Monday, December 29, 2008

The Sporting Year in Review and Preview

The man Irish rugby cannot do without. Go bhfoire Dia orainnOne of the many stings of the current recession is the memory of what was. The squandering and the waste of the riches that once were, and are no longer. As far as the rugby public of Ireland are concerned; you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The cold hard fact of the matter is that Ireland and Italy are the only countries in the Six Nations that have not won the Championship in the past twenty-three years. And not only have England, France, Wales and Scotland won multiple championships in that time, each of them has at least one Grand Slam as well in that period. What have Ireland to show for this? A few devalued Triple Crowns and a lot of old blather about rugby in Croke Park and Paul O’Connell pyjamas.

That was the good news. The bad news is that it’s about to get worse. The lack of foresight that characterises Irish government is also becoming clearer as the golden generation ages in Irish rugby. The rise of the provinces – well, one of the provinces – as an entity in the international game comes at a cost. Time was when the clubs were the next level down from the international team; a provincial cap was not a necessary precursor to an international cap. Now the gap is too wide, meaning that there are now only three teams from which Ireland can choose her international side. There is a ragbag of exiles, parental rules and Hell-or-Connacht, but the reality is that the Irish pick of players has never been so small.

Look at the current out-half situation. If Ronan O’Gara slips coming out of the betting shop some frosty January morning Ireland do not have anyone who can replace him. Nor is one likely to appear; in the professional game, the choice between accepting losses as the cost of developing young players in specialised positions and flying in some nearly-was from Australia is a starkly simple one. Munster is now in danger of eclipsing Ireland as an entity in the national sporting psyche – did you notice how both Ronan O’Gara and Anthony Foley were pictured on the front of their autobiographies in the red of Munster rather than the green of Ireland? – but in ten years’ time, how many Irish eligible players will be playing for the Irish provinces? Grim times.

Thank goodness, then, that the Championship still rolls on, giving the summer meaning and definition year after year. The football championship was another classic this year, as Tyrone confirmed their place as the team of the decade. Kerry’s team of all talents lost focus over the Galvin affair, and the behaviour of former Kerry greats in defending the disgraceful antics of their former captain did the proud county no favours. Perhaps if Kerry had cut Galvin loose the Monday after the Clare game they would be All-Ireland champions today? Hubris is Greek for getting too big for your boots.

And how wonderful it is that Kerry have responded to Tyrone’s victory by recalling Jack O’Connor to the colours. O’Connor has a chip on his shoulder the size of the rock of Gibraltar, and he is brought back solely to put down the Ulster rising. How delicious would it be should Kerry meet Mayo in another All-Ireland final? O’Connor’s frustrations would be Olympian. Mayo would get hammered out the gate, of course, but the weeping would be louder in the Kerry dressing room. A backwards sort of victory for the heather county, but at this stage we’d take it.

Not that Mayo should worry about September too much in 2009. Worrying about September, in fact, is partly what has got my beloved native heath into this mess in the first place. It was common in Mayo to remark, in the post-five o’clock agonies of another Final defeat, that we would have been better not getting out of Connacht. Now that wish has come true, how odd that the gloom has darkened rather than lifted.

One of the reasons behind the remarkable momentum of John O’Mahony’s return was the idea that Johnno was the man to take the team “the final step.” Instead, Johnno has dismantled that fine team of 2004 and 2006, and what is to come in their place is far from clear. Falling to a risen Ross in June would find a far less forging Mayo public.

In hurling, the black and amber imperium extends the boundaries of its empire. Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh – who else – said it best when the third goal went in against hapless Waterford in this year’s All-Ireland final. “Kilkenny are going after this three-in-a-row,” he said, “like they had never won anything before.”

An Spailpín Fánach notes with sadness the way Kilkenny are being portrayed in some quarters as being “bad for hurling.” What’s bad about taking the game to new heights of excellence? How can that be bad? It’s up to the other counties to match them, rather than have Kilkenny fall back to the chasing pack. If anybody wants to win anything, they have to stop feeling sorry for themselves first.

Speaking of which. The Cork dispute has extended now to the footballers. The Cork County Board’s choice is clear. They must enter teams in all competitions as usual, staring in January, or else absent themselves from competitions. If some players don’t want to play, that’s their privilege. There is no slavery here. The Cork Board should simply find someone else and play them, or else not enter competitions, just as Kilkenny, say, don’t enter the football or Mayo don’t enter the hurling championship. It’s quite simple, really. I’m sure I don’t know what all the fuss is about.

Finally – An Spailpín seldom bothers with the soccer, due to the high preponderance of cheats, cowards, spivs, divers and other wastrels in that game. But I am an unabashed admirer of Giovanni Trapattoni, and the more he digs in over the so-called Andy Reid controversy, the more I like him.

The fact of the matter is that Ireland just do not have any world class players right now. Andy Reid is not a world class player. He isn’t. So Trapattoni has to take what he’s stuck with and he’s making the best of that. Seven points out of a possible nine is good going, and the home support getting anxious because of an overly-defensive style just don’t realise that they’re dealing with a man with a completely different way of looking at the world. Catenaccio isn’t a type of pasta you know.

Perhaps they’re like this fellow over on the right, pictured after Trapattoni’s Italy lost in World Cup in 2002, who demands that Trapattoni be hanged with his fecking catenaccio. I translate out of the fear that as most of those boys who would criticise the vecchio Italiano struggle through their Star of a lunch break, the language of Dante and Da Ponte is more than likely beyond them. Bulgaria are next up at home in March; if Trapattoni can get a result, Ireland have one foot on the plane to South Africa. No-one in the state will be able to afford the trip to go out and watch them of course, but still. It’s the principle of the thing.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Christmas to All, from An Spailpín Fánach

No matter how much any of us believed that the boom couldn't last and that soft landings were spoken of more in hope than expection, I don't think anybody anticipated that the end would be so sudden, so jarring and severe. And the worst is yet to come, of course.

So in these cheery circumstances, maybe it's best to give thanks for what we do have instead of mourning what's lost and gone forever. Here's wonderful Renée Fleming singing O Holy Night - Nollag shona daoibh uilig, agus go mbéarfaimid go léir beo ag an am seo arís.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Two CDs

One of the more notorious of RTÉ’s acts of cultural vandalism over the years is the decision to wipe all TV tape of Seán Ó Riada from the archives. Now, An Spailpín is getting worried that the damage is even more extensive than we thought.

Gael Linn, as part of their policy of re-releasing Seán Ó Riada’s albums over the past few years, have released three more, as a triple CD set called Pléaráca an Riadaigh. These are three original studio recordings of Ó Riada at the height of his powers – Reacaireacht an Riadaigh, Ceol na nUasal and Ding Dong. But what’s bothering An Spailpín is a throwaway reference in the sleeve notes to a weekly radio show that Ó Riada did for RTÉ in the sixties. Reacaireacht an Riadaigh, the first of these albums to be recorded, is essentially a collection of the greatest hits of that radio series and if they’ve all been wiped since like the TV recordings – well, it’s a scandal is what it is.

With the country going down the tubes at a rate of knots this Christmas it’s good – if not vital – to be reminded of why it was all worthwhile in the first place. Why the Irish deserved independence; what separated us from the other three kingdoms. And Pléaráca an Riadaigh helps us explain part of it.

Seán Ó Riada is part of the landscape now but it’s always important to remember just how revolutionary his approach was. Irish music had no respect in the general population before him; Ó Riada’s great gift was to be able to show how the ancient airs have their place in the pantheon of world music, before that phrase was even invented. For anyone who wants to know who we are and where we came from Pléaráca an Riadaigh is an essential purchase.

Funnily enough, the sleeve notes are the most disappointing aspect of the whole presentation. Other Ó Riada releases have included full lyrics for the songs in the sleeve notes. This does not, and their loss is keenly felt. All the more so because it is Darach Ó Catháín, not Seán Ó Sé, who does the singing on Reachtaireacht an Riadaigh.

