Sunday, March 30, 2008

Long Day for Short Grass County As Mayo Look to Galway

Mayo 2-14
Kildare 2-8

The more we learn, the less we know. Mayo ate Kildare without salt this afternoon in Newbridge. Kildare went 1-3 to no score up after eight minutes, and it was all Mayo for the following sixty-two. Kildare have seen better days, and the good GAA people of the short grass county, who filled St Conleth’s Park, deserved better than they got. On the basis of today’s game, Kildare will almost certainly be relegated with Laois, and Kieran McGeeney’s management learning curve remains resolutely uphill.

It seems odd to carp about a Mayo team that won by six having been down by six, but it was a strange day, watching the flour bags being cut open. An Spailpín was pleased to note names like Brian Benson and Aiden Campbell listed in the programme on the subs’ bench, and felt sure that they would get a run in the second half, Mayo having taken command by 2-9 to 1-6 after thirty-five minutes. But it was not to be; the game simply petered out to its conclusion, like it was – horrors! – soccer, or something. At first I thought it might have been because nobody deserves to have their noses rubbed in it that more scoring options weren’t considered, but John O’Mahony’s expressed disquiet on the radio afterwards, concerning scoring differences as a league-survival metric, put paid to that theory. It was up to Johnno to let slip Benson et al; the fact that he didn’t is puzzling, to say the least.

The great thing about the league so far, of course, is that Mayo are so very much a work in progress. This safeguards the hopelessly romantic Mayo support from our perpetual temptation to see things as being better than they are. David Clarke is a leader of men in the goals; Kieran Conroy is tightening his grip on the fullback shirt and, in front of him, the half-backs look like Mayo’s best line. The Triple-H of Heaney, Howley and Higgins are as good as any in the country, bar possibly Kerry. Kerry’s half-backs aren’t bad either.

Ronan McGarrity and Tom Parsons are two very stylish footballers, but An Spailpín likes a drop of red diesel in his midfield partnerships; when Pat Harte returned to the lists after Trevor Mortimer picked up an injury twenty minutes into the game, he reminded the travelling support of what the county team had been missing while he was on Stephenite duty.

As noted here before however, upfront remains a problem. It sounds odd to write it about a team that just scored 2-14, but you have to question just how many of the Mayo forwards are what could be termed natural predators, a la Stephen McDonnell, a la Paddy Bradley, a la lots of boys. This afternoon would have been a good time to see if anyone fancied shooting the lights out, as Seanie Johnson did so gloriously last night for Cavan against Cork. But it didn’t happen.

But the road goes ever on; two league points are in the bag, and relegation is staved off further. With that in mind, how wonderful it is to savour the prospect of Galway at Castlebar next Sunday. An Spailpín is expecting it to be played for keeps.

The Galway revival of the past ten years came at Mayo’s expense, but it’s very hard to begrudge it to them at the same time. They will have great players wearing the maroon and white on Sunday and it’s always a bittersweet joy to see them operating at their full potential. Michael Meehan, for instance, has never been outstanding against Mayo and if he catches fire on Sunday it will nevertheless be a treat to see it, even if the fact that it’s Mayo getting the hiding adds a certain pathos.

One of the many wonderful features of GAA life is respect for other teams, and it’s an important matter of GAA etiquette that, on meeting other counties, one is able to praise the stars of the other side. On the pitch, readers will remember Dermot Earley being chaired around the Hyde by Willie Joe Padden and Eugene Lavin on the last day of Earley’s twenty-year career, or the impossible heroism of Offaly four years later when, with hearts shattered beyond despair, they pulled themselves together to give Antrim a guard of honour in 1989.

So much of what we do in following teams is a privilege. For your correspondent, it was a privilege to see Kildare’s John Doyle today, just as it was a privilege to see Cavan’s immortal Dermot McCabe last summer at Castlebar. Recent events sometimes cloud our perspectives on these matters. I hugely look forward to Galway’s visit on Sunday.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Parting Is Such Tweet Sorrow...

An Spailpín Fánach is having trouble with a bird.

Like his friend An Tomaltach, An Spailpín Fánach is no greater lover of housework. However, as with choosing the next captain of the Irish soccer team, it has to be done and so, with a heavy heart, Easter Saturday saw your correspondent mopping furiously, while all the time becoming aware of a certain odour.

Gentlemen are not fastidious as ladies are. It is entirely possible that, somewhere in a dark corner of a gentleman’s chambers there may exist many foul items and apparatus. But An Spailpín isn’t that bad in this respect, and had he opened an abattoir or slaughterhouse somewhere on the premises he would have damned well remembered it. And still the stench pervaded.

Perhaps our friend rattus rattus, the creature that follows man in every step he takes, was visiting in the attic, and while there, expired, gasping his last? The corpse could now be doing what corpses do, and returning to dust as ordained by the Big Man. Opening the Stira trapdoor, braced for the matted and rotting remains of a big hairy rat falling on my head, took a certain stiffening of the sinews; when none emerged, and an exploration of the attic found nothing, it was time to think again.

It was then that I noticed the fireplace.

I approached. The stench got stronger. I retreated, and the smell lessened. I drew four conclusions.

  1. There is something in my chimney.

  2. It is dead and decaying.

  3. I haven’t a bog how to get it out of there.

  4. My dear Jesus but it stinks.

This made for an unhappy bank holiday weekend. Reader, if you desire to spread laughter in the world, ring the chimney sweeping community and see if they’ll come out in an emergency. Their merry laughter filled my ears, just as the rotting smell of former birdie filled my nostrils. Your Spailpín was as fánach as he’s ever been on Saturday, travelling from Spar to Spar, stocking up on air freshener and scented candles.

