Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Jackie Kyle and Oscar Wilde

A friend invited me to a sports award dinner in the Burlington Hotel last night. A black tie affair attended by a large number of mostly male business folk and a good smattering of our leading sports figures - past and present. We had Deirdre Ryan the long jumper at our table - a graceful and charming woman who would do credit to a catwalk. Rugby was well in evidence with Paul O'Connell and Gordon D'Arcy representing the present and the likes of Michael Gibson, Jack Kyle, and Ray McLoughlin reminding us of the past. The newly minted pundit Alan Quinlan was looking fit and well - and attracting a lot of admirers - mostly male. Eamon Coughlan and Ronnie Delaney were also there and lots of old boxers and GAA stars. Giovanni Trappatoni was at the next table being closely supervised by the oleaginous John Delaney. And I had Bill Cullen and his Apprentice team at the table behind me - like a mafia don with his attendants.

I tried to avoid bothering anyone who didn't fall into my immediate orbit but I must confess I did make a special effort to say hello to the great Jack Kyle. It's hard to believe this small spry personable man is actually 85. He could not have been friendlier and we spoke for around 30 minutes about all manner of things. When I made some reference to my interest in art he launched into an anecdote about a Dan O'Neill painting that he once owned. He had it hanging in his house in Zambia for years and when the frame fell apart he brought it into a local framer to get fixed. While in there it was spotted by a British art dealer and he was offered £30,000 for it. He took the money but you felt he still regretted it. He then got talking about Oscar Wilde and lamenting the fact that two such great Irishmen as Wilde and Sir Edward Carson should end up on opposite sides in a court room. He launched into a word perfect rendition of a substantial chunk of the The Ballad of Reading Gaol: "for each man kills the thing he loves ...". He went on to heap praise on De Profoundis and bemoan the sad fate suffered by Wilde.

As we were saying goodbye he confided in me that he was delighted to get an opportunity to talk about something other than rugby and promised we'd discuss Yeats the next time we met. I had to go and spoil things then by asking him which of his two great scrum half partners he preferred to play with, John O'Meara or Andy Mulligan. His answer was masterfully diplomatic. He maintained that O'Meara had the quicker pass and so gave him more time do things. Mulligan on the other hand took pressure off him by making regular breaks and kicking more. He seemed fond of both of them telling me that he had visited O'Meara last year shortly before he died, and recounting an anecdote about when Mulligan applied for a job and was asked what religion he was. His response was "what religion do you want me to be?". As I headed home he was still there going strong in the middle of an admiring throng. A true gentleman.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

These lines from Auden's poem In Memory of W B Yeats could also apply to Christopher Hitchens. He was infuriating, politically inconsistent, an intellectual bully boy, and a great harbourer of grudges but above all else he was a wonderful lively writer.

I'm in the middle of his recent book of essays (Arguably) and as usual with Hitchens finding it entertaining and annoying in equal measures. i used to admire unconditionally his colourful writing and his political polemics but found myself going off him in recent years. His tiresome backing of G.W. Bush and the Iraq invasion long after the rest of the world had seen it for the debacle it was diminished his standing in most reasonable peoples' eyes. Before that there was his shameful involvement in the Monica Lewinsky affair. He gave evidence against Clinton to a Senate committee - siding with the monstrous Kenneth Starr. What was it with him and Clinton? The sustained vehemence of his attacks suggested something personal - maybe a Washington social slight. When writing on other subjects he would frequently drag in an unflattering allusion to Clinton. Most peculiar. I also found his uncritical admiration of Martin Amis a bit mawkish. No one's that perfect - a lot of what he writes about him, especially in Hitch 22, comes perilously close to gushing. Amis's view of Hitchens fell far short of adoration. He saw the talent for rhetoric and disputation but also saw the flexible principles and the tendency to take things personally.

And yet he wrote beautifully and sympathetically about Philip Larkin and other literary figures such as Betjamin, Waugh (lost on me) and George Orwell.

i saw him at the Gate Theatre a few years ago - around the time God is not Great was published. He was doing PR for his book and the event was a debate with God botherer John Waters, chaired by Brenda Power. It rapidly descended into a one man show. Power was plainly in thrall to Hitchens and gave him free rein. Waters was strangely muted and never got a blow in. To avoid embarrassment at a palpable mismatch Power moved quickly to a Q and A session. This descended into farce as Hitchen's response to any awkward question was "fuck off, next question". Charming stuff. Maybe he'd had a long lunch.

You have to admire the way he dealt with his final illness - filing what will be a posthumous article for Vanity Fair in which he challenges Nietzsche's dictum that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Not his best but certainly his bravest.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reasons to Get Mad - Part 1

1. The energetic foisting of the debased currency that is Kevin Cardiff on Europe - rewarding failure again.
2. A universal property tax that charges the same for a cottage and a castle.
3. Enda addresses the nation on austerity and then pushes the salary of an erstwhile minion above the limit he specified. A Haughey moment for which he won't be forgiven.
4. A budget that saw high-earners untouched and those in trouble pushed deeper in the mire.
5. The big lie that is the Croke Park agreement. If you believe in public sector reform then you probably believe in the tooth fairy as well. It's all about leaving senior civil servants untouched. The rest is blather.
6. Allowing Fingleton and Fitzpatrick to walk the streets blithely.
7. And of course the big one: The brazen effrontery of a government asking tax payers to bail out the bankers and property goons who gambled us into this mess. And consequently the steady undermining of our independence and our bank balances.

And if all that isn't bad enough we have Gay Byrne back on TV and radio as if he'd never retired.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Arthur Koestler

I've just finished Michael Scammell's surely definitive biography of Arthur Koestler, one of the great intellectual heroes of the 20th Century. It's a warts and all job with particular emphasis on Koestler's relentless womanising. He liked to operate from a domestic base so he was always living with one woman while he chased the others. But he was as relentless in the pursuit of truth and political justice as he was in chasing a well-turned ankle. It's remarkable the number of great events in European history he was involved in. He was an early Zionist and travelled to Palestine in the early 1920's to support the burgeoning Israel (but found the physical labour on a kibbuz not to his taste); he was Spain during the Spanish Civil War (narrowly escaping execution) and was in France when the Nazis invaded.

He saw through Stalin long before most of European intellectuals (such as Sartre) and his most famous novel (Darkness at Noon) did much to open people's eyes to the monster in the East. His campaign against capital punishment in England led to its eventual abolition, his articles in the Observer and his book Reflections on Hanging were hugely influential. Eventually he became disillusioned with politics and turned his attention to science. My favourite book of his is The Sleepwalkers, an accessible study of the history of cosmology that brought you into the worlds of Kepler, Galileo, Copernicus and Tycho Brae. A book I'm sure John Banville read before he started his novels on Kepler and Copernicus. I also enjoyed The Act of Creation, a study of the origins of creativity. Late in life he got into trouble with the Jewish lobby for having the temerity to suggest that the European Jews that emigrated to Palestine may have descended from the Khazars rather than from one of the 12 tribes of Israel. He also dabbled with parapsychology - an interest that did much to diminish his later reputation.

When his health deteriorated (he had Parkinson's amongst other ailments) he committed suicide along with his much younger (and healthier) wife Cynthia. He got much abuse for apparently dragging her into it but anyone reading of her long-term devotion to him would not have surprised at her willingness to join him.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ruminations on the Art Market

I attended the de Vere art auction in the D4 hotel yesterday evening to take the current temperature of the market. There was a modest crowd - around 170 I'd estimate and a smaller number of lots than usual (127). The estimates for the work were very modest indeed - in general less than 50% of their value during the boom. The auction houses are pricing to sell - forgetting their erstwhile clients who bought for investment. A Felim Egan that sold for €10K about four years ago was estimated at €3K to €5K (although it actually went for €7K), and a large Gwen O'Dowd (42 x 53 inches) at a paltry €800 to €1,200. So bargains to be had.

The market has definitely got more refined and discerning. Bad paintings by well-known artists are not selling and buyers are mostly sticking to the lower end of the estimates. A high percentage of work (around 30%) was unsold - much of it dross. Some highlights: Dan O'Neill was strong, King and Queen going for €27K (€7K above lower estimate) and Jessica for €14K (€4K above lower estimate); a bucolic piece by Frank McKelvey got €20K (€6K above); two standard Paul Henrys just about made their reserves of €60K and €70K; Gerard Dillon was weak and a 3 of his pieces didn't sell; an exquisite Conor Fallon horse in polished steel (the star of the show for me) went for €13K (€6K above lower estimate); the uneven Sean McSweeny and the uneven Tony O'Malley got uneven prices and Teskey and Shinnors hung in there just above their estimates. But the large Gwen O'Dowd painting from her Grand Canyon series at €800 was the bargain of the show. She may not be pleased but the buyer certainly was.

The image above is Dan O'Neill's Jessica.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Gillian Welch at the Grand Canal Theatre

My first visit to the Grand Canal Theatre and I'm impressed. Easy car park access, helpful staff, decent sized bar (designed for interval drinks), roomy seats, and great acoustics and sight lines. I would be happy to attend a play, a lecture, or a classical music event here - but it's way too staid for the kind of music Gillian Welch plays. She needs Whelan's or at worst the Olympia to do justice to the mixture of country, blues, folk and bluegrass she delivers. Shit kicking music needs a grungy venue. At an early stage she chided the crowd for being subdued - a valid complaint but the blame lies with the formal layout of the venue.

