Thursday, September 23, 2004

In a Mayo State of Mind

This is a true story. In 1996, in the interregnum between the drawn and replayed finals of the All-Ireland Football Championship, the waiting became unbearable for a group of Ballinamen. Having exhausted all profane methods of supporting the Mayo Senior team on the path to glory in the preceding summer, realisation dawned that it was now time to try the sacred.

As such, that group of Ballinamen piled into a motor car early one morning and drove west with the sun, through Westport, into the townland of Murrisk. There they parked their car, and, as their Mayo forebears have done for generations, those Ballinamen climbed Croagh Patrick, the Reek, to honour God and to ask for His favour.

At the top of the mountain, on one of those gloriously sunny days that sometime dawn in September, they looked out across the Plain of the Yew Trees, which is what the name "Maigh Eo" means. Those five Mayomen stood with the broad Atlantic roaring at their backs, and gazed at the county to which they had long sworn fealty. It all became too much for one of them. "Eli, Eli," he cried, as he fell to his knees, "my God, my God, how can anywhere this beautiful not win an All-Ireland?"

Eight years on, God, in His mysterious way, has yet to answer that prayer. That summer of 1996 ended in disappointment, just as every summer has in the fifty-three years since Sam Maguire last visited Mayo. And now Mayo stands once again on the cusp of a return to what the county regards as its rightful seat at football's highest table, and her people once more can only wait and hope.

Brendan Behan once remarked that neither Irish nor Jewish people have a nationality, they have a psychosis. It would be interesting to know what Behan would have made of the Mayo condition, surely one of the most conflicted identities of all the Irish counties.

What is a Mayoman or a Mayowoman? A person that lives in Mayo? Not exactly. All the great songs of Mayo are written from a vantage point outside of the county: "Far away from the land of the shamrock and heather"; "It was just about a year ago since I left old Erin's isle"; "Take me home to Mayo." Not only is it not necessary for the Mayoman or Mayowoman to live in Mayo, it seems as if Mayo, the real Mayo, is as a Platonic ideal, an imaginary, idealised construct that doesn't exist in reality.

What is this idealised construct, this "Mayo"? Whereas other counties throw out their chests and claim alpha county status - the Premier County, the Rebel County, the Kingdom - Mayo arrives at the feast with her cap in her hand, hoping for the crumb from the rich man's table. People think of "Mayo God Help Us," but it's worse than that. The motto under the Mayo crest reads "Dia is Muire Linn," which can be translated as "May God and His Blessed Mother Help Us" - Mayo needs every dig out she can get.

An Spailpín's father - an Seanspailpín - used to tell a story that sums up the Mayo condition, of being born into a place of tremendous natural beauty but being unable to survive there, and having then to make a living elsewhere. It concerned a man whose few paltry acres could not keep him and his, and, with great sorrow, he had to tie a rope around his prize goat and take the goat to the top of the mountain, where the goat was going to have to make the best of it while his erstwhile master went home alone. "A stór," the farmer addressed the goat before their sad parting, "you mightn't have much to ate, but by God you've got great scenery."

And throughout it all, as every Mayo man in history was handed a ticket to America or England along with his first razor, there was one thing that kept the Mayo head up, and that was Mayo's remarkable prowess at football. We may send our people to tramp the world, but back home, by God, our footballers keep the Green and Red on the map.

Except, of course, that they don't. Mayo have won three All-Irelands in one hundred and twenty years, leaving them behind both Wexford and Tipperary as footballing powers, and neither Wexford nor Tipperary is a footballing power at all. Where did this idea of Mayo football prowess come from? It is certainly not from the statistics, as a return of three Championships from one hundred and twenty goes is not the sort of return that leads to such lofty notions.

Could it have something to do with the nature of Mayo football itself? Few teams that play so attractively, as Mayo always have down through the years, fare so poorly as a result. Could it have something to do with the jersey itself? Mayo's green and red is one of the unique strips in the GAA - Kerry wear the green and gold of Leitrim for instance, while Galway wear the maroon and white of Westmeath. Only Mayo wear green and red, which gives them a unique identity, and gives a correspondingly unique sense of identity to the people of Mayo, at home or abroad. And once you realise that you are elect, that you are of Mayo and no-where else, it stays with you from that first revelatory moment.

There is an ice-cream man in Ballina who trades under the banner of Joseph, even though it's rumoured that Joseph is not his name at all - more of the Mayo dualism, where nothing is ever as it seems. And, when you were a little boy with a hand barely big enough to hold the two shilling bit at which ice-cream retailed in those days, Joseph would always ask if you wanted the Mayo colours on your cone. You'd nod your assent, Joseph would reach for the bottles of green and red syrup that are always next to his taps, and you would walk proudly away under your green and red banner. You now bore the Mayo stamp, and you will take it to the grave, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad.

