Thursday, June 30, 2005

D'oh! Sir Clive Does a Homer

There's a remarkable report in this morning's Irish Independent that could explain why Brian O'Driscoll got the doing that he got in the First Test at Christchurch.

As you may remember, Sir Clive got an email from "a Maori" before the tour saying that the correct way for the opposition to show respect for the Haka was to pick up a blade of grass and throw it away. Michael Campbell, the US Open Golf Champion who's in the K-Club for this week's European Open, was quizzed about this yesterday (Campbell is a Maori himself) and Campbell said that that this was exactly the wrong thing to do. Picking up the grass is accepting the challenge yes, but then throwing it away is the most shocking insult there is. This obviously registered with the All-Blacks, hence their pop at O'Driscoll.

Whether what they did to O'Driscoll was within the laws or not is an endless debate, but it does seem odd, when Sir Clive loaded up the Lions' touring party with all manner of specialists, that nobody could have got on the phone to find out exactly what is respect for the haka and what is not. Poor Woodward and Bernstein had to find not one but two confirming sources for any of their Watergate stories - looks like Sir Clive couldn't be arsed finding even one, and hence O'Driscoll got drilled. Very careless indeed.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Lions in Even Bigger Trouble Than It Appears

Anyone with any spare in cash in an online betting account could do worse than plunge the lot on an All-Black whitewash, only the third ever in the history of Lions tours to New Zealand. You'll only get 2/7 with Paddy Power, but a price is never too low on a winning bet.

The scutching the Lions received at the hands of the All-Blacks on Saturday wasn't that surprising. You can't expect to pick a side for a 2005 tour on 2003 form, as remarked earlier in this space, and then expect to go out and win. It's also highly ironic that, after bringing the biggest touring squad ever, Sir Clive could only offer a clapped out Will Greenwood, another man past his sell-by date, when Brian O'Driscoll was whacked in the second minute. Not much planning for the rainy day there.

But there is another problem at the heart of this Lions tour, and that is that the whole Lions ethos is fading, just as the traditional international tours that have been part of the rugby calendar since Victoria reigned are quickly becoming a thing of the past. The Lions tours were, above all things, about glory. Rugby legends made their names on Lions tours - Tony O'Reilly's 22 tries on the South African tour of 1955, Matt Dawson blazing onto the international arena in the tour of South Africa in 1997 and, at the zenith of the Lions experience, the coronation of Barry "King" John in New Zealand in 1971.

The common theme of rugby tours is, what a treat it was that the South Africans got to see Tony O'Reilly at his pomp, getting a supply of ball on the wing that Ireland could never have hoped to supply. What a treat it was to see Barry John reach heights of out-half play that haven't been dreamt of since in New Zealand in 1971. And in converse, what a treat it was here in 1989 to see Buck Shelford bringing his World Cup winning All-Blacks to the Northern Hemisphere. What a treat it was to watch Australia's Mark Ella in 1984. What a treat it was to see New Zealand and the Baa-baas in the Arms Park in 1973.

What treats have Sir Clive's Lions given the New Zealand rugby playing public? Henson and Geordan Murphy were as good as it got, neither considered good enough to even sit on the bench for the first test. Sir Clive thinks that it's all about the Tests but he's wrong; Lions tours are all about the glory.

When this Lions tour gets from the All-Blacks what the chicken got from the axe, it's not like it's the first time - that '71 side are still the only Lions side to win a series in New Zealand. So Sir Clive would be forgiven for losing the Tests, as he wouldn't be the first and - if the tours continue - he won't be the last. But what he can't be forgiven for is legislating glory out of the Lions tours, because if it's not about the glory, then what is the point?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Wimbledon on TG4 - Liathróidí Nua, le Bhur dToil! Ó, Deirim!

Of all the zany programme scheduling decisions that TG4 have made during the eleven glorious years of their existence, nothing seems as incongruous to An Spailpín Fánach than the fact that the station is currently broadcasting the All-England Lawn Tennis Open Championships from Wimbledon, London, England, for this week and the next.

It really is the damnedest thing. Wimbledon was so long a part of the Irish summer, as Jim Sherwin and Matt Doyle droned on and on and on as one big kraut followed the next in booming serves and curtseys to the Royal Box. Then it suddenly disappeared, only to pop up again, from out of nowhere, on TG4. If you can imagine R na G broadcasting the Ashes you get an idea of the shock of it.

