Onwards…

a few words of a kind…

Archive for the tag “celtic tiger”

Bonzo

This is the opening of Bonzo, one of the stories in my recent collection, Borderlines.


Bonzo stood out. His face looked a cross between WoodyIMG_0008 Allen and Harry Potter, but he was much plumper than Woody, and taller too. There was a reserved, almost studious air about him and no matter what the circumstances or situation, Bonzo never seemed out of place. He blended in at parish weddings and opera galas, local funerals and rugby matches. He was a man for all capers.

Nobody was sure what he did for a living, or if he did anything. He grew up in the parish, the only child of a small farmer and his wife. A gifted student, Bonzo won a scholarship to some prestigious college when he was twelve and left the village. The next time they saw him, he was a young man with a bookish look. His mother said he had a big job in Berlin, but someone else said he was working in Boston.

When his father passed away, he returned to Ireland and got a job in Dublin. Every weekend he came to visit his mother and when she died suddenly, he took to the booze for a few weeks and announced that he might become a hippy. From then on, he lived in the home thatched cottage and let twenty acres of land go wild around him. He came and went a few times a week in a yellow VW camper van with a surfboard-rack on the roof.

Some nights he walked down to Cleary’s pub in the village to listen to the music and have a few pints. Once in a while he got drunk and danced alone to jigs and reels, to the glee of the drinkers. Crumpled and cockeyed, he would shake hands with everyone and whisper that they were always welcome in his house.
“I mean it,” he’d say, squeezing their hands.

Sometimes after the pub closed, a small crowd went back to Bonzo’s cottage with packs of beer and bottles of spirits. When musicians came, there was a rollicking session. The parties took place in the old country living room, decorated with pictures of saints and a red Sacred Heart lamp. Books overflowed from shelves to the floor and people built them into seats and sat on them. There was an open fire, a couch and a few sugán armchairs, which were given over to the musicians. He was a welcoming host and cooked up plates of charred sausages and sardines on toast. On those nights, Bonzo got really spaced and was often first to hit the floor.

His land stretched down along the sea road, from the edge of the village to a ruined castle once occupied by his ancestors. It was prime development land and Bonzo let it be. Every few months a hippy named Guy came with horses and grazed the place for him, but other than that the land was idle, left to itself. When he was drunk one night in Cleary’s pub, Bonzo said he was going to ‘plant it, plant it with trees. Broadleaves, native trees.’ It was good for the planet, he said and a few drinkers cheered, “Good man Bonzo!”

Backpackers knocked on his door once and a while asking if they could camp in his fields and he gave them permission. One Dutch girl stayed for two weeks and slept with him a few times. An American woman with a lemon Citron van pitched there every May and again in late summer. She was a photographer and took the picture of Bonzo and the cat that hung in Cleary’s Bar.

The first time Kiki McFadden met Bonzo, he was backing the camper van out to the road, being directed by Guy the hippie. She stopped her silver jeep, got out and approached him.

“Hitting away for the weekend,” she smiled, noticing sleeping bags and backpacks in the van.

Bonzo nodded and Guy hopped in beside him and began rolling a smoke.

“Are you going to the Electric Picnic?” she asked, smiling broader.

“You got it,” nodded Bonzo and Guy chuckled.
“You lucky things, you,” she sighed, “God, but it’s well for ye and some of us slaving away to try and make a living.”

“You’re keeping us all going,” smiled Bonzo.

“Listen,” she said, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you. Will you give me a call when you get back, I’d really appreciate it. God, I should introduce myself, I’m Kiki McFadden from Round Tower Real Estate in Ballygale.”

They shook hands and he said,

“Hi, I’m James, James Callahan.”

She gave him her business card and said,“God that’s gas, you have the same name as a cousin of mine in Mayo. I know you to see as Bonzo.”

He put her card on the dashboard and said,“Nice meeting you, Kiwi.”

“Kiki,” she corrected.

“Of course,” he smiled, “Kiki”

The VW pulled away slowly and Bonzo scoped her out in the wing mirror as she went back to her jeep, taking a call on her mobile. She had a full figure, tight power suit and sexy swagger.

“She’s a smooth operator,” he said.

“They’re on to you, man,” warned Guy.

He didn’t call Kiki McFadden when he got back from the Electric Picnic. The outing lasted longer than he had planned. On the way home he made a detour to West Cork with two English women and stayed with them for three days. Then Kiki’s business card disappeared from the dashboard and he forgot all about her.

Autumn arrived and he was away a lot. There was no VW parked beside the cottage when Kiki passed and after a few weeks, she slid a note under his door.
“I heard the Picnic was great. Hope you enjoyed it. Give me a call for lunch sometime when you’re free — All the Best, Kiki.”

Bonzo put the note beside the phone and it got covered with piles of mail. Guy came over with horses and they went to a Christy Moore gig in Lisdoonvarna. Then Bonzo disappeared and nobody saw him for weeks.
Kiki’s head turned when she noticed the camper van tucked behind the cottage. She parked the jeep and knocked on Bonzo’s front door. It was Sunday and he was having a snooze by the fire, a weekend radio talk show chattering away unheeded. Her knock woke him. Dang! Bet they have heard the radio, I’d better see who it is, he thought.

