Beasley Street

John Cooper Clarke. The Bard of Salford at his best. It never ceases to amaze me the ways in which England manages to produce voices that are vital and individual. They have that sharp eye and mind that seems to effortlessly conjoin politics and society, I just love it. JCC means so much to so many. Some of the comments on YouTube foreground the importance of words and poetry and the many ways that it can express the inexpressible and aliviate the pain. One poster says ‘These are the streets I live on and that are still there, the new world never happened for me’, another replied ‘me too, I never got another job after she shut the pits’. JCC was about before punk but he flourished and shaped the scene. The first time I came across him was on a documentary by the late Tony Wilson (a man that deserves so much credit for introducing new worlds to the masses) on Channel 4 in 1991. Another poster made the following comment: ‘still here, still fighting’ aren’t we all?

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It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train(ing session) to cry.



For the times that are in it, and the hope of what is to come in June, a man’s thoughts turn to international tournaments specifically Euro 2012. Yes, dear readers, the Republic of Ireland are off to Poland and Ukraine and highs will be had, disappointing doldrums will be traversed and crushing defeat will be faced stoically and with jaw set in stone. Ah, yes what promise June holds in her arms and what dreams may come. The future spreads before us , the tabula rasa, waiting for us to arrive.

However, this being Ireland (and indeed football) the past lingers on the air like stale cigarette smoke clinging on no matter how you try to ignore it. By now a number of my readership (small as it is) can hear, nay can see, the name of a small island looming,Godzilla like, over the horizon :Saipan.

Saipan. How many Irish people would have known that the Irish Civil War would reignite in Asia? How could we have possibly foreseen that the euphoria of qualifying for the 2002 World Cup would rip the fabric of Irish society apart and reveal, once again, the dark underbelly of the monster that is Hibernia? In their wildest dreams FSL Lyons, T.W Moody, FX Martin et. al. could not have imagined that a rebel leader from Cork would again divide the people of the nation. Yeats knew, deep down in his Gaelic soul, he prophesied that the wearing of the green could only lead to terrible beauty.

I, not being Yeats, could not see that terrible beauty skulking about the periphery. Right enough I knew that Keano (our captain)  and Mick (our manager) were not the best of friends. We could see that. What I don’t think any of us could see was the shit storm that happened on that small island. Look, there has been miles written on it and even a play about it and it is my belief that, in the fullness of time,  when someone has to explain the meaning of mock-heroic they will no longer use The Rape of the Lock but instead refer to Saipan. 

However, for those not in the know, Ireland’s captain disgruntled with the training facilities buggered off/ was told to bugger off on the eve of one of the biggest sporting events in the world. Apoplexy followed in the Emerald Isle, battle lines were drawn and it seemed like everyone had an opinion on the major players in this tragedy we even had a ‘won’t someone think of the children’ moment courtesy of Tommie O’ Gorman in his interview with Keane on  the national news. 

No doubt there were those among us who cared not one screed for the happenings that Summer. There are those that see football as nothing more than grown men running around after a ball until one side wins. For me, it has always meant a bit more. You see I watched Cancer take my mother away from this mortal coil and a month later World Cup 1998 started. It kept me sane, it gave me something to look forward to and it provided a set of rules just when I had to come to terms with the fact that life had no rules. I will never forget that World Cup even though Ireland had failed to qualify. A year later I would watch Keane and others bring Manchester Utd a historic treble. After the drama  in Barcelona on that night in May a man cried in the pub and said ‘you don’t know what this means to me.’  He was so wrong because I did. My mother and father had left Ireland to live in Manchester in the 1960s and I thought of the girl she was then and all we had lost the year she died. I never thought I would ever feel happy again but nearly a year after we had lost her, a game of football restored me. I cried the day Utd brought the European Cup back to Manchester. I was crying for everything I had lost, I was crying for her and crying because she wasn’t there and the fact she never would be again. 

I want to end on a hopeful note. After Saipan many of us were spent. That oft lauded sense of Irish unity had dissipated on that island half way around the world. Irish football fans were at each others throats and before a ball was kicked all seemed to be doom and gloom. Our hearts were down and in the opening game, when Cameroon took the lead the fissures between the Keane camp and the McCarthy camp looked like they might rip the heart out of the campaign. Then Mattie Holland equalised. I think that it was then that many of us finally realised that we were in a World Cup and that even after everything that had happened that we were, as we had been before and would be again in the future, honoured and privileged to follow the Boys in Green. 