What makes this significant is the fact that Darach Ó Catháin was a sean-nós singer. Sean-nós is the diametric opposite of easy listening music. Sean-nós is hard work. The best way to approach it is to realise just how very old it is – it’s a medieval form of music, really. It’s solo chanting more than singing. It does not record well, and soft chat about sean-nós being the soul music of Ireland doesn’t cut it. It’s a terrible pity that Gael Linn didn’t see fit to print the lyrics, or the words of the pices spoken by Seán Ó Riada himself. Certain hollow men in the media like to speak of “spoken Irish”; An Spailpín is pretty sure that he is not alone in thinking it’s easier when it’s written down.

An Spailpín has not seen John Spillane’s new album, Irish Songs We Learned at School, but it will be very surprising if that isn’t comprehensively annotated. There’s no point otherwise. The song selection is good of course – these are great songs – but the decision to have actual children sing on the record is misguided. The idea is clearly that kids will respond better to kids, but the idea of having the songs sung as well as they can be sung seems the stronger notion to me. Maybe it’s a matter of taste.

Why does it matter in the first place? This is why. If that rotten Carlsberg ad of earlier this year had its protagonist say “Beidh aonach amárach i gContae an Chláir” instead of the rubbish he did come out with, they would have got their point across, got the echo of the schoolroom and shown some respect for the language into the bargain. That was a bridge too far it seems. So three cheers for John Spillane then, for doing his bit ar son na cúise in these dark and empty winter days.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Ceacht Brónach Foghlamtha ag Nua Eabhrac

Tá do scríobhnóir rialta ag scríobh i seomra feitheamh éigin in aerport JFK faoi láthair. Seo an saol sa chéad aois is fiche; na daoine agus a ríomhairí ar a nglúine acu, ar líne i gcónaí i ngach chuile áit.

Seo an dara chuairt riamh a thugas ar Nua Eabhrac, agus tá an domhan athraithe go deo ó laethanta an chéad cuairte, cé nach raibh sí ach trí bhliain déag uainn anois. I 1995, bhíos im' chónaí i gcathair Jersey, agus an traen á thógail isteach go dtí an Ionad Trádála Domhanda an am sin. Tá na túir imithe anois, agus toradh an lá úd a chailleadh iadsan beo laidir fós sa chathair.

Thugas cuairt ar an Empire State Building an chuairt seo, rud nár bhac leis roimhe seo - nuair nach mbíodh deoch le fáil ann níor bhacainn le tada an uair sin. An uair seo, tá cúrsaí slándála chomh dian seo bíonn siad cosuil leis an aerphort. Is cuimhin leis na Meircéanaigh go ghearr cad a tharla ar 9/11 agus bígí cinnte agus lánchinnte go bhfuil a gceacht fóghlamtha acu, agus foglamtha go maith.

Is é Times Square ceann de na h-aiteanna is cáiliúl sa chathair. Tá ionad thógáil ag an arm i gcroí-lár Times Square anois, ar thaobh an áit a cheannaítear ticéidí do na seóanna ar an mBealach Breá Bán, mar a chuirtear air. Os a chomhair tá dealbh in ónóir an tAthair Pronsias Ó Dufaigh, sagairt a sheasadh leis an "Fighting 69th" san arm i rith an Chéad Cogadh Domhanda. Tá cúrsaí mar a gcéanna i Times Square roimh an ionsaigh ar 9/11, na saibhir is daibhir lena chéile agus gach uile duine acu ar thóir a mbríonglóidí féin, ach tá blás níos dáiríre ann ag an am céanna. Tuigeann na Meiricéanaigh go bhfuil cogadh ar siúl, cogadh atá níos laidre ná an Iaráic amháin, agus cogadh nach mbeidh thart go deo na ndeor.

Chaith iriseoir éigin a bhróga chuig an Uachtarán Bush inne ins an Iaráic. An t-aon rud faoi a chuireann ionadh ar an Spailpín ná go bhfuil an iriseoir beo fós - shíleas go mbeidh pílear trína chloigín roimhe a bhuailfeadh an bróg an talamh arís. Bhí alt ag fear éigin sa Guardian ar maidin go mbeidh orthu dul isteach chuig crinniú iriseoireachta anois agus a gcosa nochta acu; ní thuigeann an fear sin go bhfuil cogadh ar siúl, ach tuigeann na Meircéanaigh.

Chuaigh an Spailpín isteach chuig Gypsy oíche Dé Sathairn - is é an seó cheoil ar Bhroadway ceann de na rudaí is fearr a thug na Meiriceánaigh don domhan. Is ceol dochais é ceol Broadway - "Everything's Coming Up Roses," mar a chastar i Gypsy. Tá an dochas ann fós i saol Meiriceá, ach tá fios acu anois go bhfuil namhaid ann, agus go bhfuil an saol soinneanta thart anois, gan filleadh ar áis go deo.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008


“In Poland,” said the man on the bus, “we don’t let our children put their feet on the seats.”

An Spailpín was on the bus home, queuing for the next stop. Ahead of me, a man was talking to the driver. They knew each other. Perhaps they spoke in English in order to practise; perhaps the driver wasn’t Polish as well, but an immigrant from somewhere else. I don’t know.

“If the children are on their own, of course, they will put up their feet – it’s the natural instinct to rebel,” the man continued. “But what I can’t understand is why they do it when they are accompanied by a parent. Why don’t the parents stop them from being so selfish?”

An Spailpín has thought hard about that Polish man in the past few days since the horrific shooting of Aidan O’Kane in East Wall, Dublin, on Sunday night. An Spailpín does not attempt, of course, to draw a parallel between putting feet on bus seats and gun crime. But your correspondent is pretty damned sure that if a child has sufficient consideration to put his or her feet on the floor and leave the seat opposite open for other commuters, that child will not then collect a dozen eggs when he or she gets home and goes off with his or her friends for an evening’s hooliganism.

The bigger picture here is not this particular shooting, terrifying though it is. The issue is that there is a sub-strata of feral youth that exists outside of the society that supports them, and there is zero political will to tackle the situation. Because tackling the situation would mean a radical rethink of the way Western society has been organised since the Second World War.

In certain areas of cities, there are gangs of children hanging around outside convenience shops in the evening. Their pastime is to harass and annoy the people working in the shop. Does it ever occur to them that these shop workers are people just like themselves, trying to get by, who don’t need a depressing job made worse by this hooliganism? No, it does not. All they are into is themselves. They show exactly the same ability to empathise or look to the future as an animal.

And what can the shop security do about this? Nothing. That’s why the kids persist. Their parents don’t care. The children know they can’t be touched. What’s the point in chasing them if you can’t do anything once you catch them? What’s the point in calling the Guards? What are the Guards going to do? The Irish Times reports that Mr O’Kane contacted the Guards on Saturday night after an attempt was made to torch his car. But what were the Guards to do? What do they ever do?

There are two factors here. The first is that there is a tremendous abdication of parental responsibility. You only need a license for a dog, not a child, after all. The second is that the Guards’ hands are tied by a judicial revolving door process. If you have twenty previous convictions, what earthly difference will a twenty-first make to you? How deeply depressing is it to read in this morning’s Irish Independent that a thirteen year old being held for questioning in the Aidan O’Kane killing is out on bail, while the prime suspect, a fifteen year old, has “made several court appearances in the past?”

At some stage, unknown to ourselves as a society, we lost the big picture. At some stage the needs of the many became less important than the needs of the few. Societal order is held to ransom because nobody is willing to be judgemental; nobody is willing to say that hooligans are not victims. They are hooligans, full stop.

How unwilling are we to say that? We’re so unwilling that the only person who uses the word “hooliganism” to describe people throwing eggs at other people’s houses is myself. “Anti-social behaviour” is what hooliganism is called now – look at the story in the Irish Times again. Anti-social behaviour is turning down an invitation for after work drinks in Neary’s; throwing eggs at people’s houses, annoying shopkeepers and shooting people is criminal hooliganism, and should be punished as such.