But that's a mere quibble for this was the best gig I've seen in Dublin since the last Ry Cooder one. Having been unwell lately I was a bit disgruntled and self-absorbed but I was soon lifted out of it. She ranged over her back catalogue for two hours or so without putting a cowboy-booted foot wrong. I'd mention highlights except every song seemed a highlight - maybe Elvis Presley Blues and Time the Revelator or her haunting version of Neil Young's Pocahontas. Her pellucid voice and her seamless harmonies with her cowboy hatted partner Dave Rawlings were accompanied by some tasty guitar from both of them and the odd banjo interlude. She kept up a charming patter between songs and even treated us to a bit of tap dancing. Great show.

And by the way its Gillian as in gill rather than Jill.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How Infinitely Tedious ...

I for one was hoping that our team of boring well-organised journeymen would not qualify for Euro 2012. But having ingloriously dragged themselves out of a group containing such luminaries as Andorra, Albania and Macedonia they managed to see off the might of Estonia in the playoffs. Glory days eh. In the days when I gave a shit about soccer I watched them beat England and Italy.

The national frenzy has already begun and will continue unabated until the end of next summer. Already we've had a Credit Union official on the radio telling the aspirant dolts how they can garner the readies to facilitate their lumpen meanderings through Poland or the Ukraine. The country is heading for the abyss, the new government is avoiding any radical solutions (don't affront the civil service unions), and by the way we seem to have lost our sovereignty, but our boys in green are oblivious.

Maybe they are encouraged by the excessive soccer coverage on all media. There's a whole fleet of journalists out there trying to justify their existence by pontificating on what's a very simple game really. Chief amongst them is Johnny Giles who's special gift is for stating, at tedious length, the bleeding obvious. But he's not alone - there's a standing army of ex-players who vie with each other to inherit his mantle. Their common qualities seem to be a complete absence of wit, a limited vocabulary, and an ability to make a mountain out of a molehill. Step in Ron, Phil, Ronnie, and even St. Paul. The only one worth listening to is Graham Taylor - Newstalk's European correspondent - and he's got the inestimable advantage of seeing Messi play every week.

Fie on't.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Vue at the RHA: Observations

All creatures great and small from the Irish art scene turned up last Thursday at the RHA for Vue - a showcase for the leading contemporary Irish art galleries, not to be confused with the decidedly inferior Art Fair at the RDS. The attendance included Frank B. and the immaculately turned out Michael, Eamon the journalist, Campbell B. looking more spry than I've seen him for a while, Suzanne, Ger with fez, that tall languid guy with the long floppy grey hair, Mary late of the Hallward, big Eoin from IMMA, and of course J. (looking out for someone more important than the person she's talking to).

It seemed more a social than a selling scene - there was a huge turnout and a great buzz, but a definite dearth of red spots. The Taylor Gallery just inside the entrance to the main room seemed to belie this impression as they displayed five or six sold pieces - these however turned out to be tiny David Quinn works at €130 each. What a falling off was here from the halcyon days of Le Brocquy and O'Malley at their peak pulling power.

Moving on from the Taylor stand we came to the Rubicon Gallery which seemed to focus exclusively on Donald Teskey - not a bad thing I'd say. They were doing a roaring trade in his beautiful book of Connemara images (Donald gamely signing and schmoozing). The the stand displayed a fine selection of his oils, etchings and watercolours. You'd be forgiven for thinking that it was a gallery devoted to the work of one artist - but you wouldn't of course say this within hearing of the formidable Josephine lest a basilisk's retribution ensue. Two of the most impressive displays were the print works available from the Graphic Studio and the Stoney Road Press. In both cases the late lamented Bill Crozier's work loomed large but they had a lot more on offer. Nearby the Oliver Sears space was dominated by a fine Joseph Walsh glass-topped table on which I had to deter a couple of bibulous art matrons from depositing their glasses.

The amiable Paul Kane, looking a tad wan and fatigued, was attracting the very large gay vote. I like the way he pitches his prices but he desperately needs to look at his cheap and tatty labeling. A small thing but significant in a visually sophisticated milieu. The Kerlin was represented by a shorn David who is now looking to the burgeoning art scene in Abu Dhabi. Most galleries are now looking abroad for sales (especially London and New York) but this was a new one on me. Around the corner was Nicholas Gore-Grimes from the Crosse Gallery looking absurdly young. He's recently performed a cull on his stable of artists that included the fragrant Siobhan McDonald and the doughty Bridget Flannery. including the doughty Bridget Flannery. "Good for them and good for me" he reckoned.

Other things to catch my eye were a fine Le Brocquy etching of Seamus Heaney on sale at the IMMA stand for a mere €1,200; and a striking red heart-shaped organic piece by Eilis O'Connell.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Charlie Tyrrell Comes Clean at the RHA

A curious event at the RHA last Wednesday. The amiable Pat Murphy accompanied Charlie Tyrrell around his exhibition and discussed his influences and his methods of working. An unusual insight into the inner sanctum of an artist - and surprising that it came from the famously testy and rigorous Tyrrell.

While nobody was so crass as to mention the challenging nature of Tyrrell's severe abstraction, you did feel that Pat Murphy was struggling for a foothold when he pointed to a horizontal line on one piece and suggested that this could be seen as a horizon line and thus represent the influence of landscape on the work. To Tyrrell's credit he played down this influence - saying that while he "leaves the door open to landscape" he doesn't welcome it in. He did concede that it may subconsciously intrude. He also declared a passion for grey that is influenced by "the grey of West Cork in November". He eschews realism and declared that he is a believer in the "complete contrivance of painting". He also spoke of the importance of "absolute finish", getting it right, citing Titian as an exemplar. You can see this is his perfectly honed images and immaculately presented work - down to the well-crafted wooden boxes in which his aluminium pieces are delivered.

Tyrrell never uses brushes: he just "ploughs on the paint" and then scrapes it off with Japanese spatulas. He wants to break away from the notion of easel painting. Layering and scraping he uncovers his images. "There's a minimalist in me" he declares and cites Donald Judd as an influence. I wouldn't argue wit that - even his titles these days are minimal (C6.10 etc.).

Rancid Ruminations - October 2011

So the polls are saying Gallagher for president - how can such a thing be. He's a Fianna Fail-er for God's sake. It's the clearest possible indication that most people now see us as an economy rather than a nation. Give the creature a job in the Department of Enterprise - where his apparent entrepreneurial wizardry can be of use. It is irrelevant in the Aras. Higgins declaiming his poetry is a better fit.

The establishment campaign against McGuinness continues apace. I notice that chubby girl who writes fluff about her family in the Irish Times has joined in - see last Saturday's paper.

Interesting Rugby World Cup final. The southern hemisphere referee Joubert made sure that the hosts prevailed by leaving them unpenalized for gross offences (high tackles, offsides, handling on the ground etc.) while punishing France for lesser ones. Both sides were magnificent in defence and it could have gone either way.

I for one find unseemly all the crowing about Ghadaffi's death - especially considering the brutal manner of it. And do we really need to see all those appalling video clips on national television. The sick and prurient can gloat over them on YouTube.

You have to give the Israelis credit for at least being consistent in their judgements on the relative value of an Israeli and a Palestinian life. The swapping of Gilad Shalit for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners is the most dramatic statement of the perceived disparity in value.

It ill behoves us to take anything Gay Byrne says seriously but his recent ejaculation about RTE stars deserving their enormous salaries because of their lack of job security really bates Banagher. We are stuck with most of them for life: Pat, Ryan, Auntie Marian, Joe, even Gay himself until he retired (or did he?). The only way you lose your job there is if you die like Gerry Ryan.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Presidential Farce

Who really cares - aside from the media and a few concerned fools in the political parties? I do believe that the general public's interest is being artificially stimulated by a media desperate for a story other than the continuing one about the deep economic shit we're in. And the bloody candidates, God protect us.

Dana: A faded pop singer with old-fashioned family values and strong religious beliefs. Light weight and ludicrous.

Gay Mitchell: A Fine Gael shill without an ounce of gravitas - and old-fashioned right-wing views. Even his own party have disowned him. It's now dawning on them that the vote they got in the General Election was a protest vote against Fianna Fail and not an indication of new Fine Gael loyalists.

David Norris: Please shut up. All bluster, bombast and bonhomie. I don't care about the pleading letters - loyalty and forgiveness are excellent qualities - it's his perpetual showing off and attention seeking I find tiresome.

Mary Davis: Those air-brushed posters, dear oh dear. She should have embraced her essential crone and we would have been more charmed. I'm sure she would make a presentable president but I remain suspicious of all those favours she got from Fianna Fail governments.

Sean Gallagher: All square-jawed testosterone and economic solutions. He'd make a great candidate for the Apprentice but not for president.

Michael D.: Sound as a bell on most issues. Is he a bit frail at this stage? He has the Irish and the poetic inclinations - a touch maybe of the Cearbhall Ó Dálaighs. And he may prove equally obdurate if matters of principle arise. Should win.

