Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Spraoi Glee agus Gliondar Amhránaíochta

Is breá leis an Spailpín an amhránaíocht. Ar an droch-uair, ní thaitníonn amhránaíocht an Spailpín chomh mór leis an domhan mór mar a thaitníonn sí leis an Spailpín féin. Tuigtear in áiteanna go bhfuil na vuvuzelas mar guthanna binne na h-aingil i gcomparáid leis an Spailpín istigh sa gcithfholcadán, ag casadh faoi na laethanta úd ar ais i Spancil Hill.

Ach is cuma liom. Ní chloistear liom os comhair torann na h-uisce, rud ina bhfuil níos mó áidh liom ná mar a bhí le cara agam. Bhí mo dhuine istigh in árasán nua ar feadh cúpla lá nuair a bhfuil sé le comharsan béal dorais.

"An tusa an fear a chasann Skibbereen istigh sa gcithfholcadán gach uile maidin?" ar seisean.

"Is mise," arsa mo chara.

"Stop," arsa an comharsan.

Má chasann mo chara fós, is sotto voce a chasann sé.

Bhí an t-amhránaí Frank Harte ar an tuairim nach bhfuil amhrán ann sa tsaol ach san uair ina chastar é. Focail scríofa síos i leabhar éigin, sin rud amháin. Torann éigin ar thaifead, sin rud eile. Ach ní fíor-amhrán é ach san uair a ligtear saor an amhrán ó bhéal an amhránaí.

Agus, mar an gcuil Bhealtaine, is gearr binn é saol an amhráin mar, nuair atá sé casadh, tá sé thart sa saol. Nuair a chasann an t-amhránaí céanna na focail chéanna arís, is amhrán difríochta é. Nach breá an smaoineamh é, agus nach mbaineann sé go deas le áilleacht agus uaisleacht an duine? Ní inneall é an duine ach cruthú draíochta, agus is ón amhránaíocht ab fhéidir le duine blás an draíocht sin a bhlaiseadh, cé gur bheag é blás an domhain eile.

'Sé ceann buanna an cheoldráma ná go bhfuil an cheoil chomh deacair a chasadh. Gach rud in éineacht a cheile, agus scrios déanta ar an seó ar fad má tá rud amháin as láthair. Deirtear nach bhfuil amhránaí cheoldráma éasca meascadh le daoine ach nuair a shíleann tú ar an mbrú a mbíonn orthu chun a saothar a ndéanamh, ní nach ionadh é go bhfuilid beagán deacair, uaireanta. Cuir súil ar tráchta You Tube ar amhránaí cheoldráma - nach ionadh chomh searbh, garbh atáid? Agus seo an ceol is sibhialta sa gcultúr, deirtear. Is ait an mac é an saol.

Ní bua amhránaíochta cheoldráma ag gach duine - níl sí ach ag dream an-bheag - ach is féidir le gach duine port éigin a chasadh agus spraoi a bhaint as. Is é sin an fáth go bhfuil an clár teilifíse Glee chomh maith. Ní fhaca an Spailpín clár iomlán Glee riamh agus níl ach tuiscint éadrom agam cad atá ann i ndáiríre ach ar an méid atá ar eolas agam is maith liom an clár. Mar tógann sé an ceol ó na h-innill agus cuireann sé arís i meon, croí agus anam an duine é.

Is é bua duine, nach bua inneall é bua an cheoil, agus cuireann Glee an fírinne sin i láthair os ár gcomhair arís. Tá an clár a chanadh ag daoine go ndéanann na girsí agus stócaigh ar Ghlee dochar ar sheoda móra an phopcheoil, ach ní fíor é. Ní chóir an popcheoil bheith chomh cosanta sin ar a oidhreacht. Tógann Glee an popcheoil ar ais chuig daoine, in ionad innill nó corparáid idirnáisiúnta, agus taispeánann Glee dó nach bhfuil ceol ar bith chomh binn nó chomh corraitheach mar an cheol a chasann nuair a n-osclaíonn a b(h)éal. Ná cuir coisc ar an gcreideamh.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

John O'Mahony, Like Humbert, Meets His Waterloo in Longford

Longford is surely en fete tonight, and good luck and congratulations to them all. Summer days like today are why you turn out in the winter and the porter will be as sweet as the night is long in the midlands tonight.

This is the second Mayo dream to end in Longford over a space of 212 years but the men who claimed the day are Gaels like ourselves and not an army of occupation led by a genocidal butcher. Good luck Longford, and long may you prosper.

Mayo can expect a good kicking from Uncle Eugene in the Indo on Monday but it’s the least of our worries now. The only reaction to any of this is a deep sadness for the past four years of Mayo football and the confirmation that another generation has moved on without winning an All-Ireland.