Tonight, a stand-off exists in this charnel house. Upstairs, the fetid ball of feathers rules supreme. A scented candle burns before his chimney like some pagan lamp somewhere in the Grecian archipelago two thousand years ago, in honour of Pluto, Lord of the Underworld. And downstairs, bottle of sense-neutralising whiskey at the ready, upper lip coated with Vaseline a la Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, sitting at the laptop, your correspondent, An Spailpín Fánach.

The sweep comes tomorrow to remove the remains, and to seal the tomb so that if any other bird feels the need to expire he can do it in the only place fitting for his kind – the starring role in a snackbox springs more or less immediately to mind. In the meantime, we sit out the night together, my rotting house guest and I. At least John Cleese, in one of his many moments of immortality, was able to bang his dead parrot off the table. If I tried that with himself upstairs, he’d probably splatter all over the damned counter, and Michael Palin is too nice a man to deserve that rough treatment.

The Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus wrote a very famous elegy on the death of his girlfriend’s sparrow some two thousand years ago. “Meae puellae flendo turgiduli rubent ocelli,” wrote the poet, “my girl’s little eyes are red with weeping.”

Yeah. If she thought that was bad, Lesbia should have gone a few days with the sparrow rotting next to her, and see what she made of them onions. She would have gone out and got a bloody dog instead.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Voices on the Radio

Jenny Huston was filling in for Gerry Ryan on the mid-morning show on 2FM yesterday. If An Spailpín had his way, La Huston would be on the radio all the time, and Cap’n Gerry would be given his papers.

It could simply be great age of course, but right now Irish music radio seems very grating to An Spailpín Fánach. It is generally my practice to plug in the iPod once I cross the threshold of any Spar or Centra in the city as I attempt to drown out the breakfast shows with Santa Esmeralda’s Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, or something similarly sonic. Trading off hearing for sanity, you know. In such a broadcast environment, hearing Jenny Huston’s Saturday evening show, The Annex, is something of a faith restorer.

The blast-from-the-past format isn’t new of course – Larry Gogan had a golden hour that went back to the time of the Tuatha De Danann I believe – but Jenny Huston has what Larry never had, and that’s cred. Larry played the soundtrack to all our childhoods, but he was about as cool as school. Jenny Huston, on the other hand, with that beautiful Canadian timbre in her voice and her sheer joy in spinning the discs, carries her to another level. Listening to the show when there’s a guest presenter just isn’t the same. It’s not coming from the heart without La Huston. A little more variety in the playlists – Jailbreak or Whole Lotta Rosie for the AC/DC slot instead of the perpetual Thunderstruck would be nice – but the show remains a jewel.

I’m told that Jenny also does an Indie show on 2FM but I wouldn’t be too bothered about that. Scrawny looking urchins from Salford feeding back their guitars or rich American college kids sharing their angst with the world before getting a good job with JP Morgan? Not this time, thank you. An Spailpín’s tastes run more towards the classical at this stage, and he’s happy to have Lyric FM’s Evelyn Grant as his tour guide for that.

Evelyn Grant’s musical credentials are strong, but the great thing about her show, as with Jenny Huston’s, is that Evelyn Grant really loves playing these tunes and sharing the music. With Evelyn Grant everything is lovely, just lovely. This can lead her into tricky waters of course – one Christmas she played a request for the prison officers in one of our leading jails and decided to throw in the guests as well, as part of the Christmas spirit. As she was talking though, she realised that if you’re doing seven to ten years listening to the old triangle going jingle jangle it’ll take more than Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 1 in E Minor to cheer you up.

But no matter – Grant is hopelessly in love with the music, and the love is catching. She enjoys playing this piece from a recent French movie called Les Choristes, The Choir, which is exactly her world. Listening to her, you realise that yes, there is such a thing as culture and yes, it is being passed on. Hurrah for Evelyn Grant.

An Spailpín developed his love for radio at night, in the 1980s, when Mark Cagney did the Night Train on Radio 2 as was. The Waterboys’ Spirit, The Doors’ Riders of the Storm, Freddie White singing Guy Clark’s Desperadoes Waiting on a Train – all signature moments. Long gone now, of course, but An Spailpín has great time for Cagney’s fellow Corkonian Lillian Smith, currently doing the weekend Late Date. Lillian Smith has wide and varied tastes – a few months ago she played The Buddy Rich Big Band version of The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood, and it was transcendent.

John Spillane, also from the beautiful city, makes the most of Raidió na Gaeltachta’s new relaxed policy on songs in English after the watershed, and has a wonderful show on Sunday nights. He delights in playing a bizarre recording of one Reverend AW Nix, telling us about who’ll be travelling on the Black Diamond Express Train to Hell. After three minutes, a miserable Spailpín realised not only is he on board, but he could fill at least half a carriage. Check An Speal out sometime you get a chance. It might even do your Gaeilge no harm.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Finglas in Flames, Nation in Denial

The St Patrick’s Night festivities in Finglas, where gangs of feral youths saw fit to commemorate the arrival of Christianity to this island by burning out cars and rioting con brio, are covered in all this morning’s newspapers. An Spailpín couldn’t help but smile to himself when RTÉ’s Valerie Cox, presenting It Says in the Papers on Morning Ireland, reported that The Sun's editorial is thundering this morning that the good citizens of Finglas, rightly disgusted by this behaviour, are considering moving somewhere else.

