Monday 24 November 2014

Sick and tired of 1916 ...
even before 2016 begins

Published 10/08/2014 | 00:00

Illustration: Jim Cogan

Trope originally meant a phrase added to the sung Latin Mass. Today, it means a recurring motif that has become a moth-eaten cliche. Current tropes include arguments about 1916, the media's love in with Leo Varadkar - and my paeans of praise to the people West Cork.

Let me start by saying I'm sick of 1916 already. By 2016, I hope you will be sick of it too. So I was glad John Bruton rained on the parades which Adams & Co hope to review from prominent political platforms over the next two years.

Bruton did not make the mistake of making militant green noises to protect his republican rear. My own policy in polemics with the Provos is also to take the hard line. So I say the RIC and RUC were Irish policemen doing their duty, that World War I was a necessary first round in repelling German aggression and that Patrick Pearse was as mad as a March hare.

Last week, the Irish Times carried extracts from the diary of the RSM in charge of the 1916 firing squad. He said Pearse 'whistled' after he came out of his cell having 'taken a sad farewell to his wife'. The RSM was wrong about the wife - the swishing robes of Fr Aloysius may have confused him - but I believe him about the whistling.

Why wouldn't Pearse whistle? He was whistling past all the future graveyards he had planned, and which he must have forseen might include civil war. He had written the whole bloody script in advance, not just for a sheep-like people to follow, but even for his own mother.

I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge

My two strong sons that I have seen go out

To break their strength and die, they and a few,

In bloody protest for a glorious thing,

In another predictable trope two Fianna Fail politicians raced out of the traps to beat up on Bruton. Eamon O Cuiv claimed Redmond had caused Irishmen to die in an "imperial" war. But the war began because Britain honoured its treaty obligations to protect Belgium, and Pearse & Co were up to their oxters in that "imperial" war, but on the German side.

At least O Cuiv has class. Not so Senator Mark Daly who tried to put Arts Minister Heather Humphreys, a Protestant, under tribal pressure by calling on her to clarify (ie toe the party line) her position on 1916. "It would seem deeply inappropriate for the chair of the group tasked with organising the commemorations to hold the same views as those expressed by the former leader of her party."

Heather Humphries may be tempted to keep her head down. Better if she butted Senator Daly with it. The best way to shut down Senator Daly's sleeveen campaign for "clarification" is to confront him with the historical chain of IRA violence that led to the murder of Senator Billy Fox in her own constituency area.

On 12 March, 1974, Senator Billy Fox was shot dead when he challenged Provo IRA raiders while on a visit to the family home of his girlfriend, Majorie Coulson in County Monaghan. After he was shot down like a dog, the Coulson family were ordered to leave the farmhouse which was set on fire.

Heather Humphries should simply say, "I refuse to take part in Senator Daly's green games. I honour all Irishmen who died doing their duty as they saw it. But I have nothing but contempt for the terrorist and tribal strain in Irish nationalism which led to the murder of my co-religionist and fellow politician, Senator Billy Fox."

For good measure Minister Humphries should pay tribute to that brave southern Protestant Sam Beckett, who risked his life as a member of a secret resistance cell 'Gloria', run by Britain's Special Operations Executive in Nazi-occupied Paris.

Let me now turn to the media trope that Leo Varadkar lays it on the line. This is just another Doheny and Nesbitt's cliche. Politicans and academics meet in a pub to talk tough about controlling the public finances - but scream if you try to touch their Dail expenses or university salaries.

Leo Varadkar is a lot of hot air. What he laid on the line last week was that he was going to avoid anything that might be awkward. Having signed off on a generous deal to consultants, he dumped on Dr James Reilly, did a U-turn on universal health insurance and walked
away from abolishing the HSE.

Hear this alleged straight-talker on the HSE: "The HSE should remain in place at least until all of this has bedded down." Bedded down is an apt choice of phrase given HSE employees' propensity for taking extensive sick leave.

Last year these hapless (some might say hypochondriac) public servants were responsible for the bulk of sick leave costing the taxpayer €223m. So did Leo the lion lay a heavy paw on them, tell them to toughen up, take an aspirin and turn up to help people with real health problems?

Far from it. He called their contribution - when they are at work - "phenomenal". He regretted he couldn't restore their pay cuts. How long will it take his media cheerleaders to see that Leo the lion is just another political pussycat who hisses to impress political correspondents but purrs for the public sector.

Let me finish with my own trope about the wonder of West Cork. But it's more a truism than a trope. Last Wednesday, my belief that West Cork is special was given a fresh impetus by a conversation with Declan Tiernan, a committee member of the new West Cork Arts Centre, a controversial but courageous cube which dominates the Skibbereen skyline.

We talked about the forthcoming A Taste of West Cork food festival, which runs from September 5-14. We marvelled that West Cork, a symbol of the Great Hunger, should now be a byword for good food. But then the two have always been closely connected in the minds of the citizens of Carbery.

When John Murphy Sr was running the West Cork Hotel, he put huge blown-up photographs of famine scenes from the Illustrated London News on the walls of his first class restaurant. Patrons had to face the
fact that they were eating fine food in an area which had been devastated by hunger.

But I still find it striking that an area whose famine suffering aroused sympathy around the world should now be supplying quality food to Sainsbury's. And anyone who doubts that West Cork is now driving the food revolution begun in Ballymaloe should visit the farmers' market in Skibbereen any Saturday morning.

The annual Taste of West Cork festival proves that West Cork is now the national showcase for the art and craft of food production. Likewise the West Cork Art Centre sets the new national gold standard for brave building. So what is the secret of West Cork's success?

Declan Tiernan believes it's because Cork was always a pluralist place. For example, back in the 1960s the hippies of Ballydehob were long a source of national humour. But they were welcomed, the best of them stayed to make cheese, smoke fish, paint and make pottery. Later artistic immigrants have added a cosmopolitan vibe to the area that both locals and visitors enjoy. Right now the West Cork Arts Centre seems too big for its surroundings. Like West Cork itself, it actually barely fits the boundless ambitions of the area.

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