Tuesday 21 November 2017

Visions of a free Ireland without the eejitry

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

The title of Ursula Halligan's TV3 documentary Sinn Fein: Who Are They? was instructive in itself. It sounds like an old headline from a Sunday tabloid about the Moonies or the Screamers or some such cult whose ways are not our ways. An alien sect with some weird belief-system that is beyond our understanding.

And that is how it should be. The only odd thing in the case of this particular cult, is that they've been around for about a hundred years. And yet it is still possible in 2013 to be asking: who are they?

Even in the course of last week, they presented at least two versions of themselves – and that was just on TV3. The Halligan documentary had a coffee-table feel to it, with the interviewer probing away stoically at various old Provos like Martin Ferris and Martin McGuinness, relaxing in the autumn of their lives in beautiful Ireland.

It was John Hinde with a dash of Bram Stoker, as the viewer too luxuriated in the marvellous scenery, but pondered the terrible things that these men have seen, the things they have done – and while some say it was all for nothing, others might say that the lake views alone were worth it.

As if maddened by all the humanity in it, by the end of the week Sinn Fein had turned quite savage, being the only party which saw fit in the course of its analysis to include a note of appreciation for the boys of South Armagh, lauding them for doing their duty and plugging the two RUC men.

Who are they? Well, it might work better if we asked ourselves, what are they? What is this thing that they believe in, this curse that has been passed on to them and that will be passed on to generations as yet unborn?

What is this Irish nationalism?

Of course, like so many things to do with our national self-image, it is a form of eejitry. But it is more than that. It is eejitry taken to such an extreme, that it becomes a form of evil.

If we could get an Irish translation for that – "Eejitry taken to such an extreme, that it becomes a form of Evil" – and stitch it into all the banners for 2016, it would be a start.

* * * * * * *

There is another ancient Irish struggle to be seen on Sunday nights in Room To Improve. It is the struggle between the light and the darkness.

Except in this case, the light is not always good, and the darkness is not always bad.

We are a complicated people, and so instinctively we reject many of the assumptions of modern architecture, the most powerful of which is the notion that our houses must be filled with light.

And so most weeks we see this conflict developing between Dermot Bannon and some brave homeowner – oh, let's call him Paddy – who gives a guarded welcome to the light, but who still craves a little darkness.

On the surface it's all about knocking down walls and drilling and decorating, but deep down it's about Paddy not being convinced that he's ready to live in a big bright box that feels to him like the reception area of an advertising agency.

I'm with Paddy here, by the way.

Somewhere in his soul he wants nooks and he wants crannies, a bit of olde-worlde atmosphere, a touch of gloom. And he will fight for that, against Dermot Bannon, right up until the moment that he loses – as he usually does.

* * * * * * *

They're dragging us forward too, with these Irish films. I saw One Hundred Mornings, written and directed by Conor Horgan, on TV3, and I thought it was excellent.

I am now almost expecting Irish films to be excellent, including the ones that are shown on TV3. What has happened to the old certainties?

Horgan's film, a full-length feature set in post-apocalyptic Ireland, was all the better because it was made for about 275 grand – you'd pay more for an extension on Room To Improve.

Because it is concerned mainly with the relationships between two couples holed up in a shack in the woods, we are not given any clue about the cause of the apocalypse.

But we sense that out there, at last, Ireland is free.

Sunday Independent

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