Martin McGuinness: The shadow of a gun man. He knows he can't win but he's a stalking horse for Sinn Fein's ambitions in the south and anything close to 20% of the vote will be seen as a huge success. He is also the only candidate who doesn't concur with the cosy economic consensus.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Dark End of the Street

I've always been drawn to the darker side of art as any visitor to my house will attest. The current exhibition (Black and White) at the Oliver Sears Gallery takes me right where I want to be - to the dark end of the street. There is a hardly a dud piece in this outstanding show but the moody presence of Robert Motherwell's Elegy looms large over everything else. It lives up to Motherwell's own description of it as "a funeral song for something one cared about". See it and weep - then stay and admire the rest of the show. The other pieces that struck me were a small troubling Diane Arbus, an unusual black and white Hughie O'Donoghue, a gloriously explicit Picasso drawing, and an elegant, immaculately crafted Joseph Walsh table. The latter's order and decorum seemed incongruous amidst the brooding chaos of most of the other work.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

McGuinness is Good for You

I welcome the entry of Martin McGuinness into a presidental race dominated by media goons and political shills. At the very least he provides a radical alternative to the predictable views of the Labour and Fine Gael candidates. This country needs a new outfit – not a retailoring of the worn out Fianna Fail suit (take in the trousers, fix the holes in the pockets etc.). We all know that Fine Gael will not touch the bankers, and Labour will do nothing to discomfit the upper echelons of the public service. So combined in government they adhere to Fianna Fail policy on those rotten boroughs.

Fintan O’Toole (Irish Times, 20th Sep) joins the predictable establishment assault on McGuinness and certainly scores a point with his assertion about civilian casualties in the North. This may give pause to those who would point to War of Independence parallels and see McGuinness as a modern version of Michael Collins. But we must not forget the murky civil rights landscape in the North that was transformed following the activities of McGuinness and the IRA and the subsequent peace process he did so much to facilitate.

He may not win the prize but I suspect he will make it a far more interesting contest.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rancid Ruminations - September 2011

- A perfect Auntie Marian moment on RTE1 this morning. During a discussion on Sarah Palin's alleged affair with a black basketball player one of her panel opined that you couldn't even call it an affair as neither were married at the time, so it was merely what people do before they get married (i.e. screw around). Finucane's response: "well what some people do".

- Demented polemicist and Bush lover Christopher Hitchens gets a fine skewering from Fintan O'Toole in today's Observer:
He initially compares Hitchens to George Orwell and then proceeds to show the many ways he differs, including some ugly espousals of Enoch Powell's views on immigration and Empire nostalgic guff about the English language. He also scoffs at Hitchens' embracing of the US as the new Anglophone empire - replacing his beloved British Empire. Bracing stuff. Hitchens writes well, there's no doubt, but that's not enough to forgive him his unpleasant views.

- Beware all visits to the doctor. I ambled into my GP last Friday afternoon looking for a prescription to clear up a minor sinus problem. He did the usual tests and finding something a bit dodgy sent me to the nearest A & E for a few tests. Without boring you with the details (well let's say I don't recommend arterial blood tests), I suddenly found myself in the intensive care unit, wedged between a man evidently dying from cancer (and making desperate attempts to get out of bed festooned with drips and leads), and a young junkie suffering from a stab wound with a very uninhibited hawking habit. The reason I knew all about them was that only thin curtains separated us and the doctors made no attempt at discretion as they talked with them and about them. I managed to free myself the next day after a discussion with a very impressive consultant (tall, handsome, articulate, debonair and free from arrogance and bullshit - sounded English or maybe colonial). He told me the facts, and the odds, and left the decision up to me.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

A Social Predicament I Hope I Never Have to Deal with Again

My late August tour de France was spoiled by a severe chest infection that rendered me incapable of enjoying the delights of the local cuisine and sampling the wines of the Bordeaux region. I limped home a few days early to lick my wounds – and to prepare emotionally and physically for the encounter in Croke Park. A heavy-duty dose of antibiotics renders you depleted for quite a time afterwards and in retrospect perhaps my social comeback at Croke Park came a bit early. I suppose I should have taken it easy on the drink. There were the two pints in anticipation of the game, and the three pints for consolation afterwards. And then of course a bottle of wine with dinner.

Anyway I woke Monday morning (after a restless night) very sick indeed and getting up was not an option. Nor was it an option on Tuesday: my sinuses were blocked, my throat ached, my head throbbed, my tongue stung with a spiteful ulcer, and a dodgy tooth added to my grief. Another sleepless night followed with the malevolent tooth reigning supreme. I managed to get an emergency appointment with my dentist on Wednesday. She declared I had an abscess and despite my equivocations decided she had to get to work immediately. This involved much digging deep amongst the nerves. Traumatic.

I resolved to get back to bed immediately but as I was out of reading matter I decided on a quick visit to Hodges Figgis in town. Coming out of the bookshop with the latest Franzen I began to feel decidedly light-headed. I hadn’t eaten a thing all day, nor even had a coffee, so I headed for Fixx on the corner of Molesworth Street and Dawson Street. I ordered a coffee and pastry and barely made it to a seat – so faint was I. The place was packed and I found myself perched between two burly middle-aged guys.

I was relieved I had made it without fainting but the fun was only just starting. I took a sip of the black coffee and a bite of a croissant and then seemed to slip into some kind of reverie. It was quite pleasant and amusing at first and I remember chortling a bit. Then very abruptly it turned very nasty and I recall being dragged backwards by some malevolent and implacable force – I was aware of two bright red orbs and also of the extreme frenzy that accompanied this undoubtedly terminal attack. Then nothing. I came around after I don’t know how long. My coffee was still hot but my two flankers had disappeared. I looked around - nobody seemed to have noticed my predicament. There was cold sweat streaming down my face, and horrible relatu, something luke-warm dribbling down my leg. The horror. Luckily I hadn’t drunk anything that day so the volume was low and my trousers were up to absorbing it. But how to escape. Should I call the staff and say I’ve had an accident. The right thing to do of course but the social consequences (a crowded city centre restaurant) far outweighed the harm an encounter with a drop of urine would cause their customers. Should I attempt to dab my seat dry with the napkins that abounded. I pondered awhile. It was raining heavily outside – in such circumstances a wet seat is not unusual. I rose quickly and shuffled out into the companionable rain. My car was nearby, thankfully, I judiciously placed a plastic bag on the front seat and struggled home. Into the shower and back to the bed again - with what's proving to be the excellent Franzen novel.

I may get up tomorrow.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Cats Mistreat Pussies

Tipperary were a disgrace. From the first whistle they allowed themselves to be physically intimidated by a fired up Kilkenny team. The extreme laissez-faire attitude of the referee aided Kilkenny's tactics. That malign homunculus Tommy Walsh was so busy hitting everyone within reach that he democratically included the ref himself - whose smashed nose caused a lengthy delay but resulted in no attempt to impose a bit of restraint on the brute physicality that prevailed. But Kilkenny didn't just win the physical exchanges, they won the tactical battle as well. They allowed Tipp no room to develop their elegant attacking gambits. They hustled and tackled with more intensity, and seemed to win all the fifty fifty balls - the spring-heeled hatchet man Walsh excelling in this area. They were just plain hungrier and that can't be summoned up from the sideline. At no stage did I feel that Tipp could win and so left the ground disappointed but with no sense that we deserved anything better. I'm sure as the team scatters to Thurles, Toomevara, Mullinahone and the more bucolic hamlets everyone of them is feeling the remorse of not doing himself justice. Ryan must take some blame also. It was obvious this whirlwind was coming and his men seemed ill-prepared to counter it.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Cody's Conundrum

Cody wants this one so badly he can taste it. It’s visceral. And a win alone will hardly suffice. He wants to slaughter these upstarts. They had the temerity to halt the run of the greatest team in history. He burns to show that last year was a mere aberration, due mainly to King Henry being hors de combat. He also wants to deal with the heresy that Kilkenny are being supplanted by another great team, or even, whisper it, a greater team. Then he can retire with an impregnable reputation.

But he is taking a gamble with his legacy, he could have retired in glory last year. If Kilkenny lose again this time it will take some luster off their reputation (and his) and people will begin to speak of Tipp in the exalted way they had been speaking of Kilkenny. ("That was a great Kilkenny team but not a patch on the Tipp team that followed them.") So pay attention Declan Ryan in Clonoulty. They will come at you like a whirlwind in the first quarter and if you don’t withstand them you are doomed. Start like you did against Dublin and you are truly doomed. And keep the bloody ball away from Tommie Walsh. And please bring on Brendan Maher earlier this time.

This young and still improving Tipp team have matched Kilkenny in the last two All-Irelands. Two years ago they realized that Kilkenny are not unbeatable. Who will be more motivated? Cody and Kilkenny raging against the dying of the light, or the new kids on the block full of confidence and still retaining an edge of bitterness about the one that got away two years ago.

I think that Tipp have grown into a great team and that they will prove it on Sunday. But it will be close. A few bob on the draw at 11-1 mightn’t be a bad idea. But Tipp to win the replay!

Post script: The forecast rain may suit Kilkenny better. Maybe I should take that 6-4 against Kilkenny offered by Paddy Power as insurance.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Here's a Quare One for You

Touring the Bourdeaux region of France recently chasing wines that were good but inexpensive, or not too bad and not too expensive. This proved to be an impossible task: the cheap ones are pure poison and you have to pay way more than I consider reasonable for anything I consider drinkable. Still it was nice to visit Saint Julien and Paulliac and to travel through the famous chateaux like Lynch-Bages, Leoville-Las-Cases and all the other shining stars of the Haut-Medoc.

