Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ag Breathnú Siar ar 2009, le Cabhair ó Chór Airm Rua na Rúise

Bhí 2009 crua go leor ar gach uile duine in Éirinn, beag nó mór. Agus mar sin, shíl do scríbhneoir reatha gur cheart is chóir caoineadh éigin a chum in ómós - nó uafás - an bhliain bhrónach seo.

Tá m'amhrán bunaithe ar Amhrán na mBádóirí Volga (nó Эй, ухнем, más maith libh). Mura bhfuil an port ar eolas agaibh, seo Cór Airm Rua na Rúise ag seinm i 1965, agus fó-theidil Gaeilge curtha isteach agam féin. Bainigí sult, agus athbhliain faoi mhaise díobh go léir.

Is crua é an saol
Is crua é an saol
An aimsir fuar go deo
Idir sneachta agus ceo
Níl againn ach an stró
Níl againn ach an stró
An saol dian go leor
Gan an pota óir
Tháinig an díle go gCorcaigh cois Laoi
Theip ar na Gael in aghaidh Henry
Níl gáire ach an gol ann,
Níl gáire ach an gol ann
In Éirinn inniu, Éirinn bhocht inniu
Níl ach na deoir ann in Éirinn inniu

Na Gael i bponc arís
Na Gael i bponc arís
Tagann crith chois is láimhe
Nuair a smaoinítear cad a tharla
Boic mhór na tíre anois ag iarraidh déirce
Amach thar sáile ag seilg na déirce
Amach sa Ghearmáin. Amach sa Ghearmáin
Ár míle buíochas, Merkel sa Ghearmáin
Ár míle buíochas, Merkel sa Ghearmáin

Caora ins an Dáil
Caora ins an Dáil
Ní fhéidir leo déileáil
Ní fhéidir leo déileáil
Chuireamar féin isteach iad, sinne féin ar thóg iad
Orainn atá an lochtsa
Tuillte dúinn go deo é, tuillte dúinn go deo é
Ní fheicfear pingin rua le fada an lá
Go bhfóire Dia orainn

Cén maith, cén maith, atá fágtha ag na Gaeil?
Rud beag amháin, rud beag amháin, rud amháin fágtha
An t-aon rud fágtha ag cine na nGael
Na Gréagaigh níos measa
Na Gréagaigh níos measa
Tá na Gréagaigh níos measa ná ár n-amadáin féin
Go bhfóire Dia orainn
Go bhfóire Dia orainn
Go bhfóire Dia orainn

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

Guy Richie has created a Sherlock Holmes for the UFC generation. He even has Holmes doing a spot of mixed martial arts himself, in what looks like a Victorian version of the UFC’s infamous octagon. This is Holmes for a generation that was raised on wrestling, comics and MTV.

It’s not that bad, really. It looks very stylish, the soundtrack is rather thrilling, and the direction is so kinetic that you don’t really have time to pause for breath as you’re rushed through the Gothic Victoriana.

There is precious little relation to the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, of course, but too much can be made of that. Watchmen clung religiously to the original text, and what a stinker that was. There’s nothing wrong with taking an original text and adding to it. The problem is that Richie’s Holmes takes away, and leaves a big hollow where the humanity used to be.

Take the Hound of the Baskervilles off your shelf – and if it’s not on your shelf, do yourself a favour and go out and buy it. An Spailpín will still be here when you get back – and read it again. You can hear the hound calling across those lonesome Yorkshire moors. It all feels so very real.

Nothing in Guy Richie’s Holmes feels real. The plot owes more to Dennis Wheatley than Conan Doyle, and the look of the film is too comic book. You never feel you’re in Victorian London. You never feel like you’re anywhere human at all.

Part of the problem, funnily enough, is Holmes himself. He has no real human qualities. He’s a caricature, much more so than he was in books or in previous celluloid characterisations. At one stage, watching Downey eat, I was reminded of him in Chaplin in 1992, when he does the fork dance. Perhaps Downey was channelling that in the absence of something else to get his teeth into.

The strongest performance of the movie – and nobody is more surprised than your correspondent – is Jude Law’s Doctor Watson. Law’s shallowness is such that he fails to shine as a star, but the man was born to play second banana. There is some good business between him and Downey, but it’s not nearly as good as the movie believes it is. Rachel McAdams is wasted in the picture. Shame.

Sherlock Holmes ends with exactly the same setup for a sequel as Batman Begins. Shamelessly so, in fact. And there may be a sequel, certainly. But in ten years’ time, the movie(s) will be seen for they are – grand for a trip to the movies, but ultimately disposable. While Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett still continue to shine as the definitive Holmes of big and small screen, respectively.

FOCAL SCOIR: Luke Kelly’s definitive version of the Rocky Road to Dublin is used twice in the movie, firstly during the UFC scene and secondly over the end credits. Nobody cheered or clapped while An Spailpín was in Cineworld on Parnell Street when it was played, either time. And that's sad.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Christmas to All, from An Spailpín Fánach

They say that if you have nothing good to say about something you should say nothing at all. As such, we pass no comment about the year of hard times gone by, and give thanks in season for what we have. Here are wonderful Altan singing the traditional Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil - To that Night in Bethlehem. Nollaig shona daoibh uilig, agus go mbéirfimid go léir beo ag an am seo arís.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

David Tennant's Farewell to Doctor Who

David Tennant as Doctor WhoThe highlight of Christmas 2009 for this blog will be David Tennant’s final appearance as Doctor Who on the BBC. Your faithful correspondent realises that he is an unearthly child in this respect, but what can you do? Love is love, and An Spailpín has been obsessed with Doctor Who since the late 1970s.

Even when it betrays me, I still come back to the flickering blue light and the woop-woop-woop sound of the TARDIS dematerialising. And I didn’t even see the TV shows at first – it was the Target Books in the Ballina children’s library that hooked me.

The BBC are quite proud of the fact that they have longest running Sci-Fi TV show in the world (Stargate is second, since you ask) but there is a world of difference between the Doctor Who of its original run from the ‘sixties to the ‘eighties and it’s current, post-Cool-Britannia incarnation. Every generation leaves its stamp on its art, both high and low forms, and sci-fi is no different.

Doctor Who was originally commissioned in the ‘sixties under the Reithian mandate to educate the masses. History without tears, as our time travellers meet Aztecs and Romans, Robespierre and Richard the Lionheart. There was a specific injunction in the original spec against BEMs – Bug Eyed Monsters.

In what is perhaps the only instance of a positive result from scope creep in the history of Western civilisation, the BEM injunction was merrily ignored from the start and series has been serving up monsters ever since.

In its seventies heyday Doctor Who was a meld of the two distinct strains of traditional British heroes. The Doctor’s genesis as a hero is owed firstly to Britain’s tradition of engineers and boffins. The men who built the railways and steamships that allowed a small foggy island to conquer the world, men like Stevenson and Brunel. Men who were good with sums and used their heads more than their fists.

And then there are the gentleman adventurers from whom Doctor Who derives that other part of his character. The clubland heroes of the Richard Hannay /Biggles/Bulldog Drummond type, chaps of the right sort who derringly did for queen and country, and expected no more thanks than a good yarn with the boys back at the club.

