'éirigh idir imreoirí rugbaí na h-Éireann agus David Kelly, iriseoir leis an Irish Independent, tar éis an chéad cluiche a chailleadh in aghaigh an Nua-Sealáinn i rith an tSamhraidh? Scríobh an Ceallach go raibh na h-Éireannaigh ag imirt ins an ceantar bog, cé nach raibh sé searbh nó drochbheasch ar chur ar bith, ach fear ag insint a thuairim agus ag déanamh a obair. Ach thóg an foireann masla, agus ní labhróidis leis an méan cumarsáide agus an Ceallach fós ina measc. Rinneadh beart ar deireadh, agus tugann do Spailpín faoi deireadh faoi láthair nach bhfuil focal dá laghad cáinte scríóbha ar fhoireann nó bainisteoireacht na h-Éireann, ach gach aon duine ag seint Glaoch na h-Eireann agus as scríobh go bhfuil lámh amháin ag na h-Éireannaigh ar an gCorn Domhanda.

Tá an Corn céanna bliain fada uaighneach i bhfad uainn, agus beidh duine níos fearr ag iarraidh feiceal cad a tharlóidh ansin ó dhuilleoga tae ag bun a chupáin in ionad ó thorraidh cluichí in aghaidh foirne nach mbacann leo cé a n-éireoidh, ach súil ghear a chur ar a h-imeoirí féin. Is gá duinn dúisigh, agus gan slogadh ar gach focal bhladar a ndeirtear.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

John O’Mahony is at last returned to his people. All over the County Mayo, in that physical place that is confined by the broad Atlantic to the West, Sligo and Roscommon to the East and Galway to the South, and the spiritual place where Deoraíocht Mhaigh Eo have made their homes far from the land of shamrock and heather, Mayo men and women are throwing back their shoulders, straightening their backs and looking at the world with brighter eyes. Johnno is back, at last.

So great is the event, in fact, that your correspondent, An Spailpín Fánach, has ascended from the airy planes of cyberspace to return once more to the World of Man. As part of the full coverage of the Ascension in the Mayo News, the greatest newspaper in the recorded history of humanity, there are 700 words from myself on what Johnno’s return may hold for the County Mayo. Click here, as they say, for further details. Maigh Eo abú.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Caisiné Ríoga

Agus eisean ag déanamh obair shalach banríona Shasana le daichead blian, bhí sé ag éirí soiléir tar eis an fichiú scannáin dá chuid, Bás Lá Eile, go raibh saothar Shéamuis de Bonda ag bualadh ar cheann scríbe. Bhí gluaistean dofheicthe á thiomáint ag de Bond ins an scannán sin, agus bhí sé comh deachar mar an chéanna scéal nó bun an scannáin a dhéanamh amach. Bhí Piaras Ó Brosnacháin go maith mar 007, ach níor rinne sé ach scannán sármhaith amháin, Ní Fhaigheann Amárach Bás Riamh. Ins a trí scannán eile, theip ar an scríobhnóracht, agus ní raibh ach áit folamh ann san áit ba cheart don fhear is fearr seirbhíse rúnda a Mórgacht.

Bhí sé deachar go leor ar leirtheoirí de Bonda aisteoir nua a fháil in áit Uí Bhrosnachán, ach bhualadar an súil tairbh nuair a bhuaileadar ar Dhaniel Craig. Agus an shcríobhnóracht i bhfad níos fearr i gCaisiné Ríoga ná mar a bhíodh ins an dhá scannán sula seo – tionchar Pól Haggis, scríobhnóir Leanbh Milliún Dhollar, gan dabht – is é Caisiné Ríoga ceann de na cúig scannáin de Bonda is fearr riamh – ‘siadsan Mear-Óir, Ar Sheirbhís Rúnda a Mórgachta, Caisiné Ríoga, An Spiaire i nGrá Liom agus Ón Rúis, le Grá, dár leis an Spailpín Fánach.

Is féidir tuiscint ón scannán seo comh nua agus comh úr a bhí Séamus de Bond nuair a thainig An Doctiúr Neo amach i 1962. Cé gurbh é Caisiné Ríoga an chéad scannán is fiche ar eachtraí Shéamuis de Bonda, tá páirt an spiaire briste síos agus cuireadh le cheile arís go dtí go bhfuil sé cosuil le saigheas scannán nua a fheiceal. Cé go bhfuil sé beagán ró-fhada – ba chóir fiche nóimead nó leath-uair a ghearradh as – is sárshaothar é Caisiné Ríoga, agus buíochas mór le Daniel Craig, an fearr a bhíodh ró-bheag, ró-fhionn, ró-ghránna chun bhróga 007 a chaiteamh. Tá an gáire deirneach aige, mar is saothar den scoth é an saothar a thugann Craig mar Séamus de Bond.

Is é Seán Ó Conaire an aisteoir a bhí ina 007 is fearr. Ba é an chéad de Bond, ar ndóigh, agus mar sin tá tionchar mór aige ag gach aisteoir a thagann ina dhiaidh. Ach tá treith mór ag Ó Conaire atá ag Daniel Craig freisin, agus is é sin ná gurbh fhéidir leo thaispéant duinn gurbh marfiór é Séamus de Bond, d’ainneoinn na h-éadaí bhreá agus na mbéasa uaisle. Bhí blás an bhaoil ag Ó Conaire, agus tá an blás céanna ag Daniel Craig. Le daichead blian ceadúnaite maraigh, beidh Séamus de Bond ar an mbothar le fada an lá anuas.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

On Joyriders

For all the hand-wringing that goes on in the media about death on the roads, it’s unlikely that people realise just how serious the problem is. A court case in this morning’s Irish Independent gives a rather distressing illustration of just why the problem is as bad as it is, and exactly how far it is we are from a resolution. Very, very far indeed.