Mr Dermot Ahern, Minister for Justice, said in the Dáil debate on the Shane Geoghegan killing that “the Government will rule nothing out which is reasonable and consistent with the rule of law in tackling these gangs head on.” Note the phrase “reasonable and consistent with the rule of law.” That phrase is a copout. That phrase allows all manner of squirming to avoid taking actions that will cut this sort of stuff off at source.

The opposition are no better. Mr Charlie Flanagan, the Fine Gael spokesman on Justice, has called for tougher sentencing on murder and possession of deadly weapons. Tougher sentencing is a marvellous idea. The only thing is that tougher sentencing means longer sentencing, which means bigger prisons and more prison officers. How are we going to pay for that? It’s fine in principle, but it helps all the old people living in Ireland who are now even more terrified of hooded youth than before not a whit. It’s nothing more than pointless hand-wringing.

If the political class want to do anything to cut down on this hooliganism, why don’t they introduce legislation – and that’s what they’re paid to do, isn’t it? Legislate? – that allows shop security, for instance, to use necessary force to defend the premises. This means that a security man can give a hooligan a shoe in the hole and not have to worry about losing his job as a result of it. Some people will claim this will lead to victimisation, and this is an example of the needs of the few outweighing the needs of the many once more. But if some guy gets a busted lip when he didn’t deserve it, it’s worth it if it allows people to do their shopping and get on with their lives in peace. Nobody every died of a busted lip.

The other common argument against a return to common sense is that these sort of measures victimise the vast majority in communities who are good and upstanding citizens. Aidan O’Kane was one such good and upstanding citizen, and Aidan O’Kane is dead today because neither he nor the police could stop hooligans from pelting his house with eggs or setting his car or his bins on fire. That’s the bottom line. It’s that simple.

In Poland, they don’t let their kids put their feet on the seats of the buses. We need to take a lesson from Poland.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Sow's Ear Year - Will Brian Cowen Ever Catch a Break?

The Celtic Tiger, such as it was, was fuelled by the Jumbo Breakfast Roll. Two scholastics from two entirely different schools, Mr David McWilliams and Mr Pat Shortt, both identified the Jumbo Breakfast Roll as the very asphodel of the Irish economic revolution.

If the country were not catapulting to Hell in a handcart at a genuinely astonishing rate of knots, this would count as a delicious irony in the light of the weekend’s pork recall. Instead, the very word delicious will only serve as a goad to the memory of the fries that were not eaten this morning in Erin, and the tears return again.

Bertie Ahern gloried in the nickname of the Teflon Taoiseach, as everything he touched turned to gold. Bertie’s greatest gift was his singular ability to always steer clear of disaster. His successor, in marked contrast, seems to attract disaster the way Newry attracts shoppers.

The late John Healy wrote at the height of the GUBU crisis of 1982 that if Charlie Haughey had ducks, they would drown; to borrow from the great man a quarter of a century later, it seems fair to say that if Brian Cowen had ducks, not only would they drown, they would pollute the lake, kill the fish, sink the final nail into the coffin of Irish tourism, the only industry left, and would then turn out of to have copped it in the first place because they were being fed on that diesel-flavoured feed as well.

A week without fries the country could survive. Porridge is fine food, irrespective of Doctor Johnson’s teasing of Boswell. But my Lord and my God, Ireland Inc does not need another industry to collapse after the building industry went to the wall.

This is the point. While the empty shelves, such as Tesco’s in Phibsboro, D7, above, are evocative, the bigger picture is that the world woke up this morning to the news that Irish pork isn’t safe to eat. No matter how that’s qualified as the week rolls out, that’s what people will remember. After the collapse of the building industry, and the sudden ending of the many streams of revenue that industry supplied the public purse, Ireland Inc now faces the prospect of hard times for another major industry and the double jeopardy of another queue of people outside Government Buildings looking for compensation.

This is in keeping with yesterday’s protest by the INTO on O’Connell Street. If An Spailpín were in danger of losing his job he wouldn’t like it either, but it was hard to disagree with Brendan Keenan of the Irish Independent on RTÉ Radio 1's This Week this afternoon when he queried where exactly the INTO thinks the Government will get the money to pay their salaries?

Charles Dickens has Mr Wilkins Micawber, that marvellous man modelled on Dickens’ own hopelessly profligate father, explain the simple facts of life to our protagonist in David Copperfield, a lesson to which the nation could do with hearing right now:

“‘My other piece of advice, Copperfield,’ said Mr Micawber, ‘you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen and six; result, happiness. Annual income twenty points, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six; result, misery.’”

It really is as simple as that. An Spailpín would have some sympathy for the teachers, as they provide a vital societal function. But if every dog and devil on the public purse thinks that benchmarking can continue in the teeth of current events, then they are living at a considerable remove from the real world. Don’t forget, the people whose job it was to stop illegal feed being fed to pigs are benchmarked; they will get their hearty pay rise this year same as ever, even as the country collapses around their ears.

There are 350,000 people employed by the Irish state, between civil servants, public servants and whatever one calls a person that works for a quango – leisured servants, perhaps? That’s enough votes to elect ten to twelve new TDs, or else show the road to ten or twelve in there already. Something else that Brian Cowen will be all too sadly aware of as he munches his kiwi and grapefruit tomorrow morning, neither much of a substitute for the rashers and sausages.

The Taoiseach’s party piece is Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore; perhaps in the light of current events, he’d be as well off to consider a change to Born Under a Bad Sign? Right now, the refrain of “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all” seems all too terribly apt.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

What's in a Name?

Is there anything that the Mayo County Board will not do for money? It was to be hoped, if there were any good to be gained from the continuing reality check the nation is currently enduring, that the current financial crisis would have reminded people of the value of money.

The news that the Mayo County Board are seeking to hawk the naming rights of McHale Park, currently under-going a process of development and refurbishment, to the highest bidder would suggest that we have learned nothing at all.

Mr Seán Feeney, Secretary of the Mayo County Board, remarks in an interview in the Mayo News last week that “the money has to come from somewhere.” He is correct in this regard, but he is mistaken if he thinks that there is that much available for naming rights. There’s a recession on – how much can a company possibly make from sponsoring the name of a provincial GAA stadium in a recession?

Mr Feeney is also quoted as saying that “we did a lot of research into what other counties had done to raise money, naming rights, and the selling of seats.” When that lot of research is finished, Mr Feeney is going to discover that there is only one other provincial GAA stadium in Ireland that has a sponsored name – Kingspan Breffni Park in Cavan.

This suggests two things. Firstly, there isn’t that much money in naming rights to a stadium in Ireland, because if there was there’d be more than one sponsored stadium in the country. Secondly, the fact that Kingspan is a building company and also the sponsor of the county team would suggest that the relationship between the Cavan County Board and Kingspan is complex, and therefore their stadium sponsorship may be part of a bigger picture.

Mr Feeney remarks in that same Mayo News interview that “in an ideal world, we’d like to have a Mayo company’s name on the stadium but that may not be possible,” and this is the most troubling remark in all of the interview. Because you have to ask yourself the question: why would a non-Mayo company want to sponsor the Mayo county ground?

The only reason that a non-Mayo company would be interested in naming rights to the Mayo county ground would be because they were getting it cheap. What’s to lose? And if the Mayo Board are selling the naming rights cheap then they should be run out town on the first bus leaving the station.

An Spailpín Fánach is sick, sore and tired of the riches of my county and my country being shilled for a bag of beads and nuts. Events at Rossport, fifty miles north of Castlebar, show exactly what happens when you sell out cheap. The Government neglected their duty of care towards the people in North Mayo when they made their sweetheart deal with Shell, and the Mayo County Board will equally betray their heritage if they sign over the naming rights to McHale Park for three gobstoppers and the string from a yo-yo.

