Monday, June 26, 2006

"Spoken" Irish

Some guy that don't speak Irish goodStudents and advocates of the Irish language alike are to be forgiven any wry smiles or mirthless chuckles they may have indulged in on reading in Friday's Irish Independent that the level of spoken Irish in the educational institutions of the state is "in freefall." Those familiar with the issues in the revival of the language are to be excused if the remarks reminded them of nothing so much as a doughty old dowager on the Titanic complaining about a waiter serving red wine with the fish while the Atlantic waters washed the table away.

It's like the old saw about Northern Irish politics, where those that thought they saw a solution had to be informed that the only reason they thought they saw a solution was that they did not fully understand the problem in the first place. As such, to fret and worry over the state of spoken Irish is to miss the elephant in the room; that is, that the State has been criminally negligent in its responsibilities towards the language and it's only the efforts of enthusiasts, idealists and amateurs - to say nothing of cheques guaranteed by Her Majesty's Government across the way - that are keeping the ancient language in such a state of life as she currently endures.

For the past number of years, certainly since An Spailpín was in school - and that's not today or yesterday, I sadly note - emphasis on the spoken, rather than the written, language has been all the rage. I'm sure the best of intentions were behind it, as the earnest and idealistic remarked that it was a terrible thing to be able to write and read a language, but not to speak it. Unfortunately, twenty years down the line, we are still unable to speak our language, and are now considerably further towards illiteracy in reading and writing her as well. If this is progress, the Irish language will not survive much more of it.

It's always rather confused An Spailpín how a language that has no received pronunciation can be thought as a "spoken language" anyway - the absence of RP means that there is no official guideline on what the spoken language sounds like. Take "dubh," the Irish for the colour black - is it pronounced like the English "do," or the English "dove"? Nobody knows, but everyone is damned if they will change the way they were taught in school - even when they say they despised the language in school and that their teacher was a monster and a sadist.

There are three - at least - recognised dialects of Irish, and possibly more. Irish language enthusiasts claim that it's easy to tell them apart after only a little study. That may be true for talented linguists, but for twelve and thirteen year olds in secondary school, already hopelessly confused by inconsistent teaching standards in the national schools, it's all too much. So they just give up, and the language inches just that little bit closer to Eternity as the generations go by.

Back in the 1920s, at the height of the language revival, the revivalists had a choice - they could take the classical form of Irish, which lasted until about the Flight of the Earls in the early 18th century, give or take a generation, as their template for the return of the language to the people, or they could consider the language as spoken in the Irish speaking areas of Kerry, Galway and Donegal as time capsules, that preserved the spoken language of the people in an ideal and pure state.

Miserably, they chose the latter option. Blinded by a philosophy that was one part Rousseau, one part Marxist, and one part I don't know what, they failed to notice when they were setting "the spoken language of the people" as their ideal that the spoken language of the people is English, actually. They also failed to note that all "spoken" languages are dynamic, ever-changing, which means that there is never a solid rock there on which to build a church. Better had they chosen the bardic Irish; it would have been difficult, but at least a high water mark would have been set, and everyone would know where they stand.

Beyond that, although not a linguist by any means, An Spailpín Fánach has severe doubts about this whole "spoken language" method of learning. It's like those books you see in airports, that promise you fluent French or German after three weeks' study. Anybody that clever doesn't do their book shopping in airports. Latin has survived for two thousand years by generation after generation sitting on hard benches and chanting "hic, haec, hoc..." until it went in their heads and stayed there. Maybe there's something to be learned from all that. Go dtéimidse slán go leir, agus ár dteanga féin linn. But An Spailpín is not that hopeful, I'm afraid.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Friday, June 23, 2006

A Long Way from Home - Goodbye to the Comfort Zone?

Show me the way to go home, I'm tired and I want to go to bed...
The Irish rugby team had their feelings hurt recently. The week before last, they decided en masse to boycott a member of the Irish working press, who was part of the party that travelled to New Zealand and Australia to cover the current tour.

The Irish rugby team thought that the Irish Independent’s David Kelly was, like, such a bitch for what he wrote about their moral victory but actual defeat in the first test against New Zealand. You can see what he wrote here; samples include “a squad high on confidence given the provincial and international success enjoyed this season ... played with Munster-like composure, forcing the home side into many uncharacteristic errors ... Richie McCaw and company knew they were in a match ... we looked threatening, O'Driscoll standing out the game's dominating individual ... This squad has come a long way under O'Sullivan.”