Jon Pertwee as Doctor WhoJon Pertwee, the third Doctor, was the epitome of this – Pertwee served on the HMS Hood during the war, and that officer strain can be seen in his portrayal of the Doctor, making small distinction between the control room of the Tardis and the bridge of the HMS Torrin, in which Noel Coward so famously served.

There is no trace of these clubland heroes now, just as the clubs themselves have fallen to the march of time. Just as Doctor Jeckyll could never quite return to what exactly it was that made him Mister Hyde, so the BBC lost its way in Doctor Who, as the series suffered an arresting decline in quality in the ‘eighties before finally going gently into the good night in 1989, unloved and unmourned.

The BBC must have been rolling the dice a little when the series returned in 2005, but its success must be beyond their wildest dreams. Doctor Who is now as popular in Great Britain as marmite. It is popular because it has kept up with the times, and delivered a Doctor for twenty-first century Britain.

Where the clubland heroes of the Edwardians were fired by cast iron belief in the divine right of British rule, contemporary heroes reflect Britain’s profound lack of identity at the moment. The legacy of Empire has been fully discarded in contemporary British society, and Doctor Who reflects that. Hence the thick layer of melancholy that underlies all the Doctor currently does, and his identity as a man whose people have been destroyed. A pret-a-porter depiction of post-imperial Britain.

Even the upper crust twang of all previous Doctors – the patrician tone of Jon Pertwee, the stentorian voice of Tom Baker, the precise elocution and diction of Peter Davidson – have been zapped for Christopher Eccleston’s northern accent and David Tennant’s alwight geezah tones – rather than Tennant’s own strong Scottish accent, interestingly.

Russell T Davies has been hailed as the saviour of Doctor Who (although the Guardian reports this week that the BBC approached him, rather than vice versa. An important distinction) but as a writer the man is more soap opera than sci-fi. Jackie Tyler. Donna Noble. That hideous couple on the Kylie Christmas special. If a pair of Daleks glided into the Rover’s Return and demanded “BOD-ING-TONS! BOD-ING-TONS!” they could not have been more out of place than Davies’ beloved soap opera characters are in Doctor Who. All this and wonderful Martha Jones, beautiful, clever and oh-so-brave, exiled after only one season. Bizarre.

Davies’ emphasis on the Doctor’s loneliness and other, more adult, themes is out of place. If you want adult themes, go read some Russian novelists. This year’s Star Trek reboot got it right in pitching the movie exactly where it should be, at ten year olds. They can worry about sturm und drang when they’re shaving. In the meantime, they should have their minds opened up to wonder, and left to run with that as far their dreams may take them.

Tennant’s charisma was such that he was able to ride through some of the appalling writing, just as Patrick Stewart was able to spew out any old blather about the dilithium crystals on the deck of the starship Enterprise and make it sound like Cicero denouncing Cataline in the Roman senate.

Matt Smith as Doctor WhoTennant’s successor, Matt Smith, may yet surpass Tennant himself, just as the unknown Tom Baker surpassed Pertwee, because of the sheer quality of the writing, which cannot but improve considerably.

From next year Steven Moffatt takes over the running of Doctor Who, and the show is in safe hands. Moffatt not only wrote some of the best episodes of the revival, he also wrote the best single episode of the series ever, Blink, in Season 3 of the new run. Perhaps next year, when appetite is whetted for the Eleventh Doctor, we’ll go through here why Blink was so very outstanding. In the meantime, it’s vale atque ave, farewell and hail, to David Tennant and Matt Smith respectively. Can’t wait.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

The Sporting Year in Review and Preview

Rugby swept the boards at RTÉ’s sports shindig last night, and it was very hard to claim injustice over it. The Kilkenny hurlers may feel a little hard done by after their four in a row, while Giovanni Trapattoni must have been in with a shout for Alchemist of the Year, nearly making gold from some extremely base metals indeed.

But when you look back on the year you realise that rugby in Ireland has never had as good a year as it’s had this year. Or anything even vaguely like it.

Things looked dim this time last year. Declan Kidney had finally been given the keys to the car, but the team looked very much like the Over the Hill Gang in the autumn internationals. And then Jamie Heaslip went on his remarkable gallop against the French and really, rugby hasn’t stopped galloping since.

An Spailpín Fánach is firmly of the opinion that if Gavin Henson, rather than Stephen Jones, had taken that final penalty in Cardiff the campaign could have ended on yet another downer, but screw it. Ireland had enough bad beats over the years. The team were due this break.

Not least Brian O’Driscoll, their captain and inspiration. Rolling Stone magazine’s Peter Travers famously wrote of Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven that, in all his years in the saddle, never had Eastwood ridden so tall. So it was with O’Driscoll this season.

It was reasonable to assume – and the assumption was certainly made on this blog, and more than once – that O’Driscoll was shot, that he would hang up his boots unfulfilled. The events of the 2005 Lions tour seemed to have left their mark and O’Driscoll looked like a man playing out the string in recent seasons.

Instead, he compensated for the effects of age on his speed with some tremendous tactical application, he remains Ireland’s best forward as well as back, and ever single time that Ireland needed something this year it was either O’Driscoll who started the fire or put it out.

And he won a Heineken Cup with Leinster and was the Lions’ best player in South Africa too. Would we were all over the same hill.

The Kilkenny hurlers were the only other contenders for team of the year, securing their fourth All-Ireland in a row in what must surely have been the best hurling final of the decade. Some people, including your correspondent, left Croke Park thinking that the best team had not won, such was the awesomeness of Tipperary display, but Jamesie O’Connor put it in perspective on Newstalk’s Off the Ball the week after the game. Jamesie made the point that while he didn’t think any Tipp back played badly, Kilkenny still ran up 2-22. Somebody must have felt the blade somewhere.

The tragic thing is, of course, that while Kilkenny march imperiously on and Tipperary rise as worthy adversaries to their neighbours, the actual game of hurling is dying on its feet. While the GAA busied itself with the dog and pony shows of the Christy Ring and Nicky Rackard Cups, the noble game is in crisis in counties that are just behind the big three of Kilkenny, Tipp and Cork.

Wexford, Offaly and Clare have all won All-Irelands in the past fifteen years but they’re failing apart now. Nobody can follow who’s beaten whom in the Byzantine current Championship structure while the county that is in most danger from the rise of rugby, Limerick, seems seem intent on committing hari-kari. It’s tragic, and heartbreaking.

Tragedy and heartbreak were two words that were being bandied about after Thierry Va-Va-Voom became the Thief of Saint Denis. An Spailpín isn’t buying it. Ireland had their chances to win it, and didn’t take them. You can’t hang Henry and then say you’d have done exactly the same thing yourself, as so many Irish players have said.

Giovanni Trapattoni deserves a world of credit for getting the team as far as he did, and the RTÉ soccer panel, once the finest in the business, were craven and disgraceful in their condemnation of il vecchio italiano during the campaign. One the panel spoke with neither fear nor favour; this time, it clear that Eamon Dunphy had an agenda because the soccer team had been grousing about what Liam Brady said about them while a panellist himself. But Eamon knew that Trapattoni was a free shot, and he took it. Shame on him.

Finally, there was on constant in a changing year, as Kerry took Cork’s candy from them again. Nobody seems to realise (bar the Kerrymen themselves, and they’re far too cute to let on) that in Kerry the Munster Championship is simply an extension of the League, and they act accordingly. No other county targets August and beyond as the Kingdom do, just as no other county who have a star playing in Australia could bring him home to get him his medal and then ship him back again to the kangaroos and koala bears. Pearse Hanley please copy, God help us.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ciarán Mac Mathúna. RIP.

