Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I Feel Your Dane - Bolshy Scandinavians "Looking for It"

More of itA couple of days after the shock of the 9/11 bombings had died down, it was not uncommon, while discussing this event that has so changed all over lives, to meet people who would mutter "the yanks were looking for it" when the subject was raised. They would go on to vent to their heart's delight about US imperialism, and then walk home in their Nike sneakers and watch MTV.

Same crack after the London bombings last summer. "The Brits were looking for it, by participating in the military occupation by a foreign power of Iraq," they would snarl, looking angry and hurt in their Liverpool FC and Manchester United tops.

Some years ago, when the bombs in Bali went off, when An Spailpín Fánach was attending the International Rules match between Australia and Ireland, a minute's silence was held for all the people that had been blown up. "You know," said a friend of An Spailpín's after the minute's silence was over, "I wish there was a website or something where I could find the definitive list of 'who's looking for it,' so I can plan my foreign trips accordingly."

I wasn't able to answer the Big Man then, but I'm happy to say that I've now found out who's currently looking for it.


You didn't think there had been any gyp out of the Danes since Brian Boru softened their cough in 1014, did you? Thought the Danes were just up there among the cold waters of the North Atlantic, reading their Hans Christian Andersen fairytales to each other, maybe slugging a little Carlsberg at the weekends, and supporting a cultured but ultimately losing soccer team? Well, more the fool you.

The Danes are actually the jackboot heel of further White Christian Western Cola-cola colonisation of the Great Satan Oppressors of the world, and not harmless oul divils that make tasty rashers at all. How could you have been so naïve? Don't you know all they do is help crush liberty and further George Bush's empire? God, you make me sick! Open your eyes! See what you're supporting, before it's too late!

It all started when a Danish newspaper called Jyllands-Posten published a series of cartoons about the prophet Muhammad. Under Islamic law, all drawings, renderings and pictures of the Prophet or the Saints are deemed blasphemous, and as such the Danish writer Kåre Bluitgen was having trouble to get someone to illustrate her children's book about the Prophet Muhammad.

Where Aughrim was lost - or where Denmark rolled in behind the war-monger Bush, depending on your politics - was where the newspaper illustrated its story about the problem with cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, satirising Ms. Bluitgen's dilemma.

Then the balloon went up. The newspapers' cartoonists are now in hiding because of death threats. The foreign ministries of eleven Islamic countries have protested, Libya has closed its Danish embassy and Danish goods have been successfully boycotted Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Yesterday, the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that he couldn't apologise for a newspaper, but on behalf of Danes everywhere he grovelled that everybody should be friends again. Whether or not that cuts any ice with the countries that have protested remains to be seen.

You can read all about it here, here and here. In the meantime, watch this space next week, where the dastardly Norwegians declare nuclear and biological war on Iceland. The people of Iceland have been looking for it this long while, those Icy bastards. God, how I hate them and their damned Icelandic Imperialism choking the life from this green Earth where we all live in brotherhood and mutual understanding. Grr!

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Battlestar Galactica

Fleeing from the Cylon Tyranny, the last Battlestar, Galactica, leads a rag-tag fugitive fleet on a lonely quest. A shining planet, known as EarthNancy Franklin, the highly-talented TV critic of the New Yorker magazine, had a nice, thoughtful piece in last week's New Yorker on the new Battlestar Galactica, currently in its second season on the Sci-Fi channel in the States and giving Sky One at least one reason for its miserable existence on this side of the world now that Buffy is no more.

It's interesting too that Ms Franklin opens her discussion with an apology for discussing sci-fi in the first place, rather in the way one would begin a conversation, post the serving of the Ferraro-Rocher at the Ambassador's reception, with "I know none of you here suffer from boils but I've discovered the most remarkable cream..." Not the done thing, dear boy. There are few things certain in life, but one of them is that if you wish the girl of your dreams to melt in your arms, her becoming aware of your ability to name the captains of the Federation Starship Enterprise in correct chronological order of their commands is unlikely to do the trick.

And as such, Ms Franklin's thoughtful fifteen hundred words are rather a relief. Science Fiction fans may now relax during indeterminable debates about Brokeback Mountain or Desperate Housewives, and know that it's quite alright to concentrate their minds on speculating just what will happen when Commander Adama wakes up; if the President is the only last hope for the human race, or if she's some sort of nut-job, and you know, I thought I was Dirk Benedict's biggest ever fan, like Numero Uno, but hey, that new Starbuck - well, she's kinda hot. I don't know if I want her to kiss me or beat me up.

One of the many fascinations of the new Battlestar Galactica is just how much it's developed since the original show. Sky One repeated the pilot of the 70s Battlestar about two years ago and it was rather depressing to realise that what held the ten year old Spailpín spellbound was actually horse-manure of the worst kind. My poor parents. But it could be that, for children, it didn't really need to fill in all the pieces on the colouring book - all it took to fire imaginations of ten year olds the world over was the notion that the people that had built the Pyramids were not only still Out There, but they were Coming Back. That, and the fact that the Cylon ceturions' visors had little red lights that went back and forth horizontally. As a cheap little gimmick, it was more amazing than the digital watch Gemini Man used to use turn invisible, and on that an empire was made.

The new Battlestar is unrecognisable from its seventies progenitor, just as the computer at which I'm typing is unrecognisable from the Commodore 64 of fond memory. In the original, the only really thought-provoking questions were how they used to let Starbuck smoke in those small little vipers, and when was somebody going to beat the tar out of that awful young fella with mangy robot dog. In the 21st Century Battlestar, the flight from the Cylons is peripheral to what the show is really about, which is a discussion of what it means to be human. The Cylons, originally constructed by man as his servants, have over-taken him on the evolutionary tree, and this leads to all manner of fascinating questions about what it means to be human in the first place, now that humanity has rendered itself obsolete. Would it be morally correct and consistent to follow the dodo into oblivion? It's also interesting to note that that one of the reasons for the Cylon attack is that they believe their evolution better fulfils God's plan for the Universe than the continued existence of imperfect man. Fascinating, as I say.