The mystery of it all was: why Wimbledon on TG4? I have no doubt that it gives the Fíorghaeil a vicarious thrill of pride to think of the ancient language of the Gael being spoken and broadcast from the beating heart of Empire, but a lot of Fíorghaeil don't approve of TG4, and it would be a lot of money to spend on making a point that most people wouldn't get - An Spailpín Fánach will not quickly forget the fact that when Carrie Fisher first heard Irish on TG4 she thought it was "the language of the elves."

And then, after co-incidentally discussing the language and issues arising there from in a public house during the week, An Spailpín began to wonder if the tennis broadcasting isn't a sneaky means of maintaining the Gaelscoileanna kids, to keep them speaking a language that the majority have used in school but not at home.

While there are no doubt many idealistic parents who send their children to Gaelscoileanna for the most idealistic of reasons, it would be naïve in the extreme not to realise that the reason the vast majority of children are sent to Gaelscoileanna is to keep the sons and heirs as far away from pikies as humanly possible. But it has to be having the effect of giving these children a very strong Irish vocabulary, too strong for it to wither on the vine, as An Spailín's school Irish did as soon as he arose from the second paper in the Irish in the last Leaving Cert of the 1980s. Is it possible that the language will be saved by a bizarre alliance of stealth and co-incidence? Is it possible that the presence of leadóg on TG4, and rugbaí before it, will slowly hook in that great decision making mass of humanity that is identified in the mass Irish psyche as Dublin 4? That these movers, shakers and decision makers, when they arise to power as they inevitably, inexorably, will, that they will say let's cut out the nonsense, Ireland will speak Irish once more?

An Spailpín doubts it too. Still, even if that never happens, at least somebody in Foxrock is pissed off. That's something to be going along with, and An Spailín Fánach has enough circuits of the block under the belt not to be grateful for small mercies.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

U2 in Croke Park

Hello Dublin! How are ya!

[Cheers, "We love you Bono!," screams]

How you all doing out there tonight? You know, we've been all over the world, but if there's one thing four Dublin lads like U2 - THE GREATEST ROCK BAND IN THE WORLD! -

[Cheers, the sound of women fainting]

- if there's one thing that four Dublin lads like us look forward to, IT'S BEING BACK IN DUBLIN! YEAH! ROCK 'N'ROLL!

[Cheers, delight, pride (in the Name of Love)]

But, you know, not everyone can live in a mansion in Dalkey, pay no tax and ponce all over the Western World. Sometimes we have to think of those less fortunate than ourselves. But we have, Ireland, we have. Only the other day I said to the Edge, 'Edge,' I said, 'what about the debt?'

He said he thought it was parked at Balmoral. I said 'No man, no. You're great Edge and I love ya, but I'm not talking about the Jet, I'm talking about the debt. Third World Debt.'

[Cheers, waves of sympathetic pity flood onstage for the politically naive guitarist]

People of Dublin, I was talking to President Bush the other day -

[Boos, shouts of 'bastard!' 'warmonger' 'yank!]

- I was talking to the leader of the free world yesterday and he said 'Bobby, what are we going to do about the Debt?' And I said "Georgie, we're going to rock and roll!

Did I disappoint you;
Leave a bad taste in your mouth?
I know you'd prefer a sandwich
And a cooling pint of stout.
Well it's too late, tonight,
Muffins are nowhere in sight,
I'm a bun, and I'm not the same
You're gonna eat me one after another
One after another

An Spailpín can wait.

The Motorway Through Tara

Was there ever a stronger argument in favour of the proposed motorway through Tara than the sight of these eejits on the front of this morning's Irish Times?

In what we can only presume was an attempt to name and shame on the part of D'Olier Street, we find out that we are looking at a picture of Bean Draoi Áine Ní Mhurchú (left), Tara, Co Meath; Adge, a druid from Kells; Yamann Brady, Navan; Bean Draoi Annette Peard, Hill of Tara; and Martin Dyer, Navan. Better than Pixie and Tinkerbell I suppose, although I have my doubts about Adge, the druid from Kells.

