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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