Friday 30 September 2016

Really Bob, have we all got a 'touch of the tar' in us?

Cathal MacCarthy

Published 03/09/2006 | 00:11

IN ALL sorts of interesting ways I've noticed that the words "maverick Galway" function on my nervous system in the same manner as the words "serial killer".

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You know the form yourself: "Maverick Galway politician says city has nearly enough festivals," or "Maverick Galway poet signs off and takes job."

Like most Irish people, I long ago noted the unfortunate propensity of many from the City of the Tribes to volunteer loudly very 'right-on' and usually nonsensical answers to complicated questions that nobody was directing at them. Nobody with any sense, anyway.

I mean, genuinely, who asked "maverick Galway film-maker" Bob Quinn to look into the possibility that our notion of Celtic ancestry is bogus?

It wasn't I.

It wasn't anybody I know, either, I guarantee you that. I wouldn't ask a "maverick Galway" person anything.

In any case, it's all too late; somebody asked Bob to look into it and he wrote a book on his theory. He rehashed it for the brunch crowd in last Saturday's Irish Times. Of course, describing it as a 'theory' might be stretching things a bit.

Einstein has theories, so did Oppenheimer, Plato,Descartes; lads like that.

Bob, on the other hand, admits that he "overly relied on common sense, plus imagination, to make connections between Ireland and the Near East".

The piece was given the kind of honey trap headline that will always catch the attention of the Times reader as he anxiously turns the pages to find out which one of yesterday's disasters "we" bear most responsibility for: "Unconscious racism at the heart of conventional wisdom."

How could you resist that?

You won't remember it (why would you?), and if I had an IQ bigger than my shoe size, I'd be doing my best to just forget it. But the truth is that it irritated me out of all proportion to its actual substantial content.

Why? Well, I don't like the implication that if I don'taccept a highly questionable premise, then I am guiltyof one of those usefully vague "thought crimes" - such as "unconscious racism" - that we are being hectored into believing constitute the greatest challenge to progressive communal living in our times.

The premise of Bob's article is quickly disposed of: over a period of time, the "maverick Galway ex-member of the RTE Authority" has become convinced that the indigenous culture of the western seaboard is possessed of the kind of real, vital connection with Morocco and Tunisia that betokens some kindof shared antecedents andheritage.

The assumption of "Celtic" ancestry and a European origin-myth is therefore an actof self-delusion by the inhabitants of this geographical area.

In denying their real Maghreb roots and lingual-cultural roots, they are Uncle Ahmeds, pretending in the manner of the Harriet Beecher Stowe character to be what they are not.

The evidence for this kind of primordial linkage is rather sketchy. There are hidden language similarities, shared species of flora and fauna which may have travelled here with post-glacial immigrants.

There is sean nos singing, a comparison between the sails on Galway hookers and Arab dhows and some intriguing but inconclusive DNA analysis tracing a Y chromosome pattern from Iberia to here.

So far, so harmless. If Bob wants to imagine that the people of, say, Belmullet are the descendents of some ancient Berber matelots, so what? It's a free country and if Bob wants to believe that, then it's his prerogative.

What I do resent is the implication - running through Bob Quinn's article like the writing in a stick of rock - that if you don't buy this particular Road to Morocco comedy then it can only be because of a subconscious, inherited racism.

I wouldn't mind being descended from Berber sailors - it sounds a lot more interesting than Clonskeagh and Macroom.

But come on, Bob. Please don't try and embarrass us into silent acceptance by insinuating that we have a heritage of denial when it comes to that "touch of the tar" to which you refer.

That's not really on, Bob.

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