Ireland

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)

Americans calling my nation’s national holiday “Saint Patty’s Day” is one of those things that, as an Irishmouse, I am supposed to be Very Annoyed About. Honestly, it doesn’t bug me. Way I see it, if Irish Americans hadn’t turned March 17 into a major celebration of Irish identity and history in the eighteen hundreds, today the feast of Saint Patrick would be about as big a deal as the third Sunday of Ordinary Time so I say let ‘em call it whatever they like. At this point, it’s as much theirs as ours. Ireland and America have always had a very close relationship, culturally. This has often been a very positive thing, but it does cause problems. Picture Ireland as a man with a very quiet voice and a huge megaphone with the words “MADE IN AMERICA” emblazoned on it. Ireland has a global cultural presence and clout far, far beyond what you’d expect for a small country with a relatively paltry population and that’s largely due to the outsize influence Irish emigrants have had in the shaping of the world’s only cultural hyperpower. But what that means is that what the world perceives as “Irishness” is often filtered first through an American prism. Small Irish voice, big American megaphone. The result is that how we’re perceived by the rest of the world is often completely out of our hands.  Take a look at this picture:

The photo was taken in 1946 in County Kerry in the West of Ireland. The gentleman on the left is one Séamus Delargy, the founder of the Irish Folklore Commission, an organisation tasked with collecting and cataloguing the vast body of oral folklore, songs and poetry that had been passed down by word of mouth by the Irish people since time immemorial. The Irish Folklore Commission, incidentally, later became the Irish Folklore Department in University College Dublin where I got the degree that has made me the wealthy, eminently employable mouse I am today.

Oh, and the guy on the right is Walt Disney.

So, around the end of the second world war, Disney had set his heart on making a film based on Irish legends (Disney’s great-grandfather was from Kilkenny). He was put in touch with Delargey and over the next decade the two men corresponded continously. Delargy viewed Disney’s film as a chance to bring some of the treasure trove of Irish folklore his commission had uncovered to a wider audience, and dispatched crates of books, plays and manuscripts to Burbank. To Delargy’s disappointment however, Disney eventually decided to base his Irish film on Herminie Templeton Kavanagh’s “Darby O’Gill” books. Here we have the relationship between Irish folklore and it’s American amanuenses personified. Delargy says “Here is a huge and varied body of folktales full of magic, heroes, epic quests, tricksters and romance.” and Disney replies “That’s nice. Leprechauns, please.”

This movie’s reputation is a little hard to assess. In America, it’s fairly obscure, but amongst those who know of it it’s quite highly regarded. Hell, no less an authority than Leonard Malthin, a man who eats Disney movies and shits special limited edition Blu-Rays , called it “not only one of Disney best films, but certainly one of the best fantasies ever put to film.”

Well. Clearly SOMEONE’s never seen Hawk the Slayer.

 In Ireland it is most certainly not obscure. And our relationship to this particular movie is…complicated. It was a huge hit when it was released here, with Disney himself attending the Dublin premiere which virtually brought the city to a standstill. But it arrived at a very crucial period in Irish history, when Taoiseach Seán Lemass was trying to cast off the nation’s image as a rural backwater and promote Ireland as a modern economy ready to do business with the world. The success of this movie and it’s bucolic image of rural towns and cheerfully superstitious peasants had many in government muttering between clenched teeth: “You. Are. Not. Helping.” Today it remains a staple of Irish television, particularly around Saint Patrick’s day, and is one of those movies that almost every Irish person has seen once, along with Michael Collins and Die Hard*. But there has always been an undercurrent of resentment to this movie, with many feeling that it’s…what’s the word I’m looking for?

“Racist?”

“Ah, no.”

But “Darby O’Gill” has definitely become a shorthand for fake, inauthentic Oirishness in film. But is that reputation justified? Let’s take a look, just to be sure. To be sure.

To be sure.

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We were conquered by these people how exactly?

IDIOTS.

Sorry, I was going to do a proper, well-reasoned, nuanced reaction to the Brexit vote with references to the increasing alienation of the British working class in an age of globalisation and blah blah blah yadda yadda.