The GAA, as has been mentioned in this space previously, is not just a sporting organisation. The GAA is a cultural organisation, for which the remit of preserving and promoting indigenous culture and heritage is every bit as important as running sporting competitions. And that is why the name of the stadium is important – because Archbishop McHale was a Mayo hero, and in naming the county ground after him Mayo GAA does honour to a man who stood for his people against pressures both within and without.

Archbishop John McHale’s time of influence is so long ago now – over one hundred and fifty years – that it’s difficult to remember what he did, and why the stadium is named after him. In even thinking of changing the name of the stadium the Mayo Board seems to have forgotten. A quick history lesson, then.

John McHale was born outside Laherdane in 1791. He went on to be ordained a priest during the time of the Penal Laws, rose to Archbishop of Tuam and his role in history is as one of the chief supporters of Daniel O’Connell in O’Connell’s campaigns for Catholic emancipation and Repeal of the Act of Union.

Emancipation was passed, Repeal failed, O’Connell died and McHale was eventually silenced by the new Cardinal, Doctor Cullen, who did not believe in rocking boats. The mother church’s policy was always to get along with whoever is in charge; McHale, by contrast, put his people – the people of Mayo – first, and suffered the consequences.

And that’s why the stadium is named after him. Because the GAA is also about heroes, about standing up for where you’re from and what you believe in.

If the Mayo County Board can generate a sum so sufficiently enormous to overcome this statement of belief in heroism and local pride in the name of future development, so be it. We have to live in the real world. But if the deal is anything less than that, if, come next summer, Mayo are playing a Championship game in the Iceland Foods Stadium, with the ball thrown in by Ms Kerry Katona, we will all have lost a great part of our souls.

But it won’t matter to An Spailpín, because An Spailpín will not be there. As a friend of mine remarked in regard to share prices recently, there is such a thing as a point of no return. An Spailpín will be monitoring the situation with a heavy and anxious heart.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

Shelter from the Storm

There’s a chill wind a blowin’ through the Irish blogosphere as the Recession Christmas looms. Sarah Carey is gone. Irish Flirty Something is gone. Twenty Major, awarded the prize for the Best Blog at the Irish Blog Awards since what seems like forever, is gone.

An Spailpín Fánach, however, is going exactly nowhere. I’m staying right here. Don’t all cheer at once.

An Spailpín Fánach got an idea of his influence when Jo’Burger in Rathmines won the award for best restaurant this year. The same Jo’Burger to which An Spailpín devoted a 642 word hammering in these pages back in August. It’s like driving a DeLorean, or drinking that white porter. A man feels so out of step.

But just because people are looking down snouts at you doesn’t mean you should stop doing what you’re doing. Perhaps being thankful that you’re not sporting a porcine proboscis yourself is the first step. Irish Flirty Something, for instance, didn’t care for ladies in the city noticing that she spoke with a "country" accent. Baby, that’s not a bug; that’s a feature. So many things are matters of perspective.

And as such An Spailpín Fánach shall continue to wear a green and red heart on his sleeve, and live and die with the Mayo County team. No bones shall be made about enjoying the singing of Mrs Cole and her friends and Anna Netrebko equally, even though they till different fields. You could be a prop forward or a flying wing, but your team still needs you.

The mysteries of the city of Dublin and my repeated inabilities to find an escape route from same will continue to get coverage, and you’ll also get your spot of Gaeilge every now and again, because it’s good for you and good men took bullets for it.

An Spailpín knows very little, but I do know it’s very hard to even know your own mind, and to be comfortable in your own skin. To try to know other people’s minds, and to try to please them as well, is a bridge too far. So I’m happy enough to rant along happily to myself here by fire, and all are welcome that want to come along. If the opera bores you, call back some other time and please God we’ll be on the football, or vice versa. And if you don’t like it all – sure bejapers why did you bother your head coming down this far at all? Isn’t life short enough?

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Three Cheers for the Gallantry and Glory of the New Zealand All-Blacks

What a wonderful sporting occasion that was at Thomond Park last night. It was a game that existed both out of its time, in the fact that it was played at all, and very much of its time, with the soon to be world famous Munster haka, demonstrating that there’s more to modern Munster multi-culturalism than the traditional mix of Cork and Limerick.

The very fact that New Zealand agreed to the game is astonishing in itself. The last time the All-Blacks played a midweek game, which were once regular features of the tours, of course, was seven years ago, and the last time the All-Blacks played a provincial or club side was when they visited Llanelli at Stradley Park eleven years ago, taking terrible revenge for their defeat there against Delme Thomas’ Scarlets in 1972. Rugby was only turning professional in 1997, but it’s full on now. Making the All-Blacks’, the biggest marquee name in the world game, decision to play Munster last night and turn the clock back to an earlier era, an era of glory before gold, admirable indeed.

It’s fashionable in the rugby press here to have a go at New Zealand as being cynical towards the game. What could be further from the truth? The New Zealanders’ appreciation of the game’s rich history and their own part in it shines like the silver fern on the jersey.

When Tana Umaga was being treated disgracefully here by bandwagon-jumping publicans, the people of Donegal showed their real appreciation of the All-Blacks by giving them such a warm welcome when the New Zealanders made their way to Letterkenny in Donegal – not noted as a rugby heartland – to pay tribute to Dave Gallaher, captain of the “Originals” that toured the British Isles. Letterkenny is the nearest town to Ramilton, the homeplace of the Gallahers before they immigrated to New Zealand, and the local rugby club named their pitch after him.

Always aware of who they are and what they represent, Umaga and the All-Blacks made their way up to open the pitch. There was no glory there. Letterkenny RFC is far from the great cathedrals of the game in Christchurch, in Durban, in Cardiff, but the All-Blacks are aware that the jersey carries duties as well. The game has no finer ambassadors.

There was concern that the game last night would be a massacre when, in an indication of just how professional the game is now, the IRFU didn’t countenance for a second the release of the Munster players from the international squad, with the game against Argentina coming up on Saturday. But last night’s combination of Dad’s army and boys brigade clung to the fundamental core of rugby that lies behind all this old blather about second phase go forward give and goes; rugby is fundamentally a game about smashing. Munster smashed for all they were worth last night; it would not surprise your correspondent if some of those fellas can’t walk this morning as a result. But what a game. What a spectacle. What an event.

The mutual respect for both sides was astonishing. When was the last time you heard complete silence for an opposition kicker? When did the haka, one of the great spectacles of the world game, receive so rapturous a reception? New Zealand can do the dog on the haka, but the reception it got in Limerick last night, including the challenge laid down by their own exiles, was just exhilarating. The Welsh wouldn’t let the All-Blacks perform the haka the last time New Zealand were in Cardiff. An Spailpín Fánach hopes the Welsh won’t let themselves down again this time.

Irish rugby is in a period of transition right now – the golden generation now look likely to hang them up and live the rest of their lives as under-achievers, while the phenomenal success of Munster ironically could prove to be the undoing of the national side. How many provincial sides will risk an Irish player learning his trade at stand-off half when you can go shopping for a Paul Warwick? But these are debates for another day. In the meantime, what a treat to have seen this game, and three loud cheers for New Zealand and their tremendous and endearing sportsmanship. Go n-imrí na Lán-Dubhaigh uaisle go deo.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Marian Finucane Radio Show This Morning

One of Ireland’s leading journalists was a member of the panel on Marion Finucane's radio show this morning. The discussion was about the US Presidential election, and the leading Irish journalist expressed her joy and relief that Sarah Palin did not become Vice-President of the USA.

A guest made the point that, while Palin had her flaws, she was a thrilling public speaker, second only to Obama himself. The leading Irish journalist conceded this point, but went on to accuse Sarah Palin of covert racism in her speeches. The leading Irish journalist went to on say that she heard vox pops after Sarah Palin’s speeches and the people would make comments like “I don’t want no baby-killer in the White House,” or “I don’t want no terrorist in the White House.”

