Some Dublin friends had builders in last May, for a job to be completed in July. So, of course, they spent the third week of December desperately trying to get the builders to finish by Christmas. And the really serious problem with this story is the effortless ease with which Irish readers know it is possible. Moreover, Irish builders -- not being parachuted down from Mars -- are probably a fair representation of the standards in much of Irish life.
Lying to ourselves is like concealing tumours from a doctor, yet it is what we repeatedly do. This year we begin a decade of anniversaries of largely calamitous events, the choicest of which will be officially suffused with a roseate glow of approval. But if you canonise historical tragedy, you should not be surprised if others then seek sainthood by repeating the bloody blunders of the past.
All of Europe has reason to remember the catastrophic events of a century ago; but only in Ireland will they be commemorated with pride. In part, this is because people have been lied to by their school textbooks, and their political masters.
Nationalists still do not know that Home Rule had been legally established in 1914. They do not know that there were no British regiments in Ireland in 1916, and that the 1916 Rising was directed solely at Irishmen, who for the most part didn't join the army to defend the UK, but to fight for Belgium and Home Rule.
They do not know that all the violence between 1916-l923 finally resulted in largely the kind of parliamentary democracy that Home Rule would have produced anyway: whatever the differences were, they were not worth a single life, never mind the thousands of dead and the economic ruination resulting from the abominable civil wars of 1916-23.
The executions of 1916 still form the toxic staple of the brainwashing that passes for education in our secondary schools. Were you taught about the other executions, of the 77 helpless anti-Treaty prisoners taken from their cells, and shot in batches, as a means of ending the Civil War? Were you taught about the thousands of protestants chased from their homes in the 26 counties between 1919-23?
Did you learn about how the IRA evicted around 100 children from the two protestant orphanages in Clifden in 1922, and burnt the buildings down, while the Royal Navy had to send in a warship to save the homeless waifs? Did you learn about the protestants abducted in Cork City, murdered and secretly buried in the farm of an IRA leader who was to be a Fianna Fail TD for over 40 years?
Yes, we all know about the Black and Tans, and the Auxiliaries. They are part of the educational staple, are they not? And no civilised person can today celebrate the burning of Cork or the Croke Park butchery. Yet just over a year ago, we had the minister for defence officially endorsing fancy-dress re-enactments of the ambushes in which Irish RIC-men were slain by Irishmen. This is barbaric.
No one else in Europe will actually be CELEBRATING the dreadful events of a century ago. That melancholy distinction falls to the Irish; so is it surprising that we are endlessly reliving different versions of the same story of bloody failure? Those annual gatherings at Bodenstown and Beal na mBlath and the GPO are nothing more than the semi-religious and wholly pagan sanctification of homicide.
And where do the builders come in this story? Why, because they are the living embodiment of the culture of moral imprecision that officially allows us to ignore the Ten Commandments of our choice. Some revere paramilitarism; or semi-states bosses who fiddle their expenses, and bank regulators on whose watch the State was destroyed, are allowed to retire early on full pension; or in the HSE, sick-leave = Monday hangovers.
Yes, I go on about this culture, and yes, I do so, ad nauseam. Why? Because it guarantees a return to failure, that familiar pit of sloth and dirges, where an addictive commemorationalism unfailingly provides the blueprint for Plan B.
Freed from the shackles of this perverse and dysfunctional domestic ethos, the Irish are probably the most successful ethnic group in the US. Yet 20th Century independent Ireland has historically been the least successful state in Western Europe. All other countries, including the North, increased their populations by 40pc between 1920 and 2000: ours, though boosted by an atypical decade of the Celtic Tiger, increased by just 20pc. But demographic growth up to 1980 was actually half that.
Revelling in bad history makes for a terrible future. And I can see it unfolding over the coming months; an orgy of self-pitying and ahistorical hubris over events of a century ago. Just about everywhere in Europe passed through a Golgotha between 1912 and 1923, and many countries experienced terrible civil wars. But only one country will actually, albeit selectively, rejoice in the deeds of that time: the one where even in an economic meltdown, builders promise to leave by July, and are still there in December.