But this is not the point of my story. As I was doing my leisurely thing with the girls, I was struck down with a spectacular chest infection, complete with acute sinusitis, strep throat, and a host of streaming purulent side effects. I didn't sleep for 5 days and ensured that anyone in a room with me didn't either as I coughed, snorted, snuffled and moaned. Every hour or so I would repair to the bathroom to do maintenance on my poor afflicted snout. I had intended to visit my French-based daughter and her family who were on holiday 40 miles down the coast of Bordeaux - near the Dune du Pyla. Instead I took to the bed in a hotel outside Bourdeaux and she decided to come to me instead. The hotel was set in extensive grounds, with a veritable forest surrounding it - bear this fact in mind. The morning of their visit I arose from my sweaty couch to visit the girls who were working on their tans by the swimming pool. I assured them I was still alive and then retired to the seclusion of the woods to make a private phone call. Ok I was ringing Paddy Power to back a rare Roger Charlton runner at Deauville (Definightly in a Group 3). I found a friendly tree stump in the heart of the wooded area and performed my discreet transaction. i stayed a while in sylvan seclusion brooding on my plight then returned to my sick bed.

My daughter and her two lively sons and more restrained husband arrived a couple of hours later. I stayed abed until dinner when I joined them. They had been set loose in the grounds of the hotel for the afternoon and one of them returned to the adults by the pool with a set of car keys which he had found by an old tree stump in an obscure corner of the woods. These just happened to my car keys, which for reasons mysterious, I had been carrying around with me as I did my earlier business. I'd obviously laid them down by the tree stump as I engaged telephonically with Paddy Power. What are the odds? The kids could have stayed by the pool, the woods were extensive, I had no knowledge the keys were even missing.

Consider the implications of being in the middle of France in a laden car with no keys - or no code or alternative set available in Ireland. I assume I would have had to set up a joint AA/SAAB initiative with all the multifareous hassle and expense that entailed - and me a very sick man. Definightly came second at Deauville but maybe I had used up my luck already.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What a Load of Rubbish

On the way from Cherbourg to Bordeaux I stop off at the charming and characterful (Chateau, Cathedral, old town etc.) town of Vitre. I stay in an eccentric little hotel which seems to be run by a retired prostitute and her poodle. In fact aspects of the hotel, large circular baths, discreet side entrance and liberal guest policy (I sat next to a Great Dane at breakafast, and many of the guests had dogs sleeping in their rooms), suggest it may have been a brothel in an earlier incarnation. But it was cheap, clean and very friendly. I was just sorry I didn't have my dogs with me.

Walking around the town later I was impressed by the cleanliness, the plentiful public toilets and the general air of a place that cares for its citizenry. Their rubbish bin operation, which I came upon in action (see image: street level bin on top of large tank being emptied), was the most impressive aspect however. All around the town were what looked like standard issue rubbish bins. However below each bin was a very large subterranean storage tank into which rubbish placed in the bin dropped. Instead of having to clear (or not) overflowing bins daily, the well organised local government had to do so once a week at most I reckon. Now Vitre is a modest town in the poorer part of Brittany (a decent two-bedroom house costs €200K). Isn't it a wonder that our well-travelled local governments aren't able to come up with a comparably elegant solution to our rubbish problems.

Dublin versus Tipperary: The All-Ireland Hurling Semi-final

There are I’m sure many different routes and routines employed by people for big matches in Croke Park. If I’m in company we’ll drive to the Gravedigger’s in Glasnevin, enjoy a brace of pints there, leave the car and walk down to Croke Park along the Canal.

On my own I’m inclined to leave the car at home and take the DART to Connolly Station. There I join the crowds wending their way the 20 minutes or so to the ground. I normally come out of Connolly, head North and turn left at the Five Lamps – as most people do. This time I took a different route, turning left earlier on Lower Buckingham Street and heading slightly uphill to where it joins Summerhill. Buckingham Street is an unreconstructed old Dublin slum – we’re back in the tenements. There are a few opportunists using rolled up newspapers (a nice anachronistic touch) to guide people into parking spots on the upper end of the street – but only the terminally naïve or totally lost succumb.

I have heard rumours (well actually John Leahy) that the Tipp supporters are staying at home until the final – the Kerry Complaint. Empirical evidence suggests otherwise. In fact there seem to be more Tipp than Dublin supporters about.

It’s a tiring walk and a hot day so I am glad to reach the stadium and enjoy a pint bottle of Bulmers. By the way, there always seems to be more than a pint in those bottles – and it’s not the ice because I always refuse it. The crowd is more gregarious than a rugby crowd and I strike up conversations with a various characters – a blocky opinionated red-haired Dublin club hurler and an old snedger with extreme BO from Thurles – both knowledgeable and passionate about their teams. It’s an older crowd generally. There is a preponderance of late middle-aged men.

In all sporting contests where teams are reasonably equal you have to ask who is going to bring the greater intensity, who is more motivated, more cranked up. In this match it’s obviously Dublin. They are missing some key players and are being written off by all the media and more significantly by the bookies – one to sixteen in fact, with the spread around 10 points.

And so it proves. Dublin come at Tipp like dervishes, and if it weren’t for a very fortunate Lar Corbett goal would have been ahead at half time. As it was they went in level after a half they dominated. Tipperary are a composed and confident team and they didn’t wilt under the Dublin fire. They scored a few elegant points at the start of the second half and from then on just did enough to hold them at bay. A gorgeous sideline cut from Noel McGrath was the highlight, and Padraic Maher showed once again what a key player he is for Tipp. They will bring greater intensity to the showdown with Klkenny in September – but so will Kilkenny.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Heaven Forfend

Gay Byrne for president – how can such a thing be. At a time of radical questioning of the status quo, and of the institutions that got us into this mess, how could anybody think that a retired entertainer from a bygone era should be president. We need someone with an open mind – not a dogmatic conservative with Victorian ideas about crime and punishment. And I would also question whether he has the intellectual heft for the office. He’s a lightweight who once tapped into the zeitgeist but is now a burnt out case.

Witness his daddy knows best fulminations in his role with the Road Safety Authority – gloating over a heavy sentences handed out to some woman in the UK. Remember his nasty ambushing of the fragile Annie Murphy on behalf of his old buddy Eamon Casey. Or indeed his failed ambush on Gerry Adams – someone who knew how to look after himself. But his worst moment for me came on his radio show (sometime in the mid-Nineties) where Thatcher was touting her recently published autobiography. The questioning was anodyne and non-contentious - no challenge on the hunger strikers for example, and no mention of her breathtakingly arrogant dismissal of the 1984 NI peace proposals (“out, out, out”). But we don’t expect depth from Gay so no big surprise there. What did dismay me however was the appallingly unctuous tone he adopted. His normal confident chirpiness was replaced by a kind of craven deference – voice lowered, delivery slowed down, reverence in every word. And this from our leading national broadcaster to a woman whose contempt for Ireland was palpable throughout her career. Shameful.

Lord he is not worthy.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Recent Reads - August 2011

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Unfinished and supposedly inferior to Wallace’s magnum opus Infinite Jest, I found it hugely entertaining. It’s really a loose assemblage of virtuoso set pieces: the annoyingly perfect Leonard Stecyk in whose face the principal wants to sink a meat hook, the riff on his pathological sweating problem that’s straight biography I suspect, and the IRS induction scene with his Iranian guide. It’s mostly set in an IRS office somewhere in middle America and there are reams of hilariously plausible arcane detail. Read it and weep for a lost talent – although page 85 may provide some clues as to why the author killed himself.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Immerse yourself in the madness of this superabundance. Drugs and excess in a tennis academy, and dark deeds in a half way house. Don’t worry about following the story, just relish the journey. The section on the cleaners in the academy (one cleans while the other gobs on the spot to be cleaned) is one of dozens of hilarious set pieces. It occasionally vanishes up its own arse with cleverness but is diverting enough to keep you hanging on.

Crime by Ferdinand von Schirach

Eleven grim vignettes by a German criminal lawyer, based on his experiences. The emphasis is on the odd, the violent and the implacable behind the bourgeois surface. Extremely gory and eminently readable. The bite sized chunks are ideal for holiday reading in the sun.

Yoga for People who Can’t be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer

Some early rueful reflections from the prolific and entertaining Geoff Dyer. Part travelogue, part memoir, it contains his usual blend of honesty, humour, drugs and sex The chapter on Amsterdam is all too evocative of a similar experience I had with the local skunk and his piece on Libya (Leptis Magna) captures the torpor and spiritual ennui of those blighted arab countries..

The Professor by Terry Castle

Honesty and self-deprecating humour are the hallmarks of this US-based English lesbian academic. The stand out pieces are her visit to the lesbian haunted Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe and the title piece, a painful account of an early and abusive love affair with a professor in a mid-West college. There’s also a pitch-perfect put down of that sacred monster Susan Sontag.

Mao’s Great Famine by Frank Dikotter

I was looking forward to this but I feel it was let down badly by its structure . Rather than an organized whole the book is randomly organized under theme headings such as Ways of Dying. The Vulnerable, and Destruction. This means you don’t get an overarching narrative but rather a loose collection of essays. Stodgy writing as well.

Come What May: The Autobiography by Donal Og Cusack

Shock horror, Cloyne boy comes out. Interesting that he laughs rather than abuses his old nemesis Frank Murphy – even telling a very sympathetic story about a suit-buying episode in Bangkok. An interesting glimpse into the secret world of inter-county hurling and what goes on behind the dressing room doors.

The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt

Tony Judt died in late 2010 from mortor neuron disease. This was his last work and it was dictated from his death bed. The essay Night is a chilling account of what it’s like to be trapped in this hideous condition. Grace under pressure in every word of this book – ending in a poignantly nostalgic recollection of a happy time in Switzerland.

