Friday, July 26, 2013

Jobs, Work and Culture

First published in the Western People on Tuesday.

Everything that the Government announced last week about their long-term jobs initiative is to be welcomed. Why should it not be? It’s been a summer of political strife over the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill and battle will be re-joined over the Seanad Abolition Amendment come the Autumn.

All the while, 422,000 people endure the misery and humiliation of queuing up for their few shillings’ dole. For the 177,000 who are classified as long-term unemployed, it must feel like the state has given up on them.

Therefore, anything that’s done to help the unemployed get off the Register is worthwhile. While politicians try to score points in the Dáil, actual people in the dole queues wish to God those same politicians would just shut up and point them to where the jobs are, so they can return to life and normality.

The most impressive detail of the Government’s jobs initiative is the idea of a tapered return to work, something broadcaster and parliamentary assistant Noel D Walsh has often mentioned in different media appearances. If you’re living a hand-to-mouth existence on dole and its combined benefits, the one month that you have to survive until your first paycheck arrives can be a very long month indeed.

Rainy day savings may have run out long ago, and it might not be possible to make ends meet between the end of benefits and the start of wage-earning. This is the reality of life on the dole when your money runs out. You can do nothing. The money is too small. There is no wriggle room.

As such, any provision that the benefits can be extended and then paid back, or tapered off gradually, is to be applauded. The Government can’t stand on ceremony about these things. They are correct to go with whatever works, and this provision is overdue if anything.

On the macro level though, all initiatives are just bailing water on a sinking ship unless broader questions of culture are addressed. You’ll have plugged one leak when another springs up – better to ask why the ship is sinking in the first place.

There are two problems culturally. The first is our post-colonial heritage, where the folk memory of the Irish hasn’t made the connection that cheating on taxes and defrauding social welfare isn’t sticking one to the eight-hundred-year oppressor, but souring our own sovereign Irish milk. For a small nation to survive, we need to show greater solidarity with each other, and support the system.

The nation will have matured when the fella in the pub boasting about foxing the welfare or the taxman gets pints poured on top of him instead of bought for him. We’re a while from that, but we have to get there. The sums just won’t add up otherwise.

The second cultural problem is one that a lot of people reading this paper won’t be familiar with. Most people in Mayo either grew up on a farm or else no great distance from one. And on the land, there’s no real way to hide from a day’s work. In urban Ireland, there are swathes of population where nobody has had a job in living memory.

Think about that for a second. Suppose you’re going to school in a deprived area. Your father is on the dole, as are all your aunts and uncles. So is everyone on your street, and so are the vast majority of the parents of everyone else at school. What earthly motivation is there for you to get a job when you leave school? What do you even know about working in the first place, when you’ve never seen it done? When it’s never been part of your life?

When it comes to urban decay, the underlying tone in commentary is that these people are dumb, that they need state support because they cannot help themselves. They are not dumb. They are simply living in a different world to you or I, with different stimuli and different reactions.

Tennyson’s Lotus Eaters sing that “slumber is more sweet than toil,” and they’re right. Why would you work when everything around you encourages you to stay in bed? If you’ve never had a job, what do you know of the dignity of work, or the satisfaction of a job well done?

What do you do to change that culture? What do you do to make that section of society give up a good thing for what our modern contemporary culture decries as “wage slavery”? Their time is their own, and if things are bad a visit to the CWO can sort that out. Why would any sensible person give up on that?

Besides; no government can create jobs in the first place. Everybody who ever ran for office in any country promised jobs, but that’s shorthand. What they actually mean is that they hope to create an economic environment in which it will be easier for employers to employ more people. But economics gives everyone a pain in the head so politicians say “jobs!” and the thousands cheer.

For people who were working and have hit the skids the Government’s jobs initiative is a godsend. It means they haven’t been forgotten, the system acknowledges their plight and will make it as easy as possible for them to get back to work if the job is there. For that other section of the long-term unemployed, it doesn’t matter a whit. They might not even know an announcement was made.

