Sunday 15 December 2019

Blame the Irish dogs that did not bark in the night-time

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan

Reactions to both the Banking Inquiry and RTE's Rebellion show that when confronted with our own bad behaviour we prefer to blame Brussels or the Brits.

But first a reminder: tomorrow is St Brigid's Day, the first day of spring.

Also the day my Roscommon mother would raise her strong voice and banish the winter blues with a blast of Cill Aodain.

"Anois teacht an Earraig/Beidh an la dull chun sineadh/Is tareis na Feile Bride/Ardoidh me mo sheol.

"Now with the coming of spring/The days will be stretching out/And after St Brigid's Day I'll raise my sail."

Cill Aodain was composed by the famous pre-Famine Mayo travelling poet, Antoine O Raifteiri.

According to my mother, O Raifteiri would spend spring and summer rambling the west, visiting houses and reciting his verses.

But in November he would pick the house of a strong farmer in which to spend the winter.

For three months the poet would sit silently by the fire, sunk in depression.

But on St Brigid's Day, O Raifteiri would rise up, recite a poem of praise to the farmer and his family, and resume his annual ramble.

To me, Cill Aodain marks the end of O Raifteiri's Seasonal Affective Disorder, most likely caused by lack of sunshine and Vitamin D.

But while I will be whistling Cill Aodain tomorrow, I should add that some of his poems were packed with crude sectarian jibes.

Indeed Douglas Hyde, a Protestant, sanitised a few of them before adding them to his anthologies.

In time I trust the sectarian sting will fade - as indeed it is fast fading from great Orange anthems like The Sash.

The point is to get our life juices flowing. As I keep saying, we need both traditions on the island to invigorate us.


St Brigid herself is another complex character, a proto-feminist who could possibly become a patron of the pro-choice movement.

The late Liam de Paor translated an account of St Brigid's kindly dealings with an aspiring nun who had become pregnant.

According to De Paor: "A certain woman who had taken the vow of chastity fell, through youthful desire of pleasure, and her womb swelled with child."

What Brigid did to solve that problem certainly prioritised the life of the mother over that of the embryo.

"Brigid, exercising the most potent strength of her ineffable faith, blessed her, causing the child to disappear, without coming to birth, and without pain."

Surely this makes St Brigid an attractive saint - or secular patron if you want to be picky - for the women of modern Ireland?


Last week's Bank Inquiry report caused me to reflect on one of my own secular saints.

Jack Reacher, the action hero of Lee Child's best-selling crime novels, favours retribution rather than rehabilitation.

"I don't really care about the little guy. I just hate the big guy. I hate smug people who think they can get away with things."

I lean a little that way myself. So I had scant sympathy for the tribal attempt to blame Jean-Claude Trichet for all our banking woes.

The first responsibility lay with three Irish institutions - the Financial Regulator, the Central Bank and the Department of Finance.

We paid the three incumbents to be watchdogs. But their behaviour was more reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes's remark about "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time".

Detective Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

To quote Kevin Doyle's earthy simile in the Irish Independent, "the regulators were worse than a neutered bullock in a field of heifers".

Far from naming, shaming and docking their pay and pensions for failure to bark in the night, we fed them meaty bones that would have fed five average Irish families for the foreseeable future.

Patrick Neary, the Financial Regulator, went golfing on a golden handshake of €643,000 and a weekly pension of €2,750.

John Hurley, the Central bank governor, got a golden handshake of €525,000, plus a weekly pension of €3,365

Kevin Cardiff, boss of the Department of Finance, had his civil service pension pot boosted by his appointment to the European Court of Auditors, which gratefully gorged him on a salary of €276,000 per annum.

Cardiff was initially turned down as a candidate for the Court of Auditors Budgetary Committee after it came out that the Department of Finance had made a €3.6bn accounting error.

But with the help of the Labour Party, the European Parliament gave him the plum post. Another reason I won't be voting Labour.

At least John Hurley apologised for his failures. As did politicians like Ahern, McCreevy and Cowen.

Lucinda Creighton was one of the few politicians to look askance at these apologies in the absence of financial penalties.

Pointing out that apologies without practical atonement amount to placebos, she asked: "Is a belated apology enough of a price to pay?"

Kevin Cardiff is bringing out a book about the affair. If he is stuck for a title let me suggest: Apologia Pro Vita Sua.


Finally, Rebellion. Some critics crowed when ratings dipped sharply after the second episode. Pity they did not emulate Sherlock Holmes and ask why.

Pat Stacey, in the course of a critical review, failed to follow up the clue he himself had planted in plain sight.

"What seemed to get up many viewers' noses, however, was a scene showing one of the volunteers shooting an unarmed RIC constable at the unlocked gates of Dublin Castle."

But there was nothing fictional about Rebellion's rendering of the cold-blooded shooting of the unarmed constable, James O'Brien.

Conor Brady, former editor of the Irish Times and former Garda Ombudsman, wrote that "RTE's reconstruction of what happened was faultlessly accurate".

Back in the 1970s, Brady knew Constable O'Brien's son, Michael, "who still seemed at a loss over why his father had to die, why his mother had to be widowed, why he had to go through childhood unable to mourn his loss as he would have wished".

Rebellion's depiction of the death of Constable O'Brien courageously contradicted the heroic nationalist narrative of 1916. Critics should give credit for courage, too.

Sunday Independent

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