Pardon? Oh, if I must - Archer, April, Pike, Kirk and Picard of course. God help me.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Ag Tnúth le Cymru i gComórtas na Sé Náisiún

Henson - comh maith leis an rásúr ná an rugbaíLe linn a óige, léigh an Spailpín Fánach gach chuile leabhair rugbaí i leabharlann Bhéil an Átha, agus léigh go minic iad. As ucht an ré a bhí ann, ba chuid maith de na leabhair sin dirbheatháisneisí laochra móra Bhreatnaigh ins na seachtóidí - Barry John, Gareth Edwards, Mervyn Davies, JPR, gach uile ceann acu. Agus, toisc go bhfuil náduir an duine mar atá sé, d'éirigh an Spailpín go deas bréan le dream rugbaí na Breataine Bige agus a seafóid faoin hwyl agus stár saibhir an rugbaí na tíre agus Bryn Meredith i gcoinne an céann ins an Aifric Theas agus gach rud eile.

Tar éis tamaill agus an Spailpín ina fhear féin, bhuail mé le cúpla Bhreatnach i rith an Earraigh, iadsan i mBleá Cliath ag na cluichí idirnáisiúnta, agus ambaiste níor thaitin siad liom ansin ach an oiread. I gcónaí ag caoineadh isteach ina mbeoir nach raibh an Bhreatain Bheag den chéad scoth na h-imreoirí rugbaí fós.

Ach tá athrú mór tagtha ar do Spailpín ón aimsir sin. Nuair a chonaic mé an Bhreatain Bheag ag imirt comh suairc álainn mar a d'imiríadar i rith Comórtas na Sé Náisiún anuraidh thuigeas, don chéad uair riamh, cad a chailltear nuair a labhraíonn Breatnach faoin hwyl agus stíl breá rugbai na Breataine Bhige.

Tháinig athrú mór in imirt an rugbaí ins na deich blianta ó thosaigh díoladh na h-imreoirí. Bhí traidisiúin bhreá an cluiche ag dul i meath, agus ba chuma le gach bainisteoir foirne ar cach rud seachas a imeoiri a bheith níos laidre. Tháinig an soiscéal rugbaí seo ina díonbhláth i Shasana, nuair a chuireadh le cheile ceann de na stocaigh is laidre a d'imir rugbaí riamh, agus bhuadar an fhoireann sin Craobh an Domhain i 2003. Bhí fear acu ar an sciathán, Ben Cohen, a chuirfí isteach díreach ins an gclibirt fiche bliana sula seo, gan aon cheist faoi bodach mór cosuil leis amach i measc na cúlaí.

Níl an méid imeoirí ag an mBreatain Bheag mar atá ag Sasana. Ins na blianta atá imithe, is cuma faoi, mar cé go raibh cumhacht tabhachtach, níorbh í an rud is tabhachtaí. Tar éis a bhuadar an fhoireann Sasana sin i 2003, bhí baol mór go mbeidh cumhacht agus méid agus feol an t-aon rud amháin ins an rugbaí, agus go dtiocfadh an bua don té ab laidre.

Thug foireann na Breataine Bhige anuraidh freagra don dhrochfheallsúnacht sin. Agus a ndroim i gcoinne an balla, chuaigh an Bhreatain Bheag thiar ina stár, agus stíl galánta a thóg ónór agus glóir ar thir bheag cosuil leí. Cé narbh iad na tosaí is laidre sa domhain, b'fhéidir le tosaí Breatnaigh an liathóid a bhreith, agus íse a scaoil amach go tapaidh go dtí an líne trí-ceathrú. Chuir an líne sin, agus Gareth Thomas ag briseadh isteach ón áit lánchulaí, a gcluaiseanna thaobh thiar díobh agus do chromadar chuig an líne, ag damhsa isteach ionsaigh na fir móra a raibh ró-mhall díobh.

Cé go bhfuair an Bhreatan Bheag a chéad "Grand Slam" anuraidh ó 1978, ní bhfuaradar an meas ba cheart díobh. Nuair a chuir Sir Clive Woodward a fhoireann na Leoin le cheile, thug sé an súil dall chucu agus thóg Sir Clive an seanfhoireann a bhuaigh Craobh an Domhan dó i 2003. Agus tá fios maith againne conas ar éigigh sé leis an seift sin.

Ta an Bhreatain Bheag chun a gCraobh a chosain i gcoinne an sean-namhad, Sasana, i Twickenham an deireach seachtaine seo chugainn. Ní bheidh sé easca dóibh - tá roinnt maith a imeoirí gortaithe nó faoi chosc - ach tá an Spailpín ag súil go trom go n-éireoidh leo. Mura n-éiríonn do chroí agus tú ag feachtaint ar Shane Williams, atá comh chróga mar atá sé comh bheag, ag éalú na himeoirí i gcoinne dó agus an liathróid go daingean faoina ascaill aige ag rith comh tapaigh tá sé beagnach ag scaoileach siar ón dtalamh - bhuel, b'fhéidir gurbh í an iascaireacht do chluiche, a mhac.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Ray Davies and the Kinks

The KinksThe Kinks were one of the great bands of the 'sixties, but sadly, they never went quite as stratospheric as the Beatles, the Stones or The Who. It's a pity, as Ray Davies wrote some really beautiful songs, like Waterloo Sunset, Days, and Lola.

There's a fascinating interview with Ray Davies in this morning's Daily Telegraph. He sounds slightly the far side of sane, but the insight that fuelled his song-writing is still with him. The interviewer, Neil McCormick, asks him what it was like to hear Chryssie Hynde, Davies' former wife with whom he has quite an acrimonious relationship, sing two of his songs during Davies' induction to the UK Hall of Fame recently. This is what Davies replied:

"She only sang. I didn't have to talk to her. I was quite uncomfortable, but I thought it was a nice moment. Love ends, but songs are for ever. They capture a moment and an emotion. You can have two human beings who should not be in the same house, or possibly even the same country, but the music tells you that it really could have been for ever. In those three minutes, there are no hard feelings."

