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Tag: Ireland

Kavanagh: The Irish writing racket

Thursday, 30 November, 2017 0 Comments

Today, we celebrate the 350th anniversary of the birth of that great satirist Jonathan Swift and today also marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the superb poet Patrick Kavanagh. That’s why our posts this week have commemorated these two significant figures in global and Anglo-Irish letters. To recap: On Monday, we had a joke by Swift; Tuesday, a poem by Kavanagh and yesterday we looked at Swift’s Drapier’s Letters, which still resonate in the turbulent relationship between England and Ireland that’s now being overshadowed by Brexit.

Swift and Kavanagh were Irish and both were men of letters, and it’s those two factors that have made them memorable and lucrative, despite the passage of time. The act of remembering them has many facets. There’s a Dean Swift bar in London, there’s a Patrick Kavanagh pub in Birmingham, there’s a guide to Dublin’s Literary Pubs and Emerald Isle Gifts does a steady trade with its “Famous Irish Writers” poster that includes Kavanagh and Swift, along with Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and James Joyce.

Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and James Joyce… They’re a blessing for the pub trade, they’re a boon for Irish tourism, they’re meat and potatoes for academia and they’re dead. Patrick Kavanagh couldn’t stand the hypocrisy of a country that forced its best writers into exile and then profited from the legacies and he took to the pages of Envoy in 1950 to condemn the racket.

Who Killed James Joyce?

Who killed James Joyce?
I, said the commentator,
I killed James Joyce
For my graduation.

What weapon was used
To slay mighty Ulysses?
The weapon that was used
Was a Harvard thesis.

How did you bury Joyce?
In a broadcast Symposium.
That’s how we buried Joyce
To a tuneful encomium.

Who carried the coffin out?
Six Dublin codgers
Led into Langham Place
By W. R. Rodgers.

Who said the burial prayers? –
Please do not hurt me –
Joyce was no Protestant,
Surely not Bertie?

Who killed Finnegan?
I, said a Yale-man,
I was the man who made
The corpse for the wake man.

And did you get high marks,
The Ph.D.?
I got the B.Litt.
And my master’s degree.

Did you get money
For your Joycean knowledge?
I got a scholarship
To Trinity College.

I made the pilgrimage
In the Bloomsday swelter
From the Martello Tower
To the cabby’s shelter.

Patrick Kavanagh (1904 – 1967)


Swift: The Brexit Letters

Wednesday, 29 November, 2017 0 Comments

Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate the 350th anniversary of the birth of the extraordinary satirist Jonathan Swift and the same day marks the 50th anniversary of the death of the great poet Patrick Kavanagh. That’s why our posts this week commemorate these two significant figures in global and Anglo-Irish letters. On Monday, we had a joke by Swift; yesterday, a poem by Kavanagh and today we’re back to Swift with political writing that’s still relevant. We’re talking Drapier’s Letters, the first of which was titled To the Shop-Keepers, Tradesmen, Farmers, and Common-People of Ireland.

Background: Drapier’s Letters is the title of seven pamphlets written between 1724 and 1725 by Jonathan Swift, the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. His aim was to provoke public opinion in Ireland against the imposition of privately minted copper coinage he believed to be of sub-standard quality. William Wood was granted letters patent to mint the coins, but Swift knew that the licensing was secured by a bribe of £10,000 to the Duchess of Kendal, mistress of King George I. Since this was a very politically sensitive subject, Swift wrote under the pseudonym M. B. Drapier, to protect himself from royal retribution.

Although the letters were condemned by the Irish government of the day, they inspired popular sentiment against Wood and this led to a nationwide boycott, which forced the patent to be withdrawn. Swift was treated as a hero for his defiance of British control over the Irish nation and many historians regard Drapier as a key figure in the creation of a “more universal Irish community”. Along with Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal, Drapier’s Letters are an essential component of Swift’s political writings.

If the Dean were with us today, what would he write about Brexit? And how would he represent Ireland in the negotiations that are so critical for the future of the islands he loved? Certainly, he would be much more eloquent than Phil Hogan, the Irish apparatchik in Brussels, and he would have choice words for the Lilliputians now governing Ireland with a dysfunctional coalition government. More than likely, however, Swift would have been roundly attacked by these Yahoos because, as he once said, “When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”


Swift joke: Bankers and lawyers in hell

Monday, 27 November, 2017 0 Comments

On Thursday here, we celebrate the 350th anniversary of the birth of the satirist Jonathan Swift and on the same day we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the poet Patrick Kavanagh. Therefore, the daily posts this week will commemorate these two significant figures in global and Anglo-Irish letters. First up is Swift, the most influential political commentator of his time, in both England and Ireland. His writings include some of the greatest works of satire in the English language and his poems and pamphlets display an extraordinary versatility in a range of genres. But before we examine his legacy, let’s have one of his jokes.

Swift told the one about a friend of a friend, a struggling writer, who had six brothers — three of them bankers and three of them lawyers. They prospered, but the writer didn’t and he died young and in reduced circumstances. Still, he was a decent man and had never harmed a fly so the expectation was that he’d go straight to Heaven. Imagine, then, his shock upon arriving in Hell. It was, however, a clerical error and once the Satanists discovered the mistake, they transferred him right up to Heaven.

“What was it like in Hell?” asked the curious Saint Peter.

“Oh, it was just like being at home,” answered the writer. “You couldn’t get near the fire for bankers and lawyers.”


