29 April 2006

2006 and All That

Intended as a guide for prospective citizens on all matters of British culture and history a new Government booklet "Life in the United Kingdom: a Journey to Citizenship," has faced a barrage of derision from historians on account of its litany of historical errors and glaring misquotes.
According to the guide Winston Churchill thanked the heroes of the Battle of Britain with the words: "Never in the course of human conflict have so many owed so much to so few" and not "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few" as we were previously led to believe
We are also told that Great Britain includes Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man (This is actually the United Kingdom), Charles II was recalled from exile in France (Holland, actually) and Queen Mary "came to the throne with Spanish support” (err while she may have married the king of Spain her supporters were most definitely English).
Professor Sir Bernard Crick, who wrote the history section, defended his work: "There are errors in it because it was done fairly quickly because we didn't want to keep immigrants waiting for their citizenship.”
I know this is hardly an earth shattering story but there is no excuse for such a slipshod approach to historical fact.Perhaps it would have been better if every prospective citizen was provided with a copy of 1066 and All That. At least they would have had a few laughs while learning bad history!

Life in the United Kingdom: a Journey to Citizenship is available from the Stationery Office for £9.99. 1066 and All That is rather cheaper.


25 April 2006

The Joys of the Gower - La recherche du temps perdu?

My friend Siani has a wonderful blog about the Gower Peninsula with many images of what is a beautiful part of Wales.

I have only visited the Gower once myself and that was on a Zoology field trip while still at school. Although I do remember being taken by the beauty of the place, the trip was more memorable for mishaps such as being caught by the tide on Mumbles Head and having to wade back to the shore in steel capped boots in waist-deep water against a nasty riptide. Other memories include having to be dragged out of a mudflat after getting stuck fast (at the Burry Inlet I think) and coming within an ace of planting my fist on one of my teachers.

I have resolved to go back and look at it through the eyes of a forty-something unencumbered by the baggage of taxonomy and teachers.

23 April 2006

The Euston Manifesto

Nothing seems to have created as much controversy (and generated a fair bit of hostility) on the left in recent months as the Euston Manifesto The work of a grop of prominent journalists (including Nick Cohen and Francis Wheen) , academics and political bloggers it intends to create a new democratic progressive alignment including not only the demoracatic left but also progressive non-socialists.

While I personally do not agree with everything in the Manifesto, in the main it accords with my own political outlook and as such I am happy to support it.

22 April 2006

A Brewhaha over Ben and Jerry's?

Ben and Jerry's is noted for its unusually named products but their new Stout flavoured ice cream, Black and Tan, has created a minor stir among Irish Americans. The name was inteded to celebarate a drink made from equal portions of Stout and Pale Ale, unfortunately the Black and Tans were also an auxillary force created in 1920 to counter IRA activities in Ireland. This force soon gained a reputation for violence and were guilty of several atrocities, including the first Bloody Sunday

Given that Ben and Jerry's have no plans to bring out a "No Surrender" flavour (Orange of course) it can be assumed that there was no ill intent behind the choice of name. Given also the marked absence of a storm of controversy in the Irish press one can assume that the whole story was seen for what it is..... just a storm in an ice cream tub.

21 April 2006

Worth Reading: Koba the Dread

Martin Amis is not an author I am particularly fond of: The two novels of his I have read (London Fields and Times Arrow) left me rather cold. Koba the Dread, however, is in a different league: it isn't a conventional biography of Stalin rather it focuses on the madness of the Stalin era. It is also an assault on the myths surrounding the revolution and its leaders. Many on the Left will say that Stalin was a bastard who perverted the good works of Lenin and Trotsky. The reality was that he used their "good works" as the bedrock of his own terror. The book reminds us that Stalin was evil but so were Ulyanov and Bronstein, the only key difference being a matter of scale.

Another key element of this book is the culpability of intellectuals across the world who chose to swallow the romantic image of the USSR, perhaps because the truth was simply to awful to contemplate. There is a major personal element to this - his father Kingsley was a card carrying communist from 1941 right up to the effective death of Communist Party of Great Britain in the aftermath of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956

The new totalitarianism

Published in Iranian.com and elsewehere on 3 March.

MANIFESTO: After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism.

We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all. The recent events, which occurred after the publication of drawings of Muhammed in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field. It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats.

Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world. But we clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism and hatred. Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man's domination of woman, the Islamists' domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people.

We reject "cultural relativism", which consists in accepting that men and women of Muslim culture should be deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secular values in the name of respect for cultures and traditions. We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of "Islamophobia", an unfortunate concept which confuses criticism of Islam as a religion with stigmatisation of its believers.

We plead for the universality of freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit may be exercised on all continents, against all abuses and all dogmas.
We appeal to democrats and free spirits of all countries that our century should be one of Enlightenment, not of obscurantism.

12 signatures

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, from somilian origin, is member of Dutch parliement, member of the liberal party VVD. Writter of the film Submission which caused the assasination of Theo Van Gogh by an islamist in november 2004, she lives under police protection.

Chahla Chafiq

Chahla Chafiq, writer from iranian origin, exiled in France is a novelist and an essayist. She's the author of "Le nouvel homme islamiste , la prison politique en Iran " (2002). She also wrote novels such as "Chemins et brouillard" (2005).

Caroline Fourest

Essayist, editor in chief of Prochoix (a review who defend liberties against dogmatic and integrist ideologies), author of several reference books on « laicité » and fanatism : Tirs Croisés : la laïcité à l'épreuve des intégrismes juif, chrétien et musulman (with Fiammetta Venner), Frère Tariq : discours, stratégie et méthode de Tariq Ramadan, et la Tentation obscurantiste (Grasset, 2005). She receieved the National prize of laicité in 2005.

Bernard-Henri Lévy

French philosoph, born in Algeria, engaged against all the XXth century « ism » (Fascism, antisemitism, totalitarism, terrorism), he is the author of La Barbarie à visage humain, L'Idéologie française, La Pureté dangereuse, and more recently American Vertigo.

Irshad Manji

Irshad Manji is a Fellow at Yale University and the internationally best-selling author of "The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith" (en francais: "Musulmane Mais Libre"). She speaks out for free expression based on the Koran itself. Née en Ouganda, elle a fui ce pays avec sa famille musulmane d'origine indienne à l'âge de quatre ans et vit maintenant au Canada, où ses émissions et ses livres connaissent un énorme succès.

Mehdi Mozaffari

Mehdi Mozaffari, professor from iranian origin and exiled in Denmark, is the author of several articles and books on islam and islamism such as : Authority in Islam: From Muhammad to Khomeini, Fatwa: Violence and Discourtesy and Glaobalization and Civilizations.

Maryam Namazie

Writer, TV International English producer; Director of the Worker-communist Party of Iran's International Relations; and 2005 winner of the National Secular Society's Secularist of the Year award.