NO.

FUCK THAT. I have been drinking, my country’s economy has just been thrown into very real jeopardy and you Little England cunts have now threatened my daughter’s future. No no. You’re getting the lash. (This, by the way, is not directed at the forty odd per cent of Britons who voted to Remain. You get a big hug, I am so, so, sorry).

Apparently the number 2 google search in Britain right now is “What is the EU?”

Alice Facepalm

So let me explain. The EU was an utterly unique political union of 28 sovereign nations working together to promote free trade, democracy and human rights on the European continent that spent most of its fifty year history kissing your goddamn arse. You didn’t want to be part of Schengen? You didn’t have to be part of Schengen. Didn’t want  to adopt the Charter of Fundamental Rights? No problem, rude of us to even ask. You thought a single currency was a stupid idea? Well, you were right about that one in hindsight but the rest of us didn’t force you.

You had it all, you dumb fucks. You had the best possible deal. Now if Greece says they want out? That’s understandable. But you guys? What exactly about the absurdly preferential treatment you got was not to your liking? Were the handjobs not suitably vigorous, WHAT?!

Oh you’re having second thoughts? You didn’t really think your vote would matter? You’re starting to realise that the man leading the Leave campaign is a racist, lying ferret in a man-suit?

LET ME LICK YOUR FUCKING TEARS. OH! OH! THEY TASTE SO GOOD!

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The Secret of Kells (2009)

Guys, I’ll be honest. I haven’t been this daunted by a review since Frozen. First you have the fact that this is an absolutely adored film with a lot of fans amongst readers of this very blog, and then you have the fact that the movie is Irish (well, an Irish-Franco-Belgian co-production) and the fact that I’m Irish (well, an Irish-Greek co-production) and that people seem to think that gives me some kind of special insight into this movie. I mean what are you expecting, that I’m just going to emerge from my turf cottage and impart some ancient Gaelic wisdom through the haze of my clay pipe?
"Yes, now quit stalling."

“Yes, now quit stalling.”

Okay, okay. Special insight. Special insight. Let me see. Okay. You know that episode of the Simpsons where they’re crossing from the American embassy into Australia and Homer’s all “Look boy! Now I’m in America! Now I’m in Australia! America! Australia!” and so on and so forth? Imagine an entire culture built around that joke and you have the Irish. We’re obsessed with borders. OBSESSED. The places in space and time where one thing ends and another starts. Ask an American when summer begins and they’ll say “Ohhhh, round about Memorial day, I guess?”. Ask an Irish person when summer begins and they’ll say “01 May. Midnight. Greenwich Mean time. And not a second before.” Borders are where things get weird, where things aren’t one thing or another. Why is Halloween so creepy? Because Samhain occurs on October 31st, right when Autumn ends and Winter begins on the Gaelic calendar. It’s at times like that when the…things in the other world can cross into ours. This fear and fascination with borders runs bone deep in the Irish psyche and ties into our historic relationship with the fairy realm. My wife is a dyed in the wool atheist, but she would not enter a fairy ring if you paid her. You just don’t do that.
“IT’S COMMON SENSE PEOPLE!”

“IT’S COMMON SENSE PEOPLE!”

Secret of Kells is a very Irish movie, and I don’t just mean because it draws so heavily on Irish mythology, art and history and features some of the greatest Irish actors to have been claimed as British by the English media at some point. It’s obessed with lines drawn between over here and over there, between light and dark, between faith and fear and between civilization and the wild wood.
It is also feckin smurges.

It is also feckin’ smurges.

So. Background. Secret of Kells is the product of Cartoon Saloon, which began as a loose animator’s collective in 1999 and has now produced four full length animated features, two of which have been nominated for Academy Awards. Despite this incredibly small filmography, Cartoon Saloon is already considered to be on a par with Studio Ghibli. Clearly, Irish Animation has come a long way since Daithí Lacha.
HE WAS TERRIBLE.

HE WAS TERRIBLE.