I wonder how you get to be a druid, anyway? Where does on apply? Or does one just sit in one's pelt at the bottom of the garden beating one's head with an Ogham Stone? I wonder did anyone at this Tara shindig conduct any human sacrifice of the kind described by Tacitus in Germania or the Venerable Bede in De Ecclesia Anglorum et Gentes? Here's what Tacitus has to say about the worship of the Earth Mother Nerthus, who would no doubt have been one of the "sacred feminine" that Dan Brown insisted on bleating on about in that awful book:

"In an island of the Ocean there is a sacred grove, within which stands a chariot covered with a cloth, which none but the priest may touch. The priest can feel the presence of the goddess in this holy place. When she goes out in her wagon drawn by oxen, he attends her with the utmost reverence. A season of rejoicing and festivity reigns everywhere the goddess honours with her presence. All weapons are ... locked away, no one goes to war; peace and quiet are known and welcomed... Afterwards, the wagon, the cloth, and even (believe it or not) the goddess herself are washed and purified in a secret lake. This rite is performed by slaves, who are immediately afterwards drowned in the lake..."

Makes you think twice about answering an ad in the Meath Chronicle placed by a Bean Draoi looking for an open-minded assistant, doesn't it? Roll on the JCBs.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Irish Times and the Irish Language

There's a lot of huffing and puffing in today's Irish Times about the Irish language, the money we (meaning the State, of course) spend on the Irish language, and the money we plan to spend on the Irish language in the future.

In an editorial that so reeks of political correctness that An Spailpín Fánach will bet cash money that it can only have been written by the High Priest of D'Olier Street, Fintan O'Toole (see the reference to "cultural totems"? If that's not the spoor of Toolers, ithfidh mé mo cháibín), the Irish Times condemns the further spending of cash on the language. The first two paragraphs damn with faint praise; the final three drive the steel home. "Great damage was done to the cause of Irish in previous decades with many children leaving education harbouring something close to a hatred for the language. The approach of Minister for the Gaeltacht Éamon Ó Cuív, those measures already taken and many more to follow, risk causing further alienation." It certainly will call further alienation, with the IT stirring the pot for all it's worth.

The editorial also makes reference to a story on the front page that's clucking about the cost of translating Government bodies' advertising into Irish. Aer Lingus has a good whine about it, as Aer Lingus likes to do, with the Aer Lingus spokesman bitching that the cost was "not a small amount of money." Considering that the Times were not only running the story but editorialising about it as well you'd think they'd have squeezed a better quote out of Aer Lingus than "not a small amount of money" - the Cromwell comparison is always popular - but maybe they couldn't because the whole basis of the story is utterly spurious anyway.

For the first time in An Spailpín's lifetime, the State is doing more than just paying lipservice to the language. It certainly will cost money but so does everything else. The question is if it'll cost too much money, which is a question that any public or private venture has to answer. Naturally it is not one that the Irish Times bothers to ask, simply assuming that any spending on Irish is too much. We can only hope that the guy that writes the Teanga Bheo section of the paper on Wednesdays keeps his CV updated.

The editorial remarks that "promoting the language, no more than any other aspect of the State's governance, should not be conducted without regard to cost or, apparently, any analysis of the likely benefit," implying that nobody has done there sums at all, without providing any evidence that this is the case. Which is profoundly lazy and rather mischevious of a paper of record, by any reckoning.

The only figures between the two pieces concerning the language are in the Liam Reid piece, which reports that the Department of Social and Family Affairs has set aside €500,000 to cover its obligations under the act, and is one of twenty-five bodies that will have to do so. Now, let's do some sums.

If we take the 2003 Finance Accounts as the most recent figure available to us, they tell us that in 2003 the State hauled in €32,102,931,000 in revenue from taxes. So, if twenty-five public bodies are going to spend half a mil each on Gaeilge, that's a full bill of twelve and a half million Euro to be paid. Which is 0.0004% of the Government's income from tax.

Therefore, if my figures are correct, for the Irish Times to kick up about that sort of expenditure would be the equivalent of a besotted suitor spending five hundred sheets on a flight to Paris this weekend with his beloved, and then turning around and telling your wan that no, he would not buy her a box of matches at the airport. The lady is not impressed, and neither should we be by such shoddy work in what is an essential debate about who we are as a people, and, even more importantly, who we want to be.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Radio Johnno

Sitting at home, in exile, tuning into Radio Johnno on MWR, and the live feed is accessable here. He's hopping some balls, the wily old fox.