Taslima Nasreen

Taslima Nasreen is born in Bangladesh. Doctor, her positions defending women and minorities brought her in trouble with a comittee of integrist called « Destroy Taslima » and to be persecuted as « apostate »

Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie is the author of nine novels, including Midnight's Children, The Satanic Verses and, most recently, Shalimar the Clown. He has received many literary awards, including the Booker Prize, the Whitbread Prize for Best Novel, Germany's Author of the Year Award, the European Union's Aristeion Prize, the Budapest Grand Prize for Literature, the Premio Mantova, and the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. He is a Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et Lettres, an Honorary Professor in the Humanities at M.I.T., and the president of PEN American Center. His books have been translated into over 40 languages.

Philippe Val

Director of publication of Charlie Hebdo (Leftwing french newspaper who have republished the cartoons on the prophet Muhammad by solidarity with the danish citizens targeted by islamists).

Ibn Warraq

Ibn Warraq , author notably of Why I am Not a Muslim ; Leaving Islam : Apostates Speak Out ; and The Origins of the Koran , is at present Research Fellow at a New York Institute conducting philological and historical research into the Origins of Islam and its Holy Book.

Antoine Sfeir

Born in Lebanon, christian, Antoine Sfeir choosed french nationality to live in an universalist and « laïc » (real secular) country. He is the director of Les cahiers de l'Orient and has published several reference books on islamism such as Les réseaux d'Allah (2001) et Liberté, égalité, Islam : la République face au communautarisme (2005).

17 April 2006


My attention was drawn recently to a site called Muslim Wakeup! An article by Raheel Raza made me stop and think again about Islamic stereotypes:

" During the height of the Danish cartoon controversy, Canadian media interviewed male Muslim leaders exclusively, without bothering to seek out leaders among Muslim women. It’s a given that Muslim leaders are men, preferably with beards. Haideh Moghissi, Professor of Sociology, York University, says that rigid, unforgiving and sexist voices are considered voice of authentic Muslims by Western media. When a Muslim woman speaks out or assumes a leadership role, she’s called militant. Yet the struggle for sexual equality and leadership among Muslim women is gaining strength around the world."

Why does the media choose the bearded autocrat over any other strand of Islam? Is it because it comforts us to see Islam in this narrow way? We have cerrainly seen this in the Sun and other British gutter press where Abu Hamza (see above), a pretty vile character admittedly, was not that far away from being the new bogeyman. But it is not just the media that looks on Islam this way: all too many on the left lionise fundamentalists for their stance on the iniquities of the USA yet they turn a blind eye to their intolerance and misogyny.
We need to look at Islam in a different light but where should we look to for positive images? From what little I do know perhaps RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, or Shirin Ebadi would be good starting points.


Shirin Ebadi

Muslim WakeUp!

A joke with a sting in its tail

For so many years the "Stupid Irishman" joke featured in the repertoire of just about every fifth rate stand up comedian. Not a few tv sitcoms would make use of a stereotypical "bog trotter" for cheap laughs. Mercifully this more PC age has seen the back of much of such rubbish but perhaps Britain is laughing on the other side of its face due to the rise of the "Celtic Tiger". which has seen the transformation of the Irish Republic over the last 20 years from a depressed exporter of people into a vibrant, self confident nation (more on this transformation at a later date).

There is still one Irishman joke I do enjoy because of the sting in its tail:

An Irishman was looking for work in London. He goes to a building site where the Foreman says to him that he can have a job if he can answer this one simple question:

"What is the difference between a girder and a joist"

The Irishman looks the foreman in the face and says:

"That's simple. Girder wrote Faust and Joist wrote Ulysses"

I know that this joke has little to do with the Celtic Tiger but any excuse to tell it!

Remembering the boy from Tralee

By Robert Fisk (from the Irish Independent 17/04/06. Click entry title for link to original article)

MORE than 15 years ago, I travelled to the Belgian city of Ypres with an Irish friend.
She was from a good Fine Gael family which nursed a healthy disrespect for the amount of romantic green blossom draped around Padraig Pearse's neck for the militarily hopeless but politically explosive Dublin Easter Rising of 1916.
But she displayed an equally admirable suspicion of British - or "English" as she would have put it - intentions towards Ireland, north and south. Her mother once recalled for me a British military raid on their home in County Carlow. "I was a little girl and one of the soldiers patted me on the head and I told him: 'You keep your hands off me.'"
But at Ypres one evening, beneath the great Menin Gate - upon which are carved the names of 54,896 First World War British soldiers whose bodies were never found - my friend faced a real political challenge.
She had noted, among those thousands, the names of hundreds of young Irishmen who had died in British uniform while their countrymen at home were fighting and dying in battle against the same British Army. She looked at one of the names. "Why in God's name," she asked, "was a boy from the Station House, Tralee, dying here in the mud of Flanders?"
And it was at this point that an elderly man approached us and asked my Irish friend to sign the visitors' book.
She looked at the British Army's insignia on the memorial volume with distaste. There was the British crown glimmering in the evening light. And the Belgian firemen who nightly play the Last Post beneath the gate were already taking position. There was not much time. But my friend remembered the young man from Tralee.
She thought about her own small Catholic nation and its centuries of suffering and she realised that the boy from Tralee had gone to fight - or so he thought - for little Catholic Belgium. She decided to inscribe the British Army's book in the Irish language. "Na tiortha beaga," she wrote "For little countries."
All this happened years before an economically powerful and self-confident Irish Republic would face up to the sacrifice its pre-independence soldiers made in British uniform; the estimated 35,000 Irishmen who died in the 1914-18 war wildly outnumber the few hundred who fought in the Easter Rising.
The total of dead, wounded and missing among Irish Protestants in the 36th (Ulster) Division on the Somme and at Ypres came to 32,180. The same statistics among soldiers of the 10th and 16th Irish Divisions - most of them Catholics - amounted to 37,761.
My own father was to fight alongside the Irish on the Somme in 1918 although - a fact I used to keep quiet about when I was 'The Times's' correspondent in Belfast in the early 1970s - he was originally sent to Ireland in the aftermath of the Rising.
I have a faded photograph of Bill Fisk, then in the Cheshire Regiment, kissing the Blarney Stone, and some pictures he took of the front gate of Victoria Barracks - now Collins Barracks - in Cork, its stonework plastered with appeals to Irishmen to join the British Army.
It was only when I was invited to give the annual Bloody Sunday memorial lecture in Derry - the first Brit to be asked to honour the memory of the 14 people who were killed by a Parachute Regiment in 1972 - that I talked about my dad's fight against Sinn Fein.
If Padraig Pearse had not raised the flag over the Dublin Post office in Easter Week of 1916, I told my audience, Bill Fisk might have been sent to die in the first Battle of the Somme three months later - and his son Robert would not exist. So did I owe my life to Pearse? I'm still not at all sure how to regard the men of 1916.
The very best book on the Rising - George Dangerfield's magnificent 'The Damnable Question' - proves that the "rebels" (as my father called them) were very brave as well as very dismissive of their own and others' lives. They were not to know the deviant way in which their "blood sacrifice" - which was not exactly the first in Irish history - would be adopted by later armed groups who sought their mandate in blood shed before those 1916 British execution parties.
Had they not been so cruelly shot down as punishment for their armed assault on British power, would they have been so honoured in the long, dark, stagnant Ireland of the 1920s and 30s and then in the terrible and much later years of the civil conflict in Northern Ireland? Do you have to be a martyr to have honour?
I was much struck by this thought five years ago when I was searching through the British National Archives at Kew for details of the execution of a young Australian soldier in the British Army whom my father was ordered to shoot at the end of the First World War.
Bill Fisk refused, so another officer performed the dirty deed. But there in the documents of British military executions - routinely filed under 1916 - were the names of Pearse and Connolly and McBride. The exemplary punishment accorded to them and their comrades in Dublin turned public scorn to sympathy and admiration. But to the Brits, it was just another act of military law.
And now the minister for defence tells us the military Easter Rising pomp in Dublin this weekend symbolises the end of the war in the North. Maybe.
But who will remember the boy from the Station House, Tralee? ©Independent news service


