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Review: Feckers - 50 People who Fecked up Ireland by John Waters

On the first page of this wonderful book, John Waters identifies the difference between 'feck' and the more vulgar word with a 'u'. Feck is "less angry, less condemnatory somehow". And yet fecker has "a deeper quality of contempt".

If you, dear reader, understand these distinctions it will be clear to you why Waters includes Pope John Paul II in his Feckers book in the category of "gobshite, chancer, bollox". As far as I can see, all he is accused of is being "a kind old man whose ideas had passed their sell-by date".

But His Holiness has something in common not just with the other 49 feckers in this book but with the entire Irish people. That's because, ever since the Famine, we have been "thinking about ourselves upside-down. We do not understand the most basic facts about ourselves".

On the other hand, the Irish can be very clever: "Perhaps something most people in Ireland can agree upon ... is that the undoing of national independence probably began with its genesis in the Easter Week of 1916." But I thought most people believed the opposite.

Here's another surprise: "Bishop Eamon Casey's 'sins', or at least the ones he was punished for, suggest themselves as the flaws of a good man. He had knocked up an American woman, Annie Murphy, who had given birth in 1974 to a boy called Peter. All things considered, he was a high-class of sinner."

If you thought Des O'Malley and the PDs were in any way idealistic, here's the truth: "In a sense the PDs began not in 1985, but at the moment, some two decades before, when certain members of the aspirant political generation took one look at the swarthily preposterous figure of Charles J Haughey and realised they were going nowhere while this guy remained on the pitch."

Peculiarly enough, Waters is most interesting and humane when he takes the side of the helpless. Here he is on Gerry Adams: "Adopting the ideological palette of a left-liberal politician, he pontificated about equality and women's rights. He seemed to have forgotten all about Jean McConville and her truncated life as a woman and mother ...

"All this had a gruesome effect on the stomach of modern Ireland."

He also identifies with the much-maligned father in John McGahern's Memoir in a way that is genuinely provocative. But even while doing so, he can't help giving the reader's ribs an unmerciful tickling.

We're back to the Famine again. It "elevated the mother to the status of put-upon Madonna, and reduced the father to ... a brooding menace".

This raising up of the Mammy was "a crude act of social engineering ... effected by the Catholic Church for the purpose of controlling the somewhat licentious appetites of the Irish and preventing a repetition of the calamity that their libertine habits had caused to befall them".

This is a bit hard on the poor Paddy who thought the Famine was the fault of the rotten praties and the Brits. Now he finds out it was himself and his little Willy what done it.

Nor is it any consolation that the brooding Daddy has now been replaced by a creature dressed up by that fecker Ben Dunne senior in "a cheap tracksuit [and] slip-on shoes made of soft material, which make no sound as he walks".

In the old pre-Dunne days the Da "tended to move about in public on his own, joining with other males at certain appointed places: the public house, the bookie shop, inside the main door of the church.

Now, he tends to go out in public in the company of his wife or girlfriend, who is, it is clear, the architect of his physical appearance".

This woman "disports him for competitive purposes in order to demonstrate (a) his docility and (b) her capacity to control every aspect of his life".

Actually, women don't make much of a splash in Waters' world -- there are only four of them amongst his 50 feckers. Maud Gonne, Terry Keane and Mary Robinson get short shrift.

I have only enough space left to say that John Waters is Ireland's greatest living comic resource. There's enough laughing gas in this book to keep the country lit up for ages.

Brian Lynch is a novelist, poet, screenwriter and publisher

Indo Review