Johnno Hops a Ball During the Phony War

What a bizarre Championship build-up this week has been. Mayo and Limerick are the last two counties, numbers 32 and 33, to take a bow in this year's football Championship. In other years, their whole summers would be over by now - instead, both of them are straining at the slips, trying to make up for the missed chances of other years.

Poor Limerick are doomed I'm afraid. Maigh Eo is a harder egg to figure. The county underwent severe psychological trauma from that regal scutching delivered by the Kingdom in the All-Ireland final and, even though every match report read by An Spailpín Fánach during the league invariably started with "Mayo went another step towards putting their All-Ireland final defeat behind them with a convincing yada yada yada," there remain areas of profound concern in the Mayo football landscape.

The dogs in the street seem aware that, after being one of the outstanding players for Mayo as they picked themselves off the floor in the League, Billy Joe Padden is to be moved from midfield, where he played so well in the League, to full-forward, in a move that sends tremors through all gallants of the Green and Red. Two-fold tremors, as it means that not only is Padden playing at full-forward for the first time at county level (and spare me some load of yak about challenge games), Shane Fitzmaurice, cispheileadóir, is back at midfield for the first time in three years. I hope Fitzmaurice is the second coming, I really do, but my God the evidence for it is scant, is it not? I believe that when Fitzmaurice returned to the squad Georgie Golden remarked on Fitzmaurice's prowess as a basketballer as one of the reasons for his return. Which, if Mayo were playing the Harlem Globetrotters at Madison Square Garden, would be good news, but when Mayo are playing Roscommon at Dr Hyde Park basketball is beside the point, surely?

Regular visitors to, the Roscommon supporters' website that has the best football discussion forum on the internet bar none, will be amused at how the tone of discussion has changed there as the first "real" game of the Championship approaches. For about a fortnight after their close call in London it was all rending of garments and gnashing of teeth with the Sheepstealers; this week a certain fatalism has settled on them, marbled throughout with gallows humour.

These are bitter times in the Ros. Roscommon never really got over that nudie pool incident of three years ago, when photographs of a weekend's jigacting by the Roscommon team in some hotel in the North were published by the Sunday People. The team was stood down, but when the new team was put together, all the scamps were reinstated, which perhaps gave certain members of the Roscommon panel a misguided conception of loyalty, honour and discipline.

If so, they're paying for it now, as most of Roscommon expect to get their ears comprehensively boxed by Mayo. As they probably will. Even in a worst case scenario, where Fitzmaurice proves another junior goalkeeper and McGarrity gets laid out by a Whelo-esque first five minutes Shaq-smack, allowing Roscommon to rain ball in on the Mayo full-back line, who's going to clock up the scores? Roscommon have scored one goal in the entire league - that's not that potent, really. There seems to be a view in certain sections of Roscommon that Frankie Dolan can turn talent on and off like a tap; this view may be mistaken.

On paper, Mayo, fraught and all as they are by demons real and imagined, should have too much for Roscommon - if it wasn't for one terribly subtle move by a terribly subtle mind in this week's Western People newspaper that causes An Spailpín to wonder. While enjoying his time out of football, John O'Mahony is keeping himself from under the wife's feet with media work, such as his appearances on the Sunday Game (buy a tie lads - Jesus Christ, the whole country is watching!) and his column in the Western. As well as the hedging for which he is justly famous, this week Johnno named an alternative Mayo XV in his Western People column, just for the gas, like.

Here's the team: Peter Burke; Kenneth Mortimer, Pat Kelly, Gary Ruane; Gary Mullins, Alan Roche, Brian Ruane; David Brady, James Gill; Aiden Kilcoyne, Patrick Harte, Ger Brady (Claremorris); Liam Brady, Kevin O’Neill, Austin O’Malley.

Anyone that follows the Mayo team at all well hear quite a few clicks in his or her head looking at the names - good old Kenny, the pick of the Morts, young Ruane deserves his chance, my God, David Brady and James Gill in midfield together, Kevin O'Neill - was it really twelve years ago? - and Austin, who never got a run. And they'll be thinking: what is this? A CV?

