Wednesday 20 February 2019

Eoghan Harris: How Liam would have loved this, our happy day

Jim Cogan's illustration
Jim Cogan's illustration
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young and flying home to secure a resounding Yes result was very heaven.

Apologies for adapting Wordsworth's welcome for the French Revolution - but I'm happy we have stopped being hypocrites.

RTE News and Current Affairs coverage of the referendum was ragged in contrast to that of TV3, which was composed.

Montrose should note Micheal Martin's praise of TV3's coverage as "being in the best traditions of public service broadcasting".

Martin deserves high praise for his brave stand - which also proved his party critics were totally out of touch with public opinion.

As both camps limber up for Dail legislation, let's hope they learned the following lesson from the television debates.

People watching television in the peace of their homes hate the shouting in studios and prefer contributors who speak simply about their feelings to dogmatic debaters.

Accordingly, Iona was lucky RTE rejected Maria Steen for the Miriam O'Callaghan debate. Steen talked too much, too often over other speakers.


How Did Your Constituency Vote?

Final Results Constituencies declared: 40/40

Map Key

Yes 55% 50% 55% No

Likewise, Ronan Mullen's musings conjured up images of jowly movie judges with scant sympathy for the defendant.

For the Yes side, Simon Harris and Mary Lou McDonald argued superbly, but it was Regina Doherty's calm down-to-earth honesty that silenced Steen and won over any neutrals.

The Yes side was not perfect. Some political pundits joined lumpen bigots on social media to sneer at the Orange Order's call to vote No.

They seem to believe that unionists have lost the right to support their own government at Westminster, or have an opinion on social matters like abortion.


Constituencies with the strongest Yes/No vote

The table below shows the top five constituencies with the strongest vote for or against repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Dublin Bay South 78.49% 21.51%

Dún Laoghaire 77.06% 22.94%

Dublin Fingal 76.96% 23.04%

Dublin Central 76.51% 23.49%

Dublin Rathdown 76.10% 23.90%

Donegal 48.13% 51.87%

The Orange Order contains many devout Christians who believe what most of us believed only 10 short years ago.

As the Order had a negligible number of votes in the Republic, jeering at its call was just naked nationalist tribalism.

My daughter Nancy, home from the UK to vote Yes, was struck by the similarity between the racism of British Brexiteers and the tribalism of southern nationalists.

She said in the UK a pack of posh Tory toffs had given the mob yobs permission to be nasty to blacks on public transport.

Likewise in Ireland a pack of posh pundits are giving naff nationalists permission to be publicly bigoted about unionists who are merely minding their own interests.

Shamefully, many of our political commentators seem increasingly shameless about talking dirty about unionists.

This is reminiscent of Haughey, who once told the journalist Henry Kelly that unionists were a people "who'd achieved nothing".

So much for the Northern Presbyterian tradition whose passion for private conscience and public good suffuses the American Constitution.

Luckily, President Michael D Higgins, to whom I spoke at length after the funeral of Liam O Muirthile last Monday, has no time for narrow tribal nationalism.

The President was enthusiastic about his forthcoming speech in Belfast dealing with the Presbyterian contribution to the Irish language.

Last Monday, too, the Gaeltacht writer, Seosamh O Cuaig, sent me a piece calling on Sinn Fein to remember Bishop Bedell, author of the first Bible in the Irish language.

Both the referendum result and the recall of the rich relationship between Protestants and the Irish language would have delighted my late friend, Liam O Muirthile, that most pluralist of poets.

Hard to believe we will never again have our spiky summer sparring matches at Seapoint.

We loved each other dearly, but both of us being the eldest of nine, and from Cork city, we liked the sound of our own opinions after a swim.

We also carried on a 10-year email conversation about politics and poetry, to which I supplied the politics and he supplied the poetry.

Looking back over our emails, I am struck by his effortless erudition, his exactness and his epic aim of energising poetry with both Irish and English.

"My whole project has been to bring together two languages in one - seamlessly at times, but at other times showing the joints, warts and joinings in order to reveal the thing itself more clearly - as if by showing imperfections, we see the wholeness, a merely apparent paradox."

Liam could be caustic about the burden the language revival had placed on the Republic, a burden he believed Northern nationalists had escaped.

"The Northern crowd - in literature as well as everything else - have never had to make that serious journey into another language that Southern culture imposed - if that's the word - on generations. That has had huge implications. And they are not going to hijack it in any shape, manner or form."

Liam retained his critical clarity to the end. Three weeks ago, from his hospital bed, he reprimanded me for criticising the poem Fill Aris by his poetic hero Sean O Riordain.

Liam, knowing well how I hate second-hand opinions, gave me a puck in the solar plexus by telling me I was taking my reading from Seamus Heaney.

An adroit polemicist, he anticipated I would argue that O Riordain's 1970's columns for The Irish Times revealed the poet had a tribal cast of mind.

Liam was all too aware that O Riordain's columns regularly poured a Provoish poison over Jack Lynch's pluralism, even calling him an Irish Petain.

But loyal to O Riordain's great poetic legacy, Liam defended him thus: "The columns do not implicate the integrity of the poetry. That is my belief."

But Liam had too much integrity not to note the ambivalence of some Irish writers of the war years who might have welcomed a German invasion. In his last email he wrote:

"There was a dangerous ideological and social liaison between many Irish speakers of the 1930s and 1940s and the German Embassy in Dublin.

"Padraig O Siochfhradha, An Seabhac, a frequent visitor, describes dining with the ambassador in his unpublished diaries."

Liam did not dodge the implications. "Is it the case that we have to begin seeing Jimin Mhaire Thaidhg (An Seabhac) as a potential recruit of a proto-fascist movement founded after Hitler won the war?"

The dark side of cultural nationalism seemed to drain him: "I'm tired of all this, Eoghan; I don't know how you keep going."

One of the things that kept me going was the joy of jousting with Liam, especially after our swims at Seapoint, where we would sometimes slag each other in our togs until cold forced us to dress and depart.

Some years ago, he dedicated a poem about Seapoint to me. In a premonition that his time might be limited, he spoke about wanting to finish it fairly quickly, without too much rewriting.

"I'm not sure if the poem is completely finished, but I have felt an urgency about everything lately, and have given the critic the red card."

He asked his fellow poet, Peter Sirr, to do an English translation which perfectly caught the icy iron of the original Irish.

It also calls to mind Tennyson's Ulysses and breaks my heart as we head into high summer.

Here in Seapoint, our strokes don't count for much,

nor our buoyant wit; it's enough

just to be here, wanting to jump in to the waves

and climb out again with the grin of age

at having once more survived, the tiniest fleck

of iron lodged in us, sea-hardened,

the cold spiked tip of rinn na mara, the sea's point.

Slan go foill, Liam.

Sunday Independent

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