Pardon? You don’t think that’s hurtful? You think if you wanted to take a pop at the Irish rugby team in its totality you’d be coming up with cracks like “Eddie O’Sullivan is so unenthusiastic about making changes to the XV that the IRFU ought to consider getting him treated for obsessive compulsive disorder, before he goes Howard Hughes on them.” Or “the only wing more useless than Shane ‘Shaggy’ Horgan is the one that’s attached to an emu.” Or “the best sidestep Gordon D’Arcy ever made was on the dancefloor at Annabels.” Or “Ronan O’Gara takes his position of stand-off half too literally – he’s meant to get stuck into the bastards, not stand off them.” But hey, we’re all pals here, aren’t we? There’s no need for the nasty stuff.

The goys might be regretting their hissy fit once this morning dawns in Australia. The picture at the top of this piece was on the cover of this morning’s “Irish” Sun, and this evening it had made the Herald. The Herald tried to spin it into another “O Drico! My Drico!” angle, claiming that as well as being the finest rugby player in the history of Irish rugby, Brian O’Driscoll likes nothing more of an evening than to socialise with the travelling support – who are, incidentally, the Best Fans in the World™. Maybe so, but this piccy looks a lot more wild than a evening sipping Pimm’s at the Governor’s mansion, watching the sun dapple those verdant lawns that are that part of Africa that will be forever British. This looks more like a photograph of a man that’s out of his box.

Stories of rugby players partying to excess are part of the legend and lore of the game, most quite too lurid to repeat here. A friend of An Spailpín Fánach told me once he saw S**** B**** and V***** C******** sinking pints of strong black porter in some boozer in Westport once, and seeing those two former Irish internationals (and Blackrock alumni – Christ, how much more do you need?!) on the session inspired in him feelings similar to stout Cortez when he gazed upon the Pacific. But traditionally that’s been kept in the family, and only retold when everybody is old, grey and safely retired. The picture of O’Driscoll, though hardly flattering, is by no means unusual – An Spailpín received it by email yesterday, actually – but the printing of it is a new one in Irish journalism. No doubt the boys will console themselves this morning that there are only oiks and Northsiders working for or reading The Sun and as such they don’t count, but the goys have to worry if the good times in the Comfort Zone are over. And they’ll worry some more if, for all their jawing about “respect,” the team bites the dust by the eight points or more that Paddy Power is predicting. Another lesson in being careful about what you wish for.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Tubaiste i nDán don gContae Mhaigh Eo?

Mac an Bhaoil, Laoch Mór Mhaigh EoTá an Spailpín Fánach buartha go leor sular imreofar an cluiche leath-cheannas Connachta Dé Domhnaigh seo chugainn idir Liatroim agus mo bhinnchontae Mhaigh Eo. Bím ag cur allais i rith mo chodladh. Tagann crith chois is láimh orm uaireanta nuair a smaoiním ar an gcluiche. Níos measa go leir, táim beagnach cinnte gur chualas an bhean sidhe oíche Dé Céadaoin, agus mise ag cur an bhrúscair amach.

Ní hí foireann Liamtroma amháin atá ag cur imní ar bhur scríobhnóir rialta, cé go bhfuil foireann Liatroma i bhfad níos maithe ná mar a thuigtear. Ní bhfuair Liatroim pioc áidh ins na blianta le deanaí - bhaineadar geit as an Mhí, Ros Comáin agus cúpla fhoireann eile ach níor chríochnaigh siad an obair. Insíonn siad sin don Spailpín go bhfuil drochlá ag fánacht ar fhoireann éigin i bPáirc Sheáin Mhic Diarmada, agus tá eagla mór orm go dtiocfaidh an drochlá sin ar Mhaigh Eo Dé Domhnaigh.

Ní chloistear scéal dochasach ó Mhaigh Eo le fada - chuaigh foireann Mhaigh Eo níos measa, in ionad níos fearr i rith an Sráith Náisiúnta, go dtí an lá uafasach i gCaisléan an Bharraigh, agus bhuail na Gaillimhí orainn mar a bhuaileann an casúr ar an dtairne. Fuaireamar amach an lá sin go raibh an séasúr bun ós cionn againne, nach bhféidir linn ár múinin a chur in imirt na Sráithe, agus go bhfuil an fhoireann fillte ar Chéarnóg a hAon arís. Tá éis imirt Ghéaróid Uí Bhrádaigh i gCil Áirne ag tús an Sráth síleadh go raibh rogha ag Mícheál Ó Móráin, bainisteoir Mhaigh Eo, idir an Brádach Óg agus Ciarán Mac Domhnaill, ach tuigtear anóis go mbeidh Mac an Bhaoil ag caitheamh Uimhir a hAon Déag arís i rith an tSamhraidh. Imreoir den scoth é Mac Domhnaill, ar ndóigh, ach ba ea seift - nó dóchas, b'fhéidir - Mhaigh Eo Mac Domhmaill a chur isteach mar lán-tosach, agus an dhá éan a mharú leis an t-aon chloch amháin. In ionadh sin, beidh an Máilleach isteach ar imeall na céarnóige. Tá súil ag an gcontae go leir go mbeidh scaoileadh an Mháilligh níos cruinne ná mar a bheadh sula seo - mura bhfuil, ní dhéantar pioc dífríochta, mar beidh é ar an dteilifís a bhfeicfidh lucht Mhaigh Eo Páirc an Chrocaigh.