Táid go léir ag imeacht uainn anois. Ní raibh Liam Clancy féin fuar faoin bhfód nuair a tháinig an scéal inné go raibh Ciarán Mac Mathúna, fear mór eile an cheoil, tar éis aghaidh a thabhairt ar shlí na fírinne. Go dtuga Dia grást orthu go léir - tá dream mór acusan Aige anois.

Bhí saol i ndá chuid ag Ciarán Mac Mathúna, Luimneach a thosaigh a obair in oidhreacht na hÉireann ar dtús i saothar logainmneacha. Ach le linn na caogaidí agus na seascaidí, chuaigh sé níos mó isteach ag bailiú cheoil na hÉireann, an seod sin a bhí curtha i bhfolach agus i gcré ag daoine a bhíodh náire orthu ar a gcultúr féin. Tá na Gaeil faoi ghéillsine leis na baileathóirí cheoil, dá chuid Mac Mathúna nó Séamus Ennis nó Tom Munnelly agus roinnt eile acu. Mura raibh siad ann, cad a mbeadh againne anois ach Jedward damnaithe?

Ach is mar chraoltóir a mhairfidh cáil Mhic Mhathúna. Chaith sé leathchéad bliain ag craoladh ar RTÉ, ó Feiseanna agus Fleadhanna ar dtús, agus ar a chlár cneasta, saibhir le amhránaíocht, scéalaíocht is filíocht na nGael, Mo Cheol Thú. Craoladh an clár go moch maidin Dé Domhnaigh, agus an náisiún á dhúisigh. Bhí an guth ceart ag an Mathúnach don uair sin - bog, íseal go leor, guth a rinne an cheangal idir an saol inniu agus an saol fadó. Guth na ndúiseodh duine roimh am.

Is cuimhin liom féin maidin Nollag amháin, agus do Spailpín ina chónaí fós i Maigh Eo beannaithe. Dhúisigh mé go moch, tinn, beagán, is dócha, ón ól an oíche roimhe sin. Nollaig ar an nDomhnach a bhí ann, agus Mac Mathúna ag cur a cheol chugainn. Chraol sé sean-taifead ar a chlár féin, agus Ben Kiely agus duine eile isteach mar aíonna aige.

Bhíodar triúr ag caint ar an seansaol, agus na sean-amhráin nach gcastar sa lá 'tá inniu ann. Go tobann, leann Kiely isteach ar cheann acu, The Old Bog Road, agus leann an Mathúnach agus an t-aoi eile leis. Go lá deireadh an tsaoil, is mar sin a chuimhneoidh mé ar Chiarán Mac Mathúna, eisean féin ag canadh cé nárbh amhránaí é. Tógadh ar an dtonn é, agus an draíocht leosan sa stiúideo an maidin Nollag úd. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal, fear mór na nGael.

And life's a pretty puzzle, past finding out by man
I take the day for what it's worth and I do the best I can
Since no-one cares a rush for me, what needs have I to mourn?
I take my pay, I go my way, and I smoke my pipe alone.
Each human heart must know its grief, though little be its load
And God be with you Ireland and the old bog road.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

So. Farewell Then, Liam Clancy

Liam Clancy. 1935-2009.Liam Clancy was not a traditionalist. He was a revolutionary.

That’s the most important thing to note about the man whose death this weekend draws a line under the Irish folk boom of the 1960s. Luke, Ronnie, Tommy Makem and now all three Clancy brothers have softly risen and gently called goodnight, and God be with you all.

But Liam Clancy was a multi-faceted man, a man gifted and flawed if not in equal, certainly in significant, parts. It is to do him and his legacy an injustice to describe him as just a ballad singer, a singer of come-all-ye’s.

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were revolutionaries in a time of revolution. They were men in the right place at the right time, Greenwich village of the 1960s when there were folk clubs abounding on every corner with middle class kids just out of university pretending to have ridden freight cars, hobo style, to get to New York in the first place. They craved what they themselves could never bluff – authenticity – and the Clancys and Tommy Makem delivered that authenticity in spades.

They originally wanted to be actors, all four of them. Paddy and Tom Clancy had fought in India with the RAF during the war, and then moved to the States, there being nothing at home to go back to. Liam Clancy and his friend Tommy Makem moved out ten years later. They had all grown up listening to the old songs, and old songs were exactly what the US folkies craved.

But the Clancys and Tommy Makem didn’t treat the old songs as old songs. This is the essential thing about them. What the Clancys and Tommy Makem did had never been done in Irish music before.

Firstly, Irish singing was a solo performance. The rousing choruses of the Clancys were anathema to the tradition, and were like a bunch of drunks on St Patrick’s night in comparison to the drawing room tenors of the James Joyce tradition. Which, in some ways, is exactly the point.

Irish songs as existed pre the Clancy brothers were chiefly of the Tom Moore drawing room tenor variety. Even when they were written, some critics saw Moore’s melodies as being a little bloodless. William Hazlitt, a contemporary of Tom Moore’s, once famously remarked that Tom Moore had taken the wild harp of Erin and put it into a snuff box. That Moore had imposed gentility on something that was far from gentle.

One hundred and fifty years later, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem turned all that on its head, leading to Ciarán Mac Mathúna’s famous saw that the Clancys had taken the wild harp of Erin out of a snuff box and put it into a pint glass.

And that’s exactly what they did. They restored the people’s music of Ireland to the Irish people. They rode the tide of the sixties revolution, a time of changing social order, and said that not only was being Irish not a source of shame, it was a source of pride and something to be gloried in.

For this they were not always thanked, of course. For a lot of the country they had a bit too damned much of the Yank about them. The Aran sweaters and the stagecraft stuck in the craw. The Clancys were respected but never loved, the way the Dubliners were loved. In many ways, the country never really knew the Clancys at all.

The USA was as much a part of them as Ireland was, and Liam Clancy’s life will get as much, if not more, obituary space in the US because of his role in that folk revival than he will here. Liam Clancy was a recidivist hippy in many ways, a man who was just the right age in just the right town when the love was free and the living was easy.

When Ronnie Drew died last year it was noted in this space that he was a man who seemed ill at ease with his legacy. Liam Clancy was much more aware of his legacy, and spent time leaving documents for history – a volume of autobiography, and two fine documentaries, the Legend of Liam Clancy and the recent Yellow Bittern.

To An Spailpín’s mind, Liam Clancy’s legacy is this: he was proud to be Irish, and through him people of his generation got the courage to be proud to be Irish too. This is my favourite photograph of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem – in tuxedoes, with the Aran sweaters over their arms. It’s the American dream, in its way. Men who had arrived. The Irish nation is still on that journey to being at peace with itself, but for Liam Clancy, and for all of them, the long voyage is over. I hope they’re all together again in the great hereafter. We owe them.

As a final tribute, here’s Liam singing Ar Éirinn Ní Neosfainn Cé hÍ, and reciting Austin Clarke’s The Planter’s Daughter beforehand. He really had the most beautiful voice, whether speaking or singing. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Pet Hate

Even Van Morrison likes the Sunday papers. There’s something so very – civilised – about them. Even the rags, the oaten husks among the nourishing porridge.