Heavy, heavy jelly indeed. Rock on, Ray. Thank you for the days.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Can Analysis be Worthwhile? Is the Theatre Really Dead?

Tears of a clownRegular penitants at the twenty-first century vale of tears that is the web log of An Spailpín Fánach may have noticed over the years that your chronicler of contemporary Irish life has a little bit of a bee in his bonnet about Dublin. Such friends as are willing to put up with An Spailpín's constant bitching about Dublin sometimes become overwhelmed, and attempt to fight back.

"For God's sake, a Spailpín," they admonish, "Dublin is a great town. Look at all there is to do!"

"Oh, there's a lot to do alright. You can do skag, meths, pills, or even buckfast tonic wine, from what I can see. Very damned popular, I notice."

"Don't be such a smartarse! You know what I mean! There's lots to do in this town."


"Well, there's nothing like a lovely night at the theatre."

If you want to know what nothing like a lovely night at the theatre is like then Dublin is just the spot to find out. An Spailpín Fánach has just this very afternoon spoken with a friend who recently went to see Hinterland, by Sebastian Barry, at the Abbey Theatre, supposedly our "National" Theatre. The poor man is still shook, and that was five days ago.

[Turns out he was worse shook than I thought. The play in question turned out to Homeland by Paul Mercier, and not Hinterland by Sebastian Barry. Of course, the fact your correspondent can't even tell the names apart rather adds to the argument, don't you think?]

An Spailpín Fánach his own self went to see Shining City by Conor McPherson when it was on in the Gate in 2004, and didn't I get the land. They were doing the hard sell on McPherson, because the Irish theatrical establishment was still blushing brightly over not discovering Martin McDonagh when they had the chance, so they were making the most of Conor.

The company was wonderful and the post-show pinting exquisite but my Lord and my God, Shining City itself was boring beyond belief, with a pathetic attempt at a "shock" ending that might be alright for Episode VIII of Flash Gordon and the Cages of Mars but for "writing and acting at its most riveting" (The Times), it was poor enough gruel.

However, I have the program for the upcoming season at the Gaiety right here in in my cave as I type, and I now realise that whoever are running the Gate and the Abbey are as Burbage and Shakespeare compared to this yahoo. I quote John Costigan, Managing Director, Gaiety Theatre, from his introduction to the 2006 Programme:

"The Irish premiere of a hilarious new comedy Dirty Dusting is sure to have audiences in peels [sic] of laughter, with Adele King ('Twink') leading an all-star cast including Joan O'Hara (Fair City) and Eileen Colgan (Tara Road, Angela's Ashes) in this story of three 70-something cleaners facing the axe, who devise a daringly naughty plan to make a little extra cash on the side .... Twink's long-awaited return to the stage is celebrated in style in this uproarious new comedy. Come and see for yourself, [sic] exactly what these three 'girl's [sic] get up to."

Nothing like a good night out at the theatre, indeed.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Luke Kelly

Luke Kelly
The first watching of Luke Kelly: The Performer on DVD leaves the viewer nicely posed on the horns of a dilemma. A man may take the pessimistic route, and sink into despair knowing that this magnificent, epic singer will never be heard again, or he may just thank God that Luke Kelly did come our way, if only for a brief time, and now this DVD exists in complement to the Dubliners' recordings, to remind us that in Irish folk singing there is Luke Kelly, and then there are the rest. Kelly's crown is undisputed, and the release of this DVD serves only to copper-fasten his kingdom as the King of Balladeers.

A man has to doff his cap to whoever it was that compiled this DVD - the entire planet was combed for footage. We see the Dubliners from the Ed Sullivan show in their sixties pomp, through the Jim McCann era of the mid-seventies (including footage of Kelly singing Kelly the Boy from Killane in Germany sporting an afro that would surely have nested every bird in the Ciffs of Moher), and on to the eighties, when Kelly was fighting the good fight against the Arch-bastard, that cruel, remorseless old foe that is cancer.

The footage is stunning in itself. It's hard not to remember that the grammar of how to film bands and singers hadn't been invented at this stage, and sometimes the band can seem startlingly raw to our eyes used to polish and sheen. In a lot of the early footage from the 'sixties, it's distressingly plain that these men have just rolled into the TV studio from a public house, and they're going to roll right back out again for a raft of pints once their duty is done. The shirts are startling also; there is one piece of footage of a performance of The Monto where Kelly is wearing a red shirt with a great, big brown tie with yellow spots. I guess it was the 'sixties, man, and anything went. Pity the tie didn't go as well.

Luke Kelly himself makes for fascinating viewing. All my generation remembers of Luke Kelly, visually, are that clip of him singing Scorn Not His Simplicity on the Late Late Show Tribute to the Dubliners (first broadcast 1987, if you can come to terms with that without weeping), and the clip that you may have seen before of Kelly singing Raglan Road in a TV studio with Ciarán MacMahúna and Ben Kiely. Other than those two, nothing. Only a reputation left behind, like the Cheshire Cat's grin. And because of that, this DVD is supremely fascinating.

Firstly, Kelly doesn't look that big. He doesn't look as physically imposing as you would expect from such a rafter-raising voice. In the early sixties he sang staring straight ahead, into the middle distance. By seventies he had relaxed a little, and was even showing signs of becoming something of a ham on stage. His hand gestures are surprisingly effete, for someone with such a man's man reputation. Very wristy darling, very wristy indeed. But the most stunning thing of all is just how much Kelly enjoys his singing, and how stunningly well he transmits that singing to the audience.

Track 10 of the DVD is Luke singing Dirty Old Town, on stage somewhere where I suspect English is not the first language. At one point the camera pans across to Barney McKenna, and it's clear just how much McKenna is getting into it. And that tells its own story. You have to remember that Barney McKenna is a banjo virtuoso. For Barney McKenna to play accompaniment to someone singing as simple a song, melodically, as Dirty Old Town is like sending for Nigella Lawson to make toast. It's a waste of talent, and it's rather boring for the maestro. So for Luke Kelly's singing to have that effect on Barney - for whom all this is just one more gig, if it's Tuesday it must be Gronegin - well, it's some goddamned singing, is what it is.