Is é filleadh Daithí Uí Bhrádaigh arís ar fhoireann Mhaigh Eo an rud is tabhachtaí agus is dóchasaí a tharla i bpeil Mhaigh Eo le linn an Mhóránaigh, agus mar sin is tubaisteach an scéal go bhfuil sé gortaithe anois. Bhris an Brádach cnámh chois éigin agus tuigtear go dtosóidh Stíofánach eile, Pat Harte, i lár na pairce in eineacht leis an cispheileadóir ar an nDomhnach. Níl dabht ann, afách, gurbh iad an seanBhradach agus an cispheileadóir rogha na h-imreoirí i lár na páirce ag Maigh Eo faoi láthair - guíonn gach croí Mhaigh Eo go n-imreoidh siad le cheile i 2006, mar níl an Brádach ag éirí níos óige.

Maidir le cursaí cúlaithe, níl an Spailpín comh corraithe suas mar atá sé leis na tosaithe. Tá Daithí Ó hÉanaí ag teacht amach ó lánculaí faoi dheireadh, agus tá múinin ag an Spailpín ar an fear nua, Liam Ó Máille. Cé bhfuil sé beag, tá misneach neart laidir aige, agus sin a dhothain ag éinne. 'Siad foireann na thaobhlíne atá ag cur imní ar an Spailpín is mó, agus nuair a léigh do scríobhnóir ins an Mayo News go raibh tréanáil Mhaigh Eo dúnta don lucht iriseoireachta agus tacaíochta, bheul, ba drochthuar eile ar tuairsc an bainisteora. Tá fíos maith ag gach tacadóir Mhaigh Eo gurbh é Seán Ó Mathúna rogha Bhoird Mhaigh Eo mar bainisteoir, ach ní fhéidir leo an margadh a dhéanamh. Deirtear gurbh bainisteoir den scoth é Mícheál Ó Móráin, ach ní fhéidir liom tuiscint cén fáth. Cá bhfuil an fianaise? Cad a bhuaigh sé? Agus más fear glic é an Móránach, cén fath go bhfuil John Morrison aige mar sár-eolaí, fear nach ndéanann faic ach labhairt óna thóin?

Tá an Spailpín buartha go leor maidir leis an gcluiche seo. Cloisim an gúth sidhe uaigneach taibhseach sin arís ag seinnt ós comhar na fuinneoige, agus tá faitíos orm go mór go bhfuil Maigh Eo á chaoineadh ag na sidhe. Dia is Muire linn.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Top of the Pops Hits the Bottom of the Barrel

Heathcliff - it's me, Katie
The news that the curtain is to come down at last on Top of the Pops after forty-two years fills An Spailpín Fánach with a strangely wistful feeling. Like the rest of the former viewership, An Spailpín hasn’t watched Top of the Pops in quite some time, but I still continued to watch TOTP long after I stopped listening to pop music radio, and after I had begun to realise that pop music, as we currently understand it, is as dead as dead gets.

The reason that Top of the Pops was essential viewing for so long was because TOTP was where genius would take its bow. The great appeal in watching TOTP, and the reason viewers kept going back week after week and sitting through twenty-five minutes of rubbish was the three minutes of magic that would make all the preceding worthwhile. It worked in two ways for fans – you could discover bands you never heard of when they made a triumphant Top of the Pops debut, or you could cheer a band you had followed for years when they finally went big-time between seven and half-past on a Thursday night.

All An Spailpín’s warmest Top of the Pops memories are of the ‘eighties, naturally enough, as that is An Spailpín’s vintage, when your faithful correspondent was that age when pop music seemed like the most important thing in the world. Wendy James snarling into a microphone that she did not want our money, she wanted our love, thus making her an exception in that famously venal and grasping decade. Enya singing Orinoco Flow playing a black piano bestrewn with roses. Kate Bush with the biggest hair in a big hair decade singing about making a deal with God – she always aimed high, Katie. And saddest and most magical of all, The Pogues featuring the wonderful Kirsty McColl, may God be good to her, all crowded onto a stage that was too small for them, just failing to have a Christmas Number One with The Fairytale of New York, and the bells ringing out for Christmas Day.