The facts are these. Aengus Ó Snodaigh, a Sinn Féin TD but also a citizen as you or I, was at an ice-cream van investing in ice-cream on March 6th last year when one Mark Moran, 23 years old, drove along and started doing wheel-spins on the public road. As one does.

Mr Ó Snodaigh went over to Mr Moran to remonstrate, as doing wheel-spins in a residential area is dangerous. This is not as one does, for fear that one will be treated as Mr Ó Snodaigh was. Mr Moran told Mr Ó Snodaigh to “f*** off, you and your IRA mates, I’m not afraid of you.” Mr Moran then got out of the car and headbutted Mr Ó Snodaigh. The Guards appeared, and Mr Moran evacuated the scene con brio.

The Guards gave chase, and when they caught up with Mr Moran, Mr Moran gave his brother’s name. Sound of him.

While he was doing his wheel-spinning, Mr Moran was under a five year ban for uninsured driving. Mr Moran has managed to amass, at the tender age of 23, 32 previous convictions, mostly for driving related offences, including a three month stretch in the slammer last year for uninsured driving. And to put the tin hat on the story, Mr Moran told the court that not only was he driving while banned from the roads, he also had a few drinks “for Mother’s Day.”

To recap: Mr Moran was up before the court for driving without insurance, driving while banned from the road, driving with drink taken, and assault (sticking the nut on Mr Ó Snodaigh). And that’s just today’s racecard – Mr Moran has thirty-two previous convictions at the age of 23. Thirty-two. How did he fare before the court? To quote the Indo, “Judge Ann Ryan found him [Moran] guilty and said he must realise, as the father of a young child, the danger his driving was posing to children in the area. She remanded him on bail to January 26 to see if he is suitable for 240 hours community service.”

The Irish Times report of the case tells us that Jude Ryan added that “she was prepared ‘to give him a chance to give something back to society.’” Now. What exactly do you think are the chances of that happening? God help us all.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Howard Goodall: How Music Works

Howard GoodallFans of music – that is to say, those people who are captivated and enthralled by this spooky art form that stimulates at a level beyond words, as opposed to that brutish herd who queue overnight outside HMV to stick their snouts in whatever some ghastly conglomerate has filled the trough with this morning – will sing a joyful Te Deum this Saturday when the incomparable Howard Goodall returns to our screens, getting down to brass tacks in explaining to a rapt Channel 4 viewing public “How Music Works.”

Mr Goodall first swam into An Spailpín’s ken in 2004, when he presented a series called “Twentieth Century Greats,” and An Spailpín was hooked for ever more. Here at last was the ghost in the machine, the reason why Lennon and McCartney operated at a different level to anyone else, why Cole Porter was unique, and those other mysteries that seem so impenetrable to the novice or amateur. You all love “America,” from West Side Story, of course, but have you ever wondered why it’s such a great song? Have you every asked of America what Pete Townsend asked of the Pinball Wizard? How do you think he does it? What makes him so good? Well, Howard Goodall knows, and what’s more, he’s able to explain it.

Howard Goodall is one of these unique experts in a field, who not only fully understands his or her brief, but is also able to teach. Most people have teaching thrust upon them, in every sense, but Goodall, like all great teachers, just wants to share the fun. He does not eschew jargon – every craft needs its specialist vocabulary, of course – but Goodall, unlike some leading literary intellectuals whom An Spailpín chooses not to name, doesn’t use jargon to disguise his own deficiencies. Like the great teacher he is, Goodall uses jargon to explain, not to confuse. Goodall has nothing to hide; all he wants to do is share, so that the masses will be able to enjoy music, great music, at a little higher level than perhaps they are enjoying it currently.

Not that the masses will be watching, of course; they’ll be annoying some poor little girl behind the counter in HMV about some new product from Coldplay, or whomever. But never mind – Mr Goodall will find his audience, and front and centre among them shall be An Spailpín Fánach. All yours, maestro.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ella Fitzgerald Sings Loch Lomond

This is either inspired or grotesque - or, more likely, both at the same time. Ella could fairly swing, but some songs just aren't made to swing and An Spailpín gets the feeling that the Bonny, Bonny Banks is one of the them. Although Noel Coward did record a wonderful swinging version of the old song, to give him his credit. It was easier keep a straight face with Coward's version, because the man was as a camp as halting site so you expected unusual stuff from him, and he only had a piano accompaniment. It's the brass with underlying pibroch motif that's curdling An Spailpín's blood.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

So. Farewell Then, Gaughan's Bar and Public House

Luí na Gréine, Béal an Átha
One of the most evocative images of exile in An Spailpín Fánach’s fragile psyche, for whatever reason, is of Frank Ryan taking his last look at the Irish shoreline from the conning tower of German U-boat, on his way from Franco’s Spain to Hitler’s Germany, exile, and death.

An Spailpín resonated a little with how the incorrigible old Republican must have felt last night when a text message confirmed, once and for all, that Gaughan’s Bar, O’Rahilly St, Ballina, Co Mayo, is no more. The premises still stands, and the lunch trade of international renown continues, but from this moment on Gaughan’s is that most deconsecrated of churches, a pub with no beer. The license has been sold and from now on you can get nothing stronger across the counter than coffee, tea and porter cake. And a tremendous sadness settles on An Spailpín as he contemplates that thought.