Because it's with the singing that it all begins and ends. All that other chat about the drinking and the wild red hair and the communist inclinations is just so much palaver. When all those hoary old stories have long faded away the recordings of that astonishing voice will last and be treasured as a remarkable human and artistic achievement. And now that we have the DVD, we can almost imagine what it was like to hear him live, or we can get as close as the fellas in Plato's cave got to turning around and seeing the real thing. This is a tough old world where it's hard for the worthy to last - to even have as little as do have is something to be celebrated.

What was so remarkable about Luke Kelly's voice? The astonishing power of it, that presence that can't be ignored. Ralph McTell says on the DVD that when he first heard Luke Kelly he was terrified, and terror seems the only sensible reaction to that remarkable power.

Power is too unsubtle a word. Kelly's voice wasn't particularly loud as such, although I'm pretty damn sure he could be heard at the back of a hall. As Paddy Reilly explains, Luke Kelly was not a bellower - because Kelly was naturally gifted in terms of technique, his singing mechanics were such that he actually sang through his nose, rather than roaring it out in the manner of the pub drunk. That's where the power and presence come from.

Kelly's phrasing was different too. Kelly's diction was marvellous - he carefully enunciates each phrase and gives it an appropriate weighing. Listen to the weight he gives "her" in "I saw her first and knew," from Raglan Road, for example. Such a parcel of rogues in a nation, rolling his r's and spitting out the world "rogues." And the damned barbed wire gets higher and higher, picking out the rhymes. Luke Kelly was a big Frank Sinatra fan, and Francis Albert has always been noted for his phrasing. Does that make Luke Kelly the first ever syncopated folk singer? It'd take a better musicologist than An Spailpín Fánach to answer that, but certainly Luke Kelly's phrasing was unlike any other folk singer I can think of.

But even then, when you talk about technique and voice projection, you're still missing something. There was something else in Luke Kelly's that he was able to draw on and transmit to an audience through his singing. Watching him singing in the DVD, it's like he's not so much a singer of a song as the song's conduit - that whatever Art is in the song has chosen Kelly to make itself known, and that Luke Kelly is the one man we've met or heard so far that can tap so deeply and so fully and so seemingly effortlessly into whatever place it is on Mount Parnassus that these songs actually live, and take them from the mountain-top to the people.

All of which sounds a bit precious. Maybe so. But the late Frank Harte thought that songs only every existed at the moment of their being sung; that whatever they were in their dormant, written or spoken state, they were only songs qua songs when sung. Not before, not after. If that's true, then there was never a better man to breathe life into songs into songs than Luke Kelly.

Luke Kelly will be 22 years dead on Monday - the brain tumour finally claimed him on January 30th, 1984. Reader, treat yourself. Spend twenty Euro on Luke Kelly: The Performer on DVD. It's like no singing you've every seen or heard before. And, to put you further in the mood, a taste and a treat: Luke Kelly singing Raglan Road in 1979 on a DVD show called the Humours of Donnybrook, as referred to earlier. Is minic a scríobhtar nach mbeidh a leithid arís ann - i gcás an Ceilleach, ní raibh a leithid ann sula seo ach an oiread. Go gcana do ghlór uasal go mbinn suairc fós ar ardán Pharthais, a Rí Mór na h-Amhránaí, Luke Kelly.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dara Ó Cinnéide

An CinnéideachNíor chuala mé óráid Uí Chinnéide tar éis a bhuaigh Ciarraí Craobh na h-Éireann i 2004. Ag an am sin, bhí Bealach na gCroithe Bhriste á thógail ag an Spailpín Fánach, nuair a bhíosa féin agus lucht tacaíochta Mhaigh Eo ag iarraigh ár n-éalú a dhéanamh ón áit na ndeor. Ach chualas arís í ar Raidió na Gaeltachta Dé Sathairn seo caite, nuair a tháinig an scéal amach go raibh bróga peile Dara Uí Chinnéide á chrochadh suas aige ar an uair deirneach.

Scoth na h-óráide a bhí ann, a leitheoir. Mar a chonaic Seán Óg Ó hAlpín an bhliain ina dhiaidh Ó Cinnéide, agus an tAlpíneach ina chaiptean ar fhoireann buaite na h-iomáint, thug Ó Cinnéide faoi deara go mbaineann níos mó le Cluiche Peile agus Iomaíochta na h-Éireann ná lá breá amuigh sa Bhaile Mhór, nó cluiche spóirt amháin. Bhí fios ag an mbeirt acu, Ó Cinnéide agus Ó hAlpín, narbh gnáthlá é Cluiche Ceannais na h-Éireann ach lá ina thagann roinnt rudaí dífríochta le cheile, ón stáir agus ón phobal agus ó gach rud Gaelach, agus a théann faoi bhláth ar an lá úd sin. Bhí aithne ag an mbeirt, Ó Cinnéide agus Ó hAlpín, níorbh ach píosa beag den lá í an Chraobh a bhuadar agus, cé go raibhadar buíochach go leor gur rugadar ar an gCraobh, tá i bhfad níos mó ar siúl ar an Lá Mór agus is leir gur thuig an beirt acu a phairt féin ar an Lá Mór.

Tá agallamh breá san Irish Times ar maidin idir Ó Cinnéide agus sárscríobhnóir an Times, Keith Duggan. Go dté tú slán, a Chinnéideach - tá faitíos mór dubh ar an Spailpín Fánach nach mbeidh do leithid arís ann le fada.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

The Jumbo Breakfast Roll

Dasssriiite!!!Those of you whose mouths were uncouth enough to water after reading about Mother Hubbard's the other day may get a small blasht of out this. It's an .mp3 download of that Jumbo Breakfast Roll song that Pat Shortt sang on The Late Late Show recently. McArthur's Park it ain't, but good old crack nonetheless.