“Hello Bonzo,” Kiki, greeted and he was startled. For a second he didn’t recognize her, she was dressed for heavy weather in an Australian outback raincoat and broad brimmed hat.

“It’s Kiki, remember?”

“Of course, of course, Kiki.”

“Is this a good time to call on you? I know it’s the weekend, but I can never seem to get you at home during the week. How’re things anyway?”

“Fine, fine, great. Yeah, come in. Please, you’re welcome. The place is a bit of a mess.”

“Arrah it’s fine, what are you talking about. You should see my place! God this is grand, Bonzo, lovely and cosy.”

“Thanks. Would you like coffee.”

“God I’d love a cup, d’you know that? This is a lovely spot, and you have the open fire and all. God but I’d love a place like this…”

“Milk and sugar?”

“No sugar thanks. I s’pose you don’t have soy milk?”

“I’m afraid not. Sorry.”

“Arrah, it’s grand…just black is fine.”

They made small talk about the weather and she asked about the Electric Picnic.

“I’d love to go there next year. You’ll have to remind me when tickets come on sale. God but you have a very interesting life Bonzo. And d’you mind me asking, what do you do for a living?”

“Nothing very exciting, pen and paper work,” he said vaguely.

“I bet you’re a writer,” she smiled, “you have that look. Do you write poetry?”

“On occasion,” he replied, “but I wouldn’t consider myself a poet.”

“I would,” she said, “and I bet you’re very good. A lot of great artists didn’t consider themselves as good as they were. D’you know what I mean? Like Van Gogh, like.”

“Poor Vincent,” sighed Bonzo.
“Yeah, he cut off his ear, didn’t he? But listen,” she said, slowing her voice a gear, “we have a client who is very interested in buying some land from you.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I can’t say who it is at the moment, but it’s a serious player. They’d be interested in buying as much as you’d sell them along the road.”

“For development, I presume. It’s not somebody who wants it to farm.”

“Yes, for development. As I said, they’re serious. And they would make a sizable offer.”

Bonzo looked into the fire and Kiki bantered on about the holy pictures, chipped statues of Jesus and family photos that stared at her from every wall. She said she envied his lifestyle and longed to give up the rat race and retreat to an island and write poetry. Or just meditate. Kiki sipped her coffee and silence seeped around them.

“Well,” she said, “will you think about it anyway. The offer would be in the region of 300K an acre. Say, 5 to 6 million for the whole place.”

“Jesus, that’s a lot.”

“Of course it would be conditional on planning but the client is well connected and thinks that wouldn’t be a problem…”

Bonzo’s head swirled and he felt dizzy….


Borderlines is 3 long stories by Eddie Stack — Carnival Cop; Bonzo; One for the Rover. The stories are set in the West of Ireland. Kindle edition costs $0.99. Download here


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Arthur’s Day: Letter to Arthur Diageo

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Hey Arthur, can I have a word with you? There a few things I’d like to get outta my mind, things that have been troubling me for a while.

You’re a grabber Arthur, you never have enough, and now you want us to celebrate a special day in your honour. You’d like us all to get pissed, puke, fight, crash, hurt our loved ones and abuse those who care for us — just so you can fill your till. It’s bad enough that St. Patrick’s Day is a global piss-up. Fuck you Arthur, we’re not gonna do that shit any more, you’re king of the gombeens and you’ve taken us on a drunken ride for way too long.

flagAnd while I have your ear, Arthur, I’d like to say a few words about the Harp. That was your first grab, you took our national symbol…people marched behind that harp, people died for that harp. And you put it on your brew, giving the impression that porter was our national drink and that it was part and parcel of our make up, our psyche. We fell for that one, fell on the floor, down the stairs to the gates of hell.

You got a lot of nerve, Arthur and you gotta lot to answer for. Like, you’ve made fools of us for centuries, made advertising goons of us in the process. And fuck you Arthur, you hijacked our culture and took our brightest and our best. You made a show of Behan, Kavanagh and Myles. Put your pint in the middle of our music, with The Dubliners and The Chieftains too. ‘Fine girl you are!’ and all that carry-on. You said Guinness was good for us, but that wasn’t true, Arthur, though you didn’t care.

You’re a savvy one, you were way ahead of Don Draper, I’ll give you that. After using the music, you moved on to the GAA. Choice of champions? Have you any shame, Arthur? Didn’t think so. And I hear you’re sponsoring an Arts show on the radio. Time to change the station on that one…

So Arthur, before I go, let me tell you the Irish have moved on. Many of us won’t be celebrating your Arthur’s Day this year. It’s a scam to fill your coffers, and you don’t care about the damage done. We’re sick and tired of you hi-jacking our culture, making slaves and fools of us. Sorry Arthur