The Photograph above is the Island of Ireland Peace Park Memorial Messines, Belgium opened jointly by President McAleese, Queen Elizabeth II and King Albert II of Belgium in 1998, Messines was the site of the only major engaement in WWI where soldiers from all parts of Ireland fought and died together.

President McAleese's comments at the opening are quite poingnant for someone such as myslef whose father and grandfater served in WWII and WWI respectively:

"Today’s ceremony at the Peace Park was not just another journey down a well-travelled path. For much of the past eighty years, the very idea of such a ceremony would probably have been unthinkable. Those whom we commemorate here were doubly tragic. They fell victim to a war against oppression in Europe. Their memory too fell victim to a war for independence at home in Ireland."

Click here for more information on the Memorial Park

Two views of the Easter Rising Celebrations

National day of pride

The Irish Independent

YESTERDAY Ireland marked the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising with dignity, solemnity and style. The military parade in Dublin, and the mood surrounding it, were a world removed from the sometimes bitter and petty arguments about the revival of the event after a lapse of more than three decades.

Ninety years is a long time. The Rising is for most, and should be for all, a matter of history, unrelated to current politics. Sadly, the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein have consistently tried to appropriate it along with other nationalist symbols. Yesterday Bertie Ahern reclaimed it.

He did not reclaim it for the Fianna Fail Party - though he might have chosen a better occasion than a Fianna Fail ard fheis to announce the reinstatement of the parade. He reclaimed it for everyone. If he thought to achieve some party advantage, there was no indication at yesterday's impressive and carefully orchestrated ceremonies.

For the all-embracing nature of the event, for the dignity and solemnity, the organisers are to be congratulated. For the style - which also had a tremendous bearing on the meaning conveyed - the military authorities deserve the congratulations.
Probably more than half the population took no interest in the closeness of the drill, the proficiency of the marching bands, or the efficiency of the armaments. But nobody could have failed to notice the emphasis placed on the most impressive activities of our defence forces in half a century.
In that time, they have served with the United Nations around the world. They have made themselves a reputation as supreme peacekeepers. They have proved their courage and professionalism in the cause of humanity.

That is perhaps the best answer for those who doubt if a military parade was an appropriate means of commemorating 1916.

Now a discussion has begun on whether the celebrations should be expanded in the years of more "dress rehearsals" for the centenary in 2016. It is a tempting thought. It may be more to the point to ask if we should also commemorate the First Dail in 1919, the 1921 truce, our formal independence in 1922 . . .

But commemorations cannot be multiplied endlessly. For now, we can take pride in the spectacle of an army that threatens nobody, in a country committed to settling every political question by democratic means.

1916 commemoration - Rising can inspire the new Ireland

The Irish Examiner

THE commemoration yesterday of the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising was, in the words of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, “a day of remembrance, reconciliation and renewal”.

It was also, he reminded his listeners, about discharging one generation’s debt of honour to another.

There is, indeed, a prodigious debt to discharge, one whereby the ultimate sacrifice of the men and women of Easter Week bequeathed an Ireland which ranks independently, and not without influence, today among the community of nations.

Despite the pomp and ceremony of wreath laying at Kilmainham Jail and the GPO by the Taoiseach and President Mary McAleese, and the trappings of the 2,500 members of the Defence Forces, Navy, Air Corps, Garda and United Nations veterans, it was not a day of triumphalism.

Rather it was an occasion to publicly regain and acknowledge the memory of Ireland’s inheritance from those patriots of 1916 for the modern day inheritors of their sacrifice, and to honour it.

Apart from the official functions carried out to mark the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising, tens of thousands of ordinary citizens gathered in Dublin for the military parade to commemorate it.

As such, it was the first Easter Sunday parade by the Defence Forces in the capital in 35 years. When it was proposed to hold this year’s parade, debate about the period and how Ireland should acknowledge its anniversary was sparked.

During the early 1970s, because of the Troubles, the military parades were abandoned and official commemorations became more low key, because the commemoration recalled the 1916 Easter Rising attempt to seize the capital from British imperial forces.

British troops put down the rebellion and many of its ringleaders were captured and executed.

From that anguished genesis emerged the nascent Ireland, which the rest of the world has witnessed ascend to command its own sovereignty and sit with other nations to influence the course of world history.

The country has, indeed, matured politically and socially. The spirit of 1916 and the ideal of a united Ireland now resides in the reality of the Good Friday Agreement and the implementation of what it seeks, which is peaceful coexistence along mutually accepted lines and institutions of cooperation.

It is the will of the majority on this entire island that those objectives be achieved through constitutional and inclusive politics and without the indulgence of divisive and entrenched sectarianism.

Irrefutably, this country has progressed immeasurably during the previous nine decades, and because of them.

It has achieved a highly successful economy which is a model for others to emulate, especially in emerging countries in the European Union, whose enlargement to 25 nations this country presided over.

That is not to say that the men and women who helped found this State would give their imprimatur to all aspects of Irish society, were they able to revisit it today.

There are blemishes on the face of modern Irish society wherein inequalities are allowed to flourish because many people have not had the benefit of the Celtic Tiger.

It would be a fitting tribute to those men and women honoured yesterday if injustice and poverty were eliminated - or at least pursued - in this modern and pluralist Ireland of today.

16 April 2006

The ghosts of the Fenian dead have little to offer us

This article is from The Sunday Independent

The most misunderstood phrase of the Proclamation is 'cherishing all the children of the nation equally'.