Johnno is the cute old fox. Whoever supplies Rennies in County Mayo ought to leave the truck parked outside John Maughan's for the week. Maughan has to be looking at Johnno now like Jack Lynch was looking at Charlie Haughey in 1977. In the meantime, Mayo to win on Sunday, scrape past Galway by the seaside, get a lucky draw in the quarters and then come to a bloody end of the line in Croker in the semi-final. And then there'll be crack.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Is There a Thugs' Charter in Gaelic Football?

The laudatory chorus for Dublin in the national sports media has had a lot of material for its arias after this weekend's work. Tom Humphries, sounding like a man who'd just received his own weight in rich chocolate cake, suggested that a Dublin win in the Championship was synonymous with the beginning of summer. Only in Gaffney's of Fairview Tommy baby - every one else thinks of exams or silage.

Eugene McGee, who certainly should know better, was singing bass accompaniment to Tom's blue tenor. Dublin and Meath, according to Eugene, had restored honour to the grand old game, not by desisting from slapping, boxing, throwing pucks or any of the other euphemisms for violent and unsportsmanlike conduct - the squeamish or sportsmanlike among you will be disappointed to hear that slaps were slapped and pucks pucked with gusto for the full seventy minutes - but the players restored sportsmanship by being "manly" enough to take those same slaps, boxes and pucks, and praised the players' committment to the old tradtion that "a player never stayed down on the ground after being hit unless he was genuinely not able to get up, came back to life for at least one day."

Feigning injury is a curse of modern sports, and symptomatic of a society that is profoundly lacking in values or honour. But in concentrating in the mote of play-acting and injury-feigning Eugene misses the far greater log of violent and dangerous play. According to the GAA rulebook, not only is throwing a punch a sending off offence, shaping to throw a punch is a sending off offence. Which would make for a boring second half on Sunday, as the Meath and Dublin goalies punted the football back and forth over an otherwise deserted Croke Park sod.

Ciarán Whelan, another of those Dublin players whose national profile is absurdly inflated in comparison with his actual achievements, was getting rave reviews after the game, even though the general consensus was that "Whelo" was extremely lucky to stay on the pitch after punching Meath's Nigel Crawford fourteen seconds - fourteen seconds! - into the game.

GAA referees are under a lot of pressure not to "ruin" games for the fans. If Sunday's referee - I think it was John Bannion of Longford, I'm not actually sure - had sent Whelan off, as the rulebook clearly states he should have, he would have been castigated for "ruining" the game. The man who threw the punch, the man who committed the act of a thug and a coward, would not be castigated for "ruining" the game. It makes one wonder, doesn't it?

I wonder what Ciarán Whelan now thinks, or any other midfielder in the country? Does he think that he has a window at the start of a game, if he feels that his opposite number might be able to best him for tomorrow's headlines, when he can try and knock that man's teeth out, or have his opponent eating rice pudding and babyfood for the next three months while his broken jaw is wired up after getting "softened up"? Will the fact that "it's a man's game" or "it's a contact sport" be any consolation then?

In not identifying thuggish behaviour and going along with the Dublin-need-to-win-an-All-Ireland shibboleth that makes any sort of behaviour alright once the Hill is singing (or chanting soccer chants, but let's not try to look too closely), have the media signed a thugs' charter for the summer? Are the first ten minutes of football games meant to be a free-for-all where manly men "sort each other out"? What use will a lot of clucking on the Sunday Game couch be after the event be to a man paying a couple of grand dentist's fees to get enough teeth back in his head so that the very sight of their father will stop scaring his children? What then, when it's too late?

A number of years ago a man called Packie McGarty was being interviewed on RTÉ radio, a man who played for Leitrim for years and years without ever coming close to winning anything, or advertising fizzy drinks or anything like that. McGarty had a trainer one time who was concerned that Pacckie was a bit soft, and needed to put himself about a bit more. So in his next game, Pakie decided to try this "putting himself about" and punched his man. His man was more shocked than hurt - "I'm playing football," said the man, "what are you playing?" McGarty told Brian Carthy on the radio that he was so shamed by what that man said to him he never hit anyone ever again. I wonder will the GAA be naming any competitions after Packie McGarty anytime soon?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Valedictory Addresses and US High Schools

Fascinating article in this week's New Yorker about the system in US High Schools that appoints the top student of the year to give a valedictory address to his or her contemporaries, explaining, I suppose, why he or she is wonderful and the rest of youse bums are not.