When people talk about their locals, they try and pin down this ineffable thing that we refer to, with doubtful spelling, as “craic.” This is not the case to those that raised a glass in Gaughan’s, and left it down empty. One of the many delights of a Saturday night in Gaughan’s was watching the slow implosion of a visiting hen night in Ballina who made the mistake of visiting Gaughan’s instead of finding a hostelry that might have suited them better. They would arrive glammed to the nines, cackling happily around the big table just to the left of the door, their bottles of Smirnoff Ice clutched in scarlet talons. After half an hour, all hopes and dreams of the future would have left them. The chief bridesmaid would dream of nursing the poor in Mozambique or along the coast of Malabar, the bride-to-be’s sister would swear to dedicate her life to fighting injustice and inequality where-e’er she found them, while the inchoate blushing bride herself would think of taking the veil, and signing up with the Poor Clares first thing in the morning.

An Spailpín well remembers the night some broken hens left Gaughan’s in silence, trailing their wings out the door. One of their party had just come down from the ladies, and scurried out to rejoin her sisters. A knight of the back bar high stools put it best: “she took one look at us boys, she turned on her heel and she left.”

And fair weather after her – I hope she found better luck nursing beneath that Indian star. Her disappointment was only ever equalled by that of Gunther, Fritz and Johann who had bought Dubliners records by the dozen and had now come to Ireland to participate in this thing they call the “craic.” Porter ordered, smiles all around, one of that visiting tribe would push the chair back from the table, and launch into the Wild Rover or the Black Velvet Band. But before he could tell how he had spent all his money on whiskey and beer, or of a sad misfortune that caused him to stray from the land, the curate on duty would have materialised at his shoulder, and told him, gently but firmly, that if he wanted to sing he had better sing on the street, and not be disturbing the customers. Nonplussed is too weak a word to describe the typical reaction.

The singing ban was lifted for the Ballina Fleadhanna of 1997 and ’98, and An Spailpín is happy to remember that, as he drank what I now sadly realise was my last ever pint of stout in Gaughan’s, Mick Leonard was belting out that sad old ballad about the Boston Burglar, who went midnight rambling, breaking laws of God and man, and paid for it dearly. Why was Mick not shown the door now the Fleadhanna are eight years past? I guess we all get mellow towards the end.

Dreadful curmudgeon that he is, An Spailpín is not a fan of Christmas, but I will miss Christmas Eve in Gaughan’s dreadfully. The town is busy, and people go in and out, meeting, greeting, drinking and departing. There’s an excited hubbub at all times, and we exchange presents – almost invariably booze, as I recall, as if we hadn’t enough of the stuff as it was. Those Christmas Eves were all smoky as well, not just from that warm stove just inside the door, under the pipe racks, but from the fact that ever sinner in the joint was puffing gaspers. The smoking ban has been good for the people and the country, but for a bar that was famous as pipe-smokers’ corner, and that had pipes for sale worth hundreds of pounds, it was perhaps a premonition that the centre couldn’t hold.

And now it’s all gone, never to return. Is it allowable, I wonder, to think of those who have been and are also gone, or is it a sign of disrespect to their memory? It’s facile and juvenile to compare the closing of a bar with a death, but at the same time, it is the closing of another door, and presager of our own mortality, in its way. A way of life has ended, and while I mourn it, it seems unfair not to remember those with whom I shared happy times there, and on whom time was called early, in a manner that seemed neither fair nor just. And as such, in memory of those many nights together, I raise a final glass to Brendan and Bernie, one whom I knew a little, and one whom I knew a little better, and say that another little piece of the past has passed on with you. We that are left move on while those that are gone stroll the Elysian Fields, and while we’ll always have other bars there will never be another Eden, Camelot or Gaughan’s. We can only hope for that happy day when we’re all together again ar slí na fírinne, as that lovely expression goes, sharing a glass together. And even now An Spailpín can but smile as he foresees, just as the archangel takes a deep breath and raises the Last Trump to his lips, a man comes out from behind the bar and says “lookit, you can’t play that thing in here, disturbing my customers.” And so, until that happy, blissful day, farewell then, Gaughan’s; hail and farewell.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Exclusive Footage of John O'Mahony's Meeting with the Mayo County Board

An Spailpín Fánach, through his many contacts in the underworld, has come into possession of video footage, taken suruptitiously by mobile phone, of John O'Mahony's arrival at a meeting of the Mayo County Board in Castlebar last night. Click here to view the astonishing scenes.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Everybody Must Get Stoned - More Fun on the Buses

At half-past seven tonight, a 123 double decker bus was following its usual route - having crossed Gardiner Street from Parnell Street, it was travelling east along Summerhill, moving into Summerhill Parade and on towards Ballybough and Fairview. Contemporaneous with the moving bus, three static children - ten year olds, according to an eye-witness - were arming themselves with missiles in the flats along Summerhill, waiting for a sufficiently rewarding target.

As the bus drove by, the children let fly with their fusillade. The two youths on the ground floor did no damage, but their Hannibal, who had the wit to station himself on the high ground of the first floor balcony, scored a bull's eye. He struck one of the windows of the upper deck of the bus, shattering it.

As the bus crossed the North Circular Road into Summerhill Parade, the remaining glass began to fall out of the window and render the bus unsafe. Another was called from the depot; as the passengers waited for the lifting of the siege, they compared notes about other horrors. One girl had suffered double jeopardy - her father had the back window of his car broken in the same area, while her dog had been blinded after being struck by the glass. Eventually, the second bus arrived and we continued on our way.

There are one million stories in the naked city, and this hasn't been a terribly interesting one. If anyone wishes to kick up the dust about it, and perhaps remark that when one is travelling home from a day's work one does not expect a re-enactment of the Alamo, that plaintiff will be met with a shrug of bureaucratic shoulders and be reminded that Dublin is a big city now bud, these things happen. Friend bureaucrat will remark in confidence that, were it up to him, "scumbags" such as these would have their coughs softened but, in his official capacity, the bureau's shoulders remain shrugged.