Ms Cox didn’t have space to say where these good citizens are expected to move to, but for anybody who doesn’t take The Sun of a morning, like An Spailpín, I believe that Shangri-La is quite nice this time of year. Tír na nÓg has been popular for some time. For those thinking of a rural idyll, Percy French had great faith in many places on this green isle, such as Drumcolliher, Ballyjamesduff and those Mountains of Mourne that sweep down to the sea. Or, for those sick of rain, the Beach Boys had great faith in a spot called Kokomo back in the eighties, which is a bar somewhere in the Florida Keys I believe. Very specific bucks, those Beach Boys.

One of the foundation myths of the Irish property boom is that one can pogo from area code to area code, until eventually reaching the prefect peace of a Georgian domicile in leafy Dublin 4. Well, if any of those citizens of Finglas are thinking of making the move from Dublin 11 to Dublin 4 – and it certainly seems like a good idea right now – they’ll have to find someone to buy the current house first. Someone that doesn’t read the papers, or listen to the news, and who thinks that their Hyundai Tuscon will be exempt from the periodic torching that is part of the local charm.

The Examiner’s editorial is on the button this morning. The government has been talking about “zero tolerance” for eleven years. The ASBO was introduced last year, but not one has been issued. And here’s the kernel of the matter: “This is not just antisocial behaviour, it is serious criminal behaviour and should be regarded as such.”

And it is clearly not regarded as such. The Irish Times reports that Fine Gael, with the flair for practical politics that has made the party such a viable alternative Government, has called for the introduction of “special night courts” to deal with the problem.

Special night courts. So you haul a guy with twenty prior convictions up before the Beak and now he has twenty-one convictions. Does anybody really think that’s going to make a difference?

The tireless campaigner Father Peter McVerry is quoted in that same report in the Irish Times as saying that “nobody seems to have any answers to try and deal with this particular problem.”

An Spailpín Fánach has two suggestions.

The first suggestion is that if someone is indulging in criminal acts, he or she is imprisoned, and kept there until they stop. This is seems simple enough, but with fellas running around with multiple criminal convictions, putting criminals in prison and keeping them there is something we as a society don't seem to quite understand.

On the broader social issue, Carl O’Brien is correct in today’s Irish Times in saying that sustained funding and early intervention can alleviate the problem. But An Spailpín is not sure that we as a people fully realise what early intervention means. If you’re dealing with parents who think it’s ok to have ten-year-olds drunk and rioting then a finger-wagging from a social worker or a civvy-wearing padre isn’t going to do it. Besides, at ten it’s too late; those young fellas' only hope is to join the British Army, and hope that the Queen can do for them what their own State has failed, and give them some purpose in life. The British Army has been doing it for their forebears for hundreds of years, after all.

And for the younger children, for whom there is still hope, if you are going to intervene that means that you have to take children off their parents, who are clearly a bad influence of them. You have to write off one generation in order to save the next. This means you have to build many orphanages, and staff them with trained professionals. And if you’re going to do all that, you have to write big, fat cheques and raise taxes in order to pay those professionals. You may say foster homes are better than orphanages; fair enough. The problem is that the cheque for the orphanages will be big enough; there’s no way there’s enough money to pay for better care. There just isn’t. This is the price we pay for long-fingering the problem for so long. Shame on us all.

Someone in the Irish political landscape will want to be come down with a very virulent case of vision before any of this happens, of course. An Spailpín shan’t be holding his breath.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Irish Movies on St Patrick's Day

There'll be no locks or bolts between us, Mary Kate, except those in your own mercenary little heart!An Spailpín notes with interest that RTÉ, in their wisdom, have decided to show Into the West as their St Patrick’s Day feature. Ellen Barkin makes for a rather glamorous travelling lady, although Gabriel Byrne is mistaken if he thinks the coveted title of King of the Travellers is won as easily as rubbing one’s face with ashes. The face of the regent generally suffers a greater buffeting for that signal honour.

During An Spailpín’s urchinhood, of course, the Irish movie was de riguer on TV for the National Holiday. It seems strange now to be without them, not least as Irish movies are now like midges on the mountain, whereas back in the 1970s and 80s they were much rarer creatures. So rare, in fact, that they were Irish only in nominal theme, being made in either England or the US with a very stage-Irish sensibility. In the 1960s Disney made a movie called The Fighting Prince of Donegal, a biopic of Red Hugh O’Donnell, “a reckless young rebel who rocks an empire.” Aodh Rua himself was played by Peter McEnery, a matinee idol of the day whose hair was dyed sufficiently red to make a carrot look like a parsnip if placed next to his blazing barnet.

The Flight of the Doves was made in 1971, and was a staple of St Patrick’s Day for many years. Or so it seems in retrospect; don’t forget, RTÉ has been committed to recycling long before anyone knew what a greenhouse gas was. The Flight of the Doves was one of those stories that are especially terrifying for children, as it featured children who had to run away from a guardian who was all set to do them in. The fact that the malevolent guardian was played by Ron Moody, Fagin in Oliver!, made it all the more worrying to the infant Spailpín. Not as worrying, however, as the song sung by Rabbi Noel Purcell in the movie, called “You Don’t Have to be Irish to be Irish.” Even at six years old, your correspondent was a hopeless pedant.