It sounds bizarre that anybody would take this seriously, but lately in the States students have been suing the nuts off each other over differences in Grade Point Averages of 0.0014 that mean that Chester is Valedictorian '05, all hail, while Chipper is, you know, just some guy. Amazing.

It would never happen here, of course. One of your Spailpín Fánach's premier sources for news from The Hidden Ireland has been regaling An Spailpín with tales of an inter-county hurler who was a school contemporary of my source. It seems that this buckaroo wasn't really suited to readin', 'ritin' and 'rithmetic, but he could hurl like the devil out of Hell. So on the two occasions when this chappie had just about enough of teacher and lamped him one, over some nice point of Irish grammar, I like to think, the teacher is reminded of what's what in his (or, God help us, her) world. Teacher is refusing to go within one hundred yards of the hurler and wants him out, gone, finished, but Teacher is then gently reminded by the Principal of the school that it is Harty Cup next Tuesday after all, and the swelling will go down in a couple of days.

Valedictorian me arse, as the expression goes.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Deep Throat Steps from the Shadows

How ironic it is, now that W. Mark Felt has revealed himself as the Watergate informer identified by the pseudonym Deep Throat, that the question most commonly asked by the chattering classes is: Who the Hell is W. Mark Felt? It was always much more delicious to speculate that it was someone with a higher profile, like Haig or Kissinger, that was doing the canary work in underground parking lots in the 1970s that led to Nixon's Waterloo.

Watergate remains a very profound moment in US - and therefore world - history, so it's fascinating to read Bob Woodward's long article in this morning Washington Post about his relationship with Felt, and how the whole thing came to be.

Someone once opined that Watergate could never happen in Ireland as no-one would print the stories in the first place, and everyone would know who Deep Throat was. And how true that is, unfortunately.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Pride and Prejudice

An Spailpín notes with interest that the trailer for the new Keira Knightley vehicle, Pride and Prejudice, is now available online. Notwithstanding the fact the only correct vehicle for the sublime Miss Knightley is that nine year old cherry-red and slightly dinged Toyota Corolla registered in the name of An Spailpín Fánach himself, the trailer makes for disheartening viewing.

It is important to realise that the trailer of any movie is a product not of the film-makers, but of the Morketing Deportment of the film-makers. Even allowing for that fell taint, this trailer is a depressing business. That husky voiced guy is doing his "in an age...." schtick, there's baroque music all over the shop and Brenda Blethyn, the inevitable Dame Judi and honorary Tan Donald Sutherland are thesping all over the shop.

The cinematography is rather lush and beautiful too, somewhat at odds with my memory of the book Pride and Prejudice itself, where it seemed to rain more often than it does in Galway and, as any meteorologist can tell you, it rains a Hell of a lot in Galway. I also recall the Bennett girls tramping through the mud on the number of occasions, which I don't think Miss Knightley's heavenly little booties will be going next, nigh or near for the hundred minutes or so this thing is going to drag on. It's interesting also, with Colin Firth so bright in the collective female consciousness as the definitive Fitzwilliam Darcy, that the producers of this new movie have seen fit to cast some Jimmy Durante lookalike as the main love interest. Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

If An Spailpín Fánach were some sort of bottom-line show-me-the-money huckster instead of the sensitive artist he is, he'd be inclined to think that the lads got together to make a few pounds for themselves in the US market selling that peculiar version of England that only exists in the American popular consciousness, as they did for that awful Wimbledon movie. It'd certainly explain old schnozz elbowing Firth out of the way, as they don't know Colin Firth from Colin Farrell in the States. And more power to them, although I do find it slightly distressing myself that they feel this continual need to update Austen for every generation. The trailer voice-over describes Elizabeth Bennett as a "thoroughly modern woman," even though an even vaguely modern woman who pitched up in Restoration England would in the ducking stool by the elevenses.

I never understood the appeal of Austen, myself. I can see she was good, but I don't see how she was great. Still, each to their own. More crumpet, Lord Marmaduke?