IT WAS first publicly read, outside the GPO on Easter Monday 1916 to unimpressed bystanders, by Patrick Pearse, president of the provisional government, "Cu Chulainn in uniform and slouch hat". It has been declaimed on countless occasions over the decades. Today, it will be solemnly delivered once again at the official State commemorative ceremony.

With a print-run of 2,500 (surviving copies now fetch obscenely high prices), a text of less than 500 words, a reading time of five minutes, the 1916 Proclamation was to become the most seminal document in modern Irish history. It was invoked, and its text cited, in the Sinn Fein election manifesto of 1918, in the Declaration of Independence and the Social Programme of the first Dail Eireann in January 1919. For that Dail, the Republic "proclaimed" in 1916 was as much a source of legitimacy as the democratic mandate given by the 1918 elections. For various categories of republicans, the Proclamation remains their title deed, their holy writ. Innumerable gravestones and memorial plaques commemorate those who shed their own and others' blood "for the Republic as proclaimed in 1916".

The high-minded sentiments of the Proclamation are in a theatrical and romantic 19th-century vein, which is also exemplified in the set-piece military strategy of the Rising.
The language revival had been a formative influence on many of the revolutionaries. Pearse, the chief author of the Proclamation, was a central figure in the Gaelic League, and only the year before the Rising had committed himself to an Ireland that would be "not free merely but Gaelic as well". It seems surprising, then, that the Proclamation was an English-language-only document and that it made no reference to a Gaelicising policy. The two or three Irish words at the very top (by the way, "Poblacht na hEireann" is not exactly the same as "The Irish Republic") set the headline for the hypocritical token use of the cupla focail down the years.
But of course English was always the language of political nationalism, which in the IRB's book took primacy over the cultural dimension. Besides, the Brotherhood would have had little time for the founders of the Gaelic League, Eoin MacNeill and Douglas Hyde. Anyway, if you wanted to get a hearing, you used the tongue of the hated oppressor. Only the other week, Minister Eamon O Cuiv reflected this harsh truth when he told the Dail he was "purposely speaking in English because there is no way of getting the English-language media to listen if one speaks in Irish". Similarly, most of the signatories used the English form of their names. If you're engaged in a life-or-death enterprise, you declare your real identity. Pearse used both forms, but in all the Easter Week documents, he is "PH Pearse". The later, popular hybrid, Padraig Pearse, was not his usage.

Perhaps the most progressive concept in the Proclamation is gender equality. Men and women are addressed explicitly three times (though there is one reference to "manhood") and there is an expectation of universal adult suffrage. Gender equality was a feature of the Irish Citizen Army, of Connolly's thinking in general and of suffragism in advanced nationalist circles, in contrast to the conservatism of John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party.
This modernity is strikingly at odds with the archaic and mystical personification of Mother Ireland, calling "her children" repeatedly to action. Also, God is invoked as the venerable patron of the whole enterprise, thereby characterising Irish Catholic republicanism as markedly different from, say, the French model, anti-clerical and irreligious. God was in great demand by rival interests at that time. His help had been solicited by the Ulster Covenanters in 1912 and by both sides in the Great War. A contemporary satirical ballad depicted a bewildered deity scratching his celestial head and exclaiming, "My God, says God, what am I going to do?" In the event, God appears to have had as little impact on the dramatic event as the "exiled children in America" and the "gallant allies in Europe".

The dead generations are also enrolled in the insurgents' cause, just as, in turn, the 1916 martyrs were to cast a huge influential shadow on subsequent events. Yeats spoke of the power of those "dead men to stir the pot" and of "MacDonagh's bony thumb". Conflicting factions competed for the endorsement of these holy ghosts. All this calls to mind the good sense of Thomas Paine's observation: "The most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies is the vanity and presumption of governing from beyond the grave."
"Sovereignty" and "Republic" are mentioned again and again in the Proclamation. The sovereign republic, sanctified by the blood of the signatories, was to become the Holy Grail pursued in the following decades. The IRB had already "established" a phantom republic in 1873. The 1916 Proclamation reduced the complex fabric of nationalist history down to a single republican thread - "her old tradition of nationhood".
Likewise, the sweeping claim that "the Irish people" had fought for sovereignty "in arms", "six times during the past 300 years", is historical nonsense. The confederate Catholics of the 1640s and the Irish Jacobites of 1689-91 were primarily concerned for Catholic rights and possession of lands. Nor can the complex issues of 1798 be neatly categorised as a clear-cut republican struggle. And even if we accept that Emmet's 1803 debacle, the insurrectionary fiasco of 1848 and the Fenian skirmishes of 1867 all had the same objective as the 1916 insurgents, these unrepresentative events were certainly not carried out by "the Irish people".

And so we come to the hardest thing to swallow about the Proclamation. "Ireland" is depicted as acting "through us", that is, through a self-appointed apostolic elite, a "prophetic shock minority", who regarded their idealistic convictions as sufficient justification for their insurrectionary violence in the name of "the people". Essentially, this has always been the position of the IRA.
The social and economic agenda outlined in the Proclamation is in the democratic and radical tradition of James Fintan Lalor and Michael Davitt, but it doesn't reflect, it seems to me, the robust socialism of James Connolly in his prime. But then, in the heel of the hunt, Connolly had gone all Catholic and nationalist - in the words of Louie Bennett, the trade unionist and suffragist, written in Easter Week, he "had as much of the fanaticism of the patriot as any poet in that rebel crowd".

The Proclamation is suffused with a self-conscious awareness of making epic history - with such phrases as the Irish nation's "august destiny" (tiocfaidh ar la!) and its future "exaltation among the nations" (echoes of Emmet's speech). The chivalrous hope that no insurgent will "dishonour the cause by cowardice, inhumanity or rapine" was a naive counsel of perfection in the context of street warfare.

The most misunderstood and misapplied phrase in the whole document is "cherishing all the children of the nation equally". The mistaken belief persists that these words occur in the constitution, and/or that they form an aspiration to social justice and/or that they are actually about children. But the context makes it perfectly clear that the reference is to the nationalist-unionist divide. Here the underlying, and unwarranted, assumption is that there is only one nation in Ireland, and that unionist-nationalist "differences" are simply the consequence of divide-and-conquer British machinations. This is only a half-truth, at best. The refusal to recognise that unionism is a genuine and independently existing position has clouded nationalist understanding about the North almost down to the present day.

In many respects, the Proclamation is an outdated text, reflecting a political situation now consigned to history, and putting forward historical interpretations that were never sustainable. We have advanced beyond the confines of the insurgents' preoccupations. We are not bound by the sentiments of the Proclamation, it is not a sacred text for this generation and the dead should keep their place. If we want to promote social justice, then we should implement the ideals of a living and developing Bunreacht na hEireann (especially Article 45) rather than waxing sentimental about a ghost document.

John A Murphy is Emeritus

Professor of Irish History at University College, Cork

How the Rising and Casement fell victim to Murphy’s Law in Kerry

This article is from the
Irish Examiner


By Ryle Dwyer

At the 1975 Munster football final in Killarney the much-fancied Cork team were being hammered, and many Cork supporters began to bail out early.

