Friday 13 December 2019

Requiem for a disconnected country

Greed has caused us to take all that is good about this nation for granted for too long, says Declan Lynch

I would add my voice to all the fine talk we heard last week about the arts and culture and all that, and how our writers and musicians and creative people in general have brought so much credit to this country, when others have brought only shame.

Now that we realise we weren't really much good after all at the money game, and that the old religion is not there for us any more, it is indeed wise that we seek sustenance in these things that we really are good at, things at which we are "world class" in the true sense rather than the corporate bullshit sense. That we proclaim our excellence where it is justified. That we talk up the value of our intellectual property.

But this, too, may involve us facing some hard questions, one of which occurred to me only last Saturday night and which I put to you today: do you know who Paul Tiernan is?

Because, by an odd coincidence, in the week that we named Gabriel Byrne as our new cultural ambassador, I had mused much on the state of our culture both at home and abroad in the context of a concert in a village hall in south Wicklow, given by this Paul Tiernan.

By the way, have you come up with an answer to that question yet? Honestly now, do you know who Paul Tiernan is? And Googling on the sly won't do you much good here, because the first reference to Paul Tiernan you'll find on Google is Paul Tiernan, solicitor. No, it's not him.

Equally misleading, though oddly appropriate, is another Paul Tiernan found by the search engine, a property developer who in 2007 apparently bought a house at the K Club from

Ronan Keating. No, it's not him either. Until last Saturday night I had heard of Paul Tiernan, but only up to a point -- I vaguely knew he was some guy who sang and played the guitar. I had heard something about him playing in Donovan's band, and accompanying artists such as Katell Keineg. But I didn't really know who he was in any meaningful sense.

Indeed, as soon as he started playing in the village hall I realised that I had thought he was someone else.

I had surmised that he was some sort of a superior busker who had gone straight. In the mind's eye I could see him entertaining a crowd, but I wasn't really expecting a performance which was -- if you'll pardon the expression -- world class.

Yet in the high country of south Wicklow at Conary Community Hall -- an old schoolhouse and now an intimate venue run with unswerving devotion to the path of righteousness by the actor Pat Nolan of Fair City fame -- this Paul Tiernan quickly revealed himself to be an inordinately talented singer and songwriter and guitar player. He was accompanied on cello by Kevin Murphy, the two of them somehow creating a sound which caught every nuance of the songs and yet was as big as a brass band.

I was stunned at the good of it all, but, like any Irish person, my enjoyment almost immediately gave way to feelings of guilt and shame, and more questions: how can a country become so disconnected from all that is good and true that we have a man of this calibre playing on a Saturday night to about 20 people, at least one of whom thought he was actually someone else?

Where the hell did we go so wrong that we have Bertie getting 30 grand a shot for his bullshit speeches on the big-dinners circuit, while this remarkable musician is unknown to all but the aficionados?

Later, my own guilt deepened as I learned that there are actually some people out there who know who Paul Tiernan is, the real Paul Tiernan. Mark Cagney of TV3, for example, a man who knows his stuff, described him last year as "one of the country's best and most under-rated singer/songwriters".

Cagney continued: "Paul Tiernan, who some of you may remember from his time with Flex and the Fastweather and Interference (don't ask), has spent the last eight years living abroad, mostly in France. If his quality of work, particularly the development of his songwriting, is anything to go by, it's a move some of his peers and contemporaries should seriously consider (yes, I mean you Damien Rice). . ."

"He has added a depth, maturity and wisdom to his armoury, which lifts him into a different league altogether."

And later I also learn that he once had a publishing deal with Paul McGuinness, and that a song of his, How to Say Goodbye, is on the soundtrack of the movie Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist.

So there are indeed a few people out there who know who Paul Tiernan is, and some of them are even Irish. But it is nowhere near enough to absolve us from our collective shame.

During the fat years, many believed the bullshit that the only way to measure the merit of anything was to count the money it made. And you can't keep doing that for any length of time without losing something -- like, for instance, the ability to know the difference between good and bad, or even to give a damn about such technicalities.

We became quite good at selling the bad stuff, apparently assuming that the good stuff would always be there for us, if we ever needed it. Apparently we need it now, and we need it badly. But, frankly, when most of us don't know who Paul Tiernan is, we hardly deserve it.

Sunday Independent

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