Fascination by William Boyd

Boyd’s latest collection of short stories. As usual he’s an entertaining and undemanding read. He gets a little experimental with his structure in a few pieces (one, Beulah Berlin A-Z, begins each paragraph with the next letter of the alphabet, another Lunch, is written in the form of a list with appropriate headings. Unnecessarily fussy I’d say.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Two of the Good Guys

Two of the good guys in the art world died recently - Lucian Freud and Bill Crozier.

I first encountered Freud's work in the original Tate in London back in the late Sixties. It was a very graphic nude of Lady Caroline Blackwood - capturing perfectly the feral nature of that aristocratic troublemaker. I liked his unromantic vision and the too too solid flesh of his nudes. He also gambled, loved dogs, and led a resolutely raffish life - all positive signifiers for me. I wasn't a fan of his celebrity nudes (the Kate Moss one was vacuous, lacking the bite of the Blackwood) but I did like his depiction of the Queen as a grim old broiler, and he was merciless on himself in his self-portraits.

Crozier was an amiable cove. I met him a few times after openings in Taylor Galleries and always found him a friendly and unpretentious figure. I remember one incident in Buswell's where he had joined me for a pint after a show and he refused to budge when a member of the Dublin art world's inner circle tried to relocate him into her group nearby. He lived in West Cork for much of the year and I would bump into him regularly down south. I wasn't a big fan of his landscape painting - too bright (even garish) and formulaic for my taste - although I did like his still lives and his early more expressive work. I like my landscapes dark, dank and mysterious - more Wordsworth than Pope. He was fond of doing prints and did some very smart work for the Graphic Studio Dublin and the Stoney Road Press. These worked best for me.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Richard Thompson at Vicar Street

What a doughty old troubadour Thompson is. On he comes with his beret and his knowing smirk and delivers a 90 minute show that is polished, professional, and great fun. The crowd pleasers are all included: Beeswing, Vincent Black Lightning, Galway to Graceland etc. But there's also a moving version of Sandy Denny's classic Who Knows Where the Time Goes. He precedes this with a nice little tribute to the late lamented Sandy. The guitar playing has become more adventurous with the years but never too fussy.

At gigs I always seem to attract the sing along types who bellow in your ear so you get a disconcerting fucked up stereophonic thing going on. I remember going to an Eagles concert in the RDS years back and Ronan Collins (directly behind me) sang along with every song. I also recall having my finger broken in the Leider Halle in Stuttgart at a BB King concert when I asked a noisy black woman to shut up. This time my tormentor took it well when I asked him to desist - just as well as he turned out to be about six foot four when he stood up at the end.

Vicar Street is a fine venue if you have a strong back. The little circular seats around the tables don't work - especially if you're at the stage side of the table with nothing to lean on.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sympathetic Magic

Ok, here’s the deal. Whatever chance Darren Clarke had of winning the British Open he blew today (Saturday 16th) by not taking advantage of numerous opportunities (about 6 easy missed putts I reckon) to put distance between himself and the field. He should be 5 or 6 shots clear.

He will blow up tomorrow and be lucky to make the top ten. The only thing he’s got going for him is the unlikely cast of potential winners behind him. Surely not Bjorn with his traumatic history; surely not Dustin Johnson with his recent major travails; hardly Jiminez at this stage of his career; or the young tyro Fowler with the extraordinarily ugly wardrobe; maybe Michelson who’s a little far back or the methodical Kaymer. I think the journeyman Glover may sneak in. Heaven forfend the West Texan progmatist Campbell prevails. Whoever it is, it won’t be Clarke. So be prepared to suffer as he misses easy putts, visits the rough and begins to berate himself. Compare and contrast his heart on sleeve approach to adversity (scowl of disappointment, shoulders slumped, eyes darkened,) to the imbecilic grin with which Padraig Harrington greets golf’s slings and arrows - not of course that you'll be seeing Harrington this weekend.

And by the way, much as we all love Tom Watson does he really have to wear that shit brown wardrobe. Come on Tom, we know you’re on the Seniors Tour but lose the dun look.

CODA: That worked very well. Maybe I should start predicting Kilkenny for the All Ireland.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Have You Ever Seen the Likes of That

Well no actually. Not even back in the glorious prime of Jimmy Doyle and his Hell's Kitchen enforcers in the Sixties or the lustrous Tony Reddan, Jimmy Finn and their cohorts in the Fifties. Remember today was a Munster Final and Tipp won by 7-19 to 0-19 - a margin of 21 points. This was the most complete and devastating performance I have seen by a Tipperary hurling team in the past 50 year. Tom Semple and Martin Kennedy may have had their moments before that but they are lost to me in the mists of time. This was a sustained tour de force full of passion, guile, movement, skill, and courage. Witness Bonnar Maher's hand-passes, Corbett's acrobatic commitment and uncanny positioning, Kelly's power shooting, Noel McGrath's sublime sideline cuts, John O'Brien's unique hurley skills, and the phlegmatic Cummins providing ballast for the whole crew.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Allman, Friel and Beug

It's a real pleasure to see an uncomplicated shit-kicking rock band at the top of their game. Gregg Allman and his merry men delivered a high-octane blues-tinted gig at Vicar Street last Monday - to an audience as grizzled as the main man. Allman has one of the sweetest voices in rock and one of the ugliest faces. Time, heroin, coke and alcohol (and a recent liver transplant) have not diminished his talent. And he still has that amazing head of air, mostly in a lengthy pony-tail but occasionally let fly free. He has surrounded himself with a wonderful band. His late lamented brother Duane is covered by a young gun slinger on slide guitar; some mad Jewish freak does piano and organ and there's a tall cerebral sax player and the mandatory uber cool bass guy. Behind them there are two and sometimes three drummers - or more accurately one drummer and two percussionists. They do some standards, some Dylan and a lot from Greg's "Low Country Blues" album. Highlights are "I Can't be Satisified", "Just Like a Woman" and "Sweet Melissa" - but it's all good stuff.

I haven't seen a production of Brian Friel's "Translations" since Liam Neeson was an aspiring young actor. This recent production in the Abbey was a lighter, sunnier production but you were always aware of the dark stuff (the Donnelly brothers and the potato famine) hanging in the air - a distant cloud in Arcadia. I always enjoy the tension in the theatre and admire the discipline of professional actors - as a bad amateur one in my time I have some inkling of what it takes. Some creep called Crawley in the Irish Times gave this production a dubious review making a slighting reference to Oklahoma. Cheap shot. I found it zipped along and if at times there was a bucolic feel to some of the scenes it was only to mark the contrast to the looming darkness. And the audience lapped it up.

I can take abstraction in art as well as the next man. In fact I'd consider the rigorously abstract Charlie Tyrrell one of my favourite contemporary Irish artists. And I'll bow to no one in my admiration for the likes of Scully and Rothko. However I just do not get Katherine Boucher Beug - who's currently showing in the estimable Oliver Sears Gallery. I loved her recent piece in the RHA but my encounter with her work en masse has not worked for me. Better judges than me seem to rate her very highly but you can't hurry love and I'm just not convinced. I pick up hints of Scully but I also pick up a dispiriting whiff of John Noel Smith. And while I may with time and effort come around to her symphonies of stripes I will never reconcile myself to the small twee 3-D wooden tables that accompany some of the work. Heaven forfend.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (with apologies to the shade of David Foster Wallace)

Sojourning in Schull with some bibulous friends I decided we needed a break from the unceasing revelry. The sailing season had just commenced and the harbour had begun to fill with boats fresh from their winter quarters in dry dock. My brother-in-law (henceforth known as Skipper) was amongst the sailing fraternity eager to kick off their season so I offered the three of us as sailing companions and ballast for the next day. The weather was promising but we decided to make a final decision the following morning based on prevailing conditions.

The next day dawned and as I made my way down to Brosnan’s for the Irish Times I noticed a stiffish breeze. My hungover companions were less than enthusiastic about the whole venture but agreed to let Skipper make a decision. He too was non-committal but said he’d leave it up to us – a pattern that was to repeat itself with dire consequences later in the day. Eventually I suggested we go for a “tootle around the harbour”. I’m not sure what “tootle” actually means but everyone agreed that this was a reasonable plan.

So off we go, Skipper and Son and the three amigos. We proceed sedately around the harbour for 40 minutes or so until Skipper suggests we go look at some seals on a little island outside the harbour. And we do. So far so idyllic – apart from Skipper treating us to various physical indignities (brushed aside, leant over, groped between the legs, stood on etc.) as he went about his sailing business. After the seal sighting he suggests we head for Sherkin Island – a fairly sheltered journey about an hour and a half away. We agree and settle back. The wind is behind us so it’s relatively smooth despite the freshness of the breeze. After a while as we reach a point quite close to Cape Clear. Skipper asks would we rather go there instead as it was only 20 minutes away as against Sherkin’s one hour. He makes it clear that it’s entirely up to us. Son stays quiet - in fact he remained resolutely uninvolved in all group decisions. There is no discussion on the relative quality of the routes – it’s purely a time thing. We have a pressing engagement in Hackett’s at around six so we opt fatefully for the shorter journey.