Brother

I heard a man crying,
A history of sorts
of all the blows he had absorbed
He counted out the cost.
You know what everybody says:
boys they shouldn’t cry
So, we grow up to be men
Burying it deep inside…but
I heard a man crying
And no matter how I tried
I could not look upon that face
I could not meet those eyes.
At night when I try to sleep
I hear his heart break again
I remember when we were boys,
and now we are only men.

Joe Strummer 1952-2002

Great hatred, little room, Maimed us at the start. I carry from my mother’s womb a fanatic’s heart.

 I miss you Joe. That much is true. You see we live in an ever blander world. A Post-modernist era, arguing about the rise of secularism, the rise of the religious right, cynical times, poverty times, hard times and the internet age.  Wither the poets, wither the prophets? Wither the ire? Wither the teenagers with a driven heart, a fanatic’s soul and an electric guitar? I miss you Joe. That much is true. In the end we have your words and we have your music but the world seems a bit sadder that you are not in it.

I remember the first time I heard you sing. 1989 and the song was London Calling. A friend and I were mitching off school and we caught the song, which was recorded off MTV (back when that particular station played music). Shot on the Thames with the rain beating down you were barking out the words and barking out a message. I miss you Joe and I especially miss the message.

What message? The message that we could change the world and all we needed was a guitar and words. Pre-internet, pre-grunge and pre-the days before the underground was the overground you re-affirmed why I had to get on to playing music and to make fucking sure my voice would be heard.

All the blisters, all the hours in my room, all the laughs in garages, all the nights of booze and friends and sing-alongs, all the pre-gig nerves and all the words I spewed out on to a page you were part of that, you remain part of it. You kept the light lit and you made the darkness a bit more bearable. You shone a light on injustice, keeping an eye on the bullshit and opened my eyes to a wider world.  I just wanted to say thanks.

Too much time..

When I first ventured onto the wild world that is the internet I was struck by the drivel that constituted historical discussion, particularly with regards my homeland of Ireland.  In essence what I found was three distinct schools: professional historians, amateur historians and finally mudslingers. Within each school I then discovered there were sub-groups each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Professional historians generally were divided into three sub-groups: University historians, secondary school teachers and finally, history writers. The amateur historian, by his or her very nature, is harder to categorize but could be categorised thusly: ‘facts man’ (and this type is generally male), ‘I have an interest in one area and one area only’- historian and ‘I just like history in general’ historian. Last, but by no means least I found the mudslinger and when it comes to Irish history these people are the most numerous and the most vocal of all. You have: Rabid-Republican and his/her close relative (although neither would agree on this) Uber-Unionist. This is followed by centrist-nationalist and centrist-unionist. Hot on the heels of all this you have crazy Scots and crazy Irish both banging on about Dal Riata and Cuchulainn. Then, and you always find this person, you have English guy that read two books about Ireland and is now going to prove that everything you thought you knew about Irish history (regardless of the fact you may have a degree/masters/ doctorate in the subject) is wrong. Oh, and of course you have the self-loathing Irishman and Irishwomen who believe that Pearse et al. probably ate babies and wrote bad poetry.[1]

 

I am going to deal with the mudslingers first (and professional and amateur historians can and are part of the mudslinging) mainly because they are so funny. Rabid Republicans and Uber-Unionists are never, ever going to agree on anything to do with history. They are the ultimate dichotomist dysfunctional dramaturgical dyad. Both are ideologically opposed and never the twain shall meet. That is fair enough but it makes for boring reading on forums and since both are rooted in a very twentieth century ideology they should really be writing letters to newspapers. Crazy Scots and Crazy Irish are similar but their ramblings are best off in a psychiatrist’s pad of some description or on a mural up north. Centrist nationalist and centrist unionist are my mudslingers of choice, they have a lot in common and are the way forward in online debates on Irish history. Two books English guy, God he puts up a good fight, he really does. However, arguing that (1) James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, J.M Synge, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker and G.B. Shaw aren’t really Irish because Ireland was part of the Union then and they didn’t have an Irish passport only highlights your own ignorance of the actual terms of the Act of Union. (2) Sometimes, just sometimes, the British government did get things wrong in Ireland. (3) I know St Patrick wasn’t Irish I figured it out when I was told in primary school that he was a slave brought to Ireland. By the way St George never actually killed a dragon. (4) I know that U2 have two members that weren’t born in Ireland. All these arguments can be found on Wikipedia’s discussion page are an illustration of why Wikipedia is an unreliable source. (In the interests of fairness there are a ton of my fellow countrymen and women that claim anyone with an Irish sounding name to be Irish but if I started to write about the lunacy of Irishness I could be hear for a long time.) Self-loathing Irish people are great fun because they believe everything in Ireland is inherently worse then everywhere else. Ireland has the worst roads, worst trains, worst television, worst history, worst rain, worst men/women etc. then anywhere else on the planet (look lads ye are right but ye don’t have to be telling the whole world about it Jaysus you are turning us into a laughing stock).