Anyone that wants to see the actual performance can take a peek here. Not that interesting I'm afraid - Pat's Dixie character is a bit forced, for my money, although Pat himself does deflect the more mischevious of Pat Kenny's questions with no small amount of skill.

Pat Kenny remains a disaster, I'm afraid. There's just eight minutes of Pat here, but consider the amount of bum notes he strikes in those thousand seconds. It's like he was doing it deliberately. Consider that the Late Late drags on for over two hours, and then make sure your Xtravision membership is clean or else that you have a lift home on Friday nights after a good skip of strong, black porter. It's the only way to maintain Friday night sanity.

Even more strangely, it's like it's the one mistake Pat Kenny is making, over and over. Pat asks the next question without listening to the answer of the last one. He jumps the gun. God, you'd think even if someone told him, "Lookit Pat, whatever Pat Shortt or any of these other professional entertainers say, give them a second or two to have their laugh. Say 'one Mississippi, two Mississippi,' if you have to, but for Christ's sake, shut up. Jumping all over George Galloway is fair game because Galloway jumps back, but it's not like Pat Shortt is shipping A-rabs over to Camp Gitmo, now is it?"

Might as well be talking to the wall, I suppose.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Mess of Pottage

Oh brave new world, that hath such creatures in it!If you've even been at a party where someone cracks a joke and everybody is laughing but you, because you really, really don't get it, then you'll know exactly how An Spailpín Fánach has felt ever since yesterday's announcement that a deal has been reached between the GAA, the IRFU and the FAI over the use of Croke Park. It has been presented by a more or less unanimous media as a Great Day for Ireland, and anything that smacks as much of an Official Party Line as that should always have the sensible citizen reaching for her rubber gloves and ten foot pole.

Skimming through the radio news and sportscasts this morning, I couldn't help but be struck that the media has - subconsciously or no - divided the country up into Us and Them.

In the Us corner, it's modern Ireland, taking her place among the nations of the Earth two hundred and four years after Robert Emmett's speech from the dock. Our leader is President Stan Staunton (Sir Bobby his Vice-Regent, of course), and our national symbols are the inflatable green shamrock, the Dundrum shopping centre and a docket confirming the granting of planning permission for a strip club just off Fitzwilliam Square. Our great national Cathedral is Croker, a sacred sward in Dublin 7 where our millionaire Poet Laureate, Bono, has often lectured us on poverty.

Somehow, and nobody is quite sure how it happened, that national Cathedral where we gather to worship who we are and what we have become, has been taken over by Them, those who are Not Us. It seems that Croker has been taken over by Them, and They have refused to allow us to celebrate our Irishness by playing soccer and rugby in Croke Park. However, after long and protracted debate, They have finally fallen and given in. They have taken our money, the ultimate power in New Ireland, and now they're saying Uncle, and all is right with the world. This morning's "Irish" Sun headlines with "Becks for Croker!" and nothing quite sums up this Brave New World as succinctly.

The notion that Croke Park belongs to the hoi polloi rather than the GAA, a private organisation with a private agenda, is an interesting one. The price of the sexy GAA of the past ten or fifteen years - and wouldn't it be a rich irony if we could date it precisely to Dublin's last All-Ireland, that thing that must happen regularly if the GAA is to survive? - is that Gaelic Games have lost some of the depth of their meaning, and become just one more event on the social calendar, happening after the Horse Show and before the Gaiety Panto.

A great and good friend, confidante and legal advisor to An Spailpín Fánach was speculating recently on just how hard it is now to get All-Ireland tickets. While it was never easy, this man posited a theory that it's now more difficult than ever because going to an All-Ireland is something that One Does - it makes the top ten of those Thirty Things to Do Before You Die lists that one sees in glossy magazines and colour supplements. I've been to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, I've danced with Springsteen in the dark, and I've seen Les Mis. My life is complete.

It's interesting to note that while attending Croke Park on All-Ireland Final day is something that one does, attending Provincial Finals or - God forbid - club games is most certainly not on the list of Thirty Things. That is below the salt, darling, so far below the salt it's damn near off the table. Also off the table is taking Under 12s for training, washing jerseys, selling club lotto and going to Ballinlough this Sunday, knowing full well that Mayo are doomed, doomed, doomed under the Moran stewardship but they are still the Mayo football team and there is nothing else. Besides, there's a rumour that there's a tree in Ballinlough that's growing right up through the stand, so maybe that'd be something at which to marvel while the team get their heads lopped off for the first - but not, alas, the last - time in 2006.

While men are trying to plot a way to and from Ballinlough on Sunday, the papers will be full of supplements about how The Great Dawn came about, and how Croker was repatriated for the people. Seán Kelly, Uachtarán CLG, will no doubt be giving his "howdy, neighbour" schtick fir all he's worth, and there'll be a lot of soft chat about "the Irish Sporting Family," now that the G has been taken out of GAA. All that old chat about Irishness and Irish identity will be quietly put aside, all that old palaver about Irish dancing and scór na n-óg and the Annals of the Four Masters, and we'll all march on together into this brave new, sporting, world. I can only hope that a seat isn't being reserved for Seán Kelly and such well-meaning men as Eugene McGee beside Marshall Pétain and Diarmuid MacMurrough who also thought they were doing their best by their country and beliefs.

But don't mind a bitter old Spailpín, whose senility has been delivered early. Read the great Keith Duggan in this morning's Irish Times, who writes with more grace, subtlety and style than An Spailpín could dream of, on life in the Brave New World. God help you, Ireland, whoever you are.

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Another Black Week for Irish Public Life

The events of a woman's death in Enniscorthy as revealed in the media from Tuesday on are deeply distressing. No-one should suffer a death like that in a civilised society, and it is right, fitting and proper that all avenues are investigated to find out if wrong was done, and that if wrong has been done, that wrong should be punished to the full extent of the law.

What should not be happening in a civilised society five years into the 21st Century is the media wallowing in the details of the unfortunate woman's death as we've seen this week. The mock press conferences that have occured should have been ignored by a responsible media, who would do well to remember that the Public Interest is not at all synonymous with that in which the Public is Interested.