Unfortunately, if there is one stubborn, spiteful, selfish son of a bitch on this Earth it is your faithful narrator. An Spailpín Fánach is not willing to accept that being fired upon on the way home from work is beyond our control, or a small price to pay for living in "this vibrant city [that] hums with a palpable sense that it is creating a new cultural heritage", or any of the rest of that buncombe to which we're so often treated. As such, though he only be a voice, crying in the wilderness, An Spailpín will continue to record these incidents so that, when the Chinese or the Muslims or six-foot mutant ants or extra-terrestrial invaders like the Martians or the Jovians, whoever it is takes over from our now clearly past its sell-by date Western Society, will know what it was like in the final years. Stubborn, as I say.

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Rince na Leice san Irish Independent

Tugadh le fios oíche aréir go raibh deireadh ag teacht ar Sky News Ireland, an chuid den gcraoltóir ilnáisiúnta Sky News a bhain le cúrsaí na nGael. Is brónach an rud é, toisc go bhfuil postanna a chailliúnt agus toisc gur gá duinn níos mó gúthanna a chloisint ins na méain, in ionad níos lú. Ach ní n-aontaíonn gach duine leis an tuairim seo, mar is soléir ón alt dóchreite a fhoilsiú san Irish Independent inniú, ina ionsaíonn duine éigin (níor fhoilsíodh ainm an scríobhnóra, ach tá boladh Ian O'Doherty ar gach focal, sílim). Tá an Indo ag tabhairt amach faoi lagadh caidhéan iriseorachta agus ag foilsiú ionsaithe mar seo ag an am céanna? Sin an citeal ag dubhú ar an bpota, sílim.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

All the Animals Come Out at Night

Beidh lá ann a dtiocfaidh fíorfheartainn, a nglanfaidh na sraideanna ó salachasThat Dublin youth have become more feral in recent years is no secret, as the last post here may have indicated, even to the slow and wilfully stubborn, who refuse to believe the evidence of their eyes. But just how common this feral, beastly, behaviour is can be forgotten as Darwin kicks in, as we adapt, keep our heads down, and say nothing. These are the last three hours on Saturday night of the October Bank Holiday weekend, 2006, just from my own personal experience. This is what I saw on my ordinary routine, without going out looking for the foul and rotten. God only knows what I would have come across if I made an effort.

Six o'clock. A gang of youths, at least twenty in number, with their faces smeared with dirt and swinging sticks, marches up one of the residential streets on the Northside of the city, a street undergoing gentrification where a 700 square foot two up, two down semi-detached house retails at half-a-million Euro for starters. They were like something out of the Dark Ages. One of them, with half a broomstick in his fist as his weapon of choice, asked An Spailpín where were his tyres, and remarked that he - the youth - would be back later to collect them. The child isn't old enough to shave yet. An Spailpín saw a girl in the group, who should have been in some sort of supervisory, big sister, role, was also in combat camouflage, but she looked very unhappy. Under the dirt, she would have been pretty. It was a strange side to choose.

Seven o'clock. Two young men are attempting to gain entry into the shop of a Statoil garage near where the mortal remains of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey lay in state. The bouncer bars them by physically standing in the door; they gain entry when a civilian exits through the other door. The bouncer chases them around the shop, while they knock stands and displays. But all he can do is escort them off the premises when he finally catches them; he has no other power of sanction. Nobody is on his side. Therefore, it is no surprise to An Spailpín Fánach that the youths camp out in front of the shop door, enjoying their night's fun, wrecking his head and attempting to regain entry. There was no time to ask the bouncer if he got paid enough money to put up with this.

Eight o'clock. A youth, again too young to shave, steps out of the darkness to throw something at An Spailpín Fánach's car. The area in which the youth is standing has houses that sell at €600,000 and up.

Nine o'clock. An Spailpín is in another garage. Two girls are inside, drunk, causing trouble. An Spailpín returns to his car. As An Spailpín gets in, a man emerges from the car parked next to An Spailpín on the garage forecourt, goes into the corner and starts pissing there. There is a bar less than fifteen yards away whose toilets are fully functional. Sir Galahad prefers al fresco. His famous discretion temporarily abandoning him, An Spailpín looks into the car next to him, to see what sort of company the bladder reliever is keeping. There's a girl in the driver's seat, a nice girl, a girl who doesn't need to see her "fellit" - in the current argot - pissing in public. Or does she? Could she not do better? Why does she put up with this ape, this cretin, this louse? Mystified, An Spailpín pulls away, returns home, turns on his computer, and sadly files his report.

Our society is wretched, rotten, and surely doomed. This will all end in tears - all we have left to decide is who will be doing the weeping. And your correspondent is not optimistic on that score.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Only Losers Take the Bus

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate
An Spailpín is still trying to come to terms with a clip from Liveline he heard this morning, just before the eight o’clock news on Radio 1. It seems that a 19 year old man was thrown off the upper deck of the 77 bus in Tallaght at the weekend, and is currently pretty badly shook up in hospital.

Thrown off the upper deck of a bus. Isn’t that astonishing? And if it is, why hasn’t it been front page news? In his efforts to faithfully chronicle contemporary Irish life, An Spailpín likes to keep an eye on these things, and this story is definitely well under the news radar.

What about the comments of John McGrane of the National Bus and Rail Union, reported in this morning’s Independent, that they will have no option other than not to go to Tallaght anymore if the gardaí aren’t going to protect their drivers? An Spailpín isn’t the greatest Irish public service union man in the world, but it’s very hard not to see Mr McGrane’s point.