There is something soothing about the presence of the Sunday papers, the great, fat lumps of them, the majority of which were printed on Tuesday at the very latest. If any news happens on Saturday evening, your Sunday paper is the last place to find out about it. There’s no room left for news by the time they’ve stuffed in all that other stuff.

The newspaper industry is on its last legs. It’s soon to go the way of the telegraph and the valve television. The way we consume media evolves all the time, and what you’re reading now is the vanguard of that. The internet struck the first blow, but the real revolution are the 3G portable devices. iPhones, Apple’s new tablet if it happens, all these amazing devices that have shrunken the world to pocket-size leave the humble newspapers looking like rusty old steamships in the jet age.

But there’s a romance about those old steamships too, the great ocean-going liners. The papers are going, but they are not gone yet. And there remains a sense of adventure about going into a shop, and seeing what they all have to say on a particular morning, in their own particular ways.

Unless, of course, you go into a shop like the Spar visited by your constant quillsman, An Spailpín Fánach, yesterday. For some reason, a flock of clocking hens seem to have got loose in the shop – many miles from the own mileu, I can assure you – and attempted to nest among the flagships of the O’Reilly Empire.

Or else the shop was plagued with the sort of stupid, selfish swine that pokes his or her way around all the papers and then leaves them in a heap afterwards, with no consideration of the other people to come. These are the sort of people who do not flush toilets, spit on the street and fail to pray for Mother’s rest whenever they pass a churchyard. They are the scum and sweepings of the Earth, and An Spailpín Fánach wishes to God the world were rid of them.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Soccer is a Cheaters' Game, and Has Been for Generations

All this guff about replays from the FAI and An Taoiseach over Thierry Henry’s handball last night is just so much old blather. Soccer is a cheaters’ game, and has been for generations. The Theft of St Denis was not a once-off event – it happens week-in, week-out in professional soccer, and is now an accepted part of the game.

As evidenced by the Irish players’ refusal to a man to condemn Henry himself. They will talk about Sepp Blatter and Platini and FIFA and the ref ‘til the cows come home, but as far as they are concerned, calling Thierry Henry a cheat or a thief is out of order. As far as they are concerned, he is a good pro doing what he must do to win. That’s why Barcelona pay him the big bucks. The Corinthian spirit has no key on the cash register.

It wasn’t always like this. The BBC did a documentary on Sir Stanley Matthews once, possibly around the time of his death in 2000, where he said that when he played in the forties and fifties, if a team won a corner, this was considered a mark against the winger for not doing his job and getting a cross in. These were the days of five man full forward lines in a pyramid, 2-3-5, formation, remember. A totally different existence.

Watching the footage of George Best that saturated all media when Best died it was remarkable how he always stayed on his feet, even after he had a lump kicked out of him. He never went down. Soccer had not evolved to that level. The idea hadn’t been introduced.

But it’s certainly been introduced, processed and assimilated now. Soccer has reached that part of its evolution, where winning takes piority over how the game is played, and the powers that be seem quite happy with that.

Diving is an integral part of the game now. Think of the great players in the Premiership in recent years: Drogba, Ronaldo, Steven Gerrard – diving is an integral part of their game. Pretending to be hurt. Bending the rules. Cheating.

Sneaky, cowardly fouls, like Thierry Henry’s handball last night. There’s a certain honesty in a punch. Not least the not inconsiderable risk that the fellow you punch may punch you back. But diving – it’s just pathetic.

And it’s not like they do it now and again. It’s not like Didier Drogba, say, took a tumble in the box once when Chelsea were 1-0 down with ten minutes to go. Didier Drogba hits the turf more often than the tongs by the fire.

Look at him. He’s six foot two inches tall, over thirteen stones of bone and muscle. He’s an outstanding physical specimen of a man, and a footballer with all the gifts. There is nothing in football Didier Drogba cannot do, and with his physical bulk, he is not a man who is knocked over easily. And yet he is knocked over easily. In what seems like every damned game. During the last World Cup, a man texted Des Cahill on the radio and said that when he bumped into the telly on the way back from the kitchen during one of the Ivory Coast’s games, Drogba went over from the impact.

Cheating is part of the game. It is a part of a professional soccer player’s armoury. You read about players who “can win free kicks.” These are the divers, and they are a recognised, if unspoken, part of the fabric of modern, professional soccer.

Is Thierry Henry a lesser man among his own because of last night in Paris? He is not. And it’s ridiculous to pretend that he is. This is the twenty-first century. Women and children first went down with the Titanic – this is the age of every-man-for-himself.

As a society we don’t aspire to anything other than personal gain – why should soccer players buck the trend of society as a whole? Name one player who has suffered for diving. Cristiano Ronaldo dived all the time for Manchester United – Real Madrid stumped up eighty millions pounds for him. You do the math, baby.

FIFA identifies seventeen rules in the game of association football. If An Spailpín were running soccer, he’d introduce an eighteenth, to do with bringing the game into disrepute. This would have two facets. 1. Anybody diving or acting like a coward or a cheat concedes an automatic penalty irrespective of where the foul occurred. 2. Incidents that brought the game into disrepute can be cited as in rugby, with the player in question suffering lengthy punishments.

Neither of these things will happen, of course. Ireland will take their beating, and we’ll feel sorry for ourselves, something we’re good at, and boo Thierry Henry any time Barcelona are on in the Champions League in the pub or during the World Cup. And in the meantime, professional soccer will rake in the money because people watch the Champions League in their millions, and Premiership in their millions, and the World Cup in their millions.

And when players trail a leg and tumble over and pretend that they’re hurt, all the kids watching the game will see all that adult talk about the right way to play as so much old blather like the tooth fairy and the bogey man. They’ll know that to get on in this world, to get the lifestyle of Ronaldo with the cars and the girls and the money, you cheat and con and trick and pretend. Because that’s what we value now.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pat Kenny Attacked on the Frontline Last Night

When you want to see the nation as she is, RTÉ's Frontline is appointment TV. Astonishing tirade.

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Maybe Soccer Will Catch on in the States Yet

Ron Chopper Harris. Andoni Goikoetxea, the Butcher of Bilbao. Norman Bite Yer Legs Hunter. Duncan Ferguson, the Toast of Barlinnie. Even Roy Keane himself, the Lord bless us and save us. The whole lot of them are only trotting after Ms Elizabeth Lambert of the New Mexico Lobos women's college soccer team, as the following remarkable footage shows. The hair pull reminded me of Brian O'Driscoll on Australia's George Smith in the 2003 World Cup. BOD got whistled for it, and that was top flight international rugby. There are some tough ladies in those United States.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

An Spailpín's Irish Kitchen

RTÉ has started another cookery show last night – Catherine’s Italian Kitchen, a CSI Miami to Trish Deseine’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation one supposes. And it's hard to blame the national broadcaster for looking across the seas.

After all, if one were to stay based in Ireland, once one had boiled the praties, where would one go next? You might get a Late Late Show appearance by getting the ladies to grow their thumbnails long, the better for peeling said praties, as was all the fashion back in the days when ladies wore shawls and smoked suitably raffish clay pipes on the cover of Irish Tatler magazine, but after that the pickings are slim.