Blame and acrimony will be rife from Belmullet to Ballaghaderreen over Saturday night pints tonight but there’s nothing to be gained by it. Nobody who was involved in the Mayo setup this year wanted this, to be battered by Cork, battered by Sligo and now battered by Longford in three straight games. In the end Mayo fell like a house of cards, as the League final put shock lines through the team, leaving it destroyed and in freefall by the time the Championship came around.

John O’Mahony’s previously impeccable managerial CV is now sullied by his second coming as Mayo manager. Did Johnno want the job in the first place as part of a political plan, or was he bounced into it by the sort of behind the scenes shenanigans that seem part and parcel of Mayo GAA?

It doesn’t matter. Who cares? What possible difference can it make? Johnno is heartbroken tonight, the players, the supporters. The county has all senior inter-county football finished before the end of June. We haven’t seen that in a while.

So for once, let’s not tear the heads off each other. Let’s just think of Johnno as he was in his first incarnation, when he lead Mayo to their first All-Ireland in thirty-eight years in 1989. O’Mahony’s been criticised for some of his decisions in that final, but at least he was there in first place to get it wrong.

People look back now and think Mayo left that one behind but winning the semi-final really was that team’s All-Ireland. Fat people find it hard to remember what it’s like to be hungry. Johnno did his bit for Mayo in his time. That it didn’t work out this time is deeply, deeply sad, but it’s no cause for tar or feathers.

The trick is to learn and move on. Things happen us all in life, and that will never change. It’s how we react to things that defines us and makes us who we are. For better or for worse.

And now the Mayo County Board get a chance to truly define themselves. Mayo have been knocking at the door for so long now, and have had such consistent success at under-age levels, that now is not the time to panic. The county panicked in concluding that the team that reached two All-Irelands in three years were no good – “ladeens,” in a famously withering phrase. At least those ladeens were still kicking football in July.

The negative attitude to what were two very successful summers cost O’Mahony dearly, and the sort of self-immolation that’s popular in Mayo doesn't help maintain perspective. The three losses against Cork, Sligo and Longford were the end of a cycle, but the end of that cycle does not now mean that Mayo are Carlow all of a sudden. There’s no point in over-reacting or losing perspective.

The Mayo County Board need to stay calm, take deep breaths and ask themselves what are they about before the search begins for a new manager. They need to decide what traits they want themselves in a manager. Nobody has a perfect blend of abilities. The Board have to decide how they want those traits to blend, which ones to prioritise and which ones to leave to backroom staff. Should the new manager be a better coach than a man manager, say? How will responsibilities be devolved among the team – because management is very much a team game now?

How should the Board respond to the Scared Generation? There is a belief that men have to be jettisoned, that some players are permanently wounded by the disappointments of those All-Ireland years.

An Spailpín is of a contrary view. An Spailpín believes that those reverses can be used as a motivating tool. There’s no point in pretending that half a century of history didn’t happen. Better therefore to have someone like Liam McHale somewhere on the management team to remind individual players that losing stinks and the next generation does not want to be haunted as the previous ones are.

Some people will think this puts pressure on players. There’s pressure there already, and pretending that the weight of expectation isn’t there will not make it go away. Better to embrace it and draw strength from it than to use the “you’re a fish, you’re not a steak” philosophy. That one gets found out in the end.

The process will be long and arduous, but it’s not like we haven’t been here before. An Spailpín’s shortlist has three names – Ray Dempsey, James Horan and Pete McGrath. Let the search begin. Mayo will not be down for long.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Week of the Rubber Knives - Has Richard Bruton Destroyed Fine Gael?

An Spailpín Fánach, in one of his more dissolute days, was having a drink in a bar that was owned by a man who would later become a member of that supposedly soon to be endangered species, Seanad Éireann.

In the bar, I got talking to a local and the subject got on to fighting. My new friend, who was the worse for wear and had been for quite some years, advised your correspondent that, should ill-luck ever dictate I got involved in a fight, the first punch was vital. If I failed to do damage with the first punch, then damage would be done unto me. There ended the lesson.

Would that Richard Burton had been in that bar instead of An Spailpín Fánach. Bruton could have saved himself, his party and his country a whole lot of trouble by learning that the first shot has to be the kill shot.

Strange to say it now, but Fine Gael can count themselves lucky that this happened now as opposed to in the course of an election campaign. Richard Bruton has been touted as Fine Gael’s shining star for years by a not-terribly-discerning press but when his moment came he didn’t so much shoot himself in the foot as climb up onto the spout of the woodchipper and lower himself into the swirling blades, inch by bloody inch.