Taoisigh come and go, economies go boom and go bust, and still their cycle of life goes on, oblivious to all. And it’s wrong – it’s wrong that society is striated, that your destiny is decided by accident of birth, that not all children have equal opportunity. The Government’s job initiative is to be welcomed and has many fine points, but the problem of the generationally long-term unemployed will prove a tougher nut to crack.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Championship: Still Crazy After All These Years

Drop the Provincial Championships, they said. Be grand, they said. Not fair on the lower division teams, they said. We’ll do away with history and tradition and pride and this ineffable thing called “glory,” all for something we saw on the telly. Be grand, they said.

One of the many gifts of the Championship that it is both the same and completely different, year after year. Every Championship starts with some unhappy counties getting their ears boxed in late May or early June, and the why-oh-why columns in the papers. Then the summer progresses and the hay is brought home and that year’s Championship takes on its shape until you suddenly realise that heatwaves and holidays are all well and good, but in Ireland, it’s the Championship that makes the summer.

There are twelve teams left in the 2013 Championship now, a Championship that we were told was pretty much exclusive to the teams in Division 1 of the League. Of those twelve teams, six are from Division 1, two from Division 2, three from Division 3 and the team that came dead last in Division 4 is still sitting in the light.

The three Division 3 teams are the most interesting. It’s unlikely that either Cavan, Meath or Monaghan will win their first All-Ireland in fifty-one years, fourteen years or ever, but they could stop some big dog from winning it, and that’s a pretty sweet feeling too.

If anything, Monaghan are the most disadvantaged, because while they beat Donegal yesterday in Clones, Monaghan did not destroy them. The curse of the back door is that the underdog’s win is cheapened by the favourite’s second chance. If Donegal can get by Laois – and it’s by no means a given – their momentum is back, while Monaghan may psychologically settle for their first Anglo-Celt Cup in twenty-five years. Human nature is like that.

One thing that is certain, however, is that the aura of invincibility is now gone from the Champions. Donegal may regroup - Jimmy McGuinness may be able to talk them into seeing this as all part of a Great Plan, but the rest of the country will have noted the weaknesses for later exploitation. Back-to-back All-Irelands have only been won twice in twenty-seven years, and there’s a reason for that. Once it gets to the elimination games, the Championship is a high-wire act lined with landmines. Not only is one slip fatal, but you can do nothing wrong and stil get blown to hell. It’s a lot like Life in that respect.

Next weekend sees four games of lip-smacking appeal. Cavan will be overwhelming favourites against London but they must guard against complacency. Mayo were able to beat London with their D game, but Mayo’s D game is better than Cavan’s. Everyone in Cavan thinks they’re going back to Croke Park. That way misery lies, and the London fairytale gets one more chapter.

Donegal will play Laois, where the great puzzle is if Donegal can get over the shock in six days to play a team who are a little like Monaghan – old soldiers who have been in the trenches for a long time, looking for one last day out.

Meath play Tyrone in an intriguing game. Meath’s glory days are a decade and more ago, but the way the wired it up to Dublin in the Leinster final, playing to their tradition and not giving a damn, woke up echoes of Meath teams past. Tyrone remain a mystery. God only knows what’ll happen in this one.

And then, Galway play Cork. The first thing to note is that this is a fixture nightmare. The Cork hurlers are scheduled to play Kilkenny and the Galway hurlers will play Clare in Thurles on the same day that Galway and Cork are scheduled to meet in football, a double-header with Meath and Tyrone.

Could there be a triple-header in Thurles? Could Semple stadium hold it? Could you move the two hurling games and the Cork and Galway football to Croker, and Meath and Tyrone for a novel day out in Thurles? Could Meath and Tyrone be played in Clones? Questions, questions, that the GAA will have to sort out quickly.