Not least when we discover that a man being thrown off the upper deck of the 77 bus is only one of twenty-five reported incidents on buses serving west Tallaght in the past month alone. These include:

  • A passenger’s coat being set on fire
  • A bus driver being spat at in the face
  • A child being assaulted
  • A bus being set on fire
  • Fighting in the upper deck
  • Drug-taking in the upper deck

On reading that list of depravity, we quickly realise that it’s not just the bus drivers that need protection here. All his life, An Spailpín has heard about how Tallaght is one of the fastest growing and biggest towns in Ireland, and how its needs need to be looked after. So what An Spailpín now wants to know is: what is the government doing to protect the ordinary, decent people of Tallaght, who are in the overwhelming majority, as we are always reminded whenever these reports of so-called “anti-social behaviour” occur? What steps are being taken to stop Joe or Jane Citizen from having their clothing set on fire, their bus set on fire, their means of getting to and from work being set on fire, their children being spat at or assaulted?

The gougers rule the city of Dublin. We saw it during the riots, we see it every day in the city, and we sit back and accept it. There is zero political will to deal with the issue and in the meantime ordinary decent people have to get up and go to work without knowing what sort of foul horror will confront them once they get on their bus. And what do they get in return? Lectures about inequality in society on the op-ed pages of the Irish Times.

What they don’t get are results. What they have to suffer every day doesn’t even make the news. An Spailpín has searched today’s Irish Times in vain for the story about the potential disruption in bus services to Tallaght, and he can’t find it. Here’s the link to the Article Index in today's Irish Times – happy hunting.

The Irish Times isn’t slow to laud itself as the paper of record, but on an issue that affects a huge tranche of the population it has nothing to report. Zero. Zip. The null set. Madam ought to be ashamed of herself. As for any poor dumb bastard that’s trying to commute to and from Tallaght, may God help you, because nobody else gives a fiddler’s. Only losers take the bus.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Parking the Car


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fómhar na bPeileadóirí is Tarraingt an Óil

Maití Mac Giollarnáth, laoch na mBolg Buí, á bhualadh san Astráil anuraidhTugann do Spailpín Fánach faoi deara go bhfuil an Cumann Luchcleas Gael ag déanamh comhghaideachas dóibh féin ar an méid ticéidí atá díolta acu don chéad cluiche idirnáisiúnta atá á imirt i nGaillimh i gceann coicís. Shílfeá gur tháinig faoiseamh mór orthu nuair a chualadar an déa-scéal – bítear deachair go leor na Gaillimhí a thabhairt isteach i pPáirc an Phiarsaigh chun freastail ar a gcluichí féin, seachas amháín cluiche nach n-imrítear in áit ar bith sa dhomhan.

Tá an CLG ag obair go dian an comórtas idirnáisiúnta seo a choinneal beo – tá béim mór acu air, ach bionn sé deachair go leor don Spailpín a thuiscint cén fáth go bhfuil an méid meas ag muintir na hÉireann ar cluichí nach imrítear anseo in Éirinn nó ansiúd san Astráíl. Bhíosa féin ag cúpla cinn acu ag deireach na nócháidí, ach bhí níos mó súim agam ins an ól tar éis an cluiche ná ar cad a tharla ar an bpáirc. An é sin an fáth go bhfuil an Chéad Cluiche seo á imirt i nGaillimh, príomchchathar óil agus spraoí na hÉireann? Agus mise ag smaoineamh go bhfuil an CLG ag iarraidh tionchar an óil a lagú?

Seo ceist tapaidh agaibh, a lucht léimh: ó na cluichí go leir a d’imrítí ó bhunadh an comórtas idirnáisiúnta i 1984, cé acu a bhuaigh an chuid is mó? Níl fios ag an Spailpín, agus ‘sé mo bhuille faoi tuairim nach bhfuil fios ag an chuid is mó don lucht taca. Nach ait an rud é, freastail ar chluichí nach imrítear ag duine dá laghad in Éirinn nó san Astráil, agus i gan fios cé acu a n-imríonn is fearr, na hÉireannaigh nó na h-Astáiligh?

Ait, a chairde, ait go leor.

Ní dóigh libh – ní dóigh libh go bhfuil an méid measa againne air toisc go bhfuilimid beagnach cinnte roinnt breá chlampair a fhéachaint? An bhreá linn buillí breá a bhuilleadh, sinne, na hÉireannaigh tróideacha? Agus más bhreá, cén fáth go raibheamar ag béicéal mar a mbéicimis an bhlian seo caite nuair a bhfuair foireann na hÉireann na buillí breá ag teacht chucu, in ionad ag dul uathu? Nach ar scáth a chéile a mhairimid? Agus má tá déistín againn ar chlampar an bhlian seo caite, cén fáth, mar a n-iarrann Eugene McGee ins an t-Indo inne, go bhfuil na cluichí a fhógrú leis an mana “it’s time to play – hard”?

Seo tuairim an Spailpín – níl ann sa comórtas seo ach leithscéil “culaidh eadaigh” an CLG dul thíos chuig an Astráil ar spraoi gach dhá bhlian. Agus ní hé an lucht is uaisle a théann – bionn foirne míonúr, Cúigeach, turgnamhach, gach sort, ag freastail síos gach uile bhlian, agus iad go leir ag cur greim an fear báite ar gach gloine Fosters no Castlemaine XXXX ab fhéidir leo, greim nach scaoilfear go mbuailfar ar bhun an bairille. Cén fáth go gcuireann an AFL suas leo? Mar tá fonn orthu i gconaí imreoirí nua a fhail dá gcluichí féin agus cén naíolann peile ab fhearr dóibh ná ár n-oilean glás féin?

Chuir Micí Ó hAirt, bainisteoir Tír Eoghain, an ceist is spéisiúl an bhlian seo caite agus an Comórtas Idirnáisiúnta á phlé ar Setanta. An n-imrítear an comórtas seo, d’iarr Micí, más é Widnes nó Wigan áit dúchais an foireann eile? Níor dóigh Micí go n-imreofaí, agus tá an Spailpín lán-cinnte go raibh an ceart aige.