We proceed benignly to Cape Clear and decamp for a drink while Skipper and Son remain on the boat and enjoy a little snooze – and an intense bout of biscuit scoffing. We return in about an hour and head out of the harbour towards Schull – a journey of 90 minutes or so Skipper estimates. As soon as we leave the shelter of the harbour we hit what can only be described as a boiling maelstrom. The prow rises high in the air and bangs down alarmingly (and surely plank splittingly) on the turbulent sea, the boat tilts to the side at around 45 degrees and waves wash over all five of us sitting in the unsheltered stern. We had taken down the sails for the trip home but the conditions demanded they be hastily raised to bring some stability. Some stability still meant bouncing around at a 45 degree angle and getting soaking wet. To our left on the dancing horizon I could see the ominous sight of the Fatstnet – a name forever associated with sailing fatalities. Terror and acute discomfort battled for supremacy so I decided to repair to the small cabin and confront the demons alone. There the fear and physical discomfort were joined by a feeling of acute queasiness as I began to inhale the diesel fumes. To the side the small toilet smirked at me suggestively. My gorge rose with the seas. Through the hatch I gained some comfort and distraction by observing my ashen-faced companions stoically enduring their torments. Nobody said a word. Salty dog Skipper and salty dog Son, ensconsed in water proofs, seemed unmoved by the whole debacle. Benign indifference was their attitude to our plight – although I suspect Skipper of basely entertaining some well-concealed schadenfreude.

On it went endlessly. I never quite got sick but the bile that is vomit’s precursor filled my throat. I did breathing exercises: breathe in for 10 seconds, hold for 10 seconds, breathe out for 10 seconds. Now repeat. I’m not sure that breathing in diesel fumes was helping so I quit that and distracted myself with thoughts of my loved ones and how they would get along without me.

And then it was over. As we tied up Skipper averred that it was the roughest crossing he’d ever made from Cape Clear. He also said that he was by no means certain our life jackets were still working (some gas bottle issue) but he felt that he should wait to tell us this until we docked.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Encounter with Famous Cork Artist

Down to Cork for the launch of the Graphic Studio Dublin Visiting Artists show in the Lavit Gallery - en route to a weekend in Schull. As we arrive a little early (around 18:00) I decide to call and see an old artist friend in St. Luke's - the eponymous Famous Cork Artist - henceforth to be entitled FCA. A phone call to Henchey's ascertains that the FCA had left the premises a little earlier so I call to his house up the road. He answers the door, a most infrequent occurrence, and greets me with enthusiasm. It's clear that he is very well lubricated. I realise that I've made a tactical blunder - my assumption that the early hour would find him lucid was mistaken. I tell him of the event in the Lavit and suggest that he joins me and my companions later. Not a chance - he will join us now. But first he insists that we have a look around his studio. He turns off whatever mess he was cooking and we repair upstairs from the decidedly funky and hard-core bohemian living room (don't ask). The studio however is immaculate, gear laid out in serried ranks (including 2 palette knives in their wrapping) and a dozen or so paintings in various stages of preparation. There has been a long hiatus since his last show but it's clear that he's painting again - albeit on a modest scale.He treats us to the usual comparison of his work with Mozart's and we nod appreciatively if not enthusiastically. There's nothing especially new except a painting of a blasted, barren vineyard, with a couple of the denuded stalks shaped like crosses - tricksy and alien to the FCA's normal style. This is for a series he's doing on The Somme.

Viewing over he joins us in the car and we head down to the Hi B - famous for it's misanthropic owner ("the grumpiest man in Cork"). We join another old friend there and settle in for a few pints before the opening. We get up to leave after a brace of Murphy's but the FCA's glass is still half-full. The old friend offers to look after him so we decamp to the Lavit. There the amiable women from the Graphic Studio are working the room. It's a very classy print show with works by Teskey, Crozier, Barbara Rae, Mary Lohan, Hughie O'Donoghue and many others. Go and see it. Following the show we have booked a table at Isaacs - including the GSD folk. The FCA is not a big eater and I hadn't included him in the booking but as luck would have it they can squeeze him in.

Things rapidly deteriorate. The FCA has always felt that an artist is entitled to behave like an absolute prick and be tolerated by the lesser mortals around him. His opening gambit is to blatantly light up one of malodorous roll ups - inviting the immediate horrified censure of the waitress. Next he decides that one of the women at the table and himself have a special affinity, the type only available to artistic sorts - like Abelard and Heloise perhaps. She is more than a little alarmed by this sudden outburst of affection and has to be rescued by various diversionary conversational gambits. Things get worse. Thwarted of his true love he begins to abuse his food. Eschewing knife and fork he begins to eat his duck, mash, and gravy with his bare hands - scooping handfuls into his gob indiscriminately - for all the world like a naughty child looking for attention. We decide it's time to go - heading to Henchey's for a nightcap. There's no room in the car for the FCA - we have to forcibly prevent him getting in beside the deeply alarmed object of his affection. A volunteer is assigned to escort him towards Henchey's and home.

We arrive in Henchey's and enjoy a restorative pint while we brace ourselves for the arrival of the FCA and escort. But he never gets over the threshold - an alert bar man spots his condition and he's consigned to the night. We are rather tainted by association and are confined to one drink. Irony of ironies, while the FCA walks off rejected into the night we sit back and admire his work hanging all around the pub - at least seven good sized pieces.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Treble Joy

I put my money where my mouth was this sporting weekend and did a reasonably substantial treble on Munster to beat Leinster (11-8), Barcelona to beat Manchester United in 90 minutes (evens), and Tipperary to beat Cork by 4 points or more (evens). It sure added a piquancy to my enjoyment of these three events.

I always felt the Munster win was the most predictable - Munster's need was greater and Leinster would surely have a metaphorical and in some cases perhaps literal hangover from the Heineken Cup. I reckoned Barcelona had too much creativity for United although I was nervous it may go further than 90 minutes. I was sure Tipp would beat Cork in Thurles but the match odds of 4-11 didn't appeal so I took the handicap of -4 points - a small risk I thought.

Munster made me sweat a while, Barcelona won comfortably but I had to endure the death of 1,000 cuts before Tipp finally pulled away from Cork in the last few minutes. God bless Benny Dunne (and Eoin Cadogan) - I take back all previous imprecations.

Friday, May 27, 2011

This Cultural Week: Paul Theroux, Roger Waters and a Load of Arse

Highlight of the cultural week for me was Paul Theroux’s appearance at a Dublin Writer’s Week event in the Samuel Beckett Theatre in Trinity. This event was only slightly tainted by the self-important prick (Colin Murphy) who introduced him. At one stage this creature corrected Theroux’s use of “twittering” instead of “tweeting” when any normal civilised welcoming person would have let it go. Theroux came across as an amiable cove, comfortable in his own skin and un-phased by the occasional awkward question. He looks younger than his 70 years and I’d say there are a few journeys left in him yet. He spoke very warmly of Dervla Murphy and her method of travelling - go to obscure spots and get among the people. He also spoke warmly of Joyce whom he quoted at length and Chekov. Surprisingly he gave a friendly nod to his old nemesis Naipaul also. He was very adamant that there were no fictional elements in his travel books and was quite critical of Bruce Chatwin for his cavalier attitude in this regard – especially in Songlines.

Roger Waters The Wall in the O2 Theatre on Tuesday was a triumph of stagecraft, design, and general pyrotechnics – however, apart from an epic version of Comfortably Numb the music left me unmoved. We had plane crashes with real flames (I felt the heat), 30 foot monsters, spectacular collapsing walls, and a large pig floating over the audience. The agit prop slogans have been updated to include references to Iraq and Afghanistan and the iPhone and iPod “i” prefixes some of the typographical elements. Waters’ voice is very limited but he was supported by a very competent band and the cracks were well covered. The star of the show for me was the splendidly grotesque graphics by Gerald Scarfe.

A seminar on Art Criticism Now in the LAB seemed like it might be of interest given the limited nature of art criticism in this country. However as soon as David Berridge (doyen of the Wild Pansy Press and creator of various “chapbooks” on art) started talking I knew I was in trouble. I am just not interested in the connection between “experimental poetics and art practice” and the notion of “performant criticism” makes me feel queasy. There was no grist for the mill of my mind in all this – it slip slid away. Berridge’s gratuitous esotericisms were followed by an interview between Caoimhin MacGiolla Leith and the performance artist Amanda Coogan. This started out by CMGL apologizing to his right on audience for the many conventional pieces of art criticism he has done to order – presumably a reference to those Tony O’Malley pieces he did for the IMMA catalogue. He spent a lengthy period establishing his credentials (the Tate got mentioned a few times) before he began his discussion with the bould Coogan – whose well-known breasts were peeping becomingly out her dress. Any attempt at talking high-flown arse by CMGL was met with a straight bat by the commonsensical Coogan. She maintained that whether it was review or academic criticism she welcomed it all as valuable PR. She spoke of gaining acceptance by the Boston Museum of Art recently based on the volume of reviews she was able to bring along to the interview. An amusing side show to this encounter was their differing pronunciation of “ephemeral”. Cooogan favoured a long second “e” while CMGL went for a short one. And it should be noted that this word got used umpteen times.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Annual RHA Debacle

Clubs make me queasy: the forced camaraderie with arseholes you wouldn’t give the time of day to if they weren’t in the same club; the spurious loyalty at the expense of honest appraisal, the petty rules and committees, the little Hitlers that enjoy such circumscribed and uncritical milieus.

But arts clubs make me especially uneasy. I have this romantic notion that artists should exist outside the confines of regular society: free-ranging, self-sustaining and ultimately independent critical entities. That’s why I consider the smug self-perpetuating oligarchy that is Aosdana to be beyond ridicule. And the pathetic eagerness and self-abnegation shown by aspirants to join this ridiculous club as a badge of their inauthenticity as artists.