As for the game itself, it’s a chin-scratcher. The sound of rent garments was general in Galway city and county after Mayo hammered the heron-chokers in Salthill back in May. Huffing and puffing against Tipperary and Waterford did little to dispel that impression.

And then Galway go out and paste Armagh, and are now strengthened by the addition of Conor Counihan to their cause. That’s a terribly cruel thing to write but Counihan’s team selection seems mysterious in the extreme, and there’s a case to be made that if Cork had got their selection right they would have hammered Kerry in Killarney.

No less astute an observer than Dara Ó Cinnéide remarked in the Examiner before St Patrick’s Day that, while the country concentrated on Dublin and Donegal, Cork were ideally placed to come up on the rail and surprise them when they weren’t looking. That’s still the case, but only if Cork pick the right team. If they do, Galway come to the end of the line, but will have a lot to build on for next year. If not, Galway march on and Connacht will have two representatives alive come Bank Holiday Monday.

And what of the provincial champions, watching next weekend’s tussles and wondering what will be in store when they next pull on their boots? Monaghan in the North, still savouring the sweet taste of victory. Mayo in the west, playing at their peak but always aware that for them, the Championship only lasts seventy minutes on the third Sunday in September. In the east, a Dublin team that are like a young man on his first provisional driving license – fantastic with the foot down on the open road, not so hot when he has to put it in reverse and park the thing. And down south, Kerry. Always Kerry. Watching, waiting, and making plans. They’re in the mix too.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Saint Deirbhle, and the Power of Love

Those beautiful old photographs of Father Browne’s that were featured in last week’s paper as part of the Feile Iorrais Folk Festival are a wonderful chance to remember and celebrate one of the greatest books to ever be written about Mayo by a Mayoman.

The Mayoman in question was one Séamus Mag Uidhir, who graced these very pages in his day under the pen-name of Préachán Néfinne, the crow of Nephin. He was born in Gaoth Sáile in 1902, did his bit for freedom from 1919 to 1921 and then became a teacher. In 1938 he took it into his head to go on a cycling tour of Erris and Achill with a friend of his home from America, two men who loved folklore and folktales and the Irish language, of course.

Fánaíocht i gCondae Mhaigh Eo, published in 1944, is the result of his tour. It’s a marvellous book, and an excellent book for someone who wants to brush up on his or her Irish. It was republished recently to update the Irish to modern usage and spelling, but the original blás of the language endures.

Most Irish that is written now is written to translate dry and dusty EU tracts about how to correctly spray your potatoes, as if you’d never seen a spud before. You’d be hard put to read that in English, to say nothing of in any other language. By contrast, Mag Uidhir wrote in celebration of all that he loved, and that love shines through the prose. The difference between the civil service tract and Mag Uidhir’s beautiful Irish is the difference between tapwater and buttermilk.

The book itself, which translates as “Rambling in the County Mayo,” is a collection of folklore, stories and songs handed down through the generations when storytelling was all the people had. There are stories about 1798 and the Achill Hat, about the poet Richard Barrett and about Grace O’Malley, the pirate queen.

In 1593, having had enough of having her ships being bothered by the Royal Navy, Granuaile assembled her navy and sailed up the Thames as far as Westminster itself. She thought it best to settle her differences with Éilis, Banríon Rua na Breataine, queen-to-queen. The woman had style.

But the best story in Fánaíocht concerns Saint Deirbhle, and a man who was very bad with that most terrible, capricious and wasting of diseases – love.

Deirbhle herself was originally from Meath, then, as now, a place where very few are short of a few shillings. Deirbhle’s father was a wealthy chieftain in the area, and she herself was a great beauty. Her father looked forward to Deirbhle making a good match, and all the power that such a match would bring.

But Pappa Deirbhle was neither the first nor the last father to find out it’s very hard to tell your daughters what they’ll do. For Deirbhle had decided to dedicate her life to God, and had no interest in getting married to anybody.