Today FM's grotesque and shocking news reports on Tuesday morning, describing in nauseous detail the state of the woman's corpse when her body was discovered, were broadcast when parents were giving their children breakfast. Whoever is responsible for such a stunning lack of judgement should be bounced out of their job forthwith. Whoever in RTÉ is responsible for leading the radio news all day yesterday with yet another bizarre self-serving family statement also has to seriously consider what his, her or its priorities are. This grotesque voyeurism serves the nation badly, and is sickening just to think of. And this is being written before tomorrow's Sunday papers are published, which I fully expect to plumb even greater depths of horror. May Christ pity and spare my poor sad country if it's all come this, if this is all we're worth.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Cad a Dhéanfaimid Feasta gan Hubbard's?

Bhain An Spailpín Fánach a chéad triail riamh as an mótarbhealach nua seo, an M4, De Sáthairn seo caite. Tá an mótarbhealach go h-iontach, ghearr sé triocha nóimead ar a laghad ón dturas, agus cheannaigh mé mo dhola agus mo chroí ag seinnt port aereach. Ba cheart do thiomanaí aire a thabairt ar an luas - tar éis an mótarbhealach, bhí Toyota Corolla an Spailpín ag eitilt tríd an Iarmhí mar an Millennium Falcon a bhí ann, ach beidh cleachtadh agam ar sin ar feadh tamaill. Thugas treith bhrónach an mhótarbhealaigh seo faoi deara, afách. Agus scáth an mhótarbhealaigh caite uirthi, cad a tharlóidh maidir le Mother Hubbard's, an bhialann is clúdaí ar an mbealach suas go mBaile Átha Cliath?

Tá clú agus cáil ar an bhialann Mother Hubbard's toisc go gcuirtear muinín gnáthphobal na tuaithe inti nuair atá an bricfeasta ag taisteal uathu agus siadsan ag teacht thuas chuig chluiche, nó stéig is prátaí bruite ag taisteal uathu agus siadsan ar an mbealach abhaile. Má tá dínnear spéisialta agus oíche breá rómánsach uait, is docha gurbh cheart duit dearmad a dhéanamh ar Mother Hubbard's, ach nuair atá an ocrás ort agus tú i bhfád ón mbaile fós, sí Mother Hubbard's rogha agus togha duit.

B'iad múintir na tuaithe de gnáth a ithear i Mother Hubbard's. Tá ómós mór ag an Spailpín ar Sarah Carey, Banríon Mhór na mBlaganna Gaelacha, ach ní dóigh liom gur chuir sise ná a dream a bróg bhreá tríd an dtairseach riamh. Agus íse ina comharsan freisin, amach ansin i bhfásach na Mí. Níl ann i mbialann na bpobal ach na tuaithigh is tuithí ar a dturas isteach nó amach ó Bhleá Cliath, agus na h-Oithear Eoropaigh ag fréastail orthu ansin. Tá fios maith ag lucht na bialainne gurbh iad muintir na tuaithe, an gnáthphobal, a itheann ansin, agus mar sin, déantar rudaí dóibh agus ní dhéantar rudaí eile. Beidh clár an cluiche mór le ceannach agat i Mother Hubbard's oíche an cluiche mór, agus ní bhactar le painini lán le fhomhair an inneill bainte curtha suas chugat agus tú ag neath leis an ocras.

Bhí An Spailpín isteach i Mother Hubbard's maidin Dé Sathairn ar deireadh seachtaine saoire na mbanc eigin i rith an Samhradh seo caite, ag ithe a bhagún agus uibheacha agus ag coimead a ghnó féin, nuair a thugas faoi deara go raibh roinnt paistí tagtha isteach, agus a dtuismitheoirí leo. Buaileadh go tobann orm go raibh pictiuir soileir ar Éirinn sa 21ú hAois os comhar liom anseo ins an mbianann. Bhí teaghlacha óga ag dul síos abhaile ó mBÁC ar an deireadh seachtaine chun na paistí a thabairt síos chuig na seanthuismitheoirí. Thainig saigheas aisling orm ar an ndeireadh seachtaine a bhí ag fanacht orthu - an bealach fada i bhfad uathu, na paistí ag éirí dána i gcúl an ghluaisteain, an deifir a mbeadh orthu go leir, idir an triúr ghlúin, ag iarraidh gach rud a dhéanamh, Mamaí agus Daidí ag iarraidh tús luath a dhéanamh ar an Luan agus an seanphéir curtha amach, ag iarraidh orthu fanacht ar an ndinnéar, in aimn Dé, cén deifir atá orthu agus an lá fada uaibh?, an bealach fada ar áis agus an oíche, na paistí ina gcodladh suas staighre agus na tuismitheoirí ar an idirlíon agus ag déanamh bringlóidí ar saol bog nua amach ins an Astráil.

Ba í an "feed" i Mother Hubbard's an t-aon sos amháin a d'fhaigheadh na teaghlacha sin ar na deiridh seachtaine sin, ach anois tá sí ró-fhada ón mbóthar chun an cuairt a dhéanamh. Níorbh í Mother Hubbard's an bhialann is fearr a thugas cuairt uirthi riamh, ach ba í, ar feadh tamaill, an bhialann is Gaelaí. Go n-ithe d'ispíní ar bhord bhricfeasta an Pharthais, agus go raibh do thae té go deo.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Miss Caroline Morahan, and Her Fabulous Role in Irish Life

Miss MorahanThe facts, from what can be pieced together from my own recollections and the Garda files, are these: on New Year's Eve, December 31st, 2005, I, An Spailpín Fánach of the County Mayo, was summoned for "emergency coffee" by my very dear friend, Nessa Nic Lir. Nessa had been having a very bad day and needed cheering up, so we repaired to that joint on Grafton Street that isn't Bewley's, even though it looks like Bewley's, feels like Bewley's, and charges through the snout like Bewley's used to do. Go figure. Anyway, Nessa ordered a skinny chinny whinny chino, with skimmed milk, marshmallows and chocolate powder sprinkles. An Spailpín Fánach had tay. We got down to business straightaway.