I remember Kirsty and Shane years later, back on Top of the Pops, or the new TOTP the BBC introduced in the 1990s to try and keep the thing going on a ventilator, dueting the Fairytale – Shane was wasted, and Kirsty sang the edited version of the “you scumbag, you maggot” line. It was very sad, and it was clear then that TOTP’s, and pop music itself’s, number was up. With the odd exception, like the Spice Girls, the magnificent Britney before she married Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, and the gorgeous Rachel Stevens singing “Some Girls,” An Spailpín’s favourite pop song of the past three years at least, everything else in the popular music pantheon is, almost without exception, muck. Nick Cave has lost his muse, McCartney’s sixty-four, the Rolling Stones are a joke. You can take your Artic Monkeys, your Coldplay and whatever you’re having yourself, put them all into a sack and throw in a six-pack of stout for luck, and I still wouldn’t give you a fiver for the lot of them.

Nobody bought Rachel Stevens’ Some Girls. Sounded like Bananarama anyway. An Spailpín only ever listens to Raidió na Gaeltachta or Lyric FM anymore. And what I wonder now is: is pop music cat now, or was it always? Is my current distaste just a function of great age, or are people listening to someone now the way I listened to Lloyd Cole then?

Personally, I doubt it, and here’s why (hats off to The Community at Large for the link). This is Pitchfork Media’s list of the 100 Best Music Videos of all time. Most of them have not come within An Spailpín’s ken, and many of those that did have been ignored because they’re M-U-C-K, but there are some incandescent classics on there that you can’t help grinning like a fool with joy and delight as you watch them. Adam and the Ants, Madonna, Kate Bush of course, ZZ Top. Transvision Vamp are a loss, but I don’t suppose they ever did that well in the States. No excuse for no Blondie, though. Funnily enough, a lot of the videos I associate with MT-USA and fab Vinnie Hanley, God have mercy on him, rather than Top of the Pops - ZZ Top, Van Halen and Pat Benetar, God help us. The interesting question is: is this genuinely good stuff, or is it just An Spailpín relieving his youth in front of the telly? “We are YOUNG, doo doo doo, doodoo…” Noël Coward once quipped that there’s nothing quite so potent as cheap music – looks like he had a point.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Moment of Hibero-Argentine Solidarity


Technorati Tags: , , ,

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Chinese Death Van

There's a fascinating article in USA Today about lethal injection gaining over shooting as the prefered method of capital punishment in China. A company called Jinguan, aflame with that spirit of entrepreneurship that currently rages through China, has therefore invented a "Death Van," to make it much easier to dispatch the wrongdoers.

It turns out that prior to this, if you wanted a hood killed by lethal injection, you had to send him all the way to Beijing, whereas if you would settle for just shooting him all you needed apparently was a gat, a back garden and a prisoner willing to keep his mouth open while being shot in the back of the head - they don't care for the bullet wrecking the face, you see. Spoils the effect. Now, because China supports human rights, you can just send for the Death Van, and they'll take your hood(s) on board and do the neccessary.

Nasty cynics in Amnesty International aren't convinced, though. It seems that organs taken from criminals who have died by lethal injection are in better shape, and therefore more saleable in a China currently aflame with entrepreneurship, that some guy that got riddled.

The Chinese Governement has sixty-eight crimes on the statue that are punishable by death. They are maintaining the numbers who are executed every year as a state secret, but Amnesty reckon it could be as high as eight thousand a year, which works out at a little under one an hour, all day, every day. That's a lot of second-hand liver to hit the streets in a free market.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Charlie Haughey: The View from Outside the Island

Charles HaugheyNow that Charles Haughey has crossed over the River Jordan, we as a nation seem no wiser in trying to figure out what to make of him. Perhaps it's best, then, to let an outsider cast a cold eye, on life, on death. Steven Pearlstein's assessment of Haughey in this morning's Washington Post is headlined "Ireland's Economic Transformation began with Charlie Haughey." In the article, Pearlstein goes through what Haughey did in 1987 and what its repercussions were, and cuts through all the cant and bile with a final, pithy summing up of Haughey's legacy in real - dollars and cents, darling - terms: "... Charlie Haughey, a rogue of a politician who taught Ireland the age-old truth that it is better to focus your energies on growing the pie than fighting too long or too hard over how to divide it."

Ar dheis Dé go raibh anam uasal Cathail Uí hEochadh, laoch mór na hÉireann. Ní bheidh a leithid arís ann.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Time to Shut the Back Door

Frankie Dolan - The Broken Heart of the RossSeán Moran remarks in this morning’s Irish Times that attendances at the weekend GAA games were not as wretched it as it would appear – Mr Moran has looked at the figures and, as it turns out, the figures have been wretched for some time. And this is still the Championship proper, you know – wait until the un-appetising qualifier fare of Waterford v Longford, or Antrim v Clare, rolls around, and you’ll know what the deserted village looks like without ever once having to consult your collected volumes of Goldsmith.

If the Irish Times’ GAA reportage of the past number of years is to be believed, attending GAA games is a deeply spiritual experience, that is not only rewarding in itself but a Holy Day of Obligation, which brings Dire Punishments on those who make mock of The Faith – witness Tom Humphries’ excoriation of the Mayo supporters who left the All-Ireland Massacre of 2004 early. That unknown but immensely gifted priest who put an eighty-year curse on the Clare hurlers because of their supporters leaving Mass early was only in the ha’penny place with Big Tom in late September ’04.