One magical St Patrick’s Day in the 1980s RTÉ decided to treat the nation to a whole Barry Fitzgerald season. They gave us Going My Way, of course, and The Quiet Man (still An Spailpín’s favourite Irish movie ever), and even a edgy noir-ish policer called The Naked City. The naked city in question is New York, not technically in the jurisdiction of course, but once it had Barry Fitz in it that was good enough for us.

But of that Barry Fitzgerland season, the picture that’s stuck most firmly in An Spailpín’s mind is a movie that I have not seen or heard of since, and that an hour’s furious googling is only generating some very sparse results indeed. It’s a movie called, variously, Happy Ever After, Tonight’s the Night or O’Leary’s Night, and it’s a black sort of farce. It’s about a village not one hundred miles away from the one in the Quiet Man where the local squire dies and his only living relation, a distant cousin, arrives over from England to take over the place. The thing is that while General O’Leary is down with the locals, drinking the hard drop and not being too bothered about the rent, the young lad is an utter swine and starts evicting people and going Lord-of-the-Manor straight away. The locals decide there’s nothing else to be done except to bump him off, and complications ensure.

One of the reasons the movie has stayed with me so long is because it stars one of my favourite actors, the great David Niven, as the squireen, Jasper O’Leary. Niven makes no mention of the movie that I can recall in either of his volumes of auto-biography, so it’s fair to presume that he hated it. And the reason why, perhaps, is because Niven is cast against type as a cad. To An Spailpín’s mind though, this is what makes the picture so fascinating, like Henry Fonda as Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West. I wonder if it really was good, or is it just memory playing tricks, as memory does?

It’s fashionable now of course to sneer at The Quiet Man and the Paddy-whackery school. Well, if sitting down this evening to a TV version of Eugene O’Brien’s play Eden (a “trudge through domestic purgatory [addressing] such discomfiting issues as impotence and pervasive alcoholism,” according to the Village Voice. How jolly) is your cup of tea then go for it, but An Spailpín will pass this time, thanks. I’m off to the end of the rainbow where the crocks of gold are stashed by the fairy peoples, where you must be careful of red-haired women, where your mind is addled by strong mountain poitín, and where even the hardest of men, even Jamesh Bond himshelf, can’t help but break into song, in light lyric tenor. Happy St Patrick’s Day, from 007 and An Spailpín Fánach.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Jack Kyle - An Gaiscíoch Ba Ghile i bPáirc an Chrócaigh Dé Sathairn

Bhí an slua ag imeacht nuair a tháinig sé ar an bhfód. Bhí an fhoireann a rug ar an nGrand Slam i 1948, an t-aon uair riamh a bhuaigh foireann rugbaí na hÉireann é, á thaispéant don slua ag an gcluiche idir Éirinn agus an Bhreatain Bheag Dé Sáthairn, ach rinne Bord Peile Rugbaí na hÉireann praiseach de, mar is gnáth leo. In ionad laochra na ndaichéadaí a thabairt amach ag leath-ama, fágadh go dtí deireadh an cluiche é, nuair nach raibh fonn ag éinne ar tada ach imeacht. Bhí RTÉ imithe chuig an Albain agus an cluiche idir Sasana agus an Albain; chaill siadsan an uair freisin.

Ach is cuma. Tá Jack Kyle níos laidre ná éinne acu, agus nuair atá eachtraí an lae cailte sa stáir, beidh ainm an Ultaigh beo fós i mbéal lucht tacaíochta an rugbaí, mar is é Jackie Kyle an t-imreoir is fearr a chaith an léine ghlas riamh, agus ní dóigh do Spailpín Fánach go n-athróidh an scéal le déanaí.

D'imir Jack Kyle mar leath-cúlaí amuigh ar son Ollscoile na Banríona, Bhéil Feiriste, Éireann agus Leon na Breataine, agus d'éirigh sé den scoth le gach chuile céann acu. Ba é tuaras na Leon i 1950 an chéad uair a chaith na Leoin an léine dhearg atá clú agus cáill uirthi ar fud an domhain anois, agus ba é an chéad tuaras ab fhéidir leis na Leoin dúshlán ceart a thabairt do na Glan-Dubhaigh. Tá clú Kyle ann sa Nua-Shéalainn fós, agus tá fios maith acusan cé h-iad togha na bpeileadóirí rugbaí.

Tá scéal deas ag Frank Keating in a leabhar den scoth The Great Number Tens a n-insíonn gach rud faoi Kyle mar imreoir agus mar duine. Bhuaigh Cliff Morgan, laoch mór uimhir a deich Rhonnda, Cardiff, na Breataine Bige agus Leon na Breataine, a chéad cáibín riamh i gcoinne na hÉireann i 1951, agus bhí Jackie Kyle ag imirt leis na nGaeil fós ag an am. Bhí fios maith ag Morgan cérbh é Kyle, mar bhí Kyle in a laoch mór ag Cliff Morgan agus eisean ag fás i nGleannta na Breataine Bige. Bhí faitíos ar Morgan roimh an laoch mór seo.

Ag tús an cluiche, chuaigh Kyle comh fada le Morgan, agus an lámh sínte amach aige. "Comhghairdeachas as ucht do chéad cháibin, a Cliff," arsa Kyle. "Bhíos ag breathnú ar do chuirt imirte le fada anois agus tá an léine tuillte go maith agat. Go n-éirí leat inniu."