Swift and Kavanagh week

Sunday, 26 November, 2017 0 Comments

On Thursday here, we’ll celebrate the 350th anniversary of the birth of the satirist Jonathan Swift and on the same day we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the poet Patrick Kavanagh. Accordingly, the daily posts here will commemorate these two significant figures in global and Anglo-Irish letters. Age before beauty, they say, so we’ll kick off tomorrow with Swift:

“And he gave it for his opinion, that whosoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.” Voyage to Brobdingnag, Jonathan Swift

But we’ll have Kavanagh on Tuesday:

“I always say to these here, marry the first man that asks you. There’s only three classes of men a woman should never marry — a delicate man, a drunken man, and a lazy man. I’m not so sure that the lazy man isn’t the worst.” Tarry Flynn, Patrick Kavanagh


I hear lake water lapping

Sunday, 5 November, 2017 0 Comments

Killarney

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

W. B. Yeats (1865 – 1939)


At Tally’s haunted pub

Saturday, 28 October, 2017 0 Comments

Well, it’s not haunted by any particular ghost that we know of, but it’s haunted in the sense that it represents the spectral remains of a vanishing rural Irish pub culture. The countryside is dotted now with these shuttered places and they are sad reminders of a more sociable past that’s been eroded by forces including migration, mobility, work, an ageing population, stricter penalties for driving while intoxicated and the availability of ultra-cheap alcohol in supermarkets.

Tally Bourke’s was notorious for its late hours and its oddities. When Tom Tobin got the job of installing shelving in the pub, he found that Tally housed her flock of hens behind the counter. The customers never complained, though. And they never objected to the lack of toilet facilities, either.

Tally Bourke'


Peadar O’Loughlin, RIP

Tuesday, 24 October, 2017 1 Comment

Born in the parish of Kilmaley in County Clare on 6 November 1929, Peadar O’Loughlin was a traditional musician’s musician. He happily shared his tunes with a younger generation, typified by Ronan Browne and Maeve Donnelly, eager to learn a style that was sparsely ornamented but powerfully rhythmic, and his playing, on fiddle, flute and pipes, reflected a gentle, generous personality that will be very much missed.


The wrath of Brian

Saturday, 21 October, 2017 0 Comments

“Storm Brian, a rapidly deepening depression in the mid-Atlantic, is expected to fill as it tracks over parts of Ireland late Friday night and early on Saturday.” — Met Éireann

Brian

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” — Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore


Ophelia and the disconnected

Wednesday, 18 October, 2017 0 Comments

The terms being used to describe Ophelia range from hurricane to cyclone to post-tropical storm. Regardless of the name, Ophelia did considerable damage in Ireland and more than 100,000 people are still without electricity as a result. Some of these reside in places well known to your blogger and this verse from Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson is dedicated to all those waiting in the cold and the dark for those blue crosses and pins to be removed by ESB repair crews.

And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

ESB outages


Never closer the whole rest of our lives

Tuesday, 5 September, 2017 0 Comments

When poets remember their mothers, they portray the complexities of a relationship in which the mother is both intimately known and yet oddly mysterious. In Seamus Heaney’s sequence Clearances, written in memory of his mother, he includes a sonnet about the beautiful ordinary moments that happened while he and his mother peeled potatoes in the kitchen. The silences are broken by “pleasant splashes” of water as the potatoes drop into a bucket.

But the next sounds we hear are of sobbing and of murmured prayers: “some were responding and some crying”. As his mother dies, Heaney recalls the peeling of those potatoes “when all the others were away at Mass” and “our fluent dipping knives — Never closer the whole rest of our lives.” The beauty of that moment is heartbreaking.

In memoriam M.K.H., 1911 – 1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives —
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Picking the potatoes


The Pattern Day in Ballylanders

Tuesday, 15 August, 2017 0 Comments

Today is the Pattern Day as the 15th of August is still called in some parts of rural Ireland. Despite all the signs of the country’s secularization, people will journey the “holy well” in Ballylanders for the Pattern observances that echo a disappeared world and this brings us to The Irish Countryman, a book that allows us to contrast the Ireland of today with that of 80 years ago.

When the young Harvard-trained anthropologist Conrad Arensberg arrived in Ireland in 1935, he was a man with a plan. “Like Caesar we divide our Gaul,” he wrote and proceeded to treat the country as four regions, more spiritual than geographical. The first was “the seat of an age-old tradition, of the remains of a once brilliant Celtic civilization.” The second was one “some among the nationalists dislike” because “It is the Ireland of the merry and happy-go-lucky present” that revealed a “talkative, mercurial, witty people.” Arensberg’s third Ireland was a “grimmer land”:

“It is a sober, hard-working land of minute towns and small farms upon a soil not always grateful. It is a land of hard realities. This Ireland is subject to hot flashes of anger and dispute which throw into relief deep-lying hatreds and fierce loyalties… This is the Ireland of bitter economic fate and political unrest. Much of this can be laid at England’s door, but not all.”

The anthropologist’s fourth Ireland was “the land of the devout, where word and deed breathe a religious fervour which most of us have forgotten. This is the land of holy wells and pilgrimages and roadside shrines… To many of us, perhaps a paradox lies here. Fierce love of political liberty goes hand in hand with a deep devotion to the most authoritarian of Christian creeds.”

Conrad Arensberg was not the only visitor to be perplexed by a country where “a puritanical morality” coexisted with “the hilarity of the race meeting.” That was then. Or was it? In the 80 years since he explored Ireland, the country has moved from being a rural to an urban society, from an agrarian to a post-industrial economy. As a result, those “doing the rounds” of the holy well in the Ballylanders graveyard today will be accompanied by a soundscape of mumbled prayers and purring smartphones. Conrad Arensberg would not have been surprised, though, because as he wrote in the conclusion of The Irish Countryman, “the chief expression of traditional social life is calling the countrymen together through a whole countryside for a re-enactment, both solemn and gay, of their sentiments about their fellows and about their view of life and death and destiny.”

Getting ready for the Pattern