And as for those who thought that gifting Croke Park, the jewel in the GAA crown, to competing codes was like turkeys voting for Christmas – they were damned to the Hills as troglodytes, bog-hoppers and “backwoodsmen.” Backwoodsmen was an interesting assignation, actually – there are very few remaining woods in Ireland since Cromwell’s visit in the 17th Century, revealing that those who gloried in the use of the pejorative simply read it in a book, instead of thinking up their own material. But never mind – the simple GAA man or woman was assured that for as long as the shamrock would bloom in Erin the masses would pay €25 a scalp and more to games that didn’t matter a damn to either the players who played in them or the three boys and a man who watched them.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that cruel fate has condemned you to Cork. You are sitting by the Banks of the Lee, ating crubeens washed down with Murphy’s stout, and fashionably dressed in a Roy Keane t-shirt. You are considering driving to Limerick for tomorrow’s game. But you have over one-hundred All-Ireland titles in the bag already – after that, it takes something to be on the line to get you out of the cot in the morning.

What was on the line for Cork yesterday? Nothing, and nothing will be on the line for some time. A visit to the qualifiers is no real big swing to a county thinking in terms of All-Irelands. They know the real thing doesn’t begin until the August Bank Holiday weekend, and everything before that is just so much throwing of shapes. Pass the crubeens.

What, then, was on the line for Limerick? This is where it gets interesting, because the evidence shows that the real legacy of this Back Door System is to comfort the strong and afflict the weak. If you’re a Limerick football supporter, what was on the line for you on Sunday? If you lost, you know the past few years have been for nothing. But if you won, what progress have you made? How nearer to glory are you? You’re in a Munster Final, but you’ve been in Munster finals before, and don’t remember getting all shivery on the strength of that alone. Will Kerry fear you because you dispatched Cork? Well, no, they won’t – Kerry, like Cork, are thinking Sam, and they know that this is just shadowboxing as well.

This is issue of the devaluation of the Provincial Finals. It’s not that winning a title means less, although it clearly does; it’s that losing a title means less, and simply gives the strong teams more room to manoeuvre.

People who condemned the old knock-out system as “unfair” forget that unfair cuts both ways. While it might be “unfair” that your non-traditional power gets hammered like a nail nineteen years out of twenty, that one twentieth year when the non-traditional power strikes back and leaves the traditional power dead in a ditch is equally unfair. It’s unfair on the traditional power, who would certainly reverse the result in a replay, and it’s unfair on the rest of Ireland that some middling team is that much nearer an All-Ireland than the rest of the country because they had a lucky day at the office.

If a system is “unfair” to both sides, doesn’t that mean, by definition, that it must therefore be fair to both sides, and thus universally fair? An interesting syllogism, don’t you think?

If abstract reasoning isn’t your bag, consider the very concrete case of Roscommon, who host Galway this weekend in Hyde Park. Roscommon have been considered a top-table football power since Jimmy Murray’s day. The past five years suggest that Roscommon are now second division, and that slide is likely to continue unless something happens very soon. How did that happen?

The popular perception is that it all stems from rank indiscipline in the Roscommon ranks, nudie pool, porter babies and all the rest of it. Now, when their was a story in the Sunday Times the week before last about Vinnie Murphy of Dublin exposing himself to Star Trek actor Colm Meaney and quipping “Beam Me Up Scotty,” there were no photo sensation stories in the Sunday People. And young men having a taste for porter is hardly news in Ireland – it seems unlikely that a Roscommon man’s preference for the Devil’s Buttermilk should be any stronger than a civilian’s. So maybe the explanation of Roscommon’s decline being due to Mr Booze is a superficial and incorrect one, and perhaps greater detective work is required.

It’s interesting, when one talks to the Rosserini, that the chief gripe the Roscommon supporter has with his or her football team over the past number of years is a distinct lack of pride in the jersey, something that was never, ever, associated with the primrose and blue before. This is not a result of porter – the jersey smelling of last night’s booze and fags is a result of porter. What can make a man lose respect for his county jersey, which he has loved since he was a child?

Could it be the perception that the jersey doesn’t mean what it used to? An Spailpín Fánach has been wondering over the past number of months if what happened to Roscommon in the 2001 Championship had the same effect on the Roscommon football psyche as a meteorite crashing into Strokestown – was that loss an extinction-level-event for the Roscommon football psyche?