Richard Bruton has had years to plan his moment. The suspicion existed that he never moved against Enda Kenny because he really didn’t want to. It wasn’t in his make up. And the bizarre events of the past week bear that out because it is impossible to imagine how he could have planned it worse. Whatever possessed him, or whoever was whispering in his ear, he made the most incredible bags of it.

Telling the old boss that there’s a new boss in town in the final moment of a coup. The clever plotter has all his pawns in place long before then. Richard Burton, for reasons that can never be explained, seems to have only started counting heads when Enda Kenny, rather than going gently into that good night, cuffed tricky Dicky around the ears and sent him and his cohorts to bed without supper.

This week of the rubber knives saw Richard Bruton exposed, now and forever, as a bumbling political amateur. The commentariat may not care for the Mayo cadence of Enda Kenny’s accent, but the Father of the Dáil clearly learned a thing or two in a lifetime in politics. Bruton lost at every engagement. He was utterly out of his depth.

Irrespective of your own biases, this week has been bad for politics in Ireland. An opposition must exist for politics to exist and, however much people may fume at Fianna Fáil perfidy, the lesson of the past two elections is that the sovereign people chose the devil they knew. Richard Bruton, and whatever plotters put him up to it, couldn’t win an election in his own party, and didn’t even seem too bothered about going out canvassing for votes in time for his heave. What chance had he of winning a national election?

As for Enda, it’s a Pyrrhic victory. He is well rid of an all-mouth-and-no-trousers brigade but Fine Gael’s fundamental problems remain. Fine Gael exist as a party that is defined by who they are not rather than who they are. They don’t stand for anything.

The Bruton heave was all about personality, and nothing about policy or how the differences between how the two men would save the country. And that is the emptiest feeling of all when the hilarity of this week has died down. The nation may not like Fianna Fáil, but at least the Soldiers of Destiny know what they’re doing.

Monday, June 14, 2010

La Bohème at the Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin

The Scottish Opera production of La Bohème, on this week at Dublin’s Grand Canal Theatre, promotes the show as being about people who are young, poor and in love. This isn’t strictly true.

The Bohemians are skint, certainly, but being skint isn’t the same as being poor. It’s not the same at all. Strange though it seems, La Bohème is really about innocence. The joy of it, the loss of it and how much it stinks to grow up.

The Bohemians are young. They are the very personification of youth, with no constraints on their dreams or ambitions. Their music as soon as the curtain opens reflects that – everything is a joke or a chance to crack wise. They’re hungry, certainly, but they know they’re not going to starve. Something turns up. They know they’re behind in the rent, but that can be gotten around by blackguarding the landlord. Everything is possible.

The entrance of Mimì is this hope made flesh. Rodolfo sings beautifully to her, she sings beautifully to him, they duet beautifully together. It’s the natural order. Everything’s coming up roses.

Act II sees the Bohemians in society, dining out at the Café Momus. We also meet Musetta, whose relationship with Marcello exists in both counterpoint and parallel to that of Rodolfo and Mimì. Musetta also gets to sing one of the great arias in the canon, Quando men’ vo. It’s one of the great arias in a opera of great arias, and a great bravura moment for the second soprano.

Act III sees a changed environment. Mimi and Rodolfo have broken up. She thinks its because he’s jealous of her, but finds out it’s actually because he knows she’s dying, and the cold in the flat exacerbates that. For the time left to her, she’s better off with a better off boyfriend, who can look after her properly.

But when they meet again, love conquers all and they pledge to look forward to spring. This pledge occurs simultaneously to Musetta and Marcello having another blazing row, a clever way of demonstrating how everyday life goes on while your own is falling apart. Lots of different things can happen simultaneously in opera. It’s one of the things that make opera great.

Act IV sees us returned to the original Bohemian garret, with Marcello painting and Rodolfo writing. The return of the other two sees the young men indulge in their usual antics, but a grim sense of foreboding pervades things. The bad news breaks when Musetta bursts in, announces that Mimì is on her way, and she’s not a bit well.

Mimì gets one of the great deaths in opera. She quietly reprieves a part of her Act I aria, Sì, Mi chiamano Mimì, but dies in silence, while the rest are distracted by Colline’s return, he having sold his caught to buy medicine. And this is supreme art because death is like that. It does not come attended by comets and portents, bells and cymbals. It is a thief in the night, that you don’t see coming or going.

Marcello’s final “corragio,” “courage” to Rodolfo isn’t just about Rodolfo having courage in the face of Mimì’s death. It’s about having courage to bear up to the fact that life will and does kick you around, and you have to be ready for the blows. If it’s about anything, La Bohème is about growing up, leaving youth behind and accepting that not everything is going to work out. It’s said that Puccini cried when he wrote Mimì’s death scene. If so, it was the only civilised reaction.