D'fhoglaim Cliff a chéad cheach ansin - ba fear uasal é Jackie Kyle. Leanadar ar aghaidh leis an imirt, agus bhí cúrsaí cothrom go leor i rith an cluiche. D'imir Kyle go maith ach bhí Cliff ag fanacht ar ghaisce éicin ó Jack Kyle, agus níor tháinig sé. Seans níl ann ach duine cosuil linn go leir, a dúirt sé leis féin. Agus an cluiche ag dridim chuig a chróich, bhí clibirt ag na Gaeil tuairim fiche slat amuigh ó líne na Breataine Bige. Tháinig an liathroid amach chuig Kyle, agus rinne Morgan é féin reidh chun stop a chur ar Kyle. Ach nuair a d'fhéach Cliff suas, ní raibh an tUltach ann. Agus a chroí ag titim síos chuig a bhróga, d'fhéach Cliff thar a ghualainn, agus chonaic sé Kyle isteach idir na cuaillí, agus an t-úd á scórail aige.

"A Thiara Dé," dúirt Cliff leis féin. "Is fíorlaoch é tar an tsaoil." An dara ceacht a d'fhóglaim Cliff.

Ach dar leis an Spailpín, rinne an tUltach a ghaisce is mó agus a saol sa rugbaí caite. Agus an domhan faoi lámh aige, thug Jackie Kyle a dhrom do. Chuaigh sé amach chuig an tSaimbia, agus chaith sé a saol gairmiúl ansin, ag dochtúireacht don lucht íseal an domhain, agus gan fios ag duine nó deoraí acu cad é an rugbaí nó cé hé Jack Kyle, leath-chúlaí amuigh na hOllscoile Banríona, na hÉireann agus na Leon Breataine. Bhí fios ag Jack Kyle go raibh an rugbaí tabhachtach, ach nach mbanann faic leis ag an am céanna. Tá níos mó sa saol na an liathróid ubhchruthach.

Agus sin é an fáth mar is cuma gur rinne Bord Peile Rugbaí na hÉireann praiseach don thaispéantas, agus thug an slua másla don peileadóir rugbaí is fearr na hÉireann. Tá sé níos laidre, níos loinnreach nó gach uile duine acu. Go maire sé an céad.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An Spailpín Fánach in This Morning's Irish Times

An Spailpín Fánach is deeply flattered this morning that the Irish Times has chosen to republished a slightly edited version of last week's post on the "Quiet road girl milk" Carlsberg ad. In the print edition, I'm on the same page as Vincent Browne himself. It's like being seated at the right hand of the Lord. Online subscribers can check it out here.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"Ceart nó Mícheart," Mórshaothar Sheáin Uí Ruadháin, Foilsithe Arís

Tá deascéal ag bhur Spailpín Fánach inniu, deascéal a chuirfidh gliondar is athas i gcroithe na ndaltaí Gaeilge, ní h-amháin an triúr dhalta dathúil ar mullach an bhlaig, ach amach sa domhan mór.

I rith na seascóidí, scríobh Seán Ó Ruadháin alt rialta san irisleabhar Feasta. Ba í an Ghaeilge á phlé ag an Ruadhánaigh, agus gach mí dhéanadh sé a bhreithiúnas ar Ghaeilge, mar a chuala sé i mbéal an phobail í nó mar a scríobhadh í ag an am. Bhí cúrsaí lán-shimplí leis - ba bhreá leis Gaeilge ceart, agus b'fhuath leis an Ghaeilge mí-cheart, cosúil le Gaeilge bhocht bhriste seo, mo léan, mo léan!

Agus an Ruadhánach comh dian diongbháilte ina chuid tuairimí, scríobhadh litreacha chuige san irisleabhar ag ceistiú is ag cáiniú cad a scríobhadh seo. D'fhilleadh an Ruadhánach comh maith mar a bhfuair sé, agus tá macalla an lámhaigh le cloisteal fós ina scríobhnóireacht.

Agus tá an macalla níos airde anois, toisc go bhfuil Ceart nó Mícheart foilsithe arís - eagrán nua faoi eagarthóireacht Liam Mhic Pheaircín, fear a rinne sársaothar féin ag bailiú na h-ailt agus na litreacha a scríobhadh faoi na h-abháir a phéadh i rith na sraithe. Tá roinnt fonótaí ag an bPeaircíneach ar an mbuntéacs - ba fear léanta go leor é an Ruadhánach, agus bíonn sé deacair gach targairt a adhmaigh.

Más féidir leat Seán Ó Ruadháin agus an leabhair seo a chur i gcompáráid le aon saothar eile, is é HW Fowler, an fear a scríobh The King's English i 1918. Sáreolaí graiméir iadsan beirt, agus bhí gach botún mar ghearruchán feola dóibh, peaca in aghaidh Dé agus in aghaidh an phobail. Comh maith le sin, bhí an árd-stíl acu beirt; bhí an Ghaeilge ag Seán Ó Ruadháin ón gcliabhán, ach ba fíor-scolaire é freisin, agus rinne sé gach iarracht a Ghaeilge féin a chur chun cinn i rith a shaol. (Agus ba fhada an saol é freisin - bhí seacht mbliana is seachtó d'aois aige nuair a thosaigh sé ag scríobh Ceart nó Mícheart!)