Consider the facts of that Championship. Roscommon went to Tuam as massive underdogs against a Galway team that were unlucky to lose the previous year’s All-Ireland after a replay. But Roscommon won the day, because Séamus O’Neill played the game of his life, and because Paul Noone marked Michael Donnellan so closely that an ecstatic Shannonside radio commentator Willie Hegarty was moved to remark “If Michael Donnellan went down the town for a bag of chips, Paul Noone would be in the door ahead of him.” After winning the subsequent Connacht Final, Roscommon’s first Connacht title in ten years, Roscommon marched on to face ... Galway.

Galway? But surely Galway were already slain? Up to a point Lord Copper; Galway were cast from the light, but, like the most beloved of the angels, Galway rose from the lake of fire to contend for greatness again. They arrived in Castlebar to put down the insurrection, and put it down just as thoroughly as Major General Havelock put down the Indian Mutiny. And Roscommon haven’t been seen or heard of since. They fluttered briefly in the qualifiers in 2003, until they were coursed out of Croke Park by Tommy Lyons’ Dublin I believe, or possibly Kerry. But other than that, they’ve been dead in the water.

The GAA, surveying the wreckage in Castlebar after that Galway-Roscommon game of 2001, decreed that the slaughter of the innocents was a bit much, and put an addendum into the back door system, forbidding rematches unless they became inevitable, but the damage was done. It is now clear that a traditional power has two lives in the Championship, whereas a weaker county has just the one. The most thing that a weak county had on its side, the element of surprise, is now denied it, while the traditional powers continue to scheme for September as they always did, except they are now aware that they have a greater margin of error until the hay is saved and August has rolled around.

The spectators aren’t getting a great deal either. A philosopher and Roscommon man remarked to An Spailpín at the time of the introduction of the new system that the people of Ireland were now denied what he coined as “the five to five feeling”; meaning, in the old days when all the games started at half-three, by the time five to five rolled around you know whom was slaughtered and whom had survived; whether the traditional power still stood mighty, or whether it had been slain by an underdog team that suddenly had the gates of glory yawning open before them, if they would only take their blessed opportunity.

No more. Now when five to five rolls around, the crowd mooches out of the ground just like they mooched in, fully aware that the real thing doesn’t begin until the August Bank Holiday weekend and this has been like a league game, only with better weather. And when the August Bank Holiday weekend rolls around and Croke Park is sold out, Marian and the Irish Times and the rest of them will tell us all is well with the GAA and isn’t it great those frightful backwoodsmen have been beaten back to their shacks, but by then another county will have atrophied, and another light will have gone out where the GAA used to be.

It’s time to shut that back door while there’s still a horse left to bolt. No knock-out system is going to be foolproof; if the GAA wanted a foolproof system to decide who would be All-Ireland Champion they should hire a consultant from KPMG to write a report, but it’s hard to imagine a full house at Croker turning up to hear him read it. What the knock-out system provides is hope and glory, but this is a glory that has been diluted by the advent of the back-door system and a hope that has been all but extinguished. The back door must be closed before the candle finally gutters to its end.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Biffo Barbershop Incident

Figaro - the barber of Seville, of courseOver two thousand years ago, Aristotle figured out that the big thing in analysing any issue was to reduce everything to its essential features. Don’t be distracted by details that aren’t important; you have to get to the root of the thing.

This is a penny that has yet to drop in the Irish media. Such coverage as An Spailpín Fánach has seen of the Biffo Barbergate Incident all seems to focus on the question of how long a young man’s hair should be. Brody Sweeney, that seller of expensive sandwiches, was telling Marian Finucane on Sunday that in his young day the thing was to grow your hair long, like Jesus, presumably. There’s a hairdresser quoted in yesterday's Sunday Tribune remarking that a number one blade is no big deal, really. An Spailpín couldn’t quite figure what could be closer than a number one blade; decapitation, one presumes.

But this is all dancing around the issue. The issue is not about hair or haircuts. The issue is about whether or not a school has a right to make rules in areas that are not strictly academic, and what parental attitudes to those rules should be. If you believe that yes, the school does have the right to impose a dress code on a student body, then it’s case closed, and the headmaster was well within his right to turn the three young people away. If you don’t believe that a school has the right to impose a dress code – well, maybe you ought to send your children somewhere else? The day before the Junior Cert seems a little last minute to be making these sort of decisions.

An Spailpín is unsure if the school still has the right to impose its dress code once the exams start, the school year being technically over, but he’s not that bothered, really. It looks like the thing will go to law anyway, as one of the Mummies concerned looks like there’s nothing she relishes more than the unarmed combat that is the bearpit of the Four Courts. An Spailpín is certain of only one result of this Biffo Barbershop Incident and it is this: if, many years hence, you’re visiting the town of Tullamore and you’re feeling peckish, do not laugh at the appearance of your server when you go snackbox-hunting, irrespective of how so, like, not, you may consider his apparel. For it could very well be that your server is this very young man that’s just chucked his education for the sake of a haircut, and how much greater store can a man put in his appearance than to throw his future away for the sake of it?

