Ghostland Ar Aghaidh
Ireland of the expectations; those pesky Indians
1st January, 2003
Everyone comes to Ireland with an expectation in his heart. They look for Celtic mists, or whimsical music,
or drunken mischief. After a century of busy image management and diverse film-making, after the Quiet Man, the
Waterboys, U2, the Commitments
and Riverdance, everyone wants to see some combination of whiskey-swilling ukele players
dressed in paisley shirts and waistcoats who'll only
stop their frantic dancing only long enough to steal your wallet, and then tell you to fuck off. But in such a charming, witty
way you can't but like them, the rogues.
These notions baffle us, the Irish, because of course these are foreign stereotypes, that can't be true, and the rain falls on our
heads as hard as on any other.
It baffles us worse when those tourist dreams come true after all. When we meet a foreigner just back from Donegal or Mayo or
Dame Street or any other place we know is a barren, mud-sodden hell and they tell us of endless sunshine and laughter.
Ireland, it seems, rises to an occasion.
I met an American who loved his two weeks in Dublin because "those streets really party". I thought about little party hats, streamers
and bob-apple, up and down Dawson Street till the guards are called, and it didn't seem right to me, but he seemed happy about it.
Everyone has expectations, coming to Ireland. I expect to complain. I'm never disappointed.
"The truly Gaelic famine that was ours always"
I went to Dublin to see my old friend Joanne. As she can't play the banjo and I can't Riverdance with both legs at the
same time, our only way of living up to foreign prejudices was to go and murther some pints.
This allowed us to indulge in
the favorite Irish past-time of observing how every little thing in the country is no longer fit for a dog.
Ireland was called into being from the sea mists by the poet
Amergin with this incantation:
Áiliu íath nÉireann
mothach sliabh screatach
screatach coill citheach
citheach ab eascach
eascach loch linnmhar
linnmhar tor tiopra
tiopra túath óenach...
I call upon Ireland
coursed is the wild sea
wild the crying mountains
crying the generous woods
generous in showers
showers lakes and vast pools
vast pools hosts of well-springs
well-springs of tribes in assembly...
..and so on till he got to scaborous, ungrateful youths; smart-mouthed Corcegian gladhandlers who think they're it;
thievish sneaky-faced Dubs; fat hairy-legged bogmen from Offaly or Tipp or Wexford or anywhere, black sarcastic Northerners
who think they're funny but have no friends; .... and finishing, with an extra spur of contempt,
with trendy New York-style wanna-be bars, full of conceit, identikit black t-shirts, designer glasses and bullshit.
We agreed that everything was far better in our day.
Bangla me Arse
It used to be cool to be Irish. Films, books, music, dance, the world set a flower on our head.
It is with angry alarm we realise that fashions change. Now the Indians hold the stage.
It's far more fashionable to be South Asian
in London now than Irish. It's unfair. what have they got? Nothing but:
an ancient mystical culture;
an incomprehensible language;
a reputation for wild flights of passion and inter-necine strife;
a weird, wailing dance music promoting high speed body jerks;
a history of resistance to Britain followed by mass emigration to same.
Pah. Arrivistes. Flavour of the month. Okay, slender, fine featured Sundara can beat
thickedy ankled Gobnet from Ballydebog into the ha'penny place, but we're not complaining about that.
You see, we used to be the darling. Now,
they're the darling, and we Irish are just some muck-jumping, flabby big-mouths with
bad skin, and a tendancy to maudlin self-examination. Again.
The only consolation is to know that in a couple of years the Indians will be yesterday's news.
It will be fashionable to be kurdish, or an eskimo,
or some other trendy ethnic group. Anything but English culture, if there's anyone left alive who remembers it
after forty years of collective
post-imperial guilt and a strident left wing education system.
To Live and To Be
This culture. This briefly fashionable Irish culture.
It's hard to write about it. It's almost impossible to agree what it is.
Up to a few years ago Irish dancing meant endless hours of boredom spent waiting for my sisters
to do a five minute turn at the Derry Feis Ceol while dressed like escaped munchkins.
Then for a few years it meant black clad thighs gyrating in wild sexual abandon while the world
applauded. Now who knows?
Irish culture is said to contain music and melancholy, stone walls and Celtic mystery,
rebellion and drunken mischief.
My young Irish existence consisted of:
(b) computer games
(d) leaping around trying to impress da ladeez
If culture means the things you do and thoughts you have,
instead of the things you imagine you ought to do, if culture describes you at your most artless,
of Irishmen could barely be distinguished from anyone from England, America, or New Zealand.
Certainly we were poorer and there were more haystacks when I was a child, but even that has gone.
Joanne and I did not know what was Irish any more. But we agreed that whatever it was, we were
far more it than those poncey Dubliners with their fashionable T-shirts.
So this is Ireland. A spirit, a place. An incantation brought to mind five thousand years ago and
left to change
shape at will with each generation. We summon the image of Ireland to us: we love it; we hate it; we stay; we leave.
I walked through Dublin. Through the high squares and low houses. Under the leaves and through the quiet traffic lanes, along the sea
front and down to the rivers. I don't come back to Ireland very often. It is too crowded.
I lived here for ten years. I know every street, every turning.
Everywhere I look stirs an old memory. So much movement, so many people. So much trying and speaking and joking,
so much hope, such pain. All gone now, except in my mind. In my mind I can see them all, every face, every face, a thousand
ghosts at every corner.
Here we fell around laughing, the five of us; here I came for a job; here we hid; this is where I fell from my bicycle;
this is where I won; this is where I lost. So many ghosts; so many faces. This is where I walked with her; this is where I took
her hand; this is where she did not love me; this is where I cursed the ground; this is where I fled.
This is where we walked together; our ghosts walk still, by the side of the river,
Fast brown river
river swift running
running from the mountains
mountains of my people.
áiliu íath nÉireann