And now it's all for the better again in Mayo's football world, the heartbeat of the county, the one thing that the Plain of the Yew Trees uses to distinguish her from the rest of the land of Erin. After the horrors and trauma of last year, and the year before that, and before that again, on into the dark past, past Lynch and Lemass back to the time of John A. Costello and old Dev himself, Mayo are back in the big time, seventy short minutes away from a pinnacle that is one half Promised Land and one half Holy Grail to the long suffering men and woman who've listened to their county and colours mocked time and again walking down the vale of tears that is Dorset Dolorosa after Mayo have been beaten out the gates - again - of Croke Park.

And how appropriate it is that this team of John Maughan's, himself a returned emigrant of sorts, is backboned by men like Ronan McGarrity, James Gill, David Brady and Kieran McDonald, men who have left, as so many Mayo men and women have left, only to return again to try and raise a green and red banner in Jones' Road. And how marvellous too that Mayo's return to the big stage is against Kerry, whose thirty-two All-Ireland leaves them at the top of the tree around whose roots Mayo have been so firmly stuck for fifty-three Championships. God? Are you listening this year, God? God?

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Planning Ahead

"Damn it Valentine, you never plan ahead, you never take the long view. I mean here it is Monday and I'm already thinking of Wednesday."
Earl Bassett (Fred Ward) to Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon) in the movie Tremors, 1990.

Planning ahead has not been a problem for a Californian banker called Michael Mahan. Six months ago Mahan contacted the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team and spent $25,000 buying the entire right field bleacher section of Dodger stadium, every single seat, for October 2nd and 3rd.

There is method to Mahan's madness. One of the stories of this year's baseball season has been the quest of San Francisco's Barry Bonds to hit 700 career home runs, something that has only been achieved by two other players, and another milestone on Bonds' journey to equal and surpass Hammerin' Hank Aaron's all-time record of 755. Bonds has been scoring the homers at a rate of about 42 a year, meaning that when Michael Mahan did his sums he calculated that it was a reasonable bet that Bonds would hit his historic 700th home run in the stadium of the San Francisco Giants greatest rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers. There's one month left in the season, and Bonds is stalled on 699. And as such, Mahan's investment is coming into focus.

It's already paying off, as ESPN reports that Mahan is selling the seats, bought at a group discount of $3.50 a seat, for $15 each, and (and here's where genius shines brightest) he's also made anyone that buys one of his seats sign an eight (8) page contract ensuring that Mahan and the person that catches the 700th home run ball are both equal shareholders in that ball. People have fallen out over home run balls before, and Michael Mahan is taking no chances. Planning ahead, as I say.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Put a Spailpín in the Park!

A chairde, a dhaoine uaisle, a mhuintir na hÉireann; after consultation with my family, long hours walking the land of Erin lost in my thoughts, channeling the spirit of Seán T. O'Kelly (who, of course, was exactly the man to look for when you needed spirits, as the naggin never left the frock coat pocket when he was out on Presidential business I believe), and looking into my heart, I, An Spailpín Fánach, of no fixed abode, have decided to put myself forward for the post of Ninth President of Ireland.

This is not a decision that I take lightly. In fact, I'm taking it with a pinch of salt. I have surveyed the field that are curently interested in the position, using a magnifying glass to catch Mr Ryan of An Comórtas Glás of course, political pygmy that he is, and I've decided that the competition is a lot less stiff than that it is to make it as a Grade 3 Civil Servant or to Upper Deck Hogan, both battles in which An Spailpín has flown his colours in the past.

My qualifications for the post of President are impeccable, and open to full public scrutiny. As a former resident of Dublin 7, the People's Park was like my front lawn at that time, where oft I gambolled of a evening in spring. I shall open factories and féiseanna cheoil with the same sense of style with which I opened cans of cider in my youth - held close to the ear, for that satisfying psssffft! sound.

I have lived the life of the citizen of Ireland, knowing full well the life of the emigrant, the computer whizzkid, the man of letters, the owner of a copy of Ulysses and a U2 album on tape, and most of all, the life of a dole bunny back in the days when we believed in things. I have drawn the Government wage often in the past, and I can spend your tax dollars once more, con brio, the way your money should be spent.

You will say that spending money on an election is a waste; you will say that it could be spent on our hospitals, our schools, on some sneaky scheme to bring back corporal punishment to welt the living Jesus out of the hooligans who infest our streets without the Irish Times getting wind of it before it's too late. To this I say: boo sucks. The cash is there and I could do with the laugh.

Tabhair don Spailpín é! An Spailpín for the Park! Put the Arsing About back in Áras an Uachtarán! But for God's sake, don't risk your sanity listening to what passes for intelligent political debate in this country. You'll be old before your time.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The End of the World as We Know It

The Sun newspaper has translated ten of the classics of Greek and Roman literature into Sun-ese. To paraphrase another top writer from the scorching Med, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here."