Fine dining is wasted on An Spailpín, of course – the phraseology of the game is jarring to his sensitive ear. Medallions of pork, celebrations of Irish potatoes and sautéed onions. I knew those lads when they hadn’t an arse to their trousers.

Not all gourmands present the best advertisement for the pastime either. Mr Gerry Ryan remarked in his recent autobiography that he is a man who loves food. Gerry’s head looks like a bag of oats sitting on top of a fencepost. We don’t need to buy the book to be appraised of Gerry’s great regard for food. We can tell at a glance.

Strangely enough, although her work is as wasted on An Spailpín as coals brought to the great city of Newcastle, your stew-nourished correspondent has to confess great time for Trish Deseine. She seems a nice Irish girl doing well abroad, and good luck to her. We could all be at again soon enough.

It hasn’t been all cakes and ale for her either, trying to beat the French at their own game. She herself elaborated on this in an interview with Sky News that caught An Spailpín’s eye some months ago.

It seems that she put down the dinner for her in-laws one time only for her father-in-law to sneer that he found it très unusual to serve the trifle before the soup, or words to that effect. Poor Trish retreated to the kitchen in tears, having suffered something of a domestic Austerlitz.

An Spailpín admired her forbearance in not talking Papa by the lug and orating along the lines of “Listen here, you snail munching scut, you’ll ate what you get and like it. We spent enough time here starving in ditches during the Famine to be glad of the grub. Now clean that plate and then up to the window with you and tell me if you see any panzer tanks rolling down the Champs Elysees. I believe you were slow enough spotting them the last time out.”

We’d see what he made of ces oignons, by God.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dublin Bikes Are Great

The Dublin Bikes scheme is a triumph. There is no other word for it. Glitches aside, it’s hard to think of anything that’s been introduced in the city of Dublin that’s added so much to living in the city since Mary Harney did for the smog over twenty years ago.

An Spailpín Fánach spent his tenner on a year long ticket and seldom have ten notes been better invested.

Getting around between the canals has been a curse of the city. Walking is exhausting and worse, criminally boring. The buses would be grand if they turned up, but waiting in the rain at a bus stop for a bus that doesn’t show is not the best way to spend one’s day. If you take the car you either have nowhere to park or else pay shocking fees for the privilege.

Dublin Bikes knock all that on the head. Simply visit the bikestand, key in your details and you’re away. The extra charges only kick in after half an hour, and in half an hour you’ve cycled to where-ever you wanted to go in the first place. Any longer, take the bus.

It takes a while to get used to the bikes, of course. They’re quite heavy, and balanced towards the front. This makes the initial spin quite a wobbly one but, like so many things in life, you get used to it. And then a tremendous sense of liberation overwhelms you, as you realise that travelling the city has suddenly become simple and painless.

For instance, suppose you are standing outside the Mountjoy Hotel, feeling rather grateful that you are not incarcerated therein, when an urgent text is received that the choice and noblest spirits of the age are drinking that strong, sweet porter served by the white-shirted, bow-tied chaplains of Neary’s of Chatham Street. Crossing the street to the Mater gives you access to the bike, and ten downhill minutes later you are parking it in the rack shown in the photograph at the top of this post, lips being licked already in eager anticipation.

There are thorns on the rose, certainly. The relationship between the bus lane and the bike lane is rather like the relationship between Mrs Cheryl Cole and the rest of Girls Aloud. Of equal status in theory, but if La Cole ever throws a strop there’s only going to be one winner. This makes cycling up O’Connell Street somewhat fraught as the buses loom over the shoulder, but the traffic restrictions that more or less ban anything but buses and bikes from O’Connell Street do make it easier to deal with.

Tremendous caution is also advised when crossing the LUAS lines, a manoeuvre that should only be performed at right angles. Your correspondent had the misfortune to cycle parallel to a LUAS line in the IFSC last week, and ended up by jamming the front wheel in the sunken track, thus catapulting myself off the machine and coming to a hopping stop some yards distant, like an American football wide receiver trying to stay inbounds after a catch.

But these are minor matters compared to the incredible freedom of being able to traverse the city quickly and painlessly. The editorial in the Sunday Times called for the Dublin Bikes scheme to be expanded all over the city, and An Spailpín is happy to second that proposal. Like the iPhone, once you sign up its impossible to imagine how you ever managed without one. Roll on, Dublin Bikes, roll on.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Night Drinks in Liberty Hall - Exclusive Hidden Camera Footage

Leaders of INTO and Impact earn highest pay, survey finds - Irish Times.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lines by St John Gogarty, Appropriate to This Morning's Current Affairs Radio

Enough! Why should a man bemoan
A Fate that leads the natural way?
Or think himself a worthier one
Than those who braved it in their day?
If only gladiators died,
Or heroes, Death would be his pride;
But have not little maidens gone,
And Lesbia's sparrow - all alone?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

NUJ in Futile and Pointless Gesture Shock!

Independent Network News has gone wallop and the National Union of Journalists don’t like it. An Spailpín Fánach happened to pass their protest on Mount Street earlier today, and decided to record the event, as per above. After all, ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann. And maybe that’s a good thing. Like the dodo, the NUJ could be just too dumb to live.

Fourteen years ago the NUJ made their single greatest contribution to Irish journalism, by closing down the Press Group of newspapers. Some say the Press bore the mark of Cain anyway, but the NUJ’s lockout delivered the coup de grace.

The world has changed utterly since the Union stood for Colm Rapple at the cost of every other member’s job. At the time you needed an NUJ card to get a job with a newspaper, and you could not get an NUJ card unless 75% of your earnings were derived from journalism. It was protectionist, insular, and doomed.

Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch broke the hold of the press unions in Britain and put an end to Fleet Street. Nobody seemed to realise it here, as the indigenous industry was slowly eroded by the strengthening of British dumps with Irish copy and the rise of the Irish press barons. I don’t remember many NUJ banners protesting then. Vision is seldom a big thing with any union.

And it’s all too late now, of course. The culture was on borrowed time, a decline hastened by the advent of new technologies; first, desktop publishing, and then the tsunami of the World Wide Web that has revolutionised utterly the dissemination of information in our time.

None of the old rules count any more. Those that adapt to the new technologies will survive. Those that don’t are doomed. But nobody seems to have told the NUJ. Nobody at all.

“INN staff have made huge sacrifices over the years and are paid well below the market rate for national journalists,” bleats Mr Séamus Dooley of the NUJ’s Irish branch (chapter? They’re such stonecutters in the NUJ). “They have tolerated a pay freeze and the non-replacement of staff and their efforts are rewarded by this cavalier treatment.”

Nobody cares Séamus. There is no “market rate.” Is George Hook a member of the NUJ? How many non-star names in Newstalk are on the “market rate”? This is just the Union trying to kid themselves that they’re still relevant, when they’re not.

Watching the protest in the autumnal drizzle, An Spalpín thought of Dylan Thomas:

I see the boys of summer in their ruin.
Man in his maggot's barren.
And boys are full and foreign in the pouch.
I am the man your father was.
We are the sons of flint and pitch.
O see the poles are kissing as they cross.

And then I walked on, back into the 21st Century.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Has Anybody Seen the Irish Anti-War Movement?

Is it just me, or does anyone else find the Irish Anti-War Movement’s silence over Sharon Commins’ kidnapping a bit odd?