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Lá Oráiste Tagtha ar Deireadh ag Corn Domhanda an Sacair?

Eaglais an Sacair - Allianz Arena, München, an Ghéarmain
Corn Domhanda Sacair chun tosú amárach i München, an Ghéarmain, agus tá bhur Spailpín Fánach ag tnúth go mhór go mbeirfidh an Ollainn ar an gCraobh ag an gCluiche Ceannais, arís i München, ar an 9ú Iúil. Níl grá mór agamsa ar na nOllainis; tá deich Euro agamsa orthu le Pádraig de Paor.

Sin mura mbeirfeadh an Bhrasaíl ar an gCraobh, ar ndoigh. Tá sé soileir le cach agus suim aige nó aici ins an sacair gurbh í an Bhrasaíl an foireann is fearr sa chomórtas, agus gurbh é Ronaldinho an imreoir is fearr sa dhomhan. Deirtear go bhfuil Ronaldinho comh maith anois ná go bhfuil sé comh maith le Pele féin, mura bhfuil sé níos fearr. Smaoineamh eiriciúil ab ea é sin cúpla bliain ó shin, ag Corn Domhanda 2002, ach tar éis a shéasúr den scoth le Barcelona, is leir go bhfuil Ronaldindo faoi bhláth a bhua anois, agus tá an ardán ceart aige, ardán an domhain, reidh anois chun an bua sin a thaispeant do lucht leanúna sacair, agus leanúna spóirt go ginearálta.

Tá praghas an Bhrasaíl beagán ró-ghearr ag an ngeallghlacadóir chun pingin an Spailpín a chuir uirthi, afách - is cuimhin liom agus le mo lucht gcarad foireann Brasaíle 1982, an foireann is fearr gan an Corn Domhanda a bhuachaint. Theip ar an foireann galanta sin, agus a h-ainmneacha fós comh dríochta anois mar a bhíodís ansin, Zico, Socrates, Josimar - i gcoinne an Iodáil sa dhara babhta an chomórtais, agus fagaim le huacht gurbh fhéidir leis an mBraisaíl titim ar an gcliath chéanna anois. Má tá easpa múinín agat ar an mBrasaíl, nó b'fhéidir go bhfuil tú ró-shantach chun praghas ghéarr a thógail, tá roinnt foirne ann ab fhéidir an Craobh a bhuchaint.

Tá múinín an Spailpín curtha ins an Ollainn mar ba bhreá liom a mbainisteoir, Marco Van Basten, nuair a imríodh sé leis an Ollainn agus AC Milan, agus tuigtear gur chuir Van Basten stop ar an gclampar idir cheile a mbainneann le gach foireann Ollainis i rith na blianta. Comh maith le seo, is beagnach comórtas baile é Corn Domhanda ins an Ghéarmain don Ollainis mar is cine Ghéarmainis iad - éist le focail a h-amhrán náisiúnta, agus tuigfidh tú go breá.

Baineann baol leis an Ghéarmain fhéin i gcónaí i gCoirn Domhanda ó bhuaigh sí a céad Chorn i 1954, ach níor rug an Ghéarmain bua ar aon thír mhór ó 2001, rud nár tharla riamh. Comh maith le sin, tuigtear go bhfuil a gcaiptéan, Michael Ballack, gortaithe don gcéad cluiche amárach, agus b'fhéidir níos faide ná sin. Mar sin - cé go gcuireann sé faitíos orm - ní chreideann an Spailpín Fánach gurbh í seo Bliain an Iolair arís.

'Siad na Sasanaigh an dara rogha na coitianta don gCorn seo, agus tá roinnt gcarad an Spailpín ag éirí beagán imníoch go mbeirfidís ar an mbua tar éis a daichead blianta ghortú. Is féidir leo, cinnte, ach síleann an Spailpín nach mbuafaidís, toisc go bhfuil siad beagán ró-lag ins na tosaigh - níor chaill Michael Owen treithe a thinnis fós, tá Rooney aonchosach, agus is cuma dá mbeach an triú chos ag Peter Crouch - is fear deas é, ach ní imreoir den scoth é. Pé scéal é, is cuma leis an Spailpín Fánach má bhuann Sasana an Corn Domhanda - mura mbuafaidh Áth Cluiche Ceannais na hÉireann, codlóidh do Spailpín go sámh agus an geimhreadh ag dridim isteach arís. Ach sín troid ar lá eile. Táim ag tnúth go mhór anois leis an gcomórtas, agus an Ollainn - agus ar an ngeall bradach a ghlac mé go n-éireoidh le Fernando Torres an chuid is mó cúil a fháíl. An bhfuil lá na Spáinne tagtha linn ar deireadh?