An Spailpín is quite looking forward to this Scottish National Opera’s production of La Bohème at the Grand Canal Theatre. The updating of the opera to the art scene of current New York is quite clever – the Bohemians are shapers, fundamentally, and the New York art scene was always thick with that particular breed.

Whether the transfer works or not is the tricky bit, of course, but it’s to be hoped it does. The whole Grand Canal development is one of the few reason for optimism about the city in a future that looks quite bleak, and a regular home for opera in Ireland is something to be hoped for. After all, there’s only so much I'm No a Billy, He’s a Tim that the people can take.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Sligo's Day in the Sun Delivers Another Mayo Football Disaster

Sligo 0-15
Mayo 1-08

Mayo manager John O’Mahony was talking some fighting talk on the radio tonight. Mayo aren’t out of the Championship at all yet, he said. We’ll regroup, we’ll see where we are, we’ll move on, said Johnno. And he reminded the nation that he’s been here before. Galway got dumped out in the first round of Connacht in 2001 and they went on to win the All-Ireland. Why not Mayo?

It’s an interesting feature of John O’Mahony’s public pronouncements in his second coming as Mayo manager that his perception of the team’s potential seems to exist in reverse proportion to everybody else’s.

Johnno’s second coming started four years ago with his contention a team that got to two All-Ireland finals in three years was deeply flawed and had to be rebuilt, and tonight he’s saying that team that got beat out the gate by Sligo has All-Ireland potential.

No wonder he’s in Leinster House. That sort of statement fits right in. We are where we are, moving forward in the light of totality of experience, after all.

Of course, it is possible that Mayo could pull themselves together and make some sort of a run in the Championship. As Johnno said, it has happened before, and that’s the nature of knockout competition – you catch the wave, and ride it as far as you can.

But while it’s possible, it’s by no means probable. It is this blog’s considered view that if the revellers in Belmullet on its great fair day on the 15th of August still have a Mayo team in the Championship to talk about over their glasses of sherry that it will be the single greatest achievement of John O’Mahony’s long inter-county career. Bigger than the Galway All-Irelands, the Leitrim Connacht title and his taking of Mayo to their first All-Ireland final in 38 years in 1989.

The only thing Johnno has going for him is that it can’t get any worse. But out from that, things look pretty much insurmountable.

When Johnno took over from Mickey Moran and John Morrison as manager of Mayo, it was all about rebuilding. And every team he’s fielded in the four years has certainly been rebuilt. The thing is, rebuilding really should mean getting progressively better – as Sligo have got progressively better, for instance. Building, getting flattened and starting from scratch every year isn’t really rebuilding. It’s going around in circles.

There are serious questions arising from all this. About tactics and training and game plans. About why good players deteriorate, as good Mayo players have deteriorated in recent years. About why there seems to be a lack of fitness in the team, in this age of major advances in sports sciences. About how players are injured so often, again in this sports science age. But the startling absence of progress is the most worrying thing.

Sure Mayo could make a run. A Mayo twin tower inside line of Barry Moran and Aidan O’Shea presents completely different questions to anyone Mayo is playing, and Mayo has a rich pick of players, more so than most counties. But what would that mean for Alan Freeman, the one ray of sunshine for Mayo today?

Because it could get worse, actually. Mayo could field yet another “rebuilt” team in the qualifiers, against Longford, say, with McGarrity at corner forward and Conor Mortimer at center-half back, and beat them, and then maybe draw Kildare in Castlebar – to the exquisite relief of the County Board – and beat them, and then play Dublin in Croke Park and get annihilated in front of a baying Hill. That would be worse than today, for instance.

Or maybe getting beaten again by Kerry in Croke Park, with Jack O’Connor having told the team to go easy on us, like Kilkenny went easy on the Dublin hurlers last year. Out of pity. That would be worse. Mayo are in a bad, bad place tonight, and a Hollywood ending seems very, very unlikely. It’ll be short summer on the plain of the yews.

But while Mayo writhe in the horrors, Sligo bask in the joys and good for them. Kevin Walsh has been masterful in his management of Sligo, in the long term and outstandingly so during the game today, and in Eamon O’Hara Sligo have one of the all-time greats of the game, for any county.

Herman Melville wrote of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick that “"he piled upon the whale's white hump, the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race. If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it.” If you substitute pride and guts for rage and hate you have O’Hara in a nutshell, in every game he’s played. And he was that again today, even as his body finally begins to betray him. Eamon O’Hara is a credit and grace to the game, and the very best of luck to him and everyone involved in the Sligo setup. They deserve their day in the sun, and more than one at that.