Three points struck your weary narrator about this.

  1. The fact some members of an audience make racist comments does not make the person addressing the audience a racist. You can watch Bosco, for instance, and still be in favour of genocide. That’s not Bosco’s fault.

  2. The question is moot in the example cited anyway, as being anti-abortion and anti-terrorism are not racist positions. Abortion and terrorism are race independent, equal opportunity interests. Anyone can have a go.

  3. When the leading Irish journalist quoted these vox pops, she did so in cod white trash accent, thus betraying an interesting interpretation of racism herself.

An Spailpín likes to think that someone else on the panel stepped in and made these observations, but I don’t know if anyone did or not. And that’s because at that point I turned the radio off, resolving never to listen to Marian Finucane’s Sunday show ever again.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Whom Do Podge and Rodge Think They're Kidding?

The picture above was taken in Smyth's toy store in Blanchardstown last night. It was on a display of Podge and Rodge toys, and it reads (for anyone with monitor issues):

"Podge and Rodge Products
Customers please note that due to strong language this item may not be suitable for younger children."

An Spailpín is curious to know at what age exactly are soft toys and strong language both appropriate for children. An Spailpín hopes never to meet such horrors, whoever they are. And I want to meet their parents even less.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Placido Domingo Duets with Miss Piggy

I found this on You Tube last night and it's so wonderful that I had to post it. If you're having a bad day, if you got perished at the bus stop this morning, if you're listening to a lot yakkety-yak at the office and it's three long weeks 'til payday, give yourself five minutes to listen to Placido and Piggy sing "Sometimes a Day Goes By." Fantastic.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

When is a Cork Hurler Not a Cork Hurler?

As the Cork hurling nightmare drags painfully on An Spailpín Fánach can’t help but notice that there is an issue of nomenclature that is being overlooked in the dispute. An issue of nomenclature that, if resolved, could see a radical change of perspective and quick resolution of the dispute.

This is the issue: the group of thirty or so men who like issuing press releases to the Examiner newspaper are referred to in all media as “the Cork hurlers.” And this is plainly not the case.

The question of who hurls for Cork, or for any county, is at the discretion of the manager of that county team. Just because one has hurled for Cork in the past does not mean that one will do so again. In fact, because this is now the off-season, you could argue that there are no Cork hurlers as Cork aren’t actually hurling.

It’s very difficult not to think that Dónal Óg Cusack and his comrades are displaying a stunning level of arrogance in presuming some sort of automatic right to the jersey. If Tomás Mulcahy, John Fenton and Kevin Hennessey, for instance, issued a statement backing the current Cork County Board – who are just people who are passing through as well, of course – would the papers headline the statement as coming from “the Cork hurlers?” Don’t Mulcahy, Fenton and Hennessey deserve the title just as much as Cusack and his comrades? What have John Gardiner and co done on the field of honour that Tomás Mulcahy hasn’t?

The only issue, perhaps, maybe, would be that Dónal Óg still has a role to play in inter-county hurling. An Spailpín Fánach would question that assumption that also. These gentlemen’s inability see bigger pictures would make you wonder just how much a team game suits them.

It’s common in the media to defend Dónal Óg and his comrades by saying that they only want to play – Tom Humphries writes in Saturday’s Irish Times that it “isn’t about playing for Cork. It’s about winning for Cork.”

Up to a point, Lord Copper. All any team can do is play; whether they win or not depends on other factors, not least of whom are the other fellas, who may just fancy winning themselves. Playing a game is an end of itself – winning is an ancillary benefit. It is certainly not something that can be guaranteed.

But, just for pigiron, let’s give Dónal Óg and his comrades the benefit of the doubt. Here’s what Keith Duggan wrote in Sideline Cut on Saturday, where he may have summed up the whole dispute in an aside.

“For the Cork hurlers, it is simple. This group have always been about the very quality Kilkenny have been rightly lauded for - the pursuit of excellence. They believe there is no point playing at all unless the preparation and the attention to detail are second to none.”

No point in playing at all unless everything is just right. One of the common features of children who are spoilt is that they have no interest in playing unless everything is just to their satisfaction. The better brought up children will make the best of things as they are. The latter are more likely to enjoy it, and to enjoy greater benefits from it. Perhaps its not Kieran Mulvey whom is needed by the Cork hurlers but Ms Jo Frost, television’s Supernanny? Would a few hours on the naughty step cause certain parties to get over themselves and get with the program?

Six years since their first strike action, An Spailpín Fánach is still struggling to understand what exactly it is Dónal Óg and co want. After all, Cork have won over one hundred All-Ireland titles across all codes and age groups. Just how bad can the preparation be? How many would they win if they had been prepared correctly?

There’s a fierce amount that doesn’t add up in any of this and the Dónal Óg and his comrades are not being made accountable for their wild statements. For instance, John Gardiner was on Prime Time on Thursday night claiming that Frank Murphy wanted “absolute power.” Miriam O’Callaghan did not ask him to define the term “absolute,” which is pretty far ranging. Does Frank Murphy want the power of life and death, one of the rights enjoyed by the absolute monarchs of Europe before Napoleon and Age of Revolution? This is what we need to know. If Frank is bad that way, then certainly we should be told. But if he’s not, then maybe they shouldn’t say he is.

Miriam asked John Gardiner if it was about pay. Gardiner said “we have no interested in being paid at this time.” The last three words are interesting, aren’t they?

To An Spailpín’s mind, the solution is simple. Gerald McCarthy has only one option. It’s time to phone Eddie Hobbs and, if he’s still elegible, Gerald needs to tell Eddie to start doing laps; he’s going in top of the right on Sunday week for that challenge in Fermoy. Keith Duggan remarks that no-one wants to see a shadow team line out against Tipperary next summer. An Spailpín will sooner see that than see the Association torn asunder by the selfishness of a few who can’t seem to understand that they are only minding jerseys for someone else who’s coming along.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Barack Obama, President-Elect of the United States

How extra-ordinary, how surprisingly moving it’s been to watch footage of events in the United States yesterday, when Barack Obama became President elect of the United States. It’s been a long time since An Spailpín could afford to be an idealist and as such proved resistant to Obama-mania as it swept through the summer and autumn months. I even remember being in Phil Ryan’s bar on the North Circular Road and remarking to a veteran Midwestern Democrat who had been out on the stump for Hubert H. Humphrey that I feared the Democrats had selected themselves another Adlai Stevenson – a lovely man but utterly unelectable. I can only hope if that proud American reads this he can deliver your Spailpín the fool’s pardon.

There’s a very good article in this morning’s Washington Post about the election, and how the economic collapse delivered the White House to the Democrats. McCain was riding high in the polls after trumping Obama’s convention speech with his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, but the economic crisis changed all the rules.

McCain went to Washington to sort it out, but when he returned with one hand as long as the other McCain suddenly looked like a busted flush. And An Spailpín can’t help but get the feeling that McCain himself knew it – one of the significant moments of the election was footage from one of McCain’s town hall meetings when a lady who may not take the New York Times every morning remarked that Barack Obama was an Arab; McCain took the mike off her and paid an eloquent tribute to his opponent, something that you can’t really afford to do when you’re the underdog in a two horse race.

John McCain was unfortunate – not for the first time in his life – in being in the wrong place at the wrong time as the wheel of history turned. He is a patriot, a man that took one for his Uncle Sam and who was smeared shamefully in the North Carolina primary by the Bush campaign in 2000. Interestingly, his greatest contribution to his country, now in the autumn of a life of service to the flag, may be in how nobly he conducted his campaign, never resorting to cheap shots or dirty campaigning. In everything he has done, he has put his country first.