Cáinadh saothair Uí Rhuadháin ó am go h-am; tá tuairim ann go raibh sé ró-dhian ar an ndroch-Ghaeilge - tá litir sa bhailliuchán seo ó Mhuiris Ó Droigheán ar a cháineadh as ucht a dhiongbháilte. Tuigeann An Spailpín cad atá i gcéist, agus an baol a mbaineann leis an modh scríobhnóireachta seo. Uaireanta, agus an Ruadhánach á léamh aige, tar sé mar bheith ar ais sa rang scoile duit - tá tú á cheistiú ag an múinteoir agus fios maith agaibh beirt níl an múinteoir ag iarradh tú a mhúineadh, ach ag fanacht go rachfaidh tú amú, agus a ionsaigh a dhéanamh ansin, mar a fhanann an cat ar an luch. Ba bhreá an clisteacht leis an Ruadhánach agus ligeann an focal searbh i gcathú é uaireanta nuair b'fhéidir gur chóir do fanacht ina thost.

Nílim cinnte gur mhaith liom Seán Ó Ruadháin a bheith agam mar múinteoir, ach mar scríobhnóir nó sáreolaí na Gaeilge tá sé gan smal. Tá an méid saibhris ina chuid Ghaeilge, tá sí comh beo bríomhar leis, gurbh fhéidir leat fíorbhlás an teanga beo a fháil uaidh, mar a dheirtear gurbh fhéidir blás móna a fháil i ngloine bhreá fuisce. Is cóir duinn cumhnaigh gur deacair an rud é breitneamh a dhéanamh ar cad atá ceart nó mícheart maidir le aon theanga dá laghad, fiú amháin an Ghaeilge. Mar shampla, tógann an Ruadhánach sampla ó scríobhnóireacht éigin chun a thuairim a neartú, ach ar an lámh eile tógann sé sliochta eile mar shampla droch-Ghaeilge go deo, an drochGhaeilge a téadh idir é féin agus a chodladh. 'Sé mo thuairim féin go rinne sé an gaisce mar a rinne Fowler roimhe - rinneadar beirt cad ba mhaith leo, agus gach aon duine eile chun an ndiabhal.

Tuairim nár chóir bheith mar sin, gur chóir rialacha a bheith ann maidir le cad atá ceart nó mícheart, ach ní fhéidir é sin a dhéanamh, toisc go bhfuil teangacha ag athrú go deo. Ba é an dlí an rud is ansa leis na Románaigh, agus tá easactaí fós sa Laidin. An rud is tabhachtaí, ní hé go bhfuil na freagraí go leir ag Seán Ó Ruadháin, ach go bhfuil sé ar a dtóir, agus go bhfuil caghdeán na Gaeilge á phlé comh bríomhar seo aige.

Agus sin mór-oidheacht Uí Ruadháin, agus an fáth go bhfuil Ceart nó Mícheart comh tabhachtach. Tá droch-meas aige ar "Gaeilge na leabhar," ach is é an scéal brónach anois na go bhfuil an teanga bheo, an teanga inár dtógadh an Ruadhánach féin, marbh anois. Scríobhann Ó Ruadháin faoin bhfear seo nó an fear siúd nach bhfuil Béarla aige ón gcliabhán - níl an dream sin againn in Éirinn sa lá atá inniu, agus má tá, is í an Phólainnis nó teangacha eile atá ina mbéal acu, in ionad an Ghaeilge féin. As ucht an leabhar seo, tá fíorbhlás na Gaeilge nádurtha againne, scríofa ag fear léannta ar son daoine léannta fréisin, agus is rud fíor-thabhactacht don dteanga go bhfuil sí scríofa ag na léinn ar son na léinn, comh maith leis na leabhair eile. Ár gceol thú go deo, a Ruadhánaigh, rinne tú do dhualgas ar son an sean-teanga, agus ár gceol tú fréisin, a Liam Mhic Peaircín, go bhfuil seoid mhór na teanga seo foilsithe arís. Tá oidhreacht na tíre níos slána inniu as ucht bhur saothar beirt.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Support Fergus O'Callaghan's Head Shave for Cancer Research!

Your Spailpín Fánach has a favour to ask of the loyal readership. Take a moment, before debauching yourselves at the weekend, to skip over here and support An Spailpín Fánach’s good friend Fergus O’Callaghan, who is having his head shaved next week to raise money for a children’s cancer charity.

You may say head shaving doesn’t seem that big a deal. You have not met the O’Callaghan. There are few hairs left on that great pate, and those that are there won’t be hanging around for long. He remains willing to sacrifice such hair has he has to the blade however, in order to raise money for St Baldrick’s, an international charity that helps fund research into children’s cancer and leukaemia.

As you can see from the link, Fergus is currently resident is bonnie Scotland, a long way from the beautiful city of Cork by the Lee. An Spailpín Fánach has studied the Corkman at home and abroad, and has noticed that no-one gets homesick like him. The homing pigeon is as a speck of dust in comparison to the Corkman abroad; that is, anywhere beyond the ringing of those Shandon bells might be as darkest Peru to the poor eejit. Pity then the O’Callaghan, trudging the highland heather, watching the locals eating herring and porridge and going to kirk, and dreaming all the while of crubeens and Miah and Cha and all that other weird stuff down there.

An Spailpín and Fergus are friends because we did time together. We both did a FÁS course in 1998 – ten years ago, the Lord save us! – in an effort to re-invent ourselves in the workplace. Only those who have done FÁS courses can know what they are like; watch a few of those old World War II prisoner of war movies, like Stalag 17 or Von Ryan’s Express, and you’ll get the general idea.

If that FÁS course, conducted in Middle Abbey Street and Portobello, Dublins 1 and 8, were The Great Escape, the O’Callaghan would be Flight Lieutenant Danny Velinski, as portrayed by Charles Bronson in that picture, only with less hair of course. He didn’t get involved in some of the strange politics that went on; he just simply went down in the hole every day and desperately dug his way to freedom. (Your correspondent would have been Flying Officer Archibald Ives, by the way – you know, the little buckeen that keeps getting caught by Jerry and eventually goes insane in the lockup? That’d be me down to me shoes).