A Kerry supporter shouted at them, “Leaving early, can’t take ye’r beating!”

One of the fleeing Cork crowd shouted back: “What do ye mean ‘leaving’? Ye bastards, ye left Casement on Banna Strand!”

In the midst of all the hype about 1916 the story of what happened in Kerry has been largely overlooked. It was a weekend in Kerry during which Murphy’s Law ruled. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

The Germans arrived in Tralee Bay on Thursday in the Aud with an arms shipment for the Rising, but there was no one there to meet them.

At the time the only person in the area who knew about plans for the Rising was Austin Stack, the local brigadier of the Irish Volunteers and head centre of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

On Good Friday three men were sent from Dublin to seize a radio transmitter in Caherciveen and set up a transmitting station in Tralee to get in touch with the Aud. Two of them were drowned when their driver took a wrong turn and drove off the end of the short pier at Ballykissane.

Some later contended that this tragic accident undermined the whole Rising, but it really made no difference whatsoever because even if they had got the transmitter and set it up, they would not have been able to contact the Aud, which had no radio.

Leaders in Dublin had changed the date on which the Aud should arrive to Easter Sunday after it had sailed, so the Germans had no means of contacting the ship. Roger Casement set out from Germany on a submarine with that information, but it had engine trouble and had to return to port, so vital days were lost on getting another submarine.

It arrived in Tralee Bay in the early hours of Good Friday while the Aud was still waiting impatiently for a signal from the shore.

As Casement and two colleagues were coming ashore their boat capsized and they were thrown into the water. Casement was suffering from malaria and after being soaked, he was in no condition to walk the six miles to Tralee. The other two went for help, but he was captured before the help arrived. The Germans were convinced that Casement came back to Ireland to take part in the rebellion, but he was really trying to prevent it. “The one hope I clung to,” he later told his solicitor George Gavan Duffy, “was that I might arrive in Ireland in time to stop the Rising.”

When Casement was brought into the RIC barracks in Tralee he was put in the billiards room and a fire was lit for him. Head Constable John A Kearney sent for a local doctor, Mikey Shanahan, who was known to have Sinn Féin sympathies.

Shanahan was allowed to see Casement by himself.

Kearney knew the prisoner was Casement. The head constable hoped Casement would identify himself to Dr Shanahan and have the local volunteers rescue him. Before the doctor left the station Kearney showed him a photograph of Casement saying he was the prisoner. He wished to make sure that Shanahan would tell the volunteers the RIC knew who it was holding.

But Stack pretended not to believe the doctor. He insisted that the RIC had only arrested a Norwegian sailor.

Meanwhile, Kearney invited Casement up to his residence for a meal. “I would love nothing better than a good steak,” Casement said when asked what he would like to eat.

Kearney’s wife went out to purchase steak from a local butcher because they had no meat in the residence as it was Good Friday. She cooked him the meal, and Kearney sent out for some Jameson whiskey for the prisoner.

Before bringing Casement back down to the billiards room, where he was left unrestrained with the front door unlocked so that a rescue party could just walk in, the head constable told his wife to keep their children upstairs as he expected the volunteers to rescue the prisoner.

Casement asked Kearney to send for a priest. Fr Frank Ryan was summoned from the nearby Dominican Church.

In Fr Ryan’s presence, Kearney asked Casement: “What do you want with a priest? Aren’t you a Protestant?”

Kearney then left Fr Ryan alone with Casement, who identified himself and asked the priest to get a message to the volunteers.

“Tell them I am a prisoner,” he said, “and that the rebellion will be a dismal, hopeless failure, as the help they expect will not arrive.”

THE priest was taken aback. He had come on a spiritual mission and had no desire to get involved in this kind of politics.

“Do what I ask,” Casement pleaded, “and you will bring God’s blessing on the country and on everyone concerned.”

Then “after deep and mature reflection”, Fr Ryan realised that “it would be the best thing not alone for the police, but also for the volunteers and the country, that I should convey the message to the volunteers and thereby be the means through which bloodshed and suffering might be avoided. I saw the leader of the volunteers in Tralee and give him the message. He assured me he would do his best to keep the volunteers quiet.”

One can only imagine Stack’s state of mind when Fr Ryan told him that Casement wanted the rebellion called off. He was supposed to be the only person in the area to know about the plans. Now he was being told about it by a priest who had no involvement in the movement.

What was worse, Fr Ryan told more than Stack that Casement wanted the rebellion called off.

“I also told the head constable of the steps I had taken, and my reasons for it, and he agreed with me that it was perhaps the wisest course to follow,” Fr Ryan noted.

At this point Kearney sent Stack a message that Con Collins, a friend arrested earlier in the day, wished to see him at the RIC barracks.

Paddy J Cahill, the deputy brigadier, advised Stack not to go, or at least make sure he had nothing incriminating on him. Stack handed over his revolver and supposedly checked his belongings to ensure he had nothing else of importance.

When he was searched at the RIC station, however, he was carrying a massive bundle of letters from people like Pádraig Pearse, James Connolly, Bulmer Hobson and a circular from Eoin MacNeill urging the volunteers to resist forcefully any attempt by the Crown authorities to suppress or disarm them. He was promptly arrested.

Stack later wrote to his brother, Nicholas, that he was carrying “a large number of letters, ie, fully 20 or 30 letters, I imagine”. The count at the barracks was 52 letters. Somebody might carry that many letters in a briefcase, but has anyone ever carried that number on their person.

One must ask why was Stack carrying so many letters when he went to the barracks? With things obviously going so badly wrong in relation to the plans for the rebellion, it looked suspiciously like he wanted to be arrested so that he would be in custody when the balloon went up?

It is about time people began examining the record for what it was, not what it should have been

Easter Rising still holds imagination

By Kevin Connolly
BBC News Ireland correspondent

On the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising, the BBC News website considers its significance and the electoral attraction of marking it.

On Easter Monday in 1916 a motley group of rebels set out through the streets of Dublin to loosen Britain's imperial hold on Ireland by force of arms.

They were soon dislodged from the curious assortment of buildings, including a biscuit factory and the General Post Office, which they seized.

But the grip they took on the political imagination of the nation too shows no sign of slackening.
They almost certainly knew that in military terms, their venture was doomed from the start but in Irish eyes that helped to make the rising a kind of study in miniature of centuries of hopelessly unequal struggle against British rule.
That wasn't of course how Britain saw it.
Two years into the Great War - a war in which tens of thousands of Irishmen, Catholic and Protestant, were fighting under British colours in Europe - the Easter Rising was seen as a treasonable stab in the back.

The standard reading of what happened next is that a combination of stupidity and brutality on the British side helped to ensure that the rebels - who were viewed with some suspicion and hostility in Dublin at first - became national heroes.

