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Amazed

It was a fair day in my home town: people from the fields and the hills all around had come to sell their cattle and their calves and perhaps their horses and ponies.

For once, I had nothing to sell but awoke that morning as if I happened to be playing for Kerry in the All-Ireland Final. The reason was simple: it was the occasion of my debut on television.

It was on Teilifis Scoile, of course in Irish. The subject was An Gearrsceal, the short story, directed by Sean O'Mordha. I had decided that it would be in pictures as much as in words. For the short story I had de Maupassant and Gaudet and Flaubert. For the paintings there was too much of a choice: it included Manet and Monet and Utrillo and Van Gogh and Cezanne.

Even though the language was Irish, it presented no difficulty. It was written in very simple language and there was little of it. It is my belief that television should be more about images than about words. We hadn't television at home and my intention was to watch it in a public house. And so by about half eleven I was in Tom McCarthy's in the very heart of the town.

The programme was coming on at 12 o'clock but in case something went wrong I wanted to be in good time. To my surprise, it wasn't empty. There was an audience of maybe 100 men and women and boys and girls. By 12 o'clock, this was doubled. It amazed me.

Somehow the word had got around. When the programme came on, there was a great air of excitement and this increased when the paintings came on with little bits of language in between. Many of the audience had been through secondary school and the others retained basic Irish from their primary days.

Few, however, had seen these paintings before and there were little murmurs of appreciation as the art came on view.

The first was by Manet. It showed men at work mending a road. It was very homely and all the more relevant. And the applause grew more and more as time went on. It all ended with Van Gogh's famous painting of Paris as seen by night from a cafe in Montmartre.

When it all ended there was great cheering and I got hugs and pats on the back as if I had got the winning score for Kerry in an All-Ireland Final. Afterwards, on reflection, I thought about how little of Irish life has been expressed in painting. Our artists seem obsessed with the world of the coast.

Many of our best artists have worked in West Galway and in West Donegal. They seem unaware of the life inland. You will see many paintings of fishermen but very few, if any, of people bringing their cattle to the fair. You will see paintings of currach races but few of football or hurling games. Jack Yeats was one of the few who broke away from this tradition: he showed us point-to-point races and pigbuyers coming to their local pub.

Paul Henry painted pictures of whitewashed cottages with thatched roofs because he loved them and felt they should be expressed.

A great amount of Irish life is still to be expressed. We would love to see a fair day in Mullingar or a football game in Croke Park or a hurling game in Thurles. Daniel Corkery used to ask: "Would any of our writers or artists be at home at a Munster Final?" A few were but not many. We are still awaiting a general appreciation of the life that is flowing beneath.

Synge was aware of that life and did much to express it but once again his best work is about the west of Ireland. There is one painter, Tadgh MacSuibhne, who is working away quietly and diligently at the life he sees around him in mid-Cork.

Michael D Higgins is to be congratulated very warmly on his towering success. Many months ago in this paper I said that he was my choice. He will be a great president because he is a good man.

He is coming into the office with his hands clean and his mind open. I knew that he would be a popular choice and he will build on his million plus votes to give him confidence.



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We see now that he had no opposition from people who did their own thinking. Sean Gallagher had been an associate of Charlie Haughey. That should have been enough to condemn him. David Norris had done great work in bringing this country into the modern world but that has all been so long ago that it was forgotten.

Martin McGuinness shouldn't have been allowed run because he has a criminal record in the Republic. If he had become our president, we would have been the laughing stock of the civilised world.

Michael D has promised to undo all the harm of the crazy Celtic Tiger years. He has a vast amount of work to do. In theory he has no power but he can lead by example. The Celtic Tiger years were marked by a madness in which people spent money they hadn't earned. It came from the banks who could be accused of being greedy by some people and by others as being generous. The result was a mad wave of spending that we are now trying to undo.

Fogra: We warmly congratulate all those who took part in the Dublin Marathon last week. It was a brilliant success. We look back on years when it seemed to be coming to an end but it couldn't because the Dublin Marathon is a people's race.


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