Ní fhaigheann pobal na hÉireann rud dá laghad ón gComórtas seo ach leithscéal dul amach ar an drabhlas. Agus cé go bhfuil an ionad sin leithscéil againn é sin a dhéanamh, níl ceann eile orainn. Ba cheart duinn iarr ar na h-Astráiligh a n-eitléan a iompaigh timpeall, agus dul abhaile aris. Níl fómhar peileadóirí anseo ag fanacht orthu.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

So. Farewell Then, Mickey Moran.

Micheál Ó Móráin, iarbhainisteoir Mhaigh EoBoth the Irish Times and the Irish Independent are reporting this morning that John Morrison phoned the Mayo County Board Chairman, James Waldron, yesterday to say that he didn’t wish to continue in his post as coach to the Mayo senior football team. There is no quote in either paper from the normally loquacious Morrison, as telling an indicator as any that even a notorious spoofer like Morrison recognises the end of the line when he sees it.

Mickey Moran is almost certainly going to follow. He gave a bitter interview to the Connaught Telegraph (sadly not online) in which he made sanguinary and self-pityingly references to being slaughtered and butchered. Welcome to the Big Time Mickey – how do you like the air up here?

The most telling comment about Mickey Moran, and the short-lived Moran and Morrison era in charge of County Mayo, was told to An Spailpín by a friend of his, who was doing a spot of Maor-ing at the Connacht Final in McHale Park during the summer. An Spailpín likes to arrive early, so we had time for a smoke and a chat about matters pertaining. “You know,” my friend said, “every time I look at Mickey Moran I think: fourth choice.”

And that sums it up. Moran’s appointment came as the result of the Board scraping the bottom of the barrel. From what we can gather, we that sit in the muck outside the gilded palaces where the County Board do their mysterious work, Bradygate was the final straw for Maughan, and once the team were out of the Championship in 2005 Maughan’s goose was cooked. Miserably, however, the Board seemed rather innocently unaware that political assassinations come in two acts; not alone must you ice the incumbent, but you must have his successor ready, willing and able to take over.

The Board succeeded in throwing Maughan from the train, but they did not have a successor lined up. Perhaps they assumed that John O’Mahony would be only too glad to be returned to the Board’s favour, but Johnno is too old a dog, and has been burned to often, to buy any pigs in pokes at this stage of his life. Anyone else that was considered thought about just how soft and comfy that Sunday Game sofa is for a split-second or so, and demurred, politely but firmly.

As such, after some thrashing around the Board finally lit on Mickey and John, who were rather desperate after a notable lack of success with Derry, Donegal and Sligo. All Mickey and John had to show for their years in inter-county management was one National League title with Derry in the mid-nineties. The same achievement as Pat Holmes, who was damn near run out of Mayo on a rail in 2002.

Moran and Morrison had built a reputation as world class Gaelic football coaches, but nobody had ever spelled out exactly what it was that separated M&M from just regular smarties. One year on, we’re still no wiser, other than the fact that John Morrison must have read every one of those horrific self-help books, like What Colour is Your Parachute, that has ever cost the Amazon a rain forest.

Moran and Morrison tried to portray themselves as visionaries by instituting this “Nut” formation in the Mayo inside forward line, where the players would bunch in front of goal and then “explode” in different directions when the ball was let in. This was Hell on Earth for one-legged cornerbacks, and those who had been encased in concrete shoes by the mafia, but for every other full-back line in the country is was like finding out that Miss Angelina Jolie has been appointed new team masseuse. Manna from Heaven. Mayo got roundly spanked against Galway in the League semi-final and the only nuts that have since been seen in the county Mayo are those that Cadbury’s pack into their delicious chocolate bars.

Looking back, Mayo caught a rising tide in their Championship run – Moran and Morrison weren’t so much piloting the ship as doing well not to be tossed overboard. Mayo should have lost to a gallant Leitrim in the sylvan settings of Páirc Sheáin in Carrick after Pat Harte got sent off in the second half, but Leitrim failed to pull the trapdoor lever and Mayo escaped the noose. Galway’s decision to play without a midfield gifted Mayo another Connacht Final and while Laois were brave in the quarter-final, they were ultimately proved to be second division material. Liam Kerins will have his work cut out there.

Mayo poxed it against Dublin, looking back. It was a great day and a great game, but Dublin were as much the authors of their own misfortune as Mayo were Dublin’s executioners. Hype bubbles only last so long and when the sky and navy blue one burst, Mayo were the last team standing.

The weeks preceding an All-Ireland are where Mayo managerial careers are now made and broken. Getting a good run in the summer is no longer enough. In 1989 and 1996 Mayo were just glad to be there; now, with so many big day defeats behind them, Mayo must, must, must finally close it out on the big day. Mickey Moran remarked in the Telegraph interview that this is unfair, that he would be garlanded with laurels in any other county for what he’d achieved. Mayo isn’t any other county Mickey. The job in Mayo is to break the hex; nothing else matters.

And when the big test came, the Ulstermen failed miserably. The coaching revolutionaries chose to treat the All-Ireland Final as if it were just another game, and try to beat the hex by ignoring it, in best bury-your-head-in-the-sand manner. In hindsight, it was exactly the wrong decision, and Mickey and John have now paid for it with their heads. The All-Ireland Final is not like a pitch-opening challenge in March, and Mayo found out just how true that is on the third Sunday of September this year. Mayo played as if their mental theme music was Ravel’s Bolero – Kerry were soundtracked by Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. And that was the difference. Hammer of the gods, indeed.

