Sunday 28 December 2014

Eoghan Harris: Hardy's wise words on a true marriage of minds

Published 20/05/2012 | 05:00

A regular columnist carries a cross that can never fully be laid down. As soon as you submit one piece, you have to start pondering the next. It's even harder when more than one issue clamours for attention, as they do this week, and you have to write mini-columns to cover each of them.

Living in that clock-ticking world for the past 20 years, I naturally have a grudging admiration for my competitors -- we compete mentally if not commercially -- even with those with whom I profoundly disagree.

Happily, that is not the case with the writer who kicks off my three-topic column this week.

* * * * *

Kevin Myers gets no "grudging" before my admiration. He sets the gold standard for the columnist's craft and sullen art. He writes well about almost anything. But he writes superbly on aspects of the national question which most other writers avoid.

Myers was first to break two taboos: He exhumed the exorcised Irish dead of the First World War. And he made amends to the historical ghosts of Protestant civilians whom the IRA shot as alleged "spies" during 1920-23, often in circumstances that suggested a sectarian aspect.

For this, he has never been forgiven by his tribal colleagues. But his talent also arouses a jealous begrudgery. This creates a media climate that seems to extend to Montrose.

Just out of curiosity, Noel Curran might ask RTE TV News why it so precipitately removed the cameras before

Myers began his talk at St Patrick's last Remembrance Sunday. This made Myers the only speaker I can recall in recent years not to feature in an RTE television news clip. Why?

Miriam O'Callaghan made up for some of these petty slights in a compelling conversation with Kevin and his wife Rachel on Miriam Meets. We got a portrait of a modern marriage without fakery or false notes.

Rachel was a joyous revelation. The story of how she bought and then sold a beloved bassoon shows she believes in the Buddhist principle of "careless love": concentrating fully in the moment, but moving on without a backward glance when necessity knocks.

Luckily for Kevin, he is not a bassoon. After 16 years of marriage, she clearly loves him madly, but, enchantingly, not enough to feel she has to read every column he writes.

Infatuation is too insipid a word to describe his feelings for her. Thomas Hardy wrote about their kind of loving comradeship. You will find it at the end of the column, keeping company with another marriage of true minds.

* * * * *

Last week, we saw the best and worst of Eamon Gilmore. The best was when he showed his social- democratic side by wiping the floor with Gerry Adams on The Week in Politics. The worst was when he showed his old socialist side by calling for an EU boycott on goods from Israeli settlements.

Adams, always on autopilot when speaking about politics in the Republic, advised us to vote 'No'. But it's not just Sinn Fein's advice. Pat Cradock, a former Ambassador to Greece, writing in this paper, also advises us to say 'No'. But such advice begs many questions.

Gilmore asked Adams all of them: how will we keep the show on the road without access to EU funds? How do we pay for hospitals, schools and social welfare? Adams' answer was to tell us to take a leap in the dark.

Gilmore's good case would have been better with trade union backing. Like Bertie Ahern before him, however, Gilmore has got no thanks for looking after the public sector unions.

They pocketed their pensions, swollen sick leaves and unearned allowances -- and then failed to give firm leadership by saying 'Yes' to the Fiscal Treaty. A pitiful performance.

* * * * *

After that good start on Sunday, the Tanaiste let himself down over Israel the following day. A boycott on goods from Israeli settlements is a bad idea because it mainly hurts Palestinian producers. Coming a few days after Dervish was forced to cancel a tour, however, it took on a darker context.

Finally, after a Dail question from Joanna Tuffy last Friday, Gilmore belatedly condemned the intimidation of Irish artists invited to Israel. This pandering to Labour's left is blurring the boundary with Sinn Fein when instead Labour should be raising barriers.

My prediction that Labour made a big mistake in going into government is coming true. But since they are stuck with it, the least Labour might do is leave a mark.

They could start by calling a halt to Fine Gael's refusal to face up to the problems presented by the Moriarty tribunal.

* * * * *

The FAI is foolish to back the wearing of a black armband to mark the anniversary of Loughinisland. To single out the suffering of one community in Northern Ireland will inevitably be seen as tribal by the other. Put yourself in the shoes of victims of IRA terror, exercise some empathy and you will find your feelings about the armbands are more complex.

The FAI decision dodges a number of serious questions. Why does the FAI single out Loughinisland, apart from the anniversary? Will the FAI facilitate black armbands on the anniversaries of IRA atrocities like Enniskillen, Omagh and the murder of Garda Jerry McCabe?

As my friend Tom Carew points out, June 18 is also the anniversary of the Provo bomb which murdered a Protestant police officer, John Harrison, while he was checking for bombs. Harrison was only 30 and married. Are his widow, his family and friends any less deserving of being remembered by the FAI?

These questions matter because Sinn Fein is ramping up the rewriting of modern Irish history as we move towards 2016. The sanctification of 1916 is now

spilling over into the retrospective sanctification of the Provisional IRA campaign. And it's no surprise that Sinn Fein is surging at the polls when we mark the dead of Loughinsiland without mentioning the dead of Enniskillen and Omagh.

* * * * *

Last Thursday, Sarah Kelly and Karen Gibson celebrated their civil partnership at Blessington Lakes. Sarah was the political brain who showed me the ropes in Seanad Eireann. I returned the favour by advising her to cling to Karen with hoops of steel.

Sarah and Karen's loving link is a marriage of true minds. For that happy pair, for Kevin and Rachel, for all of you living, like me, in a loving bond that comprises a comradeship of the mind, here are some wise words from Thomas Hardy's 'Far From the Madding Crowd'.

The good fellowship -- camaraderie -- occurring through the similarity of pursuits is unfortunately seldom super-added to love between the sexes...Where, however, happy circumstances permit its development, the compounded feeling proves itself to be the only love as strong as death -- that love which many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, besides which the passion usually called by the name [love] is as evanescent as steam.

Sunday Independent

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