Opinion Kevin Myers

Sunday 19 May 2019

A not-so-fair city of contrived 'craic' and American stout

Musicians gather for a session at O'Donoghue's pub in Merrion Row - the home of traditional music in the capital
Musicians gather for a session at O'Donoghue's pub in Merrion Row - the home of traditional music in the capital

KEVIN MYERS

In all the turmoil of recent months, one salient truth remained largely unobserved: the commercial repositioning of Guinness as an American product.

Current radio and television advertisements for the stout are done with American accents, and quite often in American situations.

Which is fine: the owner of Guinness, Diageo, is a multinational company, which knows no flag and serves no nation: its only loyalty is to its bottom line, and if that is enhanced by Americanising the product called 'Guinness', then so be it.

But there's absolutely no reason why in Ireland we should feel any loyalty to the stout or the company: whatever it is, Guinness the drink is no longer the Guinness of Ireland.

That's it, over, along with a lot else.

For Guinness is the symbolic flag, upon an ancient headland. Take O'Donoghue's of Merrion Row in Dublin, one of the great pubs of Dublin, and home of traditional music in the capital, under the magic hand of Dessie Hynes. The Dubliners began here, as did countless other musicians.

It was irresistible: sessions could spontaneously erupt at any time of day or night.

I remember walking in one evening to hear the most exotic jam-session involving African drummers, a Scottish bagpiper and various Irish musicians, with at least two uillean pipers.

The last -- and probably final -- time I was in O'Donoghue's was one lunchtime three years ago, when I found something new in the bar. Actually two new things: a pair of televisions, both of them on, and both loud.

This, in the Mecca of Irish music: it was rather like seeing a lamb being barbecued alive in the Dalai Lama's lentil pantry.

So, is there a pub left in Dublin which doesn't have a television on constantly throughout its opening hours?

And not just one, but several, usually the size of a small cinema screen, and always showing British TV?

Moreover, many pubs simultaneously play rock music, just in case you weren't already deafened by the booming herds of television sets calling to one another across the jungle-clearing of the lounge.

Thus the cacophony of the modern Irish pub: and cacophony is a good word, for it sums up the vile sonar bedlam perfectly.

The prefix, caco, is from the Greek, meaning "bad" or "terrible", and it is probably related to the general European word "kakka", "excrement".

This also gives us, for example, cack-handed, which is obvious, and poppycock, from the Dutch, pappekak meaning soft (pap) dung (kak).

In other words, what Dublin pubs are full of is audible crap, as they sell their Americanised stout, and their slot machines go CHUNG!!!, and if you're really lucky, why, you might even have a couple of jukeboxes playing c-rap.

In life, you know, strange little symptoms sometimes announce things going wrong.

The word "crack", a fine Hiberno-English word, was only ever spelt in the English way, because it is an English word which has acquired particular cultural resonances in Ireland.

About 10 years ago, possibly because of the competing cultural aggressions of the peace process, someone decided that an Irish phenomenon like "crack" could not have an English spelling.

So they fitted it out with a bawneen cap, and shoved a clay pipe in its mouth, and sewed little buckles on its shoes. And henceforth it was known as "craic", often enough in conjunction with "agus ceoil".

It was all desperately contrived, and in utter denial of what "crack" was all about: a spontaneously good time. For "craic" was now a self- consciously "Irish" commodity, and in a hideously winsome guise.

For this new piece of cultural confectionery was no longer spoken, but fluted archly, with perhaps a roguish little smile, rather like an RTE continuity announcer saying something saucy. The truth is that the crack died the very day that people decided to spell it 'craic'.

What's left of Ireland in Dublin? Grafton Street could be Reading High Street. St Stephen's Green shopp- ing centre is a replica of something you might find in Sunderland.

Dundrum shopping centre is a horror which no red- blooded, heterosexual adult male ever visits a second time, and is merely a smaller version of the massive malls of Minnesota.

The Luas trams from Stepaside are full of Irish girls shrieking in American at one another down their phones.

The other day, in one of my rare trips to Dublin, I wandered down through Grafton Street, O'Connell Street, Nassau Street: -- aside from the redoubtable Cathair Books and Pen Corner, of high and ancient renown -- I could have been in Buenos Lumpar or Kuala Penh, or any city anywhere.

The truth is that despite the general piety about immigration being good for a society, sometimes fusions don't work.

Look at Dublin.

The Celtic Tiger took that fair and lovely city, with its quirky pubs full of Guinness, talk and tobacco-smoke and old friends, and turned it into an urban cross between one of Britain's greatest poets and one of its greatest thinkers: no, not the Bard of Avon Locke, but Milton Keynes.

kmyers@independent.ie

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