 

 

Right so, we move onward and upward (or downward depending on you perspective) to the amateur and professional historians. Facts man is the amateur historian of choice. He is like Mister Gradgrind as facts are all that matter to him. He believes that all that is needed to get to the heart of any topic is a fact and he has cleverly deduced this all on his own. Everyone else is biased except him and he gives out that if we could only remove our emotion and be like him history would be oh so much better. He has no time for anything resembling sociology, anthropology or heaven forbid opinion (unless it is his opinion) entering the argument. In essence he wants to win when it comes to history. He is flawless and God-like (even though he doesn’t understand what bias actually means) and should be worshipped. As an aside I have also noticed he doesn’t like when women talk about history and I think this is because their experiences are so different from men that he gets a little frightened by this and he retreats into his shell. The ‘I have an interest in one area and one area only historian’ will do anything to drag the topic to their particular subject for example a discussion may start like this: ‘What do you think were the main causes of the American Civil War?’ They will answer: ‘Well the reason is slavery (or states rights…calm down there all you states rights folk) but I think the American Civil War has a lot in common with the people of the Aran Islands in the 1930s because…(because it is a topic you know a lot about). Those that like history in general are truly heroic as they try to start topics on areas that are largely forgotten about but they never get a lot of replies, which is a real pity because I love reading these topics. Ah and that just leaves the professional historian (I suppose since I teach history I belong here) and these people are the worst. We are always spoiling everything. Someone will say ‘Let them eat cake’ and we will say ‘tut, tut the poor woman never said that, it was attributed to her but Arthur J. Knowitall in his groundbreaking tome Removing every ounce of fun from History noted that blah de blah’.  A friend will say I love that show The Tudors and we will go ‘They never had that type of fireplace in Tudor England and that character you love was terrible to the Irish etc. etc.’ The secondary level teacher will defend the way he/she teaches. The third level lecturer will blame all misconceptions his/her students have on the secondary teacher and it all gets very messy. What is important to remember about the professional historian is this: I have written a 50, 000 word masters thesis (that only four people will ever read).

 

So, what have we learned? In a nutshell we have learned I need to find a girlfriend. We have also learned that I have way too much time on my hands and that I take history way too seriously.

 


[1] For those without a sense of humour: I may be making some serious points in this blog, however, keep in mind that I do not hate English people, Scottish people, self-hating Irish people or anyone else. (The Welsh are smart enough not to enter into the debate and as a consequence end up having time to practice singing and Rugby and are good at both.) I do think that the poetry of Pearse wasn’t the best. I am also aware of Eamon de Valera and all that but for the love of God that is a whole different kettle of fish.)

Letting go.

There is never a good way to say goodbye. Losing someone from your life is often one of the most difficult things that we ever experience. Letting go takes a toll and no matter what we say a failed relationship leaves us feeling empty. I don’t know what love is, I don’t know how to quantify what I feel for a woman when I do fall in love. Creaky metaphors and sickly similes don’t seem enough, in fact they feel contrived, and a cheap way to express what is, in many ways, inexpressible.

 

When you let go of the person that you thought would be the guiding light you lose a possible future. You let go of their company, their strengths and weakness and you miss the fact that somebody cares for you, that someone has your back. You miss those little texts and you miss those little smiles. Memories crowd the mind and all the small things remind you of her. Ghosts are in the small details. You realise you have to let go of the time you both sat on a bench in Trinity College and watched the cricket game as you talked about all the things to come.  You let go of the times you discussed your favourite film or book.  You let go of the trust you had for each other and the way you opened up about your fears, your dreams and your hopes.