Today is the one hundredth day of Ms Commins’ disappearance. Sharon Commins, for anyone who hasn’t been following the story, is an aid worker for GOAL in the Sudan. She was kidnapped by some local warlord and the Sudanese Government are pussyfooting around while the warlord looks for ransom. Or else are in kahoots with the warlord themselves, or else are too busy avoiding international prosecution themselves to worry about an Irish aid worker who was only trying to do them a favour in the first place.

Whatever. Chances are Ms Commins’ current living conditions are not very nice, and the fact that Ireland has a Movement that is anti-war who are not bothered by an Irish citizen suffering at the hands of war does not quite add up.

If the Irish Anti-War Movement is really anti-war, then surely Sudanese warlords are exactly the sort of hombres they are particularly against? If anyone wants a snap-shot of the pity of war, a visit to the Sudan will give them all they want of it. The place is Hell on Earth. The Sudanese Civil War has been running, on and off, since 1955. It predates the Beatles. It’s not like the Irish Anti-War movement haven’t spotted it.

Where, then, are the protest marches? The Irish Anti-War movement were out in numbers on O’Connell Street a few years ago, protesting against the Iraq war. How is the Sudanese civil war better than the Iraq war? There was no Irish involvement in the Iraq war, but we have a citizen in confinement in the Sudan. Why don’t the Irish Anti-War movement care?

Maybe I’m doing them an injustice. Maybe, having done his bit by democracy while wearing his People Before Profit Alliance hat, Richard Boyd Barrett has pulled on his Irish Anti-War movement hat and has flown out to the Sudan to personally intervene.

Maybe, while his people are spending Sunday morning listening to Marian and getting the Sunday roasts ready, RBB is sitting with the locals in some souk in downtown Khartoum, using his fluent Arabic to pick up the local knowledge that will allow him make a daring midnight raid on the warlord’s camp. Perhaps the kidnappers will awake tomorrow to find to find Ms Commins gone, with only a CND symbol entwined with shamrock to show them that the Irish Anti-War movement has struck in the desert?

Or else maybe bitching about Yanks is about the measure of Richard Boyd Barrett’s contribution. It looks like one or the other, doesn’t it?

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Friday, October 09, 2009

So. Farewell Then, O'Brien's Sandwich Bars

O’Brien's Sandwich Bars have gone to the wall. An Spailpín Fánach will not shed one tear after them. They were a con and a joke and a symbol of all that was wrong in Ireland for the past fifteen years, when we lost all respect for money.

The single most distinguishing fact about an O’Brien's sandwich was how extraordinarily expense it was. It was a sandwich. Parts and labour are by no means expensive. So how in damnation one of them cost as much as it did remains something of a mystery.

The hubris of the organisation was extra-ordinary. Acolytes would tell you that “it’s just like a New York deli sandwich.” Well, your correspondent has been in a New York deli and O’Brien's sandwiches were nothing like the things they shoot across the counters in those establishments, telling you to move it, move it, and addressing you as “buddy.”

Being a greenhorn Irishman on the loose on the Great White Way some years ago, your faithful correspondent strolled in to this particular deli. I ordered the ham and eggs option and, having been schooled here, I then went on to ask the guy behind the counter what that entailed, because here that is not always clear.

The guy looked at me like I was a roach blessed with the gift of tongues. “What did you ask me for?” he said.

“Um, ham and eggs,” I said.

“Well, that’s what I’m going to give you,” he said, and got to work.

The guy gave me a sandwich made of ham and fried eggs. I enjoyed it fully, and the heart attack hasn’t come yet, thanks be to God. He did not butter the bread without me asking him. He did not go into his garden to bring in greenery to stuff into my sandwich, greenery that I did not order and the presence of which was meant to fox me into thinking I was getting a bargain. Like getting a cup of stout and a glass of water when you order a pint.

Neither did the guy in the New York deli slice the ham with a razor blade, nor carefully weigh the eggs for fear I should put one over on him. I ordered ham and eggs, he gave me ham and eggs. A childlike simplicity in the arrangement such as An Spailpín Fánach never enjoyed in an O’Brien's Sandwich Shop.

Possibly the most galling thing about the O’Brien's Sandwich was the way people talked about it. If they sliced up the Lamb of God, stuck him between two slices of Manna from Heaven and then served him with a side of the Asphodel the Greeks rated so highly, it couldn’t have been a bigger hit that a slice of ham you could see through sitting on the contents of the lawnmower bag, themselves then sitting on slices of thick bread with the whole mess dripping with some foul mayonnaise.

The worst thing was the warning sign was there for all to see. Take a look at the O’Brien's logo across the way. No apostrophe – only cads don’t apostrophise correctly. O’Brien’s doom was sealed by their disregard for basic literacy. Small loss after them.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Irish Art: Time to Call a Spade a Spade

An Spailpín Fánach saw the above exhibit in an art gallery on Merrion Square over the weekend. Not in the shed out the back now, but up against the wall. On exhibit. For sale.

Your deathless aesthete got a lot of dirty looks when he responded in the only sensible manner, by laughing out loud. They’re looking for six hundred Euros for these three amigos, you know. All I can say is, when you’re paying €200 for a shovel, you know why the country is fecked.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Another No Vote is the Real Threat to Irish Sovereignty

An Spailpín Fánach finds the current Lisbon debate exasperating. The issues seem quite simple indeed – either we are capable as a nation of electing governments to govern, or we are not. And if we are not capable of this fundamental aspect of running a democracy, then whether or not we have one, two, or four-and-twenty EU Commissioners is really by the way. It’s the least of our worries.

There are loud voices on the No side talking about Irish sovereignty. It would interesting to find out what exactly they mean by sovereignty. Sovereignty, as An Spailpín understands it, is the ability of the Irish government to treat with other sovereign governments to form international agreements.

There is a ground-up process here – everyone in Ireland who spent long years negotiating the Lisbon treaty in the first place is either elected him or herself or else answers to those who are elected by the people to represent the people. If the Irish nation doesn’t like Lisbon, then it needs to start voting for politicians who feel the same way, and let them negotiate the international treaties instead. That’s how it works.

It’s the only way it can work. The Lisbon treaty is long and complex. Suppose you don’t like one article. Is that enough to shoot it down? Do you think, of the hundreds and hundreds of people that wrote this document, every one of them thinks it’s perfect? At what stage do you find it so objectionable that you consign all those years of work to the dustbin? And are you prepared to accept the consequences of that?

An Spailpín is sadly aware that there are those who are planning to vote No as a protest vote. This is a very misguided attitude to take. Because while that No voter may believe in good conscience that he or she is doing his best by the nation, that is not at all obvious to the exterior world.

A No vote as an anti-government protest vote makes political sense to the exterior world only in the sense of support for anti-Lisbon parties having similar support. This means that there is a credible political philosophy behind the No vote, and once something exists, it can be dealt with. But pro-Lisbon parties dominate the Dáil. Dominate it. If a majority of people keep shooting down a treaty supported by ninety per cent of the politicians they themselves elect, there is a profound and serious disconnect in the entire system.

This dualism is what makes it very difficult for other political cultures to understand how to do business with the Irish. If the Irish can’t be consistent about this, how can they be consistent in international agreements? When Europe deals with the Irish, to whom are they really talking?