The entire campaign was run by both candidates with such nobility, dignity and patriotism that it’s hard not to think that the shade of Pericles himself may have allowed himself a smile. One of the highlights, one of the great moments of hope, in the campaign was the Al Smith dinner, when the candidates ribbed each other in their speeches with such dignity, such wit and good humour, and such a tremendous level of respect for each other, that you couldn’t help but think that there may be hope for us all yet. And even the most dedicated hater of Sarah Palin had to admire Palin’s moxie – such an American word! – for sharing a stage with her arch-tormentrix, Tina Fey, on Saturday Night Live.

Tina Fey herself came up with one of the great lines of the campaign when she remarked, in character, that listening to Obama was like “listening to angel whisper in your ear.” Watching the President elect in Chicago’s Grant Park address his faithful and attempt to sum up his journey – with a possibly even more arduous one ahead of him – it was hard not to think that Fey, as ever, was exactly on the money. He really is a beautiful, beautiful public speaker.

An Spailpín is not himself a black American and has been spared a Bono complex by a merciful God but it has been extraordinary to see the reaction among major figures in that community, not least Condoleeza Rice, who gave a press conference today in which she nearly broke down in tears of joy. And Condi is on the other side entirely.

And that’s what makes all this so thrilling. The thrilling thing is that democracy does work. That anybody can be President. That there are no barriers to talent. That if you work hard, you can get there. That everybody has a shot.

It always fashionable to deride America, to say the United States was just as bad as her enemies, ignoring the fact that every four years America elects who she wants, and nothing comes in the way of that process. Lincoln was right when he said that freedom was of the people, by the people and for the people and every four years America underlines this. Nothing comes in the way of that. She has made her decision how, and all the world must hope that the road rises for the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Scéal Bertie Ahern Aréir

Nárbh fíor-spéisiúil an clár teilifíse aréir ar Bhertie Ahern, iar-Thaoiseach na hÉireann? Shíleas féin, ar dtús, nach mbeidh ann ach obair sneachta, mar a deirtear i Meiriceá, ach taispeánadh cuid Bertie nár thaispeánadh riamh. Bíonn Bertie cúramach, cúramach, cúramach go deo, ach seo é an chéad uair riamh nuair a bhfuarthas sracfhéachaint ar an bhfear féin.

Bhíodh Bertie Ahern agus ré Bertie, ré an Tíogair Cheiltigh, go dtuga Dia trócaire ar an bpiscín bocht, á chánach riamh nár bhaineadh creideamh éigin taobh thiar an ré. Dúirt Alan Dukes, an Taoiseach is fearr nach raibh againne riamh, nár shíleadh sé go raibh radharc éigin ag Bertie conas an thír a feabhsú, a dhéanamh níos fearr ná mar a bhíodh. Agus is léir ón gclár aréir go raibh an cheart ag Dukes; níor bhac Bertie agus a dhream le tada seachas an chumhacht.

Toghadh Bertie don gcéad uair i 1977, agus d'adhmail sean-chairde Bertie Ahern, a bhí ar an sráideanna ar a shon an aimsir sin, nach raibh suim dá laghad acu i bhFianna Fáil ná an polaitíocht. Cheapadar gurb a dtáirge é Ahern, agus bhí orthu é a díol le daoine an cheantair mar a dhíolfadh mála prátaí. Ní mbaineann mórán uaisleachta leis an straitéis sin, agus bá léir go raibh daoine i bhFianna Fáil curtha amach leis fós, tríocha bliain slán uathu anois.

Agus Bertie istigh i gcumhacht anois, bhí air a chumhacht a feabhsú agus a choinneáil níos daingne arís. Scrios Bertie agus a dhream - an "Drumcondra Mafia" - roinnt sean-chumann a bhíodh sa cheantar le fada, fada an lá, agus níor thaispeánadh mórán meas ar an seandream sin - cuid acu a sheas le Dev féin, is dócha - aréir. "The Yellow Rose of Finglas" a chur duine acu ar Jim Tunney, fear a rinne rud ar son a thíre, agus bhí blas gránna ar an gcaint sin. Dúirt duine eile acu nárbh ann sa sean-chumainn sin ach seandaoine ag bualadh le chéile "ar son tae agus bogchaint ar 1916." Is tír eile an t-am atá thart dár leis na Maifiosi seo.

Ní chóir gan scríobh go bhfuil fíor-bhua polaitíochta ag Bertie Ahern, gur thug sé síocháin sa Thuaisceart agus saibhreas sa Dheisceart, rud nach mbíodh ag ceachtar acu céanna seo. Ach tá boladh gránna ann freisin maidir leis an dtóir cumhachta seo, agus an drochmheas a thaispeánadh ar an seandhream Fianna Fáil, daoine dá leithéid George Colley nó Jim Tunney. Agus déanann Bertie an madra le chuid dá scéalta. Mar shampla:

Déantar roinnt cainte i gcónaí maidir le Bertie agus a grá spóirt. Bhí an bhogchaint seo ar an gclár aréir, agus Bertie ag bladaráil maidir lena óige mar pheileadóir. Ach níor chonaiceamar ach pictiúr amháin, agus sa phictiúr sin cé go raibh na buachaillí eile ag caitheamh léinte spóirt, bhí a éadaigh sráide ar Bertie. Nuair a chonaic do Spailpín é, tháinig na sean focail Chathail Uí hEoghaigh arís im' chloigín: "An fear is cliste, is glice, is neamhthrócairigh don gcuid go léir." Táim ag tnúth go mór leis an dara chlár.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Two James Bonds

If the James Bond of the Ian Fleming novels and the James Bond of the EON Productions films ever met, in some glamorous bar in St Moritz or some seedy dive in the back streets of Belgrade, would they recognise each other?

Would the impossibly ripped Bond of the upcoming Quantum of Solace movie, which enjoyed its royal premiere in London last night, recognise as his progenitor the hard-drinking, 60-a-day-smoking cold war hero into whom Ian Fleming breathed life in 1953?

Both men live in utterly different worlds. With the exception of his womanising, Ian Fleming’s Bond is still a clubland hero of the Richard Hannay or Bulldog Drummond stripe, one of our chaps whose upper lips stiffen at the sound of Elgar on the Third Program. But the James Bond of the world’s most successful movie franchise is an iconic cinematic hero, an avatar of want and desire, a man whose life is soundtracked by the sounding brass of John Barry, without whom the cinematic Bond would be just a little bit 006.

Daniel Craig is only the second Englishman to play James Bond onscreen, but the Bond of the books is not English at all. The London Times’ obituary of Commander James Bond, CMG, RNVR, as quoted in You Only Live Twice, the second last James Bond novel that Ian Fleming wrote, states that Bond is the son of a Scottish father, Andrew Bond of Glencoe, a sales rep for the Vickers gun company, and a Swiss mother, Monique Delacroix, of the Canton de Vaud.

Bond’s parents die in a climbing accident when he is eleven, and he is subsequently raised by a maiden aunt in a village outside Canterbury, in Kent. Bond’s aunt, one Miss Charmain Bond, sends her nephew first to Eton and then to Fettes in Edinburgh for his education. That the inchoate 007 left Eton for Fettes due to “some trouble with one of the boys’ maids” is an indicator of what Bond would be like once he was old enough to be served in public houses.

These mixtures of nationality and upbringing explain the contradictory strands of the Bond of the books’ nature. His snobbery (“Bond mistrusted anyone who tied his tie with a Windsor knot. It showed too much vanity. It was often the mark of a cad.” From Russia with Love, 1957) is a product of his public school education, while Bond’s gourmet tastes are continental in origin; they did not arise from the post War diet of spam and tripe in 1950s Britain.

Bond is described as looking cruel in the books. Vivienne Michel in The Spy Who Loved Me describes Bond as “good looking in a dark, rather cruel way” while Domino Vitali in Thunderball sees “dark, rather cruel good looks.” A Russian general in From Russia with Love cuts closer to the chase: “he looks a nasty customer.”