Nearly 2,000 were interned and 15 of the leaders were executed.

Enemy underestimated

One of them, James Connolly - a radical Scots-born trades unionist - was so badly injured that he had to be tied to a chair so that he could be shot by firing squad.

He'd gloomily speculated that the rebels would be slaughtered, but not all of his predictions were so accurate; he also believed generals working for a capitalist power wouldn't use artillery to put down the rebellion for fear of damaging private property too.

The scale of destruction in the burning ruins of Dublin showed he had underestimated his enemy.
But you can't judge the past by the standards of the present. The British Army shot more than 300 of its own soldiers for cowardice and desertion during World War I.

From the generals' viewpoint the rebels could hardly expect better treatment. And it wasn't just the executions that sealed the rebels' place in Irish history.

One of their leaders, Padraig Pearse, used his brief time in command at the Post Office to read out a "proclamation of the republic" - a ringing declaration that Ireland, long part of the British empire, was now independent.

It was six years before that vision was realised, and a lot more blood was to be shed first. Even then, victory was partial because Ireland was partitioned, with the six north-eastern counties remaining firmly in British hands.

But most Irish people regard the Rising as a defining moment from which the legitimacy of the modern republic flows.

Main parties

Given all of this, the 90th anniversary was always going to be seen as something to celebrate - not least because almost all of the main parties in the Irish republic trace their origins back directly or indirectly to that little group of rebels.

The main party in the governing coalition, Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fail, has always styled itself a republican party - but even the staid and rather conservative opposition Fine Gael has been reminding voters of its own, normally well-hidden, rebel credentials.

Their predecessors and great-grandfathers too fought in those burning ruins even though their current leaders are trenchant critics of the modern republican movement.

You can see what's motivating them. There's an election next year and there seems every prospect that Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, will perform even more strongly than it did the last time.
So the anniversary probably seemed to Mr Ahern to be a good time to remind the voters that it's the older parties in the South, rather than the largely northern-accented upstart, which are the true inheritors of the spirit of the Rising.
A parade by the defence forces will underline the message that it's the soldiers of the Irish Army and not the paramilitaries of the IRA, who stand in a direct line of descent from the volunteers who followed Pearse and Connolly.
During the troubles in Northern Ireland it was seen to be impossible to mark the Easter Rising with a military parade.
Most people in Ireland draw a moral and political distinction between the activities of the "old" IRA in the 1920s and those of the Provisional IRA in the 1970s and 1980s but there was a general feeling that a military marchpast might have blurred that distinction.
So it's with a sense of relief that the commemoration is now restored - but when you watch the celebrations, remember that modern electoral subtext. The shots in that 21-gun salute are the first shots in next year's election campaign.

08 April 2006

A Brief Return to the Chagos Archipelago

This article was posted on the BBC website on Monday 3 April. What was done to the Chagosians in the 1960's was a stain on Britain and should be redressed now. If that means the US loses its base on Diego Garcia then so be it.

Paradise Regained for a Few Days

By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs Correspondent, BBC News website (click on the title to this entry to see the original article)

Islanders who were forced into exile by Britain to make way for the US Indian Ocean base on Diego Garcia are finally paying a return visit this week.

Having been taken by ship from Mauritius, they will go to a number of the outer islands in the Chagos archipelago, as well as Diego Garcia itself. They will tend graves, hold services and wander among derelict former plantations, where some of the older ones once lived. A plaque marking the visit will be set up on each stop.

Cemeteries have been tidied up by British forces but have deteriorated because they are made of coral and crabs have undermined the structures.

There will be 102 Chagossians, two priests, a stonemason, a doctor, a nurse and a British official on the 12-day visit. The total Chagossian population these days is some 4,000. Most of them live in Mauritius, though some are in the Seychelles and some have moved to Britain.

No British media have been allowed to go along, a move said by the Foreign Office to be for reasons of space. Naturally, the media is suspicious that the British government does not want adverse publicity. There will be video of the events, shot by a Royal Navy cameraman who will give it to the media afterwards. The islanders will also be given DVDs.

The Chagossian leader, Olivier Bancoult, will be accompanying his mother on the visit.
"Everyone is very excited to make the trip," he told the BBC news website. "We haven't been able to see our birthplace, we haven't been able to put flowers on the graves of our ancestors. It will be an unforgettable opportunity for us. We need to pay tribute to the people buried there.
"My plan for the future, together with the group, is to continue with our struggle. We will continue with our struggle because we need the right to live on our birthplace, and compensation to right all the wrongs we have suffered."

No resettlement

However, the chances of them being allowed back to settle there in the foreseeable future are very low.
"It is not practical," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told reporters.
The main obstacle is the agreement between the US and UK, which dates from 1966. An exchange of notes gives each country a veto on who is allowed onto the islands. According to Foreign Office officials, the US government reaffirmed in 2005 that not even the outer islands could be re-inhabited because of the new security situation created after the attacks of 9/11.
There are about 2,000 US personnel on the base, with 2,000 support workers from the Philippines. However, the presence of these workers is regarded as a lesser security risk than having residents who could come and go at will.

"As long as there is a need for security, I don't see how they can go back," said Mr Straw.
The agreement lasts until 2016 and can then be renewed for another 20 years. The base has played a key role in all the operations undertaken by the US Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. Mauritius has been promised sovereignty, but only when there are no more defence requirements.

The British government also has a practical reason to deny any return. A feasibility study carried out in 2002 found that life on the outer islands would be "precarious" and would need "costly" support from the government, which it is not prepared to give. At the time of their forced departure, the islanders' main employment was in the production of copra - coconut fibre and oil. The oil was traditionally used in lamps. However all that is now abandoned.

Court case pending

The only hope the islanders have is a judicial review of Orders in Council made by the British government in 2004. Hearings were held in December and January, and a ruling is expected in April. The orders - decisions taken by the government alone under powers granted by law - prevent the islanders from going back by making any landing in the Chagos subject to immigration control.
The orders themselves replaced the original ejection order, made in 1971, which was declared invalid by the High Court in 2000. The court was scathing about that ordinance, saying that it had "no colour of lawful authority" and was "an abject legal failure".

The ordinance was issued by a commissioner appointed when the Chagos Islands were split off from Mauritius, to enable construction of the base to go ahead unhindered. The court said the commissioner had been in charge of "peace, disorder and good government", and this meant that the inhabitants had to be "governed, not removed".

However, despite reports to the contrary at the time, the ruling did not declare the actual expulsion unlawful, only the mechanism by which it had been achieved, something the UK sought to rectify with the Orders in Council.

The history

The story of the Chagos islanders is not one of Britain's finest hours.

The court case in 2000 revealed that the British government had created what it itself called the "fiction" that the inhabitants were simply contract workers not entitled to rights of residence.
One document quoted a Foreign Office official as saying that the government had to be "very tough about this" and that "the object of the exercise was to get some rocks which will remain ours; there will be no indigenous population except seagulls who have not yet got a committee (the Status of Women Committee does not cover the rights of Birds)."