"I hate her so, so much," said Nessa. "That fat cow."

"Ara musha whist," said An Spailpín, comfortingly. "You don't really. You only think you do."

"You don't understand. You'll never understand. I hate hate hate hate hate her."

"But she's done nothing to you, Nessa. You've never even met her. You've only seen her on the telly."

Nessa glared at me. "That's not the point. You don't understand. You'll never understand. You're such a pig!"

"Well, there's not much I can do about that Nessa. I'm trying to be your friend, but I just don't see what you've got against Caroline Morahan. It doesn't make any sense to me. She's just some girl on the telly, that's all. A fairly fit one, but - what the Hell is that? It sounds like a tuba. Who plays a tuba in Bewley's? Even in this strange ersatz neo-Bewley's that we find ... er, Nessa? What are you doing?"

My companion had pushed her chair away from the table, a mad and unearthly light shining in her eye. She stood up and began to pace the floor. People began staring. An Spailpín Fánach started dreading the worst. The tuba was getting louder and louder - Dum dada dumdum, dum dada dumdum...

Nessa began to speak. Dum dada dumdum, dum dada dumdum...

"Dear God, you made many, many size thirteens. I realize, of course, that it's no shame to be beef to the heels, like the Mullingar heifer. But it's no great honour either! So, what would have been so terrible if I had an RTÉ contract?"

Dum dada dumdum, dum dada dumdum...

"If I were a Morahan,
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
If I were Caroline.
I wouldn't have to work hard.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
If I were a biddy biddy Mor-,
Yidle-diddle-didle-didle -ahan.

"Ah God Nessa, this is going to be a scene, isn't it? People are staring."

"I'd have gowns and frocks and shoes by the dozen,
Each bought on account at BT.
And I'd always wear the most exotic furs.
Paris and Rome would be my destinations
- Although Dublin's where my heart would always be -
If I had a rack like hers!

"The Horse Show in summer, in all of my glory,
Soaking up the sun in Dublin 4.
Looking at all the horses, the greys and bays.
In the evening on the town going dancing,
But there's only one boy I want to score -
Who else but Philip Boucher Hayes!


"If I were a Morahan,
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
If I were Caroline.
I wouldn't have to work hard.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
If I were a biddy biddy Mor-,
Yidle-diddle-didle-didle -ahan.

"I don't believe this, I really don't. What will Sister Mary think in the Convent?"

At that point in time of course, Sister Mary's opinion was about as relevant as An Spailpín Fánach's. The café crowd had separated into two camps - the ones who joined in con brio, and even shouted along with the "Oy!"s at Nessa's punchlines, and those that bore hats, coats and scarves to their breasts, and beat a hasty retreat to the exits. And so, as Bertie Wooster used to say, the long day wore on. Oy!

"I'd drink champers and spritzers with that rugger set
And I'd spend a lot of time in Donnybrook -
When I'm not working hard in RTÉ.
And later in the night when I'd meet Brian O'Driscoll
I'd say 'So long Glenda, take a final look
Because Ireland's call is calling now for me!'

"But you know, it's not all glamour.
I'd be a serious journalist - I'd have a qualification from - whisper it - DCU!
And I'd walk the geo-political stage - in the most fabulous shoes, of course...

"I'd read Chomsky and Pilger and even Robert Fisk
And the nature of jihad I'd investigate
You'll have never ever seen a harder worker
Til we do Off the Rails from war-torn Palestine
And I find a arab female who doesn't look so great
And I say 'now's the time to pimp this burqa.'


"If I were a Morahan,
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.
If I were Caroline.
I wouldn't have to work hard.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
If I were a biddy biddy Mor-,
Yidle-diddle-didle-didle -ahan.

Pandemonium, as you can imagine. Grow men weeping. Old ladies snuffling into their hankies. An Spailpín Fánach, hypocrite to the last, was telling all and sundry that yes, Nessa is a very dear friend and he had always encouraged her to be A Star. Sweetness and light all round, in fact, except for some young fella who was trying to make a few pound doing Blue Oyster Cult covers on Grafton Street. Realising that a showtunes revival wasn't going to help that endeavour, in he goes to Bewley's and tries to do mortal harm to Nessa, swinging his axe like it was an actual axe, instead of a second-hand Strat that fell off the back of a lorry. And bounced a few times.

Nessa wasn't sharing her spotlight with anyone, least of all some pikey. She went for him karate-style, a la Miss Piggy in the Muppet Show, and both fell in kicking, biting and gouging heap. Other punters picked a side and then dived in themselves, until a full scale riot was in effect, and had to be stopped by a battalion of coppers and two Russian sailors, who were only in town because one of them was on a promise from some babushka from back in the Motherland, now resident in Parnell Street and working as a dancer, of all things. We're all up before the beak for the Hilary term, and as I sat in my cell with my new friends Pavel and Igor, I wondered: Who the hell is Caroline Morahan anyway, and why is everybody suddenly talking about her? What does she do? Because one cup of tay, impromptu showtune performance and several blows dealt and taken later, I still have no idea.

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Hand Me Down Me Crystal Ball - An Spailpín Fánach's Sporting Preview for 2006

An Spailpín Fánach reads in this morning's Sunday Times that Michael Foley advises the people of the County Mayo to be patient. "With a Connacht title well within their grasp and a panel and management surely capable of delivering at least that, it's hard to see a problem."

All-Ireland finalists hoping for a provincial title fifteen months on? Nothing like shooting for the moon, is there Mick?

An Spailpín was bitterly disappointed to see the appointment of Mickey Moran as Mayo manager, and was bitterly disappointed on two counts. Firstly, An Spailpín is a Johnno man, and cares little who knows it. Secondly, it's as clear as mountain poitín that the County Board wanted O'Mahony as manager, or else their shafting of the most successful Mayo manager ever doesn't make much sense. Incompetence is something that always troubles your correspondent, and watching the County Board thrash about trying to appoint a manager after Johnno realised that they were offering the position of whipping boy rather than county manager was depressing in the extreme. If you've ever seen a pianist trying to bang out Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue while wearing boxing gloves you'll get an idea of the level of subtlety at which these bozos operate. A lesson for all political conspirators out there: when you're planning your coup, make sure you have the successor ready in the wings before the body of the incumbent hits the floor. Or else the result may be Mickey Moran.