But is the praise justified? Yes. Is the movie as good as YES. Does it YES. Whatever hypothetical question I could ask the answer is almost definitely YES.
Let’s take a look.
AD

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#05 John Bruton

Name: John Bruton
Party: Fine Gael
Terms of Office: December ’94-June’97
John Bruton first entered politics when he was elected to the Dáil in 1969, only 22 and barely out of nappies. He later served as Minister for Education under Liam Cosgrave but we won’t hold that against him. To understand how he became Taoiseach we have to re-join the story where we left off, with Labour’s Dick Spring walking out of Albert Reynolds’ government over the Harry Whelahan/Brendan Smyth clusterbollocks. Bruton convinced Spring to return to the batcave and enter a coalition with Fine Gael and the Democratic Left. This gave Bruton a majority in the Dáil and he became Taoiseach without even needing to be elected.
"Just like Gerald Ford."

“Just like Gerald Ford.”

Despite some tensions with Spring, Fine Gael and Labour nonetheless managed to work together to form a government that was, in hindsight, pretty not bad at all. Despite being seen as part of Fine Gael’s more conservative wing, one of Bruton’s first initiatives was the legalisation of divorce. In 1995. Which makes us possibly the only country in the world to have internet before we had divorce.

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One letter away from “Penis”…

Waterford Whispers News is Ireland’s answer to The Onion, a parody news website that frequently produces satire that is often as brilliant and biting as it is poorly proof-read.

Denis O’Brien is Ireland’s answer to Rupert Murdoch. He is the wealthiest man in Ireland (or whatever tax shelter he currently rests his head). He is the owner of Communicorp which owns a total of fifty one radio stations across Europe and the Middle East, and basically every Irish radio station not run by the State. He has also substantial interests in energy and telecommunications. In 1995, he was awarded the Irish GSM mobile phone licence, as a result of his corrupt payments to now disgraced energy and communications minister Michael Lowry. He also controls Independent News and Media, an Irish media conglomerate that owns newspapers across 22 countries and owns many Irish newspapers including the Irish Independent (oh why am I not surprised?). He has used this position to quash reporting of his financial affairs in the Irish media, in one case even forcing the Sunday Independent to stop mid-press to remove a single sentence that remove a single sentence identifying him as the controlling shareholder of INM.* He has also threatened to sue media outlets who reported on remarks made in Dáil Éireann (the Irish parliament) regarding his dealings with disgraced bank Anglo Irish which were made under Dáil privilege.
So why am I even writing about him? He’s a filthy rich asshat who looks like his mother cuts his hair. World’s full of them. One even looks more and more likely to become president of the United States with every passing day.
Okay America. Stop. It's not funny anymore.

Okay America. Stop. It was funny in the beginning, but you’re taking this too far.

Well because WWN published a satirical article entitled “Denis O’Brien Receives 20 Year Jail Sentence For Mobile Phone Licence Bribe in Parallel Universe”. O’Brien’s lawyers responded thought this was so hi-larious that they threatened WWN with legal action, forcing the site to remove the post.

Clearly, this can only mean one thing.

Denis O’Brien has won. That article, the last feeble gasp of defiance against his stranglehold on the Irish media has been quashed. That article shall never be seen by anyone again, and Denis O’Brien can rest easy knowing that he has triumphed totally and utterly and oh look here’s the entire thing courtesy of Imgur…

Oh well. I’m sure that was just a once off. A glitch it the system. Surely that article will never again resurface on the internet oh lord amercy there it is again…

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What a day, what a day, what a day…

A warning. What follows will be rambling, disjointed and emotional.

As I write this it’s half an hour passed ten on May 23rd, the morning after the referendum and since nine o’clock an army of dutiful citizens have been counting votes for the first election of its kind in the history of the world: a popular vote to allow marriage for our gay and lesbian countrymen. We were told we wouldn’t know until around three this afternoon. Turns out they didn’t need that long.

It was a walk. No contest.

Love took on the forces of bigotry, inertia, prejudice and fear and love kicked their asses like Captain America in an elevator.

Dublin went Yes by 75%. The victory was not a surprise, the margin was. But even in the rural areas, the “real” Ireland, it’s been a landslide.

