Tuesday 21 January 2020

Perhaps our young raw talents need Britain

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

A friend of mine has one bedrock belief about the human condition and the affairs of nations. He believes that the Irish are fundamentally like the Russians and that the English are fundamentally like the Germans.

A bright man, a much-travelled man, he is not one for the sweeping generalisation. But in this he is prepared to make an exception.

I thought of him as I was watching the Champions League match between CSKA Moscow and Manchester City, and the face of the Moscow coach appeared on the screen. And it was clear that the only other TV programme on which we could see such a face last week, was on Looking After Number 1, the RTE documentary about the daily lives of TDs – in the section about Michael Healy Rae's journeys through the great wildness of Kerry.

We have never acknowledged our Russian-ness, nor indeed have the Russians boasted of their Irishness. But then these issues of identity can get very complicated.

Guth, on TG4, is to be lauded for getting into the fascinating subject of the Irish in England and the number of fine rock 'n' roll bands which have emerged from that ancient arrangement – not only were they fine, the likes of Johnny Rotten, the Gallaghers and The Smiths tended also to be important for their disruptive tendencies.

As someone who has done much work on this theme, I am deeply familiar with this phenomenon of kids who were seen as Irish by the English, and vice versa, and how this could be a powerful creative force.

But I would now see it as being more complex again than that. They say that from time to time an Irish writer like, say, Brendan Behan, emerges to give the English theatre a blast of energy, and yet it is also true to say that the English theatre is always there to recognise the raw talent of a Behan, to help turn his ideas into actual plays.

Likewise, The Smiths, subjects of last week's Guth, had eight Irish-born parents between the four of them. So there would be a race memory of a country which did not look kindly on young men such as Mozza walking around with gladioli sticking out of their back pockets – indeed there were institutions with high walls for such people, or indeed for anyone who might be regarded as unusual.

So we need to understand that this relationship with Britain has been far more mutually beneficial than is generally admitted.

That for all the ass-kicking that the sons of Erin have administered to British culture, it is also virtually unknown for the Irish to become internationally successful without some significant contribution from a friendly neighbour.

So the Smiths, brought up in the Irish community in Manchester, might have felt this separateness from England, but then most artists, everywhere, feel a bit separate from their surroundings.

Again, I would prefer to join with Guth in rejoicing in such complications, rather than to regret their intrusion on a more simplistic nationalist narrative.

***

Then again, you can get further in life if you just stick to the version that suits you.

There were a couple of moments during Jon Snow's interview with Sir Alex Ferguson when Snow presented Fergie with what you might call A Contradiction.

These generally centred around the validity of Fergie's left-wing beliefs, in the light of his relationships with notorious capitalists such as the Glazers and Tony Blair.

And Fergie responded something like this: "You know Jon, there is indeed a contradiction there, but I would say to you, that I have found in the course of a long life, that we must all eventually face such contradictions, and deal with them somehow without losing touch with our own principles. It's difficult isn't it Jon?

"In order to achieve what we believe to be right, sometimes we need to find common ground with people whose philosophies are quite different to ours... that's how it goes Jon... that's life... that's love..."

Well no, that's not quite what he said. In fact it doesn't matter what he said, it was all there to be seen in his face, a vision of implacable hostility.

Jon Snow can take his contradictions and shove them.

Sunday Independent

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