Friday, September 10, 2004

Seventies TV Shows and the Movies

An Spailpín reads in his Guardian that Hawaii 5-0 is the latest seventies TV show to be made into a movie. I'm getting a bit sick of this - I was more or less alone in my regard for the remade Charlie's Angels, which I argued was far superior to its contemporary, the risible Matrix, when 'twas neither popular nor profitable, but now they really are beginning to bore me. I ignored Starsky and Hutch, was horrified by what I read about Charlie's Angels II, and hardly flickered an eyelid when I read that Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott had been cast in the Dukes of Hazzard movie.

But there is one seventies TV show out there that demands, above all others, to be made into a movie, and with the sort of multi-million dollar budget that it would need to bring its awesome concepts to life. Now is the time for Wanderly Wagon: Your Move, Mr Crow.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Abáir Amhrán, Agus Sam á Seilig ag an gContae Mhaigh Eo

Ar mo dhuiseacht ar an ndeireadh seachtaine, agus An Spailpín ar ais in a áit dhúchais, chuala mé mo chéad amhrán Mhaigh Eo don feachtas seo. Bhí an amhrán bunaithe ar an seanamhrán Méiriceanach, Jesse James, agus b'uafásach an céirnín é, gan dabht. Ach ag an am chéanna, chuir sé drithlíní tríom, go bhfuil Maigh Eo ar thaobh an Chraobh arís.

Smaoinigh mé ar na hamhráin eile a chualamar agus Maigh Eo í gCluiche Ceannais na hÉireann - síos i mo óige ins an Hothouse (bhítí an-té cinnte ins an teach chéana) í mbaile beag bocht í Muigh Eo, agus Up Mayo le Doc Carroll á seinnt acu trí nó ceithre uair san oiche. Mise fluich leis an teas agus an beoir, agus ag crith le neart na h-óige agus blás Mhaigh Eo.

Is ea Sam Maguire's Coming Home to Mayo an amhrán is cáiliúil ó Maigh Eo agus Maigh Eo ag imirt peile í Mean Fomhair. Níl morán meas ag an lucht mhór ar an amhrán sin, ach cuireann an céirnín sin cumhneacht orm ar an ndóchas a bhí le Tom Tom Byrne agus linn go léir í Maigh Eo í mBliain an Tiarna míle naoí gcéad nocha a sé. Ach an amhrán peile Mhaigh Eo is ansa liomsa is é an amhrán gan morán clú nó cail air - ba ea Up Mayo, amhrán a taifiú in aghaidh an ailse i 1997, agus Maigh Eo in aghaidh Ciarraí i gCluiche Ceannais na hÉireann. 'Sé Up Mayo an amhrán spóirtiúl leis an méid is mó filíocht a chuala mé riamh - cén sliocht filíocht eile a insíonn níos mó faoin stár Mhaigh Eo, nó stár na hÉireann, ná

"You miss her in the evenings since Mary went away
She's a big job in New York, she's doing very well they say?"

Nó cá faightear slíocht filíocht tuathúil comh h-álainn le

"Drive a tractor through the rushes, toppin thistles as she goes.
A new king comes to Connacht, I'll have you all know
That you're going someplace special when you're going ... Up Mayo."

Ar slí go gceantar speisiúil agus tú ar slí chuig Maigh Eo. Tá neart fhírinne ins an liné brea sin. Maigh Eo abú.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The Not-So-Mean Streets of Manhattan

A fascinating and chastening op-ed piece in this morning's Daily Telegraph as Boris Johnson reflects on the legacy of Rudi Giuliani's zero tolerance policing measures during Giuliani's tenure as Mayor of New York.

Giuliani's insight was simple and masterful. If someone behaves like a criminal, in performing a criminal act, that someone is, ipso facto, a criminal. As such, not only are the police well within their rights to haul that someone away and chuck him or her in the slammer, it's the police's duty to do so. If he or she reoffends, slammer. If they still haven't learned, slammer. If all his or hers brothers and sisters are criminal, slammer. Slammer gets full up? Build a second slammer. Pretty soon you have safe streets, because people have either learned that it does not pay to misbehave, or the entire urban population is incarcerated. Whatever happens, you will no longer experience getting hassled by junkies walking down your own High Street, as happens on Dublin's O'Connell St, for instance. Maybe we ought to give it a crack over here? If we can ban smoking in pubs, you'd think we'd be able to take steps against junkies shooting up heroin in public streets or on the top decks of Dublin Bus.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Sir Cliving at the Crossroads

The BBC are reporting this afternoon that Sir Clive Woodward is to step down as manager of the English Rugby Football team. Sir Clive is annoyed with having to put up with a lot of oul' guff from the RFU, and he has always dreamed of coaching soccer. The BBC make no mention of whether or not a representative of the Galway County Board has been flown to the Home Counties to see if Sir Clive wants to take on John O'Mahony's old job.

And why not? According to today's Indo, everyone else has been asked.