Even Donegal, who usually vote against the rest of the country out of spite because they still don’t have trains, are 55% in favour.

The final tally is still being counted but we’re looking at 2:1 in favour.

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“If you met me, you’d never know.”

So. I’m bisexual.

And if you met me, you’d never know. You’d have no reason to suspect. For one, I’m happily married to my wife and have a daughter that we made with the usual method. And secondly, I work in theatre (well known to be the most macho of all professions). I rarely bring it up because, to be honest, it’s never really struck me as being that big of a deal. If you asked me to list all the words that define me as a person in order of importance, “bisexual” would be far, far down the list after husband, father, son, brother, writer, Irishman, Catholic*, blogger, Disney fan and tireless crusader for the abolition of the Oxford comma.

Your day will come, you tumour on the English language,you.

Your day will come, you tumour on the English language,you.

It’s like that for the vast majority of bisexuals, I think. We’re by far the most numerous of the LGB…T…Q…+ (Christ, you know you’re inclusive when your acronym is longer than most regular words) crowd and, weirdly, the least visible (especially guys). Most bisexuals tend to end up with a person of the opposite gender. Partially because of the tyranny of heteronormative oppression but mostly because of the tyranny of basic mathematics. In any given population around 47% will be women who like dudes and only 3% will be dudes who like dudes so…yeah, if gender is not a deal breaker for you either way the odds are you’re going to end up with someone from the other team.

Usually. Not Always.

And so we come to the topic that brings us together, today.

Mawidge

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An open letter to Ireland: Dear whiny bitches…

 

Dear Whiny Bitches,

How’ve you been? I am good. Let’s talk about that recent survey. You know the one? Recently something called the Good Country Index released a survey stating that Ireland was the “best” country in the world. Now, there’s a been a lot of confusion on this so first of all let’s just clarify that the survey was not necessarily the best place in the world to live, the survey was actually trying to measure which countries contribute most to the welfare of humanity (in stuff like global aid, peace-keeping, diplomacy, fighting climate change and so on) and which countries are dragging everyone else down. Now, I’ll admit I was surprised that we got the number one spot, not stunned, but surprised. But sure, we do give a lot of money to overseas aid and we’ve been involved in UN Peacekeeping missions since the early sixties so fine, okay, I don’t think we’re a crazy choice. Let’s talk about crazy, though.

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Reflections on the death of Savita Halappanavar

Hello everyone.

So, you may have noticed my country is in the news right now, and not in a good way. Firstly, to anyone who thinks it’s in questionable taste to tackle such a tragic and awful topic in what is usually a comedy blog, I don’t necessarily disagree. But this is the only blog I have and I need to talk about this.

If you don’t know what’s happened over here, this is what we know.

Savita Halappanavar was a 31 year old dentist who moved here to Ireland with her husband Praveen from her native India. Five months ago she was overjoyed to discover that she was pregnant, with a girl who she was going to name Prasa. Last month she presented in a hospital in Galway on October 21 with lower back pain. Savita was told by her doctors that she was miscarrying and that there was nothing that could be done to save her baby. Savita, now dilated and in intense pain, requested several times over two and a half days that the pregnancy be terminated but was told that this could not be done because the foetus still had a heartbeat and that under Irish law to terminate it while it was still alive would be illegal. It has been reported widely that one doctor told Savita (who was neither Irish nor Catholic) that this was because Ireland was a “Catholic country.”

Now…

We can’t really know what was going through that doctor’s head as he said that. Best case scenario he was giving Savita the broad, socio-historical reason for this law. Worst case scenario he just fell through a time vortex and he was from nineteen forty fucking three. On October 28 owing to complications from her miscarriage, Savita died.

The “Catholic Country” line has been getting a lot of play and as with anything involving abortion this whole thing has gotten very frenzied, very, very fast so a few things need to be clarified here. The question you are probably asking is “Why is it illegal in Ireland for a doctor to terminate a pregnancy where the mother’s life is at risk and there is no hope of saving the baby?”