It seems, from reading the press, that Mickey has a magnificent reputation in the country as a coach. How odd that this magnificent reputation never lead to Mickey's name being touted as a new Dublin manager, whenever that most glamorous of posts was in the offing. One can't help but wonder who propagates this Mickey-is-a-great-coach shibboleth, but I would bet a sneaky fiver on it being Mickey himself. Or else, perhaps, his mother.

Mickey Moran, supercoach, has won one, 1, national title, a national league with Derry (I think) in 1995. That places him on the same level of achievement as Pat Holmes, who at least had the bonus of actually being from Mayo and serving her football cause with honour and distinction when-ever he wore the green and red. Pity about his management career, but nobody's perfect. The danger with Mickey is what I suspect was the problem with the Pat Holmes era, in that the manager was not picking the team. I don't think Mickey is going to pick the team either, to be terribly honest. I think it's going to be picked for him, and if Mickey has any objection to that, it may be suggested to him that he take a peek at his expenses cheque, and see whose name appears at the bottom. Mickey then faces the agonising choice of following the money or saying screw the gelt, I'm here for the honour and glory of the sweet County Mayo, and damn the consequences. Our prayers will be with him during his long dark night of the soul.

Hopefully all this will seem as ridiculous come high summer as An Spailpín's confident prediction that Galway would win the All-Ireland in football last year. But, do you know, I doubt it? I don't think Mayo will be in trouble in the league, as which-ever division exactly it is that Mayo are in is clearly the weaker of the two first divisions, with no real shortage of gluggers in there. Mayo will be whacked in Kerry of course (how those chaps hold that '96 semi-final against us), but should get enough points in between times to survive, and maybe even get another League semi-final scutching in Croker such as that delivered by Armagh last year. But come Championship and playing for keepsies, Mayo supporters should be heading for Carrick-on-Shannon in fear and trepidation - provided they escape the fleshpots of London town, of course. Leitrim's playing resources are slim, but how bravely they stretched those resources last year, and what bad beats, as the poker players say, they suffered last year. Luck turns, and if they can keep the panel together, the ball has to hop Leitrim's way soon. On a purely selfish note, An Spailpín can only hope it won't be at Mayo's expense.

On an unselfish note, if Leitrim are to beat Mayo in Carrick next June how wonderful it would be if Roscommon were to be their opponents in the County Final. Not because I think everybody should have their chance - I do not, who do you think I am, Joe Higgins? - but because such a marvellous rivalry exists between the two counties, and what an occasion it would be, an occasion for rural Ireland, the real people of Ireland, those poor faceless souls whom we call brother, sister, father or mother, who are never represented on RTÉ or in the newspapers. Those poor dumb slobs, that forgotten majority after whose sisters you've lusted, brothers you're played football against, whose mothers taught you and who's fathers gave you work in the summer. Those people that stood by you in good days and bad, and whose last act for you will be walk with you to the church when you're on your very last day out. I think those people deserve a day out, and I think a Connacht Final between Roscommon and Leitrim would represent the ne plus ultra of that demographic. By the Tuesday after the game I would be heartily sick of both of them, of course, and fervently wishing a plague on both their houses, but what can I tell you? It's New Year's Day, and the sun has been shining. Even Spailpíní have hearts.

As regards other codes, looks like the rugger team is buggered. An Spailpín watched Leinster and Munster in the Celtic League on telly yesterday and the difference in class between Felipe Contrepomi and Ronan O'Gara at stand-off half was deeply depressing. Other insights were available too - Shane "Shaggy" Horgan is as slow as a greyhound that's eaten half a stone of sausages, and the only reason Gordon D'Arcy looked good two years ago was because he was in the reflected luminescence of Brian O'Driscoll's incandescent genius. D'Arcy has other problems too - Dorse is currently in very real danger of losing out to blindside flanker Cameron Jowitt for the best hair in Kiely's of Donnybrook. Where did it all go wrong, Dorse?

I hope the Welsh win the Six Nations again, I really do. They got no justice from Sir Clive on the Lions tour, but weren't they just thrilling against Australia in the autumn international at Cardiff? And they had to play without their starting centre partnership of Shanklin and Henson. As a nation Wales has its issues of course, but as a rugby team they still remember what the game is supposed to be about; that's courage, dash, adventure and glory, and not seventeen stone wing forwards thundering into each other like bumper cars in a run-down carnival.

There was a time when my generation used to measure the passing years in terms of World Cups. That seems less viable now, after such a poor 2002 World Cup. The worst German team ever getting to the finals, North Korea and Turkey in the semis? What ever happened to the notion that this is the Great Stage where genius burns brightest? Somebody's agent must have objected. Still, even if it's a poor World Cup it's still the only one we've got, and An Spailpín Fánach will be investing a pensive pony on the hosts to win once more. For three reasons. Firstly, hosts traditionally do well in World Cups. Secondly, in Bastian Schweinsteiger Jerry surely has one of the great nomen qua nomines of the World Cup - Richard Wagner would have belted out another Ring cycle on the sheer Germanic strength of this young man's name alone. And finally, if Germany wins it, imagine how it'd piss off the Tans?

FOCAL SCOIR: An Spailpín Fánach urgently counsels all sensible men and women to have nothing to do with Ryder Cup. Waves and waves of propaganda will crash and thunder all around you as September approaches, but you must be strong and remember, it's only a competition if both sides want to win. Tiger Woods has done little to hide his distain for the Ryder Cup, and if the Yanks don't have Tiger they don't have a team. The Ryder Cup is the sound of one hand clapping, and another feeding frenzy for the rich and privileged in Irish society to get richer and more privileged. Have nothing to do with the worship of their ersatz golden calf.
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