The islanders are still demanding further compensation, though a British court ruled in 2003 that the resettlement assistance they have been given over a number of years, amounting to £14.5m ($25m) in today's terms, had settled those claims.

Over recent years, the government has apparently felt that some amends should be made. The visit is one example. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was known to feel bad about the Chagossians, and they were granted British citizenship in 2002.

The trip is said by the Foreign Office to be simply a "humanitarian" one. And, if all goes well, another visit might take in future.

But resettlement is a long, long way off.

Flann O Brien and product placement?

All too often the US film and television programmes seem to be little more than engines for advertising but perhaps in the case of "Lost" (I must admit it has passed me by although it is shown on the British tv station Channel 4) we see for once product placement as a force for good! I jest of course but it did hearten me to see sales of theThird Policeman skyrocket in the US as a result of a brief appearance in this show. Now to get the producers to play some Robyn Hitchcock......

Surreal bicycle book rides to fame on back of cult TV show

The Guardian 24 February 2006

Once rejected for publication as too "fantastic", a surreal Irish novel featuring the interchanging of atoms between a man and his beloved bicycle has been racing off the shelves of American bookshops.

Flann O'Brien's dark comedy The Third Policeman was not published until after his death, but its appearance in the cult television series Lost has turned it into a top seller. The TV show chronicles the lives of a cast of photogenic survivors marooned after their aircraft crashes on a remote Pacific island. It involves a sprawling plot that delves into their former lives through flashbacks.
The book's cover was on screen for only a flash, but the exposure sent thousands of fans into bookshops eager to discover clues about the TV mystery. Their curiosity was heightened by an interview with the programme's scriptwriter, Craig Wright, who explained the book had been chosen "very specifically for a reason".

The Third Policemen sequence was broadcast in the US last autumn. "In three weeks we sold 15,000 copies - the same number as we'd sold in the last six years," said Chad Post of the Centre for Book Culture, which publishes O'Brien's works in the US. The book's European publisher, HarperCollins, says it has noticed a surge in demand. The same episode was shown in Ireland on Monday but has yet to be aired in Britain.

Flann O'Brien, whose real name was Brian O'Nolan, was a prolific writer. Besides other bizarre works, such as At Swim-Two-Birds, he was a columnist with the Irish Times, where he wrote under the name Myles na gCopaleen. James Joyce, Dylan Thomas and Graham Greene were among contemporary admirers.

The Third Policeman was completed in 1940 but rejected by the publisher Longmans, which sent back an apologetic note: "We realise the author's ability but think that he should become less fantastic; in this new novel he is more so."

It was finally published, to critical acclaim, in 1967, a year after the writer's death. The story is narrated by a character who has carried out a murder. A running gag in the book satirises the then emerging science of nuclear physics, suggesting that police who spend too long riding over bumpy Irish roads may end up exchanging atoms with their bicycles.

One officer is said to be half man and half two-wheeler. Its circular plot ends, almost as it begins, with a distracted policeman inquiring: "Is it about a bicycle?"

04 April 2006

Rosenstrasse Protest

Detail of the Rosenstrasse memorial, Berlin

Compared to the events that saw the deaths of over 50 million people it is very easy to forget to forget what happened at Rosenstrasse in 1943. However, it is a prime example of the effectiveness of non-violent action in the face of tyranny.

In early 1943 about 1700 Berlin Jews, mainly men married to non-Jewish women, were rounded up and herded into Rosenstrasse 2-4, a welfare office for the Jewish community in central Berlin pending deportation to extermination camps. However, the wives and other relatives got wind of their spouses eventual destination and appeared at Rosenstrasse, first in ones and twos, and then in ever-growing numbers.

Despite being unarmed and unorganized the women faced down the forces of the Third Reich. While Joseph Goebbels (who was also Gauleiter of Berlin) was anxious that Berlin be judenfrei, he was fully aware that shooting the women down in the streets would simply create antipathy to the regime and would almost certainly result in bigger protests. Moreover he was fearful that it would jeopardise the secrecy of the Final Solution, He therefore authorised the release of the Rosenstrasse prisoners and also ordered the return of those already sent to Auschwitz. The great majority of these men lived to see the end of the war.

By any standards the Rosenstrasse women had won an astonishing victory.

This link from the German website The Topography of Terror provides further information including personal accounts of those taking part and extracts from Goebbels own diary. The photograph above is a detail from "Block der Frauen" the memorial to the Rosenstrasse women. Click
for more pictures

02 April 2006

Praising Osama......

By which I do not under any circumstances mean Bin Laden but the first film to be made in Afghanistan after the overthrow of the Taliban. It is an utterly harrowing flm that used amateur actors, including the lead a young woman called Marina Golbaharari to superb effect. I must admit I am being lazy using a review from Tiscali but it sums the film up very well. What I will say is do whatever you have to do to see this film:

"Shot in post-Taliban Afghanistan in extremely trying conditions Osama is a harrowing account of life under the oppressive regime that fell after September 11. The film has won an impressive number of awards since it first appeared at film festivals last year, culminating with the 2004 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. As anything as outlandish as film-making was banned under the Taliban, it is director Siddiq Barmak's first official outing, although having gained a film degree from the University of Moscow in the late 80s, it is clear that this is no amateur talent.

Western audiences used to Hollywood's commercial fare may initially find Barmak's film rather naïve in both the manner it is shot and the style of acting. It is often hand-held and jumpy and the actors are all non-professional. Nevertheless there is a star in the making thanks to the girl playing the lead role, Marina Golbahari. At the beginning of the film she plays a twelve-year-old girl who lives with her mother after the death of her father and brother. But when the Taliban close down the hospital her mother works in, the two are left destitute. Until her mother has an idea: to cut the daughter's hair, dress her as a boy and name her Osama.

The ploy works - to begin with - as Osama finds some petty employment looking after a neighbour's shop. But when the Taliban come searching, she/he is discovered and sent to the official training school for young Taliban fighters. There Osama is surrounded by male pupils and teachers, as the oppressive government didn't even recognise women as second class citizens.

As Osama realises she is not going to be able to fool her peers for long, she decides to escape, but in doing so only raises an alarm that has catastrophic consequences. Many of the scenes in the film are played out without words, and some of the final harrowing sequences will bring a lump to the throat.

This is a remarkable and rare insight into a world that until now has remained shrouded in non-democratic secrecy. The filming is simple, but the end message is powerful, upsetting and eye-opening".


Why the Poor Mouth? Why not! I suppose I chose the chose the expression in tribute to one of my favourite authors the late, great Irish novelist/humorist/civil servant, Flann O Brien.

Below is an excellent review of the Poor Mouth by Eric Mader-Lin on the Necessary Prose website.