The answer is: It isn’t. Sort of. Maybe. We’re not sure.

Ireland broke from the British empire in the early twenties at a time when over ninety percent of its population was devout Catholic. They got the country they wanted, an overwhelmingly Catholic one. Our constitution begins with an invocation of the Holy Trinity and it does specifically prohibit abortion. Now, that does not mean that an Irish woman who wants abortion can’t get one. Britain is a half hour plane journey away and thousands of Irish women take that flight every year. This is the archetypal “Irish solution to an Irish problem”.

However, following a rather horrific incident in 1992 known in Ireland as “Attorney General v. X” or more commonly as “The X Case” an Irish court ruled that exemptions to the ban on abortion could be made in cases where the life of the mother is at risk.

So it’s legal? So why did Savita die? Well, here’s the thing. Courts don’t make laws. The Dáil, the Irish legislature, has not yet gotten around to implementing the court’s ruling into Irish law fully twenty years after  The X Case, and the reason for that is that an Irish politician who ingests cyanide has healthier long term prospects than one who stakes a position on the abortion issue. It is utterly toxic here. And in fairness, it’s not entirely the fault of law makers. The Irish Medical Council has never issued concrete guidelines to its members as to when it is legal to perform a termination to save the life of the mother and when it is not. So the doctors are left in a state of paralysis. We have a court ruling that says it’s legal. We have laws still on the books that say it’s not. In practice it becomes a case of whether the doctor in question is willing to risk it or not.

I bring this up because as a result of that “Catholic Country” remark you may see a lot of “The Catholic Church killed Savita” threads. That’s not what happened. There is no evidence that the Catholic Church or any of its representatives played any part in the doctor’s decision not to grant Savita a termination. The Irish Catholic Church does not have the power to order doctors to perform or withhold medical procedures.

Ahem.

Anymore.

So yeah. It’s legal, except when it’s not, except when it is. Sort of. Maybe.

This week, Ireland’s highwire, gravity-defying, plate balancing act on the abortion issue has come crashing down in the most awful, spectacular and public way imaginable. Savita’s death has kicked off a political and social firestorm here in Ireland the likes of which I honestly cannot remember. The news first broke yesterday and by the evening of the same day there was a protest of over two thousand people outside Leinster House. My guess is that many Irish politicians in power today will not be by the time this thing has finally run its course. There is a palpable sense in the air that something is going to give. I have no doubt that Irish historians will be referring in the future to “Pre-Savita” and “Post-Savita” Ireland.

It may surprise you to learn that I consider myself pro-life. I accept that it is necessary in some circumstances, but in broad strokes the concept of abortion is repellent to me and I cannot get behind it. But, and this may seem a thuddingly obvious thing to say but it still needs to be said: This should not have happened. There was no moral, rational or medical argument to deny her a termination in those circumstances. If you are pro-life and think that what occurred was right and proper, consider that two people are dead instead of one. Prasa could not have been saved. Savita could have been.

Am I in favour of criminalization? No. Doesn’t work. Best case scenario it  moves it somewhere else like it does here in Ireland. Worst case scenario a whole load of women die in back alleys. I am in favour of comprehensive sex education, easy access to contraception and poverty reduction. You know, the stuff conservatives hate but that actually reduces the number of abortions.

In Ireland we have five national sports, gaelic football, hurling, camogie, hand ball and kicking the can down the road. But we’ve finally reached the end of the road. An innocent woman has died a horrible death because we couldn’t bring ourselves to look this issue in the face. Because we could not accept that sometimes the Right Thing is fucking horrible but it’s still right. That cannot happen again.

I did not know Savita Halappanavar. I cannot imagine the grief her husband and parents are going through now. When I try to imagine what it would be like to lose my wife like that my mind just digs its heels in and refuses to go there. It’s like putting your hand in a fire, you just can’t force yourself to do it. I did not know Savita Halappanavar, but I know that she was a unique individual. Of very few people can this be said:

Her death has left an entire nation transformed.

उसकी आत्मा को शाँति मिले       Solas na bhFlaitheas dá anam uasal