This was particularly galling to her father because, as it happened, he knew just the boy who’d be a perfect son-in-law. A local prince was both hopelessly smitten and utterly rich, and every day he’d come to Deirbhle’s castle to press his suit.

Deirbhle was having none of it. She rode away in secret on a donkey, the better to know God and minister to His people by locating herself in the most isolated and lonely spot on the Earth. The County Mayo, in other words.

Deirbhle had settled in Eachléim and was getting on fine there, praying, fasting and ministering to the poor, when what does she see in the harbour only a fine ship in full sail. And who does she see coming down the gangway only himself. The man from back home who just can’t take a hint had gone and tracked her down.

He just would not leave her alone. Every day he had her pestered about how much he loveD her, how the birds didn’t sing in the trees for him any more, and if she’d only be his she’d make him the happiest man in the world.

Deirbhle tried to be nice but this old routine got tiresome fairly quickly. Eventually she turned to him and says “look, this is all very nice and it’s not that I’m not flattered, but for God’s sake, there are millions of women out there just like me. What makes me so special?”

Your man is a bit taken aback but he thinks for a minute and he says, “well, even though you’re perfect in every way, if I had to pick one feature alone – and I wouldn’t want to, because you’re so perfect in every way – but if I had to pick just one feature, it’d have to be your beautiful eyes.”

“Oh,” says Deirbhle. “Well, if that’s all you want, you can have them.” And with that, she gouged out her eyes and handed them to him.

Awkward, as the young people like saying nowadays. The folklore doesn’t record this man’s name, and only speculates that he died of a broken heart. Maybe the folklore is just being kind – your correspondent’s guess is that he ran back to the ship as fast as his legs would carry him, married some nice local girl from Skryne or Seneschalstown and counted himself as having had a lucky escape until the end of his days.

As for Deirbhle herself, it worked out surprisingly well for her too. Although blind, she continued her good works with the poor and one day, while washing her face in a stream, her sight was restored to her. Deirbhle’s well is now a place of pilgrimage, and water from that well is said to be good for eye complaints. It might have some balm for a broken heart too – the poor old eejit, he was only trying to be nice.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Turf War

First published in the Western People on Tuesday.

Patrick Kavanagh, one of our greatest poets, has a very visceral description of a rural dispute in his marvellous poem, Epic. He talks of a dispute over “half a rood of rock,” remembers hearing the Duffys shouting “Damn your soul,” and seeing old McCabe defiantly stepping out the march of the land in front of a line of men armed with pitchforks.

That fight over poor land in 1938 comes to mind as the strange dispute over the right to cut turf on four per cent of Irish bog continues to drag on.

Turf. Bog. Peat. Heather. These are such Irish words, so evocative of a way of life. Huge fireplaces in the old houses, big enough for a child to walk into and look around in when the fire wasn’t lit and there were no great pots or kettles hanging from the crooks overhead.

The beautiful hand-made wooden creels on the mighty donkeys of Ireland, making their stoic way back and forth the country roads in summer. The old iron tongs that needed the two hands of a child to open and close that were handled by the old people as easily as Joe Cooney handled his camán in Croke Park. The mushrooms toasting on the open fire in summertime, and the wonderful, rich smell of the turf smoke itself when you came in from colder days in autumn and winter and knew you were dry, and safe, and home.

It all seems so very far from EU directives, turbary rights, derogations and standoffs by the side of the road between guards who probably really don’t want to be there, and country people who feel they must take a stand before their whole way of life is lost, slice by slice, bit by bit.

How it came to this isn’t easy to understand, although the worrying disconnect between what we talk about in politics and how politics affects our daily lives is a contributory factor. Decisions made in Brussels are important.

How the EU works is important. But nobody here wants to know unless the cheques stop coming or a Brussels starts telling the Irish what they’ll do. Then there’s trouble.