Are Mayo better off now than they were one year ago, before Moran and Moran took over? That’s hard to say, but Ger Loughnane, for one, thinks not. Loughnane remarked in the Independent a week after the All-Ireland that the mental blocks he had to break in Clare in the mid-nineties were as pebbles compared to the great big boulders Mayo have to lug around now after their second humiliation in three years on the greatest stage of all. Mickey can whine all he likes about what he did being good enough for other counties – the fact is that the Mayo have often been as far as Mickey brought them in recent years and what they needed was someone to kick them over the finish line. Not only did Moran and Morrison fail in that, they may have done more harm than good in psychological terms. After the last humiliation, Mayo might react as Pavlov’s dog in late September, and it will take no small amount of conditioning to change that.

The most telling quote of just how out of their depth Moran and Morrison were was reported in the Irish Times of September 29th, 2006. It came, inevitably, from Morrison. "I learned a lot during the year and relished the opportunity to get involved with these players,” he told Gavin Cummiskey. In fact, I was honoured to be a part of the All-Ireland final day."

Honoured to be part of All-Ireland final day. Jimmy Nallen, David Brady, David Heaney, Ciarán McDonald and more have already had that honour, it was nothing new to them. That sentiment would mean the world to Cavan, say, that great and fallen football power, but to the people of Mayo, it rings hollow and eloquently displays just how far out of their depth Moran and Morrison were. Mayo, God help us, now and forever.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

The Nasty Sty - That Other Corruption in Irish Public Life

The Star - more sewer than gutter journalismIs it just An Spailpín Fánach, or are other people becoming distressed and depressed with the shocking lack of standards in Irish media and Irish public life generally?

This hasn’t to do with money – I’m talking about old fashioned things like manners, respect for other people, for due process of law, for keeping a civil tongue in one’s head. Right now we don’t seem to know what is and what isn’t acceptable in public discourse and in our interaction with others.

The headline on this morning’s “Irish” Daily Star is “Stop this Bullshit.” The bullshit in question has to do with the Republic of Ireland soccer team, whose fans are, famously, de best in de wurrld. An Spailpín is generally grumpy in the morning; his humour is not improved by being sworn at in the newsagents, which is what this newspaper is doing this morning. It’s absolutely shocking that the Star would print this on their front page, it’s shocking that newsagents would stock it, to say nothing of display it, and it’s shocking that people are now so low and beastly that they would tolerate it. This is sewer, not gutter, "journalism."

A friend of An Spailpín, recently returned to Dublin, was on an escalator in the St Stephen’s Green shopping centre yesterday, Sunday morning. There was a child of ten or so on the step ahead of him. He had a patch on his jeans, which displayed a clenched fist with the middle finger extended in a familiar pose. In case a passer-by was unfamiliar with sign language, the legend under the patch spelled out its message – “Fuck you,” it said. Nice.

It’s hard to blame a child as children, by definition, know no better. But presumably this youth has at least one parent, or some sort of adult in a supervisory role, who thinks it’s ok for his or her child to wander about with “fuck you” emblazoned on his trousers. And if, as appears increasingly likely, there’s a whole tribe of them out there then God help us all.

It seems that the worst thing you can be accused of in Celtic Tiger Ireland is hypocrisy. We cannot tell young people not to swear because we swear ourselves; to forbid the young people to swear would make us hypocrites. To disallow Ger Colleran to print the world “bullshit” on the front of his newspaper is hypocritical, as “bullshit” was exactly the way the game was being described in the pubs of Ireland on Saturday night. To disallow Mr Colleran the full richness of the language would not only be an act of hypocrisy but an act of censorship, something else we abhor.

Hypocrisy is not a noble character trait. As a virtue, it pales besides being charitable or good natured or delivering soup to the wretched of the Earth. But there are worse traits. Demagoguery comes to mind. Poor parenting. Ignorant behaviour. Just plain bad manners, showing an utter disrespect for your fellow man come to mind. Maybe as nation we ought to make a decision on which we consider the lesser of two strains of bullshit, before we’re overcome by the stench arising from wallowing in foulness.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Eddy Merckx Interview

Marvellous interview with the great Eddy Merckx in this morning's Telegraph.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Guinness, Grooming and Gestalt in Twenty-First Century Dublin

Ceann an CarriaIt seems that one Ben Fenton was visiting Dublin last weekend, and is this morning reporting his impressions of the capital of the Irish nation to the readers of the Daily Telegraph.

It seems that Mr Fenton’s curiosity was piqued by a report that claims the Irish aren’t drinking as much as they did. Happily, the result of Mr Fenton’s investigation is that the Mick puts away just as much porter as he ever did. In fact, you can damn near smell the hops in Fenton's copy, rich as it is in local colour, featuring, as it does, whiskery bucks, half-filled pints of stout, drunks hunched over drinks roaring at each other and a mysterious “mud-spattered Toyota,” which seems to be on loan from an old re-run of Garda Patrol, circa 1982.

That said, An Spailpín Fánach can’t help but think that Mr Fenton missed an important detail in his tour of weekend Dublin, that has to do more with Dubliners themselves than what they’re throwing back.

Last Friday night, for instance, An Spailpín Fánach was taking a few sociables in the Stag’s Head, that well known Dublin hostelry that went for such big money not so long ago. Having taken his initial quart or so, your faithful correspondent descended into the lower parts of the bar, where lower deeds occur. It was time to part company with some of that booze, and shed a tear for Parnell and the Fenian Dead.