 

The above sounds false don’t it? Nothing more than a trite attempt to describe my emotions. Maybe I am just a bad writer. What disturbs me is that maybe, just maybe, you have only one true love and maybe that true love is gone.  If that is the case, what are memories but pain? What is hope?  When do you let go? If this were a Hollywood romance the protagonist would let go in some hugely dramatic way, a way which would give us all a satisfying resolution.  Life isn’t like that. I let go looking out the window of a bus and realised there is no such thing as a satisfying resolution.

Things Left Unspoken

Recently, I have been watching an excellent four part documentary on Ireland entitled Muide Eire (We are Ireland).  The series concentrates on the representation of Ireland and the Irish in film and television. It is wide in scope, considering such topics as the stereotyping of the Irish as a bunch of God fearing drunks on the one hand to our relationship with the land. Nationalism, religion, land and drink are like footprints on the sand of the collective Irish memory in that they leave their traces. The scars of the nation’s colonised past run deep in the Irish psyche. The dark side of the psyche was under the spotlight in the episode entitled Smacht (Control) and it really hit a nerve. This episode was concerned with the relationship between screen and society and, at a personal level, it was difficult to watch.

Why? Because it dealt with the things left unspoken. These are the parts of history that skulk Grendel-like in the dark margins of historiography. It dealt with the ways in which Irish society treats women, children, the poor and the emigrant. It probed the way history has, at least until very recently, shied away from the uncomfortable truth. It highlighted the ways in which the words of equality and fairness that our founding fathers and mothers hoped we would bring to life at the moment we broke from empire have proved to be nothing more than ephemera.

 Through film and television these ephemeral words are confronted by the vision and viewpoint of the camera. The cold hard gaze penetrates, illuminates and commentates on the dark corners and the truth behind the lie. Films such as Song for a Raggy Boy, H-3 and Kings show the complexity of Irish life from our politics to our relationships. Abortion was covered by Margo Harkin in Hush-a-Bye Baby she stated that when she addressed the audience at the premiere in Dublin she said ‘We all know women who have had this experience’. She was met by silence. Kings shone a light on the emigrant experience and in particular the ‘navvies’ of London. Again, we were in the domain of the voiceless, the forgotten Irish. As one character said ‘we are no longer Irish, no longer Connemara men. We are something else, we are Paddies’.

There is no doubt that confronting the past is difficult. History writers often focus their eye on the movers and shakers of history and in the process forget the hoi polloi. Social history, and in turn the experience of the men and women at its core, is often seen as problematic. They often don’t conform to a countries narrative. Historians often ask: ‘Where are the sources? How can we say, with any degree of certainty, that the individual experienced what they claim to have experienced?’ My answer is: yes, there are difficulties but we must find a way to make sure these experiences are not forgotten. We have a duty to write and to show, both in a factual and fictional way, to make sure that we remember, no matter how distressing.

 And distressing it was. The reason I found it difficult to watch was because of the violence that was committed to children in our little republic. In particular there was a film called Our Boys about the way in which schoolboys were beaten in a school run by Christian Brothers. It was made in 1981 but such was the subject matter that it wasn’t shown till 1991. The director Cathal Black stated that he wished it was shown in it’s time as it had lost some of its impact when watched out of context. Again, things left unspoken. Dark corners left unilluminated due to fear that we would have to confront the darker sides of our nature.

Going to school in 1980s Ireland I had reason to see that darker side. I went to school after they had banned hitting children but it still occurred. Some teachers knew who to hit. They would pick on boys that had family problems or those whose parents didn’t have the words to complain to the school authorities. I remember when I was nine I saw a fully grown man drag one of my classmates across tables. Another time a teacher threw a twelve year old boy against a sink and his crime?  It was to look at a skin mag. I was never hit but what I remember most was the fear. For most of my primary education I was terrified of doing something wrong. I could never admit I was bad at maths because I was afraid I would be ridiculed. Thinking back now what I hated most was the way those in authority misused their power. Unfortunately, what I witnessed was all very minor stuff to what would be uncovered in 1990s Ireland. But watching that documentary made me realise all the little boys that were hurt under our watch. Perfidious Albion wasn’t to blame here. All the hurt of things left unspoken. The screen becomes a mirror reflecting the ambivalence of our society towards those that were the weakest let us hope that in these testing times we never forget the lessons of history.

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