To talk of European wrath in response to a second no vote is disingenuous. It would be more a question of indifference that wrath. And this is bad news.

If it were wrath, at least Europe would care. If it’s indifference, the more politically evolved European nations will simply continue along themselves and slide the Irish to the periphery, where it seems they want to be in the first place. As expressed in consecutive referenda. And if the Irish want that, fine. It’s really no skin or Europe’s nose either way.

If your son or daughter is running with a bad crowd after school you experience wrath, because you are concerned for his or her future. If it’s the neighbour’s kid, you simply expect the police to lock the brat up and be done with it. You feel sorry for the parents, of course, but no so much as you’d bother your barney getting involved yourself. That’s all heartache and no reward. Who’d be bothered with that?

Anybody who thinks Ireland can drag these negotiations out indefinitely while we mess around here needs to ask if the rest of Europe sees us as neighbours or family. It’s pints of cop-on all around for the Gael.

The miracle of Europe, the fact that so many nations have found common bonds after spending all of recorded Western history fighting wars against each other, is a little lost on us here in Ireland because we were not involved in those wars ourselves, except as a dominion of another power. And the fact that we are still tied economically in so many ways to Britain, who has not quite cottoned on to the fact she is no longer a world power on her own, creates certain tension here.

One of the reasons for independence from the United Kingdom in the first place was that we, the Irish nation, believed we had no say in the governance of the UK. Irish politicians and diplomats and have punched above their weight in Europe since we joined the EEC in 1973 and we are not viable as an independent island without alliance to greater markets. Ireland gets so much more from Europe than we put in.

Let’s try and act like grown-ups for once in our lives and acknowledge that being democrats has responsibilities as well as rights. In this case, having mandated our government to treat with other governments we should accept what they come back with, rather than simply throwing rattles from prams just because we can. Vote yes.

FOCAL SCÓIR: It is a measure of the way the No campaign has campaigned that when I discovered the poster in this post online I honestly couldn’t immediately tell if it was from Cóir themselves or one of the parodies. I really couldn’t. The People Before Profit Alliance – I think; the comrades change their name more often than Sellafield, you know – have a poster with the clever line that Lisbon is “from the same geniuses that brought you the Recession.” A bit rich from the same geniuses that brought you Tito’s Yugoslavia, Zhivkov’s Bulgaria, Hoxha’s Albania, Mao’s China, Stalin's Russia and Ceauşescu’s Romania, don't you think?

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dublin Bikes

A Kelly other than the boy from KillaneLike Miss Kelly Brook here on our left, An Spailpín Fánach dreams of the wind in his hair. Or at least, what’s left of his hair.

The Dublin Bikes initiative has your diarist’s imagination in thrall. Just as John Keats was taken to new and unexplored worlds when he first looked into George Chapman’s translation of Homer, so An Spailpín Fánach dreams of travelling in the realms of gold, and many goodly states and kingdoms seeing.

Freed from shackled traffic, I dream of whizzing around the city on that most noble, that most Irish of forms of transport, the bicycle. I would take a spin along the south side, perhaps, through the great Georgian facades of Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square. I could roll across the canal at Mount Street Bridge, salute the bould Paddy Kavanagh, immortalised in bronze forever, and then carry out his own instructions and look out for his ghost on the Pembroke Road, dishevelled with shoes untied.

Or I could criss-cross the Liffey in the manner of that other great song, and follow the pursuit of the man who was so badly smitten with the Spanish Lady, up and around by the Gloucester Diamond and ‘round by Napper Tandy’s house.

I’d be out of the saddle pumping the pedals like a man who feared hellhounds on his trail at the Gloucester Diamond, of course, but still. Dublin has been lacking short hop city centre transport since Ryan Tubridy’s grandfather put an end to the trams and the Dublin Bikes scheme is as close the municipality has come to fixing that ancient error.

So I made my way as far as the bike depot beside Pearse Street last week, and went for it. The annual sub is cheaper, of course, but the website says you must wait fourteen days for your card, and An Spailpín is not as young as he was. I shoved in my flexible friend, and waited for something to happen.

Nothing happened. The whole thing froze. I didn’t know if my details had been read, if my card had been scanned, or what happened.

I turned around. There was a citizen behind me, with his mobile phone in his hand.

“Same thing happened me,” he said. “I had to ring them back. I’ve been here for ten minutes.”

I looked at my credit card. I looked at the machine. I looked at the bikes, all lined up at a rakish angle, gleaming and new, with solid frames, handy front baskets and snazzy blue mudguards on the back wheel. I bid my dreams of freedom adieu, turned up my collar and walked on, hoping to catch a bus on the quays.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Kerry Do That Thing They Do

Kerry 0-16
Cork 1-09

There is a running joke in the much-beloved Peanuts cartoon strip. Lucy promises Charlie Brown that she will hold the football for him to kick it. She’s pulled it away in the past, but each time Charlie, God love him, believes the best of her. So Charlie runs in and kicks with all his might, Lucy pulls the ball away at the last second, like she always does, Charlie goes whoosh! through the air and ends up on the flat of his back, and Lucy’s girlish laughter rings in Charlie's ears. Again.

Cork must have felt very much like Charlie Brown when they woke up this morning. This year was the year when it was going to be all different. This was the New Jack Cork, the biggest, baddest football team every seen on Leeside. They crushed Kerry in Munster, and destroyed Tyrone in Croke Park. They were going to show Kerry once and for all who was boss. They weren’t afraid of Kerry any more.

Turns out Kerry weren’t afraid of them either. And that proved a crucial point.

Every other county in Ireland looks at the Championship one game at a time, and takes it piece by piece. Not Kerry. Kerry start in September and work back. Is this arrogant? Well, not really. Arrogance is misplaced self-confidence. Those thirty-six titles give Kerry something to be self-confident about.

Nobody does football as Kerry do football. There is Kerry, and there is the rest. Kerry's own football culture is fantastic, with levels of competition and excellence unparalleled elsewhere in the country. And then there is the fact that nobody understands the nature of the senior inter-county Championship better than Kerry do.

One of the reasons that the Romans conquered the world was that they learned from their enemies. When Rome was under threat from the Carthaginian navy for control of the Mediterranean, the Romans taught themselves to become sailors. There was no marine tradition in Rome prior to that.

Equally, every time a team has threatened Kerry – Down in the sixties, Dublin in the seventies, Tyrone in this decade – Kerry have added characteristics of the opponent to their own arsenal, making themselves stronger while remaining true to their own fundamental philosophies.

Mick O’Dwyer’s teams abandoned catch-and-kick after Down exposed it in the sixties, and then matched the athleticism of Kevin Heffernan’s Dublin. Pat Spillane held his nose about “puke football” when Tyrone first unleashed the swarm defence, but Kerry gave Cork a masterclass in defending yesterday.

I don’t know who got the Sunday Game man of the match, but I would think seriously about giving it to Tommy Griffin at fullback. It was uncanny to see perfect ball delivered to Colm O’Neill’s chest while O’Neill was in front of Griffin and then see Griffin coming away with the ball and setting up another attack.

The other thing that has made Kerry great in recent times is that nobody understands the true nature of the Championship better than they do. For Kerry, and for Kerry alone, a provincial medal now ranks lower in esteem than the National League.