The EU was founded, in part, to heal divisions after World War II. There was massive industrialisation in France and in Germany as they rebuilt their countries, and industrialisation does not come without a high price on the environment. So once that process of industrialisation was complete and the economies of France and Germany were back functioning, it was then time to do no more damage to the environment. This is at the root of EU environmental policy – to protect what’s there, as once it’s destroyed it’s never coming back.

Ireland signed up to the EU Habitats Directive of 1999 fourteen years ago and this is where the trouble began. Under that directive, 130 sites were named Special Areas of Conservation or Natural Heritage Areas. The National Parks and Wildlife Services then started buying these sites up – with substantial fiscal assistance from the EU, it should be noted.

The problem is that buying land is not the same as buying the rights to cut turf on that land – the turbary rights to the land, the right to cut turf, exist separately to the ownership of the land. The other problem is that the 1999 Government did what Irish Governments do and long-fingered the whole thing, hoping it’d be someone else’s problem in the future.

The Government introduced a Derogation on the Cessation of Turf Cutting, which meant that the implementation of the Habitats Directive would be delayed by ten years. This created two realities – the reality of the bureaucrats in Brussels wondering when the Irish were going to get with the program, and the reality of the turf cutters, who didn’t know that the clock was ticking and cut merrily away, just like always.

Those two realities have finally crashed, and that’s where we are now. Successive governments have buried their heads in the sand when being pro-active was clearly the better policy.

The turf-cutting dispute is the Nice and Lisbon Treaty Debates in microcosm. The EU is the best friend Ireland’s got, but it’s viewed like milk of magnesia by the body politic. We’ve heard it’s good for us but we’re far from convinced and we hate the sight of the blue bottle any time it comes down off the shelf.

What was the point of the Derogation? What did it achieve? Instead of flushing all that money down the drain, would it have killed anybody to derogate for five years instead of ten, and in year four, leaflet the households concerned and say “great news! The EU is stumping for a new heating system for your house! No more days in the bog drinking cold tea and getting an ache your back. Now, you’ll be able to go there at your leisure, showing you kids the beauty and wonder of nature and the Irish countryside!”

Because turf-cutting can’t continue, you know. The day of the donkey and creel and hand-cut turf is gone. The Herbst Difco Turbo Peat Cutter attaches to the back of a tractor and can cut between five and ten tonnes of turf per hour. That means that thing is producing over eighty kilos, thirteen stone, of turf a minute, at the very least. Neddy the donkey might be able to bring all that home, but it’ll take him a long, long time.

The bogs can’t last. It’s all right to say that people have always cut turf, but they’ve never been able to cut it so quickly or on such a scale. That’s the difference. A little bit of planning, a hint of foresight, a tiny bit of forward thinking, and all this could have been dealt with years ago. Instead, it’s just more and more heartache. One thing, unlike turf, of which this country seldom seems in short supply.

FOCAL SCOIR: The picture is one of John Hinde's famous postcards from the 'fifties and 'sixties, some of the most gorgeous depictions of the country ever recorded. Super-real colours, of course, but no worse for all that. Beautiful things.

Friday, July 05, 2013

The Sickest Joke Is the Price of the Medicine

First published in the Western People last Tuesday.

Anglo is spilt milk. If it serves any purpose now, other than making otherwise sensible people gnash their teeth and jump up and down in impotent fury, it should be to ensure that this sort of messing will never, ever, happen again.

Of course, that’s not what it’s doing. Forget Oireachtas enquiries. Those things do nothing, as discussed in this space before, and besides, there have been four enquiries into the bank guarantee already. How will the fifth one make any difference? The odds are never on your side when you draw to an inside straight.

We cannot change the past. We can only learn from it, and hope it will aid us in the future. But something happened last week that suggests that, as ever, we have learned nothing, and our regulatory practices remain firmly on the side of the fat cat and against the interests of the citizen.