No matter. Fergus made his way out, via Milan, Rome and finally Scotland, now it’s time for him to pay something back. If you have doubts about the fact that the charity is outside the Green Isle of Erin, think on these two points. Firstly, cancer can’t tell if you’re Irish, English or Welsh; it recognises few national boundaries. And secondly – how likely is it that our own bucks will be finding a cure for cancer anytime soon? Hoping the Jocks do it and Ryanair provides cheap flights over is our one hope. Donate now, and thank you.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Quiet Road Girl Milk - What the Carlsberg Ad Tells Us About the State of the Irish Language

This is Seachtain na Gaeilge, that one magical week in the year when the nation’s lip service towards the First Language is extended – to about the tip of the nose and the point of the chin, as far as An Spailpín Fánach can make out.

The 2006 Census tells us that there are 53,471 people who speak Irish, daily, outside the education system, 97,089 who do so weekly, and a rather stunning 581,574 who do sometimes. Only 412,846 said they never speak Irish out of the 1,656,790 surveyed, which means, using simple arithmetic, that we have a population of one million Irish speakers in the state. One million! An Tomaltach likes to note how odd it is that, even though the Polish population here is smaller than 100,000 it is not at all uncommon to hear Polish spoken on the streets, while hearing Irish spoken in public remains a rarity. An Tomaltach doesn’t miss much.

It’s reasonably clear, therefore, that most people who claim to be Irish speakers in the census are talking through their hats, and doing so in English at that. In Seán Tadhg Ó Gairbhí’s review in Foinse of the recently published “A New View of the Irish Language,” edited by Caoilfhionn Nic Pháidín and Seán Ó Cearnaigh, Ó Gairbhí makes the point that if that 100,000 Irish speakers existed, there would be no point in discussing New Views of the Irish Language in a language other than Irish. His point is well made.

David McWilliams made the point in The Pope’s Children that the Gaeilscoil movement was indicative of the new role that the language will lead in the Ireland of the 21st Century, that paradise run by Hibero-whatsits, where the Budland of today is but a distressing memory. One of the signature moments of the TV show of the book of the newspaper column was McWilliams breaking into Irish himself while interviewing a rather startled Gaeilscoil principle. An Spailpín has grave doubts about the whole Gaeilscoil movement, especially in the capital; your constant quillsman simply notes how many columns McWilliams himself writes in Irish, and moves on.

The search for the true status of Irish in the nation in 2008 is a little like the search for Schrödinger’s cat. You may remember that, in creating his famous metaphor illustrating the sometimes counter-intuitive nature of quantum physics, Professor Schrödinger posited of a certain cat that may or may not be in a certain box, and the nature of the box is such that we can only tell by opening the box whether or not the cat is inside. Only thing is, opening the box offs the moggy. How then do we open the box without killing kitty? So it is with Irish; once we start asking the question people start lying to the questioner. It’s simple human nature.

Therefore, to find out the true status of the language in Ireland we have to surprise the nymph while bathing. We need to take a snapshot of the nation and the language while the nation isn’t looking, and thus find out how we really feel about the language.

And Carlsberg have done just that, with their Irish-in-the-nightclub ad that’s currently running on the telly. It isn’t so much the ad itself, but the public reaction to it, which seems – on anecdotal evidence alone – to be quite positive. We throw the shoulders back when we see it, and bask in a certain glow.

The ad, for those that haven’t see it, goes like this. Three young Irishmen are on holidays in some foreign city. They go into a nightclub, and shout three Carlsberg. The barman asks them where they are from, and they reply “Ireland.” The three boys are then asked to do something Irish – you know the way French people in bars here are always asked to do something typically French, like eating cheese or surrendering to the Germans? Or Germans are asked to invade France in the first place? Same principle.

Anyway, our three heroes put their heads together and they decide to speak Irish. So the leader turns around and says falteringly “An bhfuil cead agam dul amach go dtí an leithreas?”

His confidence builds then and he begins orating wildly to an eager crowd. “Agus madra rua. Is maith liom caca milis. Agus Sharon Ní Bheoláin! Tá geansaí orm. Tá scamall sa spéir. Tabhair dom an caca milis!”

The scene ends with our hero cutting a rug with the local talent. “Speak more Irish,” she asks him. “Ciúnas bóthar cailín bainne” he tells her, dancing away. She laughs seductively. Fade to black.

And that ad sums up everything the nation as a whole thinks about the first language right now. We like the idea of Irish, the idea of it being there, but is has no semantic meaning for us. It means nothing. Such word we have are only those we remember from school, in brief incoherent snatches. We like the language, in the same way we like that old fool of a dog that always chases parked cars, but fundamentally it’s a joke, not something to be taken seriously. “Ciúnas bóthar cailín bainne.” “Quiet road girl milk.” Gibberish. We think Irish is gibberish, and its only purpose is to give us another reason look down on foreigners, something we love doing all the time.

Somehow, eighty-seven years after independence, it doesn’t seem that much to be proud of.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

What Dublin Bus Really Thinks of the Commuter

An Spailpín Fánach is seldom a man to attack reading, that most wonderful and endlessly rewarding of hobbies. This evening, I am making a very special exception.

