Sunday 19 January 2020

Vote-hungry Obama is sure to embrace eejitry

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

St Patrick's Day (RTE1) Nuala (RTE1) Melvyn Bragg on Class and Culture (BBC2)

IN our ground-breaking work on the phenomenon of eejitry, we have noted that no-one is ever entirely safe from its deadly grip. Certainly no Irish person can rest easy, at any time, and around St Patrick's Day the whole world is placed at risk -- even Barack Obama, a man who is about as free from the curse of eejitry as is humanly possible, could be seen receiving a Certificate of Irishness from Enda Kenny, a moment when all sorts of eejitry seemed possible.

Because one of the defining traits of the eejit, is that he is maddened when he observes the man who is not an eejit, and he will not rest until he has done everything in his power to even things up, as it were. Nor is there any limit to his ambition here, with even Obama a legitimate target in the right circumstances -- on Paddy's Day, and him in need of a few votes, he will be a very lucky man indeed to get away with a mere Certificate of Irishness.

Back home, a man who has held out for decades against all the best efforts of the forces of eejitry, would be John Giles. In working with the great man on his life story, I was reminded that Giles was never a "character", which meant that certain gentlemen of the press and indeed the public could not fully embrace him, even at the height of his marvellous career.

Looking back, I felt that they craved some display of eejitry, however small, from Giles, and then they could relax. Just one.

But he could not give it to them. And last week, as he sat in the vintage car which took him down O'Connell Street as Grand Marshal of the Dublin Parade, still no eejitry could they find in him, no relief in their endless quest, even in this ancient carnival of Paddywhackery.

It just was not in him.

Then again, how could any of us be right? Nuala O Faolain was raised in an Ireland which echoed the line of James L Petigru about South Carolina -- "too small for a republic, and too large for an insane asylum".

So the material about her childhood in the first half of Nuala, the documentary made by her friend Marian Finucane, was probably more powerful than the later parts which were mainly set in the outside world. Places such as New York, in which her life seemed to be relatively tranquil and ordered by comparison with the extravagant strangeness of any one day in the life of an Irish family in the Fifties.

But it was all very strong stuff, mainly because it did not portray Nuala as a saint. She was too complicated -- too interesting -- for that.

I knew Nuala a small bit, small enough for our dealings to be entirely pleasant. She defended me in her column when the Bishop of Ferns, Brendan Comiskey, accused me of blasphemy -- which was then considered a bad thing. And when I was asked to speak on some cultural matter at the Merriman School, with Nuala also on the panel, she followed my effort on the day with an unscripted speech of the utmost brilliance.

I watched her giving that performance in that slightly stunned way you do, when you know you are in the presence of some extraordinary talent. And yet, like most of the contributors to Nuala, you could find fault with her according to taste.

My own complaint was with this persona Nuala would sometimes adopt, this voice of a simple, poor peasant woman which she would put out there in defiance of the fact that she was in fact enormously sophisticated and well-read and opera-loving and a graduate of Oxford and the BBC and all that.

It was a voice she could sustain quite well, I just don't think it was really her.

And like many Irish writers and intellectuals, she seemed mysteriously to miss out on rock'n'roll. Melvyn Bragg, in his recent series on Class and Culture, said of pop music and rock'n'roll in the Sixties: "Most of all, it was so very good. It was on a par with all the other arts at the time, but it was totally accessible..."

Now, Melvyn is not entirely right here -- yes, it was "so very good", but it was not "on a par" with the other arts, it was better. It was much, much better.

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