Some years ago a proposal was enacted that would have pharmacists prescribe generic medicines instead of brand name medicines, as the active ingredients are just the same and it’s only the branding that makes a difference. This was seen as quite a considerable step, as the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most lucrative in the world.

We live in a vain age. Drugs that promise to make us look older, younger, fitter, fatter, taller, shorter, darker, lighter and any combination of the above abound in the shops and in advertising. Feeling peaky? Drink this, it’ll cheer you up. Feeling perky? Better eat this, it’ll calm you down. At every crossroads in daily life, there’s a box of pills to help you turn left, turn right or stay exactly where you are.

A lot of these pills have got brand recognition, which means that civilians have heard of them and then demand that brand from their doctor. For instance – there are a wide variety of anti-depressant pills but Prozac has become the most famous, just as people think of Hoover when they think of vacuum cleaners. A woman called Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote a book in the early 1990s called Prozac Nation about her own reliance on the drug and all of a sudden it was seen as the glamorous cure-all for the blues.

Good news for the company that makes Prozac. And good news for the pharmaceutical industry in general, as the idea spreads that there’ll always be a pill for what ails you.

Business being what it is, the pharmaceutical industry is inclined to make many types of pill for ailments, real or perceived, for which there is a market demand. As for ailments that are fatal but sufficiently rare to have no market traction – well. Every rose has its thorn, doesn’t it? Very sad, very sad. Here – take a few of these with a glass of water, they’ll cheer you right up.

That’s what made the decision to encourage doctors to prescribe generic medicines so worthwhile. It took the marketing glamour off the drugs and presented them in their most basic form. To move from the esoteric world of pharmacy and medicine to the everyday world of the breakfast table, it was as if householders were on an economy drive and decided to buy the supermarket’s own brand corn flakes for breakfast, rather than that other familiar one with the rooster bedecked in the beautiful green and red. It doesn’t seem fully quite the same but it does the trick and it’s a good deal easier on the pocket.

Imagine, then, everybody’s surprise when the Economic and Social Research Institute published a report last Thursday that said the price of the generic meds and the fancy-schmancy meds turns out to be pretty much the same.

How could that happen? How are the own brand cornflakes the same price as the famous ones in those beautiful boxes, with that Mayo-liveried rooster crowing to break the day? Either the own-brand price is too high, or the expensive price isn’t expensive any more at all.

In this world, prices don’t come down. The doctors have been doing their bit – prescriptions for generic drugs have doubled in the past few years to fifty per cent of all prescriptions filled. But why do that when the only reason to make a distinction, the price, doesn’t exist? If the price is exactly the same, why bother?

This leads to some questions.

  1. When did we find out the prices were the same?
  2. Were the prices always the same?
  3. If the prices were always the same, why bother with this dog and pony show over the generics in the first place?
  4. If the prices of the generics went up, when did they go up?
  5. Who benefited from the price increase?
  6. What is going to be done about it?

If the nation has learned its lesson from Anglo, these questions will not only be asked but answered. This isn’t a trivial thing. The Government has to save money. The generic drugs initiative was an attempt to save the money. The taxpayer would have some of the burden lifted from him or her because medicine would be cheaper, and the Government’s medical card bills would be cheaper because cheaper drugs were being prescribed.

But money isn’t being saved if the generic drugs are the same price as the branded ones. And if money is not being saved here, the Government must then save money elsewhere, by laying off teachers and nurses, by closing hospital beds and burdening the people even more.

Anglo is the spectacular abuse of money. But in its way, the price of drugs is just as bad. The difference is that while Anglo is now a thing of the past and something that we cannot change, we can do something about how the price of generic drugs went up right now. The question is: will we?

Monday, July 01, 2013

London in the Connacht Final is a Cause for National Celebration

London’s remarkable achievement in reaching this year’s Connacht Final means that the game on July 21st is now bigger than football. It’s no longer a sporting contest – it’s a unique occasion for the nation to stop and take stock, to celebrate what we did, make reparation for what we failed to do, and to look proudly to the future.