How jarring it was to hear Daniel Craig say the famous last line of Casino Royale the book, “the bitch is dead now,” in the recent movie. The harshness of the books is out of place in the elaborate fantasy of the movies. On the final page of 1955’s Moonraker, Bond recognises that conventional love and relationships are not for him, that he must “take his cold heart elsewhere. There must be no regrets. No false sentiment. He must play the role which she expected of him. The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette.”

By contrast, the Daniel Craig Bond proves that the “bitch is dead” line was just tokenism, a sop to the sort of pathetic and hopeless wretch who would enjoy a brief thrill of recognition of something from the novels. The cinematic Bond is the most hopeless of romantics if he spends the entirety of the next film in seeking to avenge Vesper Lynd’s death. This is a phenomenon known as the magic of the movies.

Have the James Bond novels dated? Considerably. The James Bond books were written in one of the Empire’s final outposts after all, and the days when Great Britain was a player on the world stage are now over. The racism in the books is profound, but 1950s Britain was a racist society – when the first Dirk Bogarde Doctor movie, Doctor in the House, was made in 1954, Bogarde and Kenneth More note on the college noticeboard that a lodging house has no interest in Irish gentlemen.

Bogarde takes the rooms anyway and gets entangled with the landlady’s lovely daughter, played by Shirley Eaton – the same Shirley Eaton who would go on to global fame ten years later as Jill Masterson, the girl who is asphyxiated by gold paint in Goldfinger.

Are the Ian Fleming books still worth reading? Yes, they are, once you get over the hurdle of those dated attitudes (or else revel in them as incidental comedy, of course). The argument of whether or not Fleming was a great author is somewhat moot in age that cleaves to Jacques Derrida’s theories on the death of the author, but Fleming had an unquestionable gift for narrative.

How great a gift is evidenced by the fact that Kingsley Amis, who is considered a literary great, wrote a James Bond novel, Colonel Sun, under the pseudonym of Robert Markham in 1968, and failed utterly to capture that deft Fleming touch.

Where Amis failed and where Fleming was a master is in the constant cascade of detail. Fleming noticed everything, and put it all down in his books. The effect can sometimes make Bond seem an anal-retentive (his breakfast egg must boil for three and a third minutes; his coffee must be from De Bry in New Oxford Street) but the richness of the detail brings everything to life, and that is the most important thing in a thriller.

The Bond of the books, for all his expensive tastes, walked the same streets and lived in the same world as his readers, while the Bond of the movies, with his underwater cars and enemies who command such vast armies of personnel that they can build space stations without anyone ever noticing, belongs strictly to the realm of fantasy.

When Bond tries to buy time in a deadly confrontation with the SMERSH assassin at the end of From Russia with Love he curses his luck that the cigarette he’s smoking is just that, a cigarette: “if only it had been a trick one – magnesium flare, or anything he could throw in the man’s face! If only his service went in for those explosive toys!” If the two Bonds ever do meet, in some strange trans-dimensional beachfront bar at Nassau, it’s clear which one will envy the other.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Hare of Timahoe

A friend of An Spailpín Fánach ran in the marathon yesterday, and it seemed only meet to write a ballad in his honour. His time was four hours twenty-six, which has been extended in the text to four and a half, for reasons of metre - this is what you call poetic license. This can be sung to the tune of The Wild Colonial Boy, should anybody feel the need.

Deep inside the counting house
Among the piles of gold
There lived and worked an Irish boy
Whose story must be told
The gochi berry replaced dry sherry
As he counted out the dough
Then he went and ran the marathon
The hare of Timahoe

The runners lined up in a bunch
With no heed of the bitter chill
Six and twenty impe'ral miles
Stretched out between flat and hill
The starters gun began the run
The streamed up Westland Row
And the foremost in that gallant field
Was the hare of Timahoe

They passed O’Connell’s statue
And also the great Parnell’s
They tore up through the NCR
Past Mountjoy’s lonely cells
At Inchicore their feet got sore
Some hit their first plateau
But he drove on regardless
That hare of Timahoe

The pace picked up at Dolphin’s Barn
For reasons best unsaid
And the KCR and Dartry sweet
Saw the first contenders shed
His teeth he clenched, he never flinched
His arms went to and fro
Sure I’m only warming up
Said the hare of Timahoe

Stillorgan now after twenty miles
The home of the bourgeoisie
The lesser men, they fell to the earth
Like the price of property
The credit crunch has left a bunch
Of prices wan and low
I’ll come back and buy a place
Said the hare of Timahoe

The fanlit streets of Merrion Square
Were hosts to the finish line
The hare sped through the waiting throng
Four thirty was his time
He didn’t pause but set his jaws
As for porter he did go
Just a hundred yards to Toner’s! cried
The hare of Timahoe

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hard Times Return to Erin - And Could Be Here a While

Another classic budget from the legendary Minister for Hardship!Brian Lenihan swung his axe yesterday, and the steel bit home into an Ireland that had been living beyond its means. Worst of all, this is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. The future looks bleak for quite some time. Fast forward four years and seven weeks, to the Late Late Show of December 1st, 2012...

The titles roll as the owl takes his customary flight over the credits. The cameras go live to studio 4, where host Pat Kenny comes out to the cheers of the studio audience. The lights are flickering slightly, and Kenny doesn’t look quite as well groomed as is his wont; during the show, he keeps tugging at the collar of his suit jacket, as if it itches.

PAT KENNY: Hello and welcome to the Late Late Show, sponsored by Lidl – remember folks, turnips are only five Euro a pound in Lidl for the happy hour this Saturday, from four to five, be sure to get their early, and dress for battle – and what a show we’ve got for you tonight. But let’s get right to it, and welcome my first guest, the fabulous Caroline Morahan!

Wild cheers. Caroline comes on stage, waves to the crowd, sits down, bats Pat’s paw smartly away from her shapely knee, and smiles radiantly – or as radiantly as radiantly gets when a few choppers are missing.

PAT: Caroline! How fabulous you look!

CAROLINE (whistling slightly, due to the gaps in the teeth): Pat, you’re too much! Ah hah hah hah!

PAT: Caroline, what is your secret? How are you getting through the recession and remaining so fabulous?

CAROLINE: Well Pat, I was going to keep it to myself, but I can’t not share it with the sisters, ah hah hah hah.

Laughter, hissing from the audience. And a strange smell, truth be told.

CAROLINE: You see Pat, the secret is soup.

PAT: Soup!

CAROLINE: Yes Pat. Nettle soup.

PAT: Nettles! My goodness. Tell me more.

CAROLINE (forgetting herself, and leaning into him): Well Pat, one thing I think we neglect in this country is our traditional Irish cuisine. I mean France is famous for its cuisine, it’s impossible to think of Italy without their fabulous pasta dishes, so I thought: why not get back to good old Irish tradition?

PAT (as the paw snakes across the desk): Why not, indeed?

CAROLINE (wise to the play, sitting smartly back): Exactly! So I got on my bike and cycled out to Dunsink, where you can get the most beautiful nettles, and I spent an hour or two picking them and popping them into my basket. Home then, and I popped a big cauldron on the open fire and just threw in the nettles. Six hours boiling – and don’t forget ladies, boiling also heats the room – on the embers, drain and serve a nourishing broth for all the family.

PAT: Well, it’s certainly suiting you Caroline. Your skin looks simply radiant – do you find nettle soup good for the skin?

CAROLINE (through gritted teeth): You’ll never know, Pateen my boy.

PAT: Let’s have a big hand for Miss Caroline Morahan, ladies and gentlemen!


PAT: Caroline is off now, as her shift with the taxi company starts at half-ten. Well, it’s all go. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our first musical guest, all the way from the ‘sixties, it’s The Who!

The camera pans across to two old men, one with a guitar. He raises his right high in the air, slashes down on his Rickenbacker – and all the lights go out.

GUITARIST: Wot the fack is this?

PAT: Ah, Jesus! Where’s the floor manager?