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Friday, June 02, 2006

Uptown Uptempo Mot

Caroline, NO!
Next weekend, as well as the little matter of the World Cup, sees the fifty-ninth birthday of Randy Edelman. Randy Edelman is currently making a few pound from writing movie soundtracks, and more power to him, but in his original incarnation Randy was a singer-songwriter in the 1970s, one of those characters who played plink-plink piano and sang what were meant to come across as sophisticated songs of love and loss. His oeuvre was never really that great, to be honest, but An Spailpín will raise a glass in Randy’s honour on Saturday night week, Randy’s birthday, because Randy wrote one of the greatest of all the Songs You’re Ashamed to Love.

A Song You’re Ashamed to Love is one of those songs, probably first heard at an impressionable age, that touches you somehow, despite the fact that by all rational and reasonable judgements, it’s really the most desperate muck. Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Go to, My Lovely? springs to mind as a fine example of the genre, as does Terry Jacks’ Seasons in the Sun, Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart and possibly the most appalling of the whole dang bunch, their Hitler, their Napoleon, their Attila the Hun, I’ve Never Been to Me, by Charlene.

Truly terrible tunes all, and yet not without their charm. Except Terry Jacks', of course - that was always rubbish. Anyway, as Randy will be looking at the small bonfire that is a 59-candled cake the weekend after next, An Spailpín Fánach has taken the liberty of, ahem, re-imagining, updating and transposing the mise en scène of Randy’s most famous composition from 1970s New York to 21st Century Dublin. I hope that, in time and with Christian charity, the civilised world can someday forgive me.

It started out in Arnotts, the way that most things do,
You wore your Louis Vitton, I wore me Dublin blue.
I grabbed your bag and we raced out,
Hardly said a word;
You saw I was a bit o' rough,
I knew you for a fit burd.

You decided to drop charges
Because you saw I was a man;
I took you back to Finglas
And greased your bacon for my pan.
But early the next morning,
I was ruined from Dutch Gold,
You had a business meeting
As I lay there, still out cold.

When you got back in the evening,
You said you had to fly;
You're an uptown, Brown Thomas woman,
I sell Johnny Blue on the sly.

Our romance soon got heated,
As May quickly turned to June,
You got in a fight on Parnell St,
I did some dealin' in Cocoon.
But it got a little too much
When on your chips you saw a fly;
You enjoy your haute cuisine,
But I prefer Birds-eye.

You're an uptown, Brown Thomas woman,
I sell Johnny Blue on the sly.

Our romance soon was ended
When I stole your mother's ring,
I knew I shouldn'ta done it
But I could never resist da bling.
You reported me to the Old Bill
You told them that's the guy;
“I’m an uptown Brown Thomas woman,
He sells Johnny Blue on the sly.”

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Where Does the Buck Stop?

Remember Ivor Callely? Ivor Callely was the Government Junior Minister who had to resign last December because he got a painter to paint his holiday home as a nixer, at a cost of a grand and a half. The Irish Times editorialised on December 8th last that “The public will not tolerate any whiff of impropriety from their politicians,” and Ivor was summarily dispatched.

Today, instead of the mild whiff of a fifteen hundred Euro nixer, we are faced with the poisonous and desperate situation of the gates of such meagre prisons as we have yawning open and the most vile and base of criminality and perversity slinking out with a song in their hearts and what An Spailpín Fánach wants to know is: whose damned head is going to roll for this?

An Spailpín Fánach has long been an admirer of Michael McDowell. McDowell is a, clever, and b, not in it for the money, with separates him from the majority of our elected representatives. But the harsh truth of the matter is that after the Supreme Court child abuse judgement Ireland has become a perverts’ paradise, a place where ghouls and monsters will come from Bangkok to holiday here, rather than the other way around, and it’s happened on McDowell’s watch. He has to go, and in a properly functioning democracy, or some strange Shangri-la where honour meant something, he would have gone already, in shame if nothing else.

It’s no time for McDowell’s many enemies to gloat either. McDowell is a man who chose to serve his country rather than get fat and rich at the bar, and for that he deserves praise. Anyone that feels like taking a cheap shot or demanding the current government to call an early election should ask themselves: who is the current spokesperson on Justice for Fine Gael? For the Labour Party? For the Greens? An Spailpín has no idea, and I suspect I’m not alone in that.

The Independent is reporting today that Irish private sector borrowing rose by 30% last year. The entire country is in hock, the prisons are discharging monsters like something out of an apocalyptic horror movie, and the so-called opposition are utterly anonymous after being gifted the biggest stick anyone could hope for with which to batter a sitting government. There was a program on TV last night where John Waters opined that there was a fear in the county at large that the bubble would burst and we’d end up back in the ‘eighties, back on the dole, back in the chain gang. An Spailpín advises the entrepreneurially inclined to start printing those Kajagoogoo t-shirts now, and get in ahead of the rush. God help us all.

Technorati Tags: ,