Gaelically Gaelic
Flann O'Brien published An Beal Bocht in 1941. Of his handful of novels it is the only one written in Gaelic. The novel was translated into English and published in 1973 as The Poor Mouth. The title (both Gaelic and English) comes from a Gaelic expression--"putting on the poor mouth"--which means to exaggerate the direness of one's situation in order to gain time or favor from creditors. The direness one finds here is great indeed, as is the exaggeration. One should read this book because its like will not be there again.

The action is set in a fictional village in the Gaeltacht known as Corkadoragha, a place where the suffering and poverty of the Gaelic people is pure and unmitigated. The tale is in first-person narrative and purports to be the life story of Bonaparte O'Coonassa, a local resident. In Corkadoragha, according to the narrator, the torrential rains are more torrential, the squalor more squalid, the hopelessness more utterly hopeless than they are anywhere else in Ireland. And O'Coonassa is not the only pessimist to be had. The few other main characters spend most of their breath hilariously bewailing the cruelty of what they call "Gaelic fate". Everything disastrous that occurs is attributed to this national fate, which is normally evoked as a kind of all-inclusive doom that both annihilates and somehow ennobles one. Gaelic fate is seen partially in the sky and its constant downpours--"sky-crucifyings," as one character calls them--and partially in distinction to the other, better fate enjoyed by "the foreigners," i.e. the English. The most salient feature is a poverty that must be accepted: to struggle against it would be foolish.

The hardships of life in Corkadoragha have one beneficent effect, however. Because the region is known for its exemplary destitution and backwardness, it is also judged by scholars and other Dublin enthusiasts to have the very best, the very purest Gaelic. So the muddy hills and flooded fields of Corkadoragha are periodically visited by culture vultures from the capital, hoping to learn some real Gaelic and get in touch with their true roots.

The narrator tells us of the great Gaelic feis that was organized. The feis was a cultural festival that aimed to celebrate all things Gaelic. Enthusiasts came from the capital and the whole local population took part. Of course from beginning to end the festival-goers were crucified by a nonstop downpour. And eight of the locals died because, we learn, their weakened constitutions couldn't stand the rigors of the folk dancing:

"The dance continued until the dancers drove their lives out through the soles of their feet and eight died during the course of the feis. Due to both the fatigue caused by the revels and the truly Gaelic famine that was ours always, they could not be succoured when they fell on the rocky dancing floor and, upon my soul, short was their tarrying on this particular area because they wended their way to eternity without more ado".

Even though death snatched many fine people from us, the events of the feis went on sturdily and steadily, we were ashamed to be considered not strongly in favor of Gaelic while the [festival] President's eye was upon us.
Various speakers give speeches "strongly in favor of Gaelic". And here we can see O'Brien aping what he most hated about the self-proclaimed Gaelic Revivalists: their aggressive provincialism; the hermetic circularity of their discourse, a way of speech and thought that was bound to strangle itself in a noose of its own design. The man elected as president of the festival harangues the crowd:

"Gaels! It delights my Gaelic heart to be here today speaking Gaelic with you at this Gaelic feis in the centre of the Gaeltacht. May I state that I am a Gael. I'm Gaelic from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet. . . . If we're truly Gaelic, we must constantly discuss the question of the Gaelic revival and the question of Gaelicism. There is no use in having Gaelic, if we converse in it on non-Gaelic topics. He who speaks Gaelic but fails to discuss the language question is not truly Gaelic in his heart; such conduct is of no benefit to Gaelicism because he only jeers at Gaelic and reviles the Gaels. There is nothing in this life so nice and so Gaelic as truly true Gaelic Gaels who speak in true Gaelic Gaelic about the truly Gaelic language."

If for the culture vultures being Gaelically Gaelic means speaking of nothing but revivalism, the true Gaels of Corkadoragha seem to define their Gaelicism rather by the extent of their hopelessness. The ennobling character of their "Gaelic fate" is best seen in the narrator's subtle eulogy of Sitric O'Sanassa, a beggar of the district. O'Sanassa is admired by both Dubliners and locals:
He possessed the very best poverty, hunger and distress also. He was generous and open-handed and he never possessed the smallest object which he did not share with the neighbours; nevertheless, I can never remember him during my time possessing the least thing, even the quantity of little potatoes needful to keep body and soul joined together. In Corkadoragha, where every human being was sunk in poverty, we always regarded him as a recipient of alms and compassion. The gentlemen from Dublin who came in motors to inspect the paupers praised him for his Gaelic poverty and stated that they never saw anyone who appeared so truly Gaelic. . . . There was no one in Ireland comparable to O'Sanassa in the excellence of his poverty; the amount of famine which was delineated in his person.

O'Sanassa lives in a hole he's dug into the side of a hill. In the course of the tale he decides to leave the human world altogether and live the rest of his life in a sea cave with the seals. The others try to get him to quit the cave, but to no avail. He has his reasons for staying:

"Where he was, he had freedom from the inclement weather, the famine and the abuse of the world. Seals would constitute his company as well as his food. . . . It did not appear that he would desert such a well-built comfortable abode after all he had experienced of the misery of Corkadoragha. That was definite, he declared."

O'Brien's fictional Corkadoragha allows the writer to get in his sights both the ridiculous posing and capering of the revivalists and the pathetic fatalism of the Gaeltacht peasants. Beggars, politicians, farmers, literati--they all strut forth in their glorious folly. The Poor Mouth is an example of universal satire, the kind of literary work the Russian critic Bakhtin has defined and celebrated as carnivalesque. And in fact there's something in the novel that reminds one of Rabelais. As with Rabelais, one senses the violence of O'Brien's satire is not entirely mean-spirited: there's something celebratory in it too. Perhaps this is why, even in the more nationalist days of the mid-century, O'Brien's novel received much more praise than condemnation. O'Brien's Gaelic was translated into English by Patrick Power. The translation has gotten much praise, from John Updike among others:

"Patrick C. Power has performed sorcery in translating a work so specific in its allusions and exotic in its language. Again and again, so consistently that we come to take it for granted, Mr. Power re-creates Gaelic music in English."

Whether or not one can really hear Gaelic music in English I'm not sure--and I doubt Updike can be sure either--but it's certain that one of the joys of this work is the quirkiness of the narrator's expression. There's an infectious rhythm and verbosity in the manner of explaining things: a wordiness that is both useless and expressive of patient despair. Powers establishes his tone and rhythm on the first page and never loses it. The style has similarities to that of O'Brien's English novels, but there's something else too, something unique and, I suspect, inimitable. How this style relates to O'Brien's Gaelic I can only guess. But it's definitely compelling as we have it in the English.

The Poor Mouth is published by Dalkey Archive Press and illustrated by Ralph Steadman. The translator has provided useful footnotes to explain certain allusions and untranslatable puns.

The likes of this book will certainly never be there again.