AUDIENCE: What matter as long as we’re indoors! It’s so cold! Brr!

PAT: What do you mean, meter? I don’t know anything about any meter? What? Well, you bloody cycle it. I don’t care how long it’s been since you’ve eaten – Christ, some people can only think of their bellies. Get peddlin’ – we need the light!

Pat slowly comes back into view. It looks a little like a daguerreotype of the 19th century, but beggars, choosers, talk to the hand, yada yada.

PAT: And now, a harrowing real life tale. Please welcome my next guests, Dan O’Hara and journalist Liz Bennett.

Two guests walk on, Dan and Liz.

PAT: In 2008, in the first year of the Depression –

AUDIENCE: Oh God between us and all harm, the Depression! Will there every be joy agin in Erin?

PAT: Ah, keep the head, will ye? Or else it’s back out in the snow. Now, where was I? Oh yes - in the first year of the Depression, Dan O’Hara was sold by his father into slavery. Now, with the help of journalist Liz Bennett of the Daily Mirror, Dan’s story is finally told. Welcome Dan.

DAN: Thanks now Pat, thanks.

PAT: Dan, your father sold you into slavery back in 2008. Is that true?

DAN: Oh it’s true Pat, yeah, not a word of a lie.

PAT: And what price did he get?

DAN: That man sold me for three hundred Euro and two hundred worth of parts for an E class Merc.


LIZ: It’s shameful!

DAN: I’m very ashamed.

PAT: Oh dear, oh dear.

DAN: I’ll never forgive him. I mean, I was a big, strong boy. He could have got eight hundred, even a grand cash, if he’d a only tried.

LIZ: Dan’s father proved, time and again, to have no head for money.

DAN: No head at all, at all. No good with the cash.

PAT: Dear oh dear.

LIZ: Pat, you have to remember, slavery was still underground in 2008. It was a sellers’ market, and this man settled for a mere half brick. It’s a scandal, and it's time that this story was told.

DAN: No good at the sums, like.

PAT: Dear oh dear. Dan, Liz, thank you for coming, you’re both very brave.
And that’s all we have for you this evening ladies and gentlemen. We hope that you enjoyed the show, and don’t forget, next week, it’s the Late Late Toy Show!

Pat gives a big wink to the camera.

PAT: So don’t forget to tune in and join all the wonderful boys and girls as they work their little fingers to the bone making cheap tat for sale in Laos, Myanmar, and Bhutan. Until then, good night!

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ger Loughnane and the Dream of Liberty

Close vote or no, the only real surprise about Ger Loughnane getting the maroon bullet from the Galway Hurling Board last night was that it took the Galway Board so long to pull the trigger. Loughnane made himself a hostage to fortune with his eagerness to express himself as a pundit between his leaving of Clare and his arrival at Galway, and all those wisecracks came home to roost when Galway were destroyed by Cork in the summer.

Where to now for Loughnane? Back to Feakle, and his dogs and the school, and maybe a time to reflect? An Spailpín enjoyed Loughnane’s punditry immensely, but when he saw the damage it was doing to members of his old Clare team who soldiered on and especially to Anthony Daly, who took over the manager’s job eventually, Loughnane should have buttoned it. It is to be hoped that, chastened by his time in Galway, Loughnane will find time to pick up the phone to Daly, and to Ollie Baker and to others, and arrange to meet up to discuss old times and repair a few bridges. Life is short.

Loughnane is defeated now, and it’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever manage another inter-county side again. His detractors will assemble to say that he was never that good anyway, and sneer at his record in Galway. No matter; Napoleon didn’t do much when he came back from Elba either. But, just as le petit general in his first incarnation cut his way through the belly of old Europe and on into Russia herself, so Loughnane blazed a trail for the downtrodden and despised in Gaelic Games. He told his Clare team that if they believed they could hurl with anyone; they did, and won two All-Irelands on the strength of it.

Three images from the nineties. 1995, the Munster Final, and Seánie McMahon playing out the seventy minutes one-handed at corner-forward, because he had dislocated his shoulder. 1997, Anthony Daly after winning the Munster final, the veins in his neck almost bursting in fury, screaming that “we’re not the whipping boys of Munster any more!” And most forgotten about of all, Loughnane’s sporting reaction to what must have been a heart-scalding blow, Ciarán Carey’s point of the century that knocked Clare out of the Munster and All-Ireland Championship in 1996.

Just as Napoleon should never have struck for Russia, Loughnane spoiled his legacy a little in 1998. As Jamesie O’Connor remarks in Denis Walsh’s marvellous Hurling: The Revolution Years, the way you manage a team that’s won two All-Irelands in three years is not necessarily the way you manage a team that hadn’t won Munster since Tull Considine wore the saffron and blue. But there is no changing in Loughnane – he’s too elemental for that. The sort of demons he was able to conjure for Clare wouldn’t cross the border with him, and Galway have signed on to the list of counties who have very little time for Ger Loughnane.

But it won’t always be thus. As times goes on people will look back on those revolutionary years and see just what it was Loughnane did – with the help of that extraordinary bunch of players with whom he was blessed at that time in Clare. Anthony Daly has said since that he’s embarrassed by the “whipping boys” speech, but he shouldn’t be; whipping boys is exactly what Clare were, and the fury that Daly channelled that day in 1997 was exactly that of a man who has broken free of the lash and the pint of salt at last.

The country is full of whipping boys yet. The changes made to the Championships, ostensibly for the benefit of “weaker” counties, have served only to strengthen the strong – Kerry have yet to lose a quarter-final match since the quarter-finals’ introduction eight years ago – and that means that the lash bites harder than ever now. But the memory of a slightly-mad bald man in Clare, who thought that Tipperary’s Nicolas English was laughing at Clare’s misery and determined to stop him come hell or high water, should give them comfort.

Loughnane is gone now, but his legacy – that there is no natural order; that everyone has a chance of winning an All-Ireland if they want it badly enough – lives on, even though Loughnane himself is no longer the man to deliver liberty. Le roi est mort; vive le roi!

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Mistaken Identity at Ravenhill?

Stade Francais Jersey
An Spailpín Fánach doesn’t normally comment on the Heineken Cup rugby, as your faithful narrator hasn’t a team to support in the competition, and wouldn’t be able to watch them even if he had, being too poor to afford Sky Sports. However, tomorrow’s clash at Ravenhill between Ulster and Stade Francais is nearly worth getting into the motor and hitting the M1 for. Not because of the rugby, but because of the fashion.

Stade Francais are very francais indeed. Some years ago, they caused eyebrows to be raised in traditional circles when they played in a pink away jersey, not the most macho of shades. But the French are who they are, and they shrugged and got on with it. However, when State run out at Ravenhill tomorrow in their other away jersey, they might the locals object to more than the colour.

The jersey in question is at the top of this post. An Spailpín thinks it’s quite beautiful, actually, although your correspondent is an ardent traditionalist in the matter of jerseys generally. The lady featured on the jersey is Blanche de Castille, queen and regent of France at the start of the 13th century, and a woman noted in her day for taking no nonsense from the Tan.

Two thumbs up from An Spailpín Fánach on that one. However, the faithful in Ravenhill may not have access to Wikipedia, and in that absence, they may take one look at the head tilted sideways and the crown, and think “Popery! Close the gates! Close the gates!”

An Spailpín Fánach remembers the misfortunate Noel Thompson of BBC Northern Ireland reading the news when Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ was released, and having to keep a straight face while intoning that “some church groups here have warned that the film may lead to Mariology and virgin worship.”

Don’t forget, there was holy – what else? – war up the way when a Heineken Cup game was played on the Sabbath, something the ERC had to promise would never happen again. What the locals will make of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, Bride of the Canticle, Eve’s Tears Redeeming and Immaculate Mediatrix of All Graces taking second-phase pop give-and-go ball on the loop to get inside Andrew Trimble and dot down in the corner is anybody’s guess.

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