Declan Lynch: Paddy and the art of the impossible
We can't manage our own finances, but when it comes to culture and sport, we excel.
On RTE's The Frontline last week, the Irish Independent journalist Dearbhail McDonald reported the result of an informal survey she had conducted among friends and colleagues on the subject of the good things that had happened for the Irish in 2012. Essentially there were three things – Katie Taylor at the Olympics, the success of Once on Broadway, and the TV series Love/Hate.
Now the first thing to be noted about these cultural and sporting phenomena, is that they are cultural and sporting. Always, it seems, the things that bring Paddy to the attention of the world in the right way, are either cultural or sporting. And even within such volatile environments, the successes we achieve tend to be so wildly improbable, by definition there is no reliable way of repeating them.
If, like the Germans, you have a genius for making cars, you are in luck. You can turn out Volkswagens for generations, and as a result, you can sleep soundly at night. And of course the Germans also have many cultural and sporting successes to add lustre to their reputation. But then you'll always get that, in a country that is reasonably well run.
In Germany, for example, a person of the obvious talent and ambition of Katie Taylor would have had access to training facilities which included a lavatory. In Ireland, this was not the case.
But then it was Katie Taylor who took it upon herself to embark on a path to greatness which involved winning an Olympic gold medal in a sport which, in Olympic terms, did not exist at the time.
To dream the impossible dream is a fine thing, a most honourable impulse that is possessed by the people of many nations. But Paddy seems to dream no other kind of dream.
And having duly achieved the impossible, Katie Taylor responded to all the silly-money offers which now came her way, by remaining nominally an amateur. Which wouldn't necessarily mean that she will make no money – but it means that she is still doing what she does, essentially for the love it. That she retains a kind of artistic freedom, rather than being at the mercy of the money-men.
It seems that we still value such freedoms, and that sometimes it actually works for us. There are elements of Once and Love/Hate which are as astounding as the Katie Taylor story, which seem to be coming from a similarly fantastic realm. Once has its origins among the buskers of Grafton Street, the sort of folk who again are not strictly amateurs, but who will hardly be strolling down the red carpet at next year's Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards either.
And that is just the first of many improbabilities at work here. Anyone who imagines that they will write a Broadway hit of any kind, particularly a musical, is already living in the land of dreams, and will probably never come back from there. Stephen Sondheim himself probably never dares to suppose that it will all come together, that he will create a musical that is both popular and good. But it has happened with Once, all the more crazily because it was never even intended as a stage musical in the first place.
To make an Oscar-winning movie out of it was the impossible bit. To then make it on Broadway is just completely ridiculous. But hey, that is what you get, when Paddy is on the case.
And if the buskers of Grafton Street are dealing with somewhat unreliable revenue streams, most of their soul-mates in the acting community can be said to exist outside of the money system altogether. Many of the actors in Love/Hate have been lavishly praised, and rightly so. And their achievement is all the more impressive when you consider that, no matter how good they were, they would have started out in their profession with about as much chance of ever making a living as... well, as a Grafton Street busker would have of conquering Hollywood and then Broadway, or as an Irish female boxer would have of winning an Olympic gold medal in a sport which hardly even existed.
Actors have to be the optimistic sort. But even the most impractical of them, would reject a scenario in which they would receive actual money for their work, and a ticket to international success, and that these things would happen for them in a brilliant RTE drama.
So this is what we do. We achieve things that are beyond the limits of the human imagination. We are comfortable with extremes.
Unfortunately the same can be said for our ruling class, for whom even a total collapse of the financial system was just a bit ordinary – they had to take it to a new level, by making the Irish collapse bigger than almost everyone else's, by running up a debt that is on a scale beyond our comprehension.
As a result they have drawn all these brutalising forces onto us, poisoning our spirits with this incessant babble about money, wasting our time and our energy and polluting our minds with their bullshit economics. We are no good at that stuff, yet that is the only stuff they want us to do. They have left us in a situation that is absolutely impossible.
But then, as we have seen, Paddy seems to like them odds.