Other counties may be afraid of taking their chances in the thickets of the qualifiers, or else consider it beneath their dignity. Not Kerry. Kerry realise that everybody whom they could meet in the qualifiers will fear them, while they themselves fear nobody.

Kerry would not fancy a trip to Healy Park, but what are the chances of them being drawn against Tyrone, and losing home advantage as well? Not as high as they were for Mike McCarthy for to slot back into the team like he’d never been away. When you are talking about Kerry, you have to formulate an entirely different set of rules.

Nobody should be more away of this now than Cork, for whom this defeat has to sting. It casts a pall over everything they’ve done this year, as what failed for Cork this year was what fails for them every year.

One of the reasons for introducing the back door in the first place (because nobody likes to say m-o-n-e-y out loud) was this theory that Cork had a great team in the 1970s and, if only they hadn’t played in Munster, they could have won All-Irelands. On the evidence of today, maybe the simpler Championship just saved Dinny Allen and the boys some serious heartbreak further on down the line.

FOCAL SCÓIR: Congratulations to Armagh on a fine win over Mayo in the minor final. Ray Dempsey’s charges played their hearts out but Armagh were a superior outfit and class told in the end. Good luck to them.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mayo Minors and the GAA - Symbols of the Best of Ourselves

Your correspondent is flattered to be in the Mayo News today, writing about the Mayo minors who are facing Armagh in the All-Ireland final on Sunday, but also about the GAA itself, that remarkable organisation that remains, in so many ways, the best of ourselves. Up Mayo.

On Sunday at a quarter past one or so yet another Mayo team will respond to the call of the bugle on All-Ireland Final day. Mayo have been in so many senior finals in the past few years that some people have actually become blasé about the big day, or else bitter about the cruelty of the defeats.

This is the wrong attitude. Life is short and fleeting, and it’s best to take the poet’s advice and gather ye rosebuds while ye may. No day in Irish life is greater than All-Ireland final day, and to see Ray Dempsey bring another Mayo team to the great stage is a cause of delight and celebration.

Bliss it would be to win, of course, and bring home the Markham Cup. There is no reason why they can’t win it, and several why they can. But even the very fact that we are still playing Gaelic games is miraculous, in its own way.

In the modern world, the fact that an amateur organisation can be such a unifying force to show the nation at its best is staggering. Not least when you consider the forces ranged against it.

The current recession has exposed much of what we’ve been interested in lately as fools’ gold, and we seek solace among the wreckage. Yet throughout all this, there still shines the GAA, an organisation that should have been consigned to history along with doors on the latch, visiting your neighbours and whitewashing the house.

But progress hasn’t swallowed it yet, and as the country faces peril in public life, the GAA could be the very best thing we still have going for us.

Because the GAA still represents all that’s best about us. The GAA is not eighty thousand people in Croke Park watching Dublin v Kerry – the GAA is having somewhere to send your kids to play a game, to be looked after and learn about life, to learn about fitting in, about who they are and where they’re from, about the wisdom of taking Kipling’s advice on treating those impostors, triumph and disaster, just the same.

Some people will tell you that rugby in Croke Park is the triumph of the GAA. I say to you that the triumph of the GAA is that people keep clubs going by giving up their weekends to sell lotto tickets, and by packing fifteen schoolboys and a dog into a van and taking them to a match refereed by a sheep and umpired by curlews in a field that isn’t marked on any map.

And for we Mayo people this week, having another team at headquarters on All-Ireland Final is a reason for joy, confirmation that the organisation is strong and replenishing among the plain of the Yews. None of this happens by accident, or divine right, or dumb luck. It happens because the players and the management and the Board, God love them and forgive them their trespasses, put a lot of effort into it.

When Mayo face Armagh on Sunday, remember for a moment that there are thirty other counties who would give a lot to be in Mayo’s stead. Not least the gallant Mournemen, who found in Mayo a wall which they could not scale on that wet day in Croke Park. Or Tipperary, who fell in Tullamore while the nation’s eyes were on Kerry and Dublin. Or Roscommon, who took Mayo to a replay after giving all they had in the Connacht Final, in the best traditions of the Constant Hearts.

Winter will soon be with us, and who knows what that winter will bring. But before the winter bites, what joy that the minors are in the final, challenging for honours, and what joy that the green and red flags will wave at headquarters as the sun sets on another magical Irish summer. These are the days of our lives. Up Mayo.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Beatles for Sale Again

What an extraordinary large place The Beatles still hold in the public consciousness. They seem to be all over the place once more, forty years after they last shared a stage together, as the back catalogue is remastered and re-released.

The last time your correspondent was in London it was visible how large a role the Beatles play in British tourism. The airport shops are full of Beatles souvenirs. The tourist brochures advertise places associated with the band – Abbey Road studios, John Lennon’s flat in Marylebone, and so on. God only knows what it’s like in Liverpool, where they were actually from.

Will all this last? A lot of it has to do with the nostalgia of the rapidly aging sixties generation, which must be one of the most narcissistic in western history. They can’t let go of the notion that nobody ever did anything worthwhile before them, and that all subsequent events should be guided by them. Every couple of years there is another “British invasion” to the USA as some band or other try to recreate Beatlemania.

What makes it bizarre is that the Beatles were just a band. Some of their songs were sublime, of course, better than anything written before or since, and nobody has come close to the impact that Revolver and Sgt Pepper had as regards how different music could be.

The only band that came near the Beatles in terms of songwriting, singing and general soundscaping were ABBA. But ABBA don’t get the credit because they immediately followed the Beatles, and the songs themselves are now encrusted in that awful Mamma Mia! phenomenon which An Spailpín Fánach will never understand.

But the Sunday Times will never publish a lost interview with Bjorn Ulvaeus. Nobody rings Benny Anderson and asks him for his take on the nature of humanity. That is the level of expectation that is expected of the Beatles. All You Need Is Love is elevated from a pretty little singalong to some sort of credo, a credo that does not survive cursory, to say nothing of thorough, examination.

But it’s not really the Beatles fault that people elevate the body of work to a standard that it doesn’t deserve. And while future generations will look at each other in slack-jawed amazement at the continuing sales of records before Rubber Soul, or all that dreadful filler on the White Album, there are some songs that will never die. These are An Spailpín’s personal favourites.

01. Hey Jude, because people like to sing along.
02. Norwegian Wood, because it’s beautiful. Just how extraordinary the tune is as tune can be found out by listening to the Buddy Rich Big Band version. Marvellous.
03. You've Got to Hide Your Love Away. A gem hidden among the dreck of Help!
04. Here Comes the Sun. Distilled summer. Isn't this a lovely clip on Youtube of George Harrison at a concert for Bangladesh in the 70s, and smiling when the crowd recognised the opening bars? What a humble man he was.
05. Two of Us. Never makes the top ten lists – until now. I think it’s lovely.
06. Get Back. Rocks.
07. Yellow Submarine. Singalong summertime.
08. She's Leaving Home. Wistful and beautiful.
09. In My Life. The lyric is a bit clunky but the tune is gorgeous.
10. Helter Skelter. U2 stole this song from The Beatles. An Spailpín Fánach is stealing it back.

Nearly thirty years ago Joe Strummer was singing that “phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.” Their demise was exaggerated. Perhaps the best reflection of how big the myth is in the culture came from Lloyd Cole’s piquant remark about why the Commotions broke up. “I blame Yoko,” he said.

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