These opportunities don’t come along often in Recession Ireland, and we should make the most of them.

Firstly, the Connacht Council should get on the phone to the London Board first thing this morning and find a stadium to host the Connacht Final. They have three weeks, which is loads of time to cut a deal with one of the twenty stadia in London that have capacities of more than 10,000.

The tennis courts at Wimbledon or Queen’s club could be a bit delicate for football and we’re in the wrong time of year for the 30,000 capacity Lord’s Cricket Ground or the 23,000 Surrey Oval. Wembley or Twickenham are a bit on the big side but a stadium like White Hart Lane (36,000), Upton Park (35,000), Selhurst Park (26,000) or maybe even Loftus Road (19,000) should be considered.

This wouldn’t be cheap, of course, but in this year of The Gathering it would be interesting to see if the Government is willing to put its money where its mouth is and underwrite the operation.

Why go to the trouble? Because we, the nation, owe the Irish in London. We owe them big-style down the years and now that a unique opportunity has arisen, where an English team is playing a high-profile match in the most Irish of entities, the All-Ireland Championship, that gives us an opportunity to celebrate, remember and look forward.

This is a chance for a second Polo Grounds, and if it’s not grabbed it will be gone. But it’ll be bigger than the Polo Grounds in its way, because the Irish were always welcome in America. They were not always welcome in England – no blacks, no Irishmen, no dogs, as the signs often said.

And what was it like to be an emigrant? Well, it wasn’t great. Dónall Mac Amhlaigh wrote a poignant memoir of his time as a navvy in England in the 1950s, Dialann Deoraí, and he records a hard life with a surprising and noble absence of bitterness. Some Irish got on well in England – no sign of the famine on Graham Norton, and more power to him – but some found it a struggle.

And why wouldn’t they? All through their time in school the Irish of that forgotten ‘fifties generation were told that all Ireland’s woes were the fault of the English, the godless, heathen English. To suddenly find themselves in that same godless place, in a cold room in a terraced house that was as alien to them as pitching a tent on the moon – what on earth were they to do?

A lot became insular, and drank to ease the pain, as it was the only thing they knew how to do. They didn’t mix, because mixing would be an occasion of sin and this was, after all, a godless country. And they loyally sent money home, money that in part helped build the GAA and that very few of them ever saw again.

The Irish are emigrating again as the recession stalks the land, but it’s not the same. The world has gotten smaller. We know what the world is like since we were children, because we’ve seen it on the television.

But that lost generation of the 1950s hadn’t a clue. In this era of victims and survivors and compensation, who ever thinks of the innocent Irish who were turned from their own country and had to find a living in one that they had been taught to always think of as the enemy?

The country had its arm twisted during the Queen’s visit to believe that we’ve all moved on. Well, now let’s see Ireland’s greatest cultural association do its bit for the maturity of the nation.

Let emissaries go to London and spread the word that Gaelic games are coming to the city of Charles Dickens and Samuel Johnson, of Christopher Wren and Issac Newton, of David Beckham and Bobby Moore. Proclaim it through the host that it is the Irish nation’s shame that the emigrants where were nearest to us were furthest away, but that we now make reparation, and celebrate our brothers and sisters in England just as we do those in the United States, in Canada, in Australia and elsewhere.

This is bigger than football. Colm O’Rourke and Pat Spillane were sniggering on the Sunday Game yesterday about the prospect of London being in the Connacht Final. They don’t get it. They never get it. The GAA was never just about sports. It is about Ireland first, and the celebration of Irishness, that one strange thing that makes all Irish people so very different from anywhere else.

If the Gathering is anything other than the shakedown or an exercise in Paddy-whackery, the 2013 Connacht Final is an opportunity, Heaven-sent, for Ireland to send a cultural message in the other direction, to make the Gathering a two-way street. For once, let’s try to see the big picture. Up Mayo.