There’s not a lot a gentlemen can do once the process of teaming the spuds has begun. The floodgates cannot be closed until the tide has abated, as it were. Although it is considered highly irregular, An Spailpín keeps a discrete but wary eye on his fellow patrons while attending the porcelain – a man is always exposed in these circumstances, and he can’t be too careful. To the left of your constant narrator, there was a young man, a student I would assume, with long hair that looked a little like that of a Rolling Stone about the time the wrinkly rockers recorded Waiting on a Friend in the last seventies. Having successfully replenished the Liffey, the young man looked in the mirror above the porcelain, ran some thoughtful fingers through his hair, and remarked, to his reflection, I suppose, “my hair is just uncontrollable.”

My hair is just uncontrollable. Take up your copy of Dead as Doornails, by Anthony Cronin, his famous memoir of drunken literary Dublin of the 1950s, and see if you can find the bit where Brendan Behan asks Paddy Kavanagh, home from a Olympian session of porter, whiskey, gin and petrol, if his bum looked big in this. Read Lady Gregory’s Gods and Fighting Men, and see if you can find the bit where, after Cú Chulainn smears his chin with blackberries so the men of Connacht will consider him old enough to fight, the Hound of Ulster then books himself an appointment to have his back waxed? I don’t think you’ll bloody find it, you know.

It’s no wonder we’re losing the run of ourselves as a nation if all we’re worried about our hair being uncontrollable. Maybe that gasúr ought to cut the damn stuff, and solve it that way? It behoves a man to be practical in matters of grooming. If a man is on the session, he should concentrate on his booze, and leave worrying about his hair to his needlepoint classes. Besides, if friend student was so concerned about grooming – shouldn’t he have washed his hands before running his fingers through his troublesome thatch?

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bung in Cheek - Why No-One Can Land a Glove on Bertie

Our LeaderTrevor Sargent, leader of the Green Party, was on Morning Ireland this morning, discussing the question that has the nation transfixed – when is a bung not a bung? It was a chance for the leader of the Green Party to do a Dick Spring, and portray himself as the real leader of the opposition – instead, not-so-clever Trevor chose to imitate Old Springer’s one lasting contribution to Irish life, as Trevor, too, dropped the ball on the goal-line.

Áine Lawlor, asking the questions in that beautiful honeyed voice of hers, gave Trevor every opportunity to take his sword from his scabbard and run An Taoiseach through the gizzard, but Trevor was as Shakepeare’s unperfect actor upon the stage, and hummed and hawed through all his schtick, starting with a botched attempt to resonate with the common man by quoting certain remarks of Trevor’s taxi-driver that morning (the common man takes the bus, T, for your information), and then sinking slowly beneath the mounting waves of fudge as the minutes ticked by.

Eventually, Áine took pity on the wilting Green, and put it to him straight: Ivor Callely had to resign – should Bertie resign?

“Well, I think it’s firstly a matter for Fianna Fáil and the PDs to determine if it’s acceptable … I think the jury is still out…”

Even Minister for Education and Notorious Government stonewaller, Mary Hanafin, TD, would have blushed if she couldn’t have come up with better stuff than that, and she comes to praise An Taoiseach, not to bury him. What was Trevor trying to do?

Whatever it was, he failed, and the great political magician of our times, An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, slips the net once again. Watching Bertie operate is like watching Tiger Woods play golf for money – he’s so far ahead of the pack that one feels he should be made play with a stick of rhubarb off every second tee, in order to at least make a game of it. In fact, so poorly did Trevor attempt to land punches on An Taoiseach An Spailpín Fánach is half-convinced that somewhere, at the back of his head, Trevor is terrified of Bertie not being Taoiseach any more, and the country returning to the ‘Eighties once again. And if that’s not Stockholm Syndrome your faithful correspondent doesn’t know what is.

John Cooney is huffing and puffing in the Independent this morning about Bertie showing disregard for Dáil Éireann by addressing the nation via the caring arms of Dobbo and not the Parliament of our Sovereign nation, but that only for the sake of filling column inches. If John Cooney really believed that, Cooney would never have lasted as long as he has in his mean old business. Six-One News was the only way to go and it was with his characteristic timing that Bertie waited until yesterday, six days after the story broke, before ‘fessing up. Trevor Sergant would probably have rang Joe Duffy as soon as the story broke, the muppet.

Bertie, like Hannibal of Carthage, chooses his battlefields carefully, and this one suited him down to the ground. Because nobody really knows at what stage does a loan become a gift become a bung. An Spailpín certainly doesn’t – An Spailpín spotted one of his best friends a few lids there on the occasion of that man losing his wallet but, when that money was returned on Saturday, should I have claimed interest, and should my friend make a clean breast of it to the Revenue? What is the tipping point at which one should? Nobody knows. The only way this was ever going to endanger An Taoiseach in any way would be if the first revelation was a kill shot. Anything less and Bertie just gets up and walks away, like he always does.

When time passes, last night’s will not even rank as one of Bertie’s top three strokes. The most chilling political stroke Bertie pulled was showing Albert Reynolds his ballot before Fianna Fáil voted for their candidate for President in 1997, a move that would have have made a Corleone proud. But for sheer gall and joie de vivre political, An Spailpín Fánach’s own favourite Bertie Ahern moment was Bertie’s comment to Gerry Barry on the radio one Christmas, in one of those New Year round ups that they do. Gerry asked Bertie about inequality in society, and how he felt about it, or what he made of being attacked on the issue, and Bertie simply replied why Gerry, I’m a socialist myself, you know. The most cunning, the most ruthless, the most brilliant of them all, indeed.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Tae an Méan-Lae

Seo an fógra breá a chonacas ar doras an Gresham tráthnóna Dé Domhnaigh. Ambaiste, ach ba chóir do dhuine an lán-ghalún tae a ól sula d'fhagfaidh sé an teach, chun a cuig Euro is fiche a bhaint amach. Cad a d'iarrfaí ar dhuine dá gcuirfí glaoch ar caca milis leis an tae? Feilm talaimh, is docha.

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