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07 Aug 2012 - 02:17:29 pm


The call came just before midnight. A sad soul told me, in a Galway City accent, that I should be run out of Galway, with a few others. We weren't Galwegians, was the gist, we were blow-ins. He seemed lonely and ranted for a long time. Much of what he spouted seemed driven by angers directed at himself. He even gave me his address. But he did not take up my invitation to meet. 

There was a nasty letter once, a nasty postcard too. As with the 'phone-call, the gripe was with my having written letters on politics or some other topic to the papers. I had no right to do so, rang the message. Like those quivering varied letters signed 'Name and Address with Editor' a constant feature of local Galway newspapers, they carried intent without responsibility. 

This isn't about local pride, it's about prejudice and parochialism. It's about defending - if one can call it that - territory that extends only to the city limits. It is first cousin to the parochial mindset that hoists dodgy politicians up on local shoulders and praises our publicly-declared rogues in throngs. It is the opposite of patriotism. There is absolutely no indication in Irish history that nationhood was considered an Ireland-sized virtue; our rebellions failed because of it. Parties split, divided, murdered one another; since Richard de Clare gave a hand to the Earl of Leinster, who couldn't keep it in his codpiece, we have divided ourselves, always to our detriment, along local and self-interested lines. 

In Ireland, the chief unit of society is not the family, but the individual. We see this when brothers and sisters dispute over land or title, often brutally. Little wonder, then, that the extended 'family', that is, the nation, should have unreliable and often unstable working components which in the end bring down the lot. We should not be surprised to find our rogues and shysters, who have done the state disservice, hailed as martyrs and heroes around the parish pump. It's merely mé-fhéinism writ large. So long as the Chúchulain in question has protected his tribe and made sure the harvest was in, the rest of the country and all its interests can stick it. The stranger's point of view, needless to add, is not welcome. 

Basically worthy organisations such as the GAA have inadvertently fostered tribalism, curiously while initially trying to cement an idea of proud nationhood; drive through the Irish parishes any Sunday afternoon and some local hurling or Gaelic football team is being screamed for or having bonfires lit in its honour and car horns honked. Hardy young men in village supermarkets will discuss the merits of some centre-half forward, but will have nothing to say about Angela Merkel, snug in the knowledge that their lineage and their membership of a local club will always go down well with a bank manager and better with a pretty young girl in the local branch. Within the parish, the rest of the country is unimportant, the 'shtate of the counthry' verbal sport, perhaps, over a pint, but nothing more. No, you will not find here any patriots in the true definition of the word. In the parish, there is no 'patria.' Interestingly, here too you will find an almost unthinking devotion to the United States. If Afghanistan isn't playing against Ballynowhere next Sunday, what is its relevance?

To think beyond the parish or the town is to wander off into dangerous and unwelcome territory. You can be asked to done a jersey, but its colour will never be green unless green is the chosen shade of a local team. The irritating recitation of the 'Don the green jersey' mantra was made by politicians well aware that it meant nothing and in any case it was football patriotism, dragged from the proud ruins of our Charlton-led World Cup soccer hopes. 

We Irish do not care about Ireland. If we did we'd be on the streets by now instead of sitting at home cheering Manchester United and beering it up while the unemployed poor have their starvation-level allowances cut by men and women looking forward to massive fortunes in pensions. We have no idea how poor some of our people are, and we don't give a damn so long as Sky Sports is available. Even the poor don't care. Having elected some of the most self-interested people on the planet to represent us because we 'know him' or 'he's old John-Boy's son' we allow him to get away with all sorts of chicanery because his family are always to be seen at Sunday mass. There is no bigger picture. There is no complex notion of politicians working for the people who elected them. There is no concept either of moral or ethical justice, of 'doing the right thing' (the curséd Brits were full of that nonsense) or that the worn defence that 'he didn't actually break the law' is a child's excuse and not acceptable in a mature society. 

But we are not a mature society. Recently I have heard it rolled out that we are a 'young' nation and prone therefore to making mistakes. This is a drab excuse for the arrogance and sham of Charles Haughey, to name but one, who is still praised by some artists for establishing an academy and a pension for them; mind you, I once heard a dismally-unemployed dock worker, in considerable financial woe, defend Haughey because he provided free travel for pensioners. His defender was in his thirties. 

It seems to me that we are doomed to repeat our national mistakes because we care only for our individual selves. Up a step from that, we care only for the parish, the small town. We still think that a colonial power is working from Dublin and any wool pulled over Dublin's eyes is wool well spent. Hup, ya boy-yah! 

But wait. The times they are . . . and so on. The frightened and inward-looking defiance of the parish is being challenged in our courts. Our local heroes are having a lot of dirty linen aired in public. Slowly, slowly, but it is happening. We are being made to look - and God, how we resent this! - at the crumbling feet of clay, even if we shake our heads and chant no, they're still rock, still rock. 

One day we may have the courage to ask not what our champions did for the local football club, but what they did for our country. 

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Comment from: Edel King [ Visitor ]
Well written Fred, in my humble opinion at any rate, but a pity such gifted skills are wasted on spewing vitriol from the sidelines.
Sweeping statements such as the above really don't do any justice to your good self, and raining down negativity on people you don't and couldn't possibly know is both limiting and deeply insulting. Of course, there's an element of truth in what you say, but two wrongs never made a right.
It's too easy to sit and point the finger at what and who is wrong, my suggestion to you is 'Be the Change you want to see' and let those who will, follow your example. Positivity is the way to go.
I'm tired of listening to insults being thrown at people in my community, workplace , and family. We refuse to be painted with your cynical brush. And I've news for you, the people surrounding me are all non compliant with the Household Charge and truly see the bigger picture. This non-payment is just the beginning. Are you seriously so naive as to hope for the equivalent of an Arab Spring in Ireland? Our problems are not the same, but our enslavement by our own government, in order to protect their own inflated salaries and pensions , while dancing to the tune Angela Merkel and co. choose to play , will not be tolerated for much longer.
   2012-08-21 @ 07:29:50 pm
Comment from: theserialfrozenlinearblog [ Visitor ]
Excellent and provocative take on the Irish disease/s, Fred. Really enjoyed it.
   2012-08-09 @ 09:52:43 pm
Comment from: Rosemarie [ Visitor ] Website
Trenchant, would make you weep!

   2012-08-09 @ 07:47:39 pm
Comment from: Margaret [ Visitor ]
Fred . Read your piece and , while doing so, had to keep reminding myself, "Fred is writing about Ireland and not the US". Me thinks Alexis de Toqueville had limited vision. He predicted in DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA, we would be exporting culture. In his view, a small "c" starts that word. I ask myself is that what America does best anymore? Our so called "entertainment" proliferates across the globe -- bringing what ? I had wanted at one time to live over in Ireland . Circumstances personal and financial prevented that from happening. I read your piece and "parochial" jumps out at me. Letters to the editor are written in the same vein over here. No difference. Just wrote to a friend who had posted a piece about the abundance of stupidity. I wondered if they are researching a Stupidity vaccine. Damn Margaret, what good would that do? They'd loose their markets least here in the US. And isn't that what it is all about and has always been. The Trade Route names may have changed and the vehicles used on them are no longer ships... but citizenships patrolling the screens, online or wide HD. Thanks for a great piece. Sad but true. Margaret
   2012-08-08 @ 04:09:02 pm

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