The scale of the extravagant scam that is The Gathering is quite daunting, writes Declan Lynch
LAST week, when Dessie Farrell of the GPA spoke of GAA players developing problems with gambling, and how the issue had taken some people by surprise, we felt it necessary -- in the service of truth -- to remind ourselves that it was not really that surprising. Or at least, it was not surprising to regular readers of this paper, who did not see it as "a steam train" suddenly coming down the tracks in recent months.
Indeed at this paper, we know that steam train very well -- if I may extend the image, we have seen it stopping at Platform One several times a day, for a long time now.
And now this week, again in the service of truth, we must remind ourselves that Gabriel Byrne's denunciation of The Gathering had a certain familiar ring to it. What could it be, that strange note of recognition?
We couldn't quite place it at first, and then suddenly it came to us, in a blinding flash -- yes, it was in these pages too, only about two months ago, that we called bullshit on The Gathering.
Which is not to take away in any sense from Gabriel Byrne's contribution, which had that ring of authenticity which we hear so rarely in public life. It is such a sweet sound, and so elusive, that when we eventually hear it coming through the incessant babble of the PR men, it takes us immediately to a better place.
Two months ago, when RTE showed The Gathering event in the O2 arena, in these pages we were not hearing that sweet sound. We were hearing "corporate entertainment a la Paddy". We were hearing "this lavishly-staged, heavily-polished eejitry". We were talking about "this pseudo-Celtic muzak, this corporate hokum that sounds like it was created by a bunch of spin-doctors".
Chillingly, in the light of the official response to Gabriel Byrne's liberating words, we predicted that "our friends in the PR industry will be all over The Gathering for the year that is ahead of us."
And there is evidence of this, not just in the nature of the official bullshit that informs The Gathering, but in the ambition of it.
Because it is not just presenting us with a somewhat blurred version of reality, it is aiming for that ultimate PR vision to convey the total opposite of what is actually happening. The real story of Ireland, in relation to the comings and goings of its people, is not that of our emigrants coming back. It is the story of new emigrants being created every day, and leaving in large numbers.
In fact, as they make their way to the departure gate at Dublin airport, they may even be passing a large billboard for The Gathering, and shaking their heads in wonder at the audacity of it. Which may help to explain why they are going so quietly -- why would they be even vaguely unhappy about leaving a country in which the last big idea left to the ruling class is this "Gathering"? Even the name of it reeks of a fake corporate folksiness.
Not only are today's emigrants not breaking the hearts of their poor mothers and fathers who fear they may never see them again, in many cases their poor mothers and fathers find it quite reasonable that they have left. My own daughter has moved to London, and I wish I could think of a half-decent reason why she should stay here in this country of The Gathering, and other such extravagant scams. But obviously I can't.
Yes, "scam" was just about the right word too, from Gabriel Byrne. And in doing us all a favour by speaking bluntly, by going against the spin-monkeys, he was rewarded for his public service with a rebuke by Leo Varadkar. Which also included a critique of Byrne's fanbase, with Varadkar claiming that the actor is "popular with women of a certain age".
Again the scale of what we are dealing with here is quite daunting. Gabriel Byrne is an extraordinarily gifted man, who has created a deeply impressive body of work, for which he has rightly received all sorts of international recognition. While Byrne has generally brought nothing but credit to Ireland, you could say that the political class of which Leo Varadkar is a member has brought us roughly the opposite of credit -- indeed, they seem determined daily to find new and more outrageous ways of making us embarrassed, financially and in general.
Given the sort of people that they are, I don't believe that Leo Varadkar or any of his colleagues would have any way of knowing whether Gabriel Byrne is right, whether The Gathering is worth a damn or not. I don't think they have any awareness of such things, which leaves them with very few weapons in this argument apart from some sorry little swipe about "women of of a certain age" -- the sort of line that one of those PR handlers might find very witty, but which, again, is roughly the opposite of witty.
Interestingly, the writer and independent councillor Mannix Flynn, himself a deeply insightful man, supported Gabriel Byrne. And there is an odd footnote to this: for some strange reason, those who have declared themselves most strongly against The Gathering tend to be people who have given up the drink.
My, how the fog lifts.