I took the above picture a little after six o’clock tonight. Sleet and snow arrived in the city this evening – great flakes of snow that melt immediately on impact and that leave you drenched and freezing in seconds. In the ten minutes it took me to walk from the office to the bus stop I was soaked, perished and eager to get somewhere warm.

Dublin Bus, however, had other ideas for me.

There was a queue of maybe ten people waiting for the bus. There were two buses at the stop. You’ll notice that the lights are on in the bus in the picture, the engine is running and the radiators are on. Did the driver open the doors to let the people on? No. He did not.

As far as he was concerned, the people waiting IN THE SNOW could damn well stay there. Eventually, once his thirst for literature was sated, this constant reader switched off the out of service sign, put up the correct number and opened the door.

You see, even though the “Out of Service” sign was lit, the bus was not “out of service” at all. It was the driver that was out of service. He was going to read his buke and anyone out in the cold could damn well stay there and catch ever damn type of pneumonia going. He didn’t care.

And do you know what puts the tin hat on it for me? He’s only starting the damn book. It’s not like Rudolf Rassendyll is facing a final, deadly showdown with the inexpressibly evil Rupert of Hentzau in the dark dungeons of the Castle of Zenda and this bus driver can’t wait, just can’t wait, to find out what happens next. He’s just acting out of principle, and that principle is that any Dublin bus driver can do what he damn well pleases and nuts to commuters freezing in the snow. Isn’t that why Joe Hill was shot, so Dublin Bus drivers wouldn’t have to suffer torment and slavery by opening the doors on a bus before they're good and damn well ready?

An Spailpín Fánach has edited the pic as I don’t want to personalise this about the driver concerned. He might have only just learned how to read for all I know, and can’t get enough of it. But everyone involved in fostering this culture in Dublin Bus, the culture that says the drivers do what they damn well like when they damn well like and only if they damn well like ought to be deeply ashamed of themselves.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Straining Against the Laois - Fishy Business in the Mayo Forward Line

Laois 1-13
Mayo 1-13

“What might have been” always has an electric effect on the Mayo supporter; it is generally best not to bring it up, as tears may quickly ensue. As such, the Laois county board were playing a dangerous game with their program for the game last night at Páirc Uí Mhordha, Portlaoise.

There was a thought-provoking picture of Kieran McDonald on the cover, as the status of Mayo’s Gile Mear remains unknown as the sod firms and spring advances. Even more heartbreaking though, the program had two lovely reports by Pat Delaney of matches past between the teams, one from 1980 and the other from 1973. Mayo won both games, thanks in no small part to the input of their full forward lines. In 1980, the inside line was Jimmy Burke, Jimmy Lyons and Joe McGrath – between them, they contributed 2-03 to Mayo’s total of 2-08. Not bad, but 1973 – my God, what a full-forward line wore green above the red that day. They were Ted Webb, Willie McGee and Jinkin' Joe Corcoran, legends all, and they contributed 2-04 to the Mayo total of 2-10.

Can you see where your Spailpín Fánach is going with this?

Last night, Mayo played with a two man inside line, with Austin O’Malley dropping deep, which is hardly the spot for him. The logic of this formation is hard to entirely understand – the only two-man inside line that really cut sides up that An Spailpín can bring to mind is Meath’s from 1999 to 2001, when Ollie Murphy and Graham Geraghty terrorised defences across Ireland. The thing about those two boys though is that they were able to win independent ball – An Spailpín has fallen hopelessly in love with that phrase since hearing Jack O’Connor use it one summer! – and having won it, they were able to use it.

Andy Moran and Conor Mortimer are who they are, and it is unrealistic to expect them to behave as Murphy and Geraghty. But it is a little worrying that they are currently expected to do these jobs for which they don’t seem entirely suited.

Rumours of discontent in the camp constantly emanate from Laois, but they didn’t look too bad at all from where An Spailpín was sitting last night. Padraig Clancy lorded midfield against an out of sorts James Gill and David Heaney, forcing O’Mahony to spring Ronan McGarrity from the bench after twenty minutes to calm things down a bit there. The Laois inside line looked particularly tasty, with the old bull Parkinson in one corner, the young bull Tierney (nine points, three from frees – can’t ask for more than that) in the other, and Brendan Quigley of Timahoe between them. Quigley was in midfield last year and played some Aussie Rules before that again, experience that allowed him to wreck no small amount of havoc in the Mayo defence. Quigley will take watching in the Leinster Championship this summer.

For Mayo, not as much to be hopeful about right now, to be honest. Aidan Kilcoyne made up for last week a little when he came on at half-time for Michael Mullins yesterday, but if the Mayo forwards were crustaceans they would be crabs – constantly scuttling sideways, eyes out on stalks and never making progress. The ideal denizens of the deep to name in the forwards would be a great big blue whale at full forward, two sharks playing off him in the corners, a dancing seahorse at 10, a leaping trout at 12 and a dirty great ugly brute of a pike at 11, pulling the strings and exerting his authority.

These are unlikely to manifest between now and June 22nd, of course, and Johnno and the travelling support must make do in the meantime. Minds now turn to Castlebar, and a game against Kerry on the day before St Patrick’s Day. It will be a glorious day out, and Mayo are not quite relegated yet. It looked like Laois and Mayo would descend hand in hand into Roinn a Dó next year at half-past eight last night, but now I’m not quite so sure. A result against Kerry would be heartening in more ways than one. However, having seen parts of their game against Derry on TG4 today, it’s hard to see it happening I’m afraid.

But what matter? Isn’t it only the League?

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