Which brings us to the RHA. Much to bitch about here. As republicans do we really need a royal academy. Why not just the Hibernian Academy. And then we have the anachronistic robes – blue and wine coloured. Why? Are they to show that like the legal profession they are not as ordinary mortals? It’s bloody ridiculous. And why does the catalogue feature every year photographs of the selection committee going about their seemingly earnest and aesthetically critical business when we all know that any old shite by an academy member will get in and that an uncanny number of old NCAD heads and worthy veterans of the Dublin art scene also get the nod no matter what. Open submission me bollix. It’s a joke.

At the opening last night, in an effort to be trendy, Pat Murphy and his RHA staff wore white t-shirts as if the were officiating at an FM104 promotion – in stark contrast to the members of the academy in their robed finery – an oxymoronic juxtaposition that just didn’t work lads. Pat at the door greeting the great and good in their opening night finery looked as if he’d been caught unawares while finishing the hanging.

Let’s move on to the art. It’s astonishing that with 585 pieces on view there was so little that actually stood out. I remember the really bad works best. There’s a truly awful, Barrie Cooke called Sitting Figure, painted in 2007 and priced bizzarely at €31,701. This work is so bad it’s either taking the piss or signifies an artist that has lost his mojo and should stick to fishing – his alleged first love. The worst piece in the show, by which I mean the last piece you would choose to hang in your house, is a flat lifeless self-portrait of George Potter. Potter is a Chestertonian figure, and an RHA stalwart, whom we probably shouldn’t mock – but if you were doing a study of pomposity you couldn’t better this image. Maybe he should just have changed the title. Then there’s James Hanley’s portrait of the Chief Justice John Murray. I’ve no doubt Murray is a pillar of probity and a sound family man but Hanley’s depiction suggests one of the more corrupt and sinister of the later Roman emperors. I could go on but I’m getting bored. Liam Belton’s "so what" still lifes – all craft and no art; worthy efforts as usual by RHA hardy annuals like Bolay and Shelbourne; Pauline Bewick’s over priced book illustrations; Richard Gorman’s slices of interior design – for the confirmed bachelor market; an over fussy Felim Egan; weird minimalist water-colours by Vivienne Roche; bowl shaped tricksy pieces by Bridget Flannery – an artist I once much admired for her austere abstract studies; and of course a whole host of academic dross. I’ll exclude James English from that – he’s changed direction a bit and remains a class act. The stand out piece was a large bleak seascape by Donald Teskey that sold for €50,000. Other than that there was the usual elegance from Eilis O’Connell , a fine spumey Gwen O’Dowd, a couple of Mary Lohans going in a new direction, and a little piece by Katherine Boucher Beug that has lingered on my mind.

And by the way can you believe that they charged for water at the opening.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rancid Ruminations May 2011

This country is a joke. RTE did an excellent expose last night on the complete lack of controls over the taxi industry and on egregious corruption at the NCT. The body responsible, the NTA, refused to come on the programme to give an account of their stewardship. This is a body paid for by the tax payers but they don't deem themselves accountable to anyone. And no doubt nothing will befall them in the way of consequences. I think I'll move to Italy. At least you get decent food and weather over there along with your corruption and incompetence.

The sight of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF, being paraded before the beak in New York the day after his alleged crime shows again that the US care little for privilege and position where the law is concerned. Don't for one minute believe that a prominent Irish person accused of such a crime would ever be arraigned with such alacrity. Gardai would carry out thorough investigations. Files would be sent to the DPP. Heels would drag. Barristers would prevaricate. And justice would either be delayed or ignored.

The Queen eh - hard to care much either way about her visit. As a republican (in the French sense) I am a little queasy about the notion of royalty and being a subject - but the average Brit seems to be happy enough to go along with it. She's a great boon for their tourist industry but surely she could be had a lot cheaper. Also, I care little for the braying arrogance and relentless philistinism of the House of Windsor. And I can't stand corgis. I note she's visiting Cashel and Coolmore - her love of horses is her redeeming feature.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

John Doherty at Taylor Galleries

It was good to see a buzzing well-attended opening at the Taylor Galleries - things have been a bit bleak in recent times. I'm wondering if the unusual Friday opening was the reason or, more likely, the popularity of John Doherty's work. I first encountered his work about 16 years ago when he had a show in the Taylor entirely devoted to old characterful petrol pumps - or "bowsers" as they're called in this show - an Australian term I believe. I met him briefly at the time and liked his amiability and lack of preciousness.These days he's still painting old petrol pumps with personality, rusty old buoys and other marine equipment, and, most evocatively, small town shop fronts.The key to John's work is not the photographic precision of the images (which is remarkable) but the choice of subject matter. This is seen best in the desolate streetscapes of small town Ireland: Youghal, Rosscarberry, Ennistymon, Union Hall, Goleen and Carrick-on-Suir are featured in this show. He captures some kind of squalid ennui. You can feel the aridity of the daily round in such places. There are humourous touches amid the bleakness - the dog on a mission in Homeward Bound for example. The marine pieces are the least interesting - they seem lined up for our delectation rather like rusty versions of Liam Belton's cold academic still lifes. It's interesting to see that the prices are maintained at a level close to what prevailed in the boom times - this in stark contrast to what the auction houses are doing.They ranges from €3,500 for 18 x 18 cm pieces to €25,000 for 80 x 122 cms. And on the opening night it was heartening to see that around half of the 24 works had sold.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Schull Meanderings

It’s curious the way outsiders (mostly French) have taken over a lot of the businesses in Schull. As you walk down the main street you start with a tapas bar (Casa Diageo) that is run by a Spaniard with very rudimentary English – not bad but a very dodgy wine list. Next comes Gwen’s selling designer chocolates run by a French couple – hardly a viable business you would have thought but it seems to be enduring. A few doors down is The Fish Shop run by a tall, young French guy who will spend time preparing the fish to your liking – often to the chagrin of the next person in the queue. Further down is the Paradise Creperie, again French run, which seems to charge Parisian prices - €8 for a filled crepe. Then there’s the takeaway (the Punjab something or other) that I’ve never been in but is manned by a team of unhappy looking Asians. Down towards the harbour (during the summer only) is L’Escale, the very popular fish and chip shop run by a middle-aged French man deficient in the social graces. Nice fish – shame about the batter. As you leave town there’s the New Haven run by another French guy – a noisy but serviceable bistro. No gourmets need apply. Then if you want a pint in Hackett’s you are likely to be served by an Australian, a surly Czech girl, or a couple of French lads.

The pubs in Schull are pretty well segregated in terms of clientele. The Courtyard, once the heart of the village, shows no sign of reopening. Its various incarnations since Denis Quinlan left have not been successful. The Black Sheep is the venue of choice for the brasher younger locals. They serve dodgy pub food and sport on TV dominates. I don’t darken its door. The Tigin seems popular with families, but it lacks character and the large taciturn owner seems to imbue the place with a brooding presence. The Bunratty does food and attracts the middle-aged Derby and Joan types and families. The owner is a charmless Brit. Newman’s was burnt out recently and is only back in a limited way. It’s popular with the sailing fraternity and the Cork professional classes. To be avoided. – too much braying Across the road is Hackett’s, hang out for artists, crusties, slumming sailing types, and bohemians from the hinterland. It has an appealing grunginess and tolerates dogs. If it weren’t so busy most of the time I would give it my imprimatur. So I have taken to frequenting O’Regan’s, around the corner from Newman’s and down towards the harbour. It’s run by a personable young local couple. Its customers are local fishermen and old snedgers mainly. A feature of all these pubs is the superb quality of the Guinness. Why can’t we enjoy the same quality around Dublin? One of life’s great mysteries

Monday, April 18, 2011

This Sporting Life - April 2011

1. Insightful article by David Walsh in yesterday's Sunday Times about Rory McElroy. The gist of it is that when the pressure comes on McElroy the flaws in his game show up. And, as I've often said, putting in his major weakness - particularly from about 8 feet in. He spurned at least a dozen opportunities from this range over the 4 days of the Masters. I doubt he'll ever win a major unless he solves this problem. And putting is famously impervious to remedial treatment. Remember the young Garcia and all the greatness that was predicted for him? He too had a putting weakness and is now a fading figure - all those predictions of fame and glory come to naught.

2. It was great to see the cavaliers of Leinster put Leicester, those roundheads of English rugby, to the sword last week. They did it by beating them at their own game up front and then unleashing the sublime Nacewa to apply the coup de grace. It was an efficient and pragmatic display and I can't see them failing to regain the Heineken Cup now. Meanwhile in Brive Munster were giving one of the great displays of back play in the history of European competition - with a little help from the local team. The back three of Howlett, Jones and Earls ran amok on the sun-baked turf. They will surely win the Amlin Cup now. We can also look forward to a Magner's League final between Leinster and Munster. This will be tight but will be won by Leinster because they have a stronger pack - especially now with O'Connell injured.

3. The hurling season is beginning to bubble up nicely. Who could have predicted yesterday's results. Dublin beating Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, hapless Wexford drawing with Tipp in Thurles, and Galway losing again to Waterford. Tipp can probably do without a League final against Kilkenny at this stage of the season - they can deal with them in September. Declan Ryan is blooding a lot of new talent and it'll be fascinating to see who he picks against Cork. I can't see any challenge to Tipp in Munster this year and I have a sneaky feeling that Kilkenny are a team on the turn - too many trips to the well for a lot of them. Galway may be the big danger. We shall see.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at IMMA

It's good to see a major international show at IMMA - it gives me a good excuse to go around the corner to the Royal Oak for a few pints afterwards.

There was a huge turn out for this gig, not just the usual liggers that IMMA attracts but a lot of senior arts people and artists. It was sponsored by BNY Mellon and the Mexican Embassy were involved so we got Margaritas, Mexican beer, and lots of canapes - followed by a mariachi band.

This was the first big arts event attended by the new Minister for Arts (Jimmy Deenihan) so there were some pointed remarks by Eoin McGonigal the chairman of the board at IMMA about arts funding. As 2011 is IMMA's 20th anniversary he used the occasion to celebrate IMMA's achievements during this period and to assert its major role in the cultural life of the country. He also came out with an interesting Freudian slip (if indeed it was a slip) in thanking the Department of Arts for their "subversion". He may have meant to say subvention. The most interesting thing Deenihan came up with was his commitment to setting up an Arts and Film TV channel and the promotion of the arts in our education system - especially at primary level.

As for the show, the most striking piece was Rivera's cooly erotic painting of Natasha Gelman. There are plenty of Kahlo's ornate and exotic works on show - interesting but not really my thing. I do like the way she always includes her moustache - a faint whisper after her emphatic eyebrows.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Who Reviews the Reviewers

There's an interesting literary spat going on in the Letters Page of the Irish Times this week. Last Saturday the IT's chief fiction reviewer Eileen Battersby had a good go at Dermot Healy's new novel (Long Time) - suggesting dthat there were large amounts of guff to plough through to get at the meat. I haven't read it but found it refreshing to read a rigorous review of a new Irish novel - one that wasn't just a shameless puff by a writer friend.

In jumps Eugene McCabe with a letter on Tuesday suggesting not only that Battersby was ageist (hilariously citing her praising of Neil Jordan's latest as evidence of favouring younger writers), but that her writing was so poor that she wasn't worthy of raising a pen against the sainted Healy. In today's paper the heavy guns are wheeled in and John Banville (late of the IT parish) fires off a fusillade in Battersby's defence - rebuking McCabe for his "ad hominen and scatological attack".

The whole affair highlights the difficulties of getting any book honestly reviewed in this small island. Loyalty between writers is no doubt an admirable quality in a financially precarious profession. However, I am sick and tired of seeing them puff each other up in laudatory and uncritical reviews that ultimately deceive the reading public. And how many times do you buy a book adorned with celebratory names on the back cover and end up disappointed? I can think of recent novels by John Boyne and Josephine Hart that came festooned with critical garlands from fellow writers - and both were virtually unreadable.

I have always found Eileen Battersby to be a rigorous and fair-minded critic (although, by the way, I think she gets Neil Jordan's latest badly wrong) and I welcome her honesty . She certainly doesn’t deserve Eugene McCabes cheap and churlish assault.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Georgia on My Mind

Down in Schull last Saturday grinding the coffee and preparing for a leisurely breakfast: Irish Times, croissants, and some savoury delights – you get the picture. The wife in benign attendance. The phone rings. It’s the brother with tickets for the Ireland versus England match later in the day – 300 kilometers away. A Grand Slam confrontation with the old enemy is not to be missed so without much hesitation I take on the logistical challenge. First I have to jump the domestic hurdle. Our weekend idyll compromised an initially pissed off partner gracefully concedes. Breakfast is cancelled and our hastily showered hero hurtles off towards Cork.

Rendezvous with the brother at the Travel Lodge near the Kinsale Road and we’re on our way via the South Ring and the Jack Lynch Tunnel. Two hours later we negotiate the slight hiatus of the canal, pass Paddy Kavanagh’s statue, and reach our destination in Ballsbridge. There a transaction with a distinguished ex-international outside Paddy Cullen’s (involving a discreet envelope) yields two tickets. I brazenly ask the Garda at Shelboune Road to move his barrier so that I can access my work place (well I used to work there) and we find a plum spot outside IONA Technologies – just around the corner from the stadium. As it’s our first visit to the Aviva Stadium we decide to go in early and savour the atmosphere. Two pints of plain (excellent quality – albeit in plastic glasses) and a hot dog later we settle into our seats.

The English find the red carpet this time and after the endless anthems and much gratuitous hoopla the match begins. It’s clear immediately that the Irish are up for it more than the English. It’s evident in the early collisions and particularly the first scrum. They are double tackling the English and stifling any loose ball. A few penalties and a few creative moments and the job is done. Sexton and David Wallace are our heroes. The last 20 minutes are spent sitting tight – with O’Gara giving a master class in tactical kicking. The hooray henrys behind us are rendered mute. One dud note at the Aviva is the horrible hectoring music that erupts each time we score, accompanied by some shameless brash prick announcing the score that we can see perfectly well on the giant score boards. They want crowd participation yet they drown it out when it’s at its peak.

After the match we take the car into town and find a perfect pitch directly outside the Ely Restaurant in Ely Place. The restaurant is booked out I’d been told over the phone earlier but I drop in anyway and my old buddies on the staff promise to look after me. We adjourn to the Shelbourne Bar to have our aperitifs (ok, two more pints actually) and soak up the atmosphere. There’s a large contingent of Brits in evidence, many of them wearing their English jerseys – poignantly. Two seats become available beside us in the packed bar and we sit back and observe the carnival.

On then to the warm welcoming womb that is the Ely. We are fed and watered well. Our waitress is Georgia from Sardinia – full of lip (in both senses) and generous of bosom. It would be ungallant not to linger over a few ports.

And so to bed.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Recent Reads - March 2011

The Grass Arena by John Healy

These are notes from the underground – missives from a milieu that doesn’t normally send out letters. The world of the wino. Healy is a phenomenon, going from soldier to boxer to wino to chess virtuoso to award-winning author – and then back to obscurity. The structure is a bit sloppy but these anecdotes from the edge more than compensate. I love the details of their desperate ongoing search for drink. Methylated spirits, surgical spirits, and aftershave were all consumed when the conventional options were unavailable. Then there are the characters including one who was kidnapped by the gypsies and forced to work all day and was tethered to a wagon by chains all night. He also introduced me to the “water on the brain” phenomenon – a condition induced by extreme drinking. A poignant refrain throughout the book is his failure with the girls -notwithstanding his keen interest.

He eventually got fucked around by Faber & Faber when his street persona intruded on the genteel Oxbridge world of Robert McCrum and his chums. He apparently threatened to come visiting with his hatchet if his royalties weren’t paid. They pulped his books and threw him back into the gutter. It’s nice to see him reissued by Penguin Modern Classics and beginning to gain a new audience.

A City Boy by Edmond White

It’s the usual Edmond White autobiography. Look see what a naughty boy I’ve been – again. It’s entertaining but I’ve heard it all before. Also the relentless namedropping begins to get tiresome. Being a distant acquaintance of Susan Sontag is not the ultimate in human achievement. Well written and amiable throughout though.

John Osborne by John Heilpern

Or how the angry young man became an angrier old man. What a great biography this is – and what a monster Osborne was. He played fast and loose with the ladies until he met his match in that termagant Jill Bennett. He spent himself into acute poverty but never let that condition interfere with his champagne life style. He was a great hater and eventually rowed with almost everyone who engaged with him. At his funeral there was a list of people he didn’t want to attend pinned to the gate of the church – these included Fu Manchu (Peter Hall) and Albert Finney. Finney had starred in Tom Jones which made Osborne (who wrote the screenplay) very wealthy for a while - however he sued Osborne when he didn't get his due from the film. He wrote four great plays (Look Back in Anger, Luther, Inadmissible Evidence and The Entertainer) and a host of minor works and screenplays. An incidental delight in this book are the many hilarious examples of Osborne’s invective in letter form.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Irish Question

It'll be interesting to see if Fine Gael keeps to its election promise to abolish compulsory Irish. Or will this promise be sacrificed to appease the Labour lobby and preserve the multitude of state and semi-state jobs that depend on keeping this brain-dead patient artificially alive. I love Irish. I still regard Cill Cais as one of our most beautiful poems and I will enthuse about Caoineadh Art O'Laoire and the work of Sean O'Riordain. However this language is dead. It's gone, it has expired. It's not our mother tongue and it's not the language of daily commerce. It certainly exists in pockets of the South-West and West and long may it run there - I'm sure it's great for tourism. However, the vast bulk of the populace endure it at school and cast off the burden the minute they leave. It was surely significant that the leaders debate on TG4 before the election featured sub-titles. After nearly 90 years of shoving it down our throats it is officially recognised that most of us can't keep up with a banal political debate.

The only good reason someone would take Irish seriously is to get a job on TG4 - surely a situation of some circularity. We spend vast resources duplicating government output in two languages when only a tiny proportion of the population demand it. They don't need it by the way, they can all speak English, but by God do they demand it.

I don't propose we abolish it. We make it available to those who want to learn it - it should of course remain on the school curriculum. And I'm sure there will be a decent number who are interested in it for historical and sentimental reasons. And I'm sure it should continue to be pursued in universities. It is dead but it is part of our history.

The Brits successfully wiped out our language but we got our revenge by colonising (Joyce, Beckett, Yeats, Shaw, Wilde et al) theirs and we should celebrate this fact rather than persisting in this fruitless necrophilia.