Jim O'Brien: Enduring entitlement gives food for thought

Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

An old friend of mine, now deceased, had a great reservoir of tales and anecdotes that shone a light on the more quirky corners of reality. He enjoyed dropping these into conversations as his parting contribution before swanning off, delighted with his devilment.

He spent his life in Maynooth College, and when people would bemoan the lack of progress around issues of equality and inclusion, he would remind them how far things had come.

He would recall the unveiling of the new organ in the College Chapel, where the programme of events for the occasion concluded with "refreshments for the clergy in the professor's refectory and an organ recital for the laity in the College Chapel".

Anyone without a Roman collar was expected to nourish themselves on the delights of Handel and Bach - no mean source of nourishment provided one has had a good bowl of soup.

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In my own neck of the woods, I remember hearing about a woman who worked as a housekeeper with a family that had the highest of regard for the imposing nature of its own pedigree. Along with a man named Moloney who worked on the farm, she undertook any job that risked raising a sweat.

In the local shop one day, the shopkeeper asked: "How are things above?"

"Oh, they're all sick," she said, "himself has cold, herself has cold but Moloney has cowld." Common illnesses had different names, depending on your station in life.

Even bodily functions were couched in a variety of status-appropriate euphemisms. As a young reader of the Limerick Leader, the great John B Keane was the first columnist I read.

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I remember him writing about a landed lady in west Limerick who had a most perspicacious steward renowned for his delicacy and diplomacy.

Once, while on a grouse shoot with a gathering of the stranded ascendancy, her ladyship suffered something of a gastric eruption and broke wind quite audibly. The shrewd steward spared his employer's blushes when he advised, "Fire the second barrel, my lady, while the bird is still flying."

Those were different times. But while we might like to congratulate ourselves on the distance we have travelled on the road to an egalitarian nirvana, we will inevitably find that entitlement is as persistent as ragwort.

Many an eyebrow was raised around the country last weekend with the revelation that some members of the judiciary, particularly at the upper end of the food chain of jurisprudence, have tastes more suitable for the court of Louis XIV than the highest court serving a republic.


Their lordships, it seems, are served by judicial assistants, people with legal qualifications (nothing less than a 2:1 degree will suffice) assigned to help them with legal research. These legal foragers are also expected to find fodder for their superiors - using personal funds supplied for the purpose by the same superiors.

The list of items, delicacies and detailed instructions on repast preparation for one particular judge reads like an excerpt from the imperial cookbook of the personal chef to the Japanese Emperor.

Only English eating apples were to be bought, Cox's and Braeburn preferably, along with Orkney oatcakes, the thin ones. While prawn cocktails are a favourite we are told that "occasionally the judge will prefer sushi". The learned gentleman also has a liking for "Medjool dates and stuffed olives".

It is to be hoped that the judge's judicial assistant will have a proficiency in the skinning of mackerel, skilled enough to avoid removing a few fingers in the process.

The coffee purchased must be Kenyan and the water has to be San Pellegrino. Hobnobs and lettuce are among the few items on the judge's shopping list that will be familiar to mere mortals.

At one level the rank self-regard, preciousness and sense of entitlement are highly amusing. The judge's list of requirements reads like the dressing-room demands of a diva - Liberace and Lady Gaga come to mind.

On a more serious note, it would lead you to feel slightly uneasy that people with real influence in our society seem to inhabit a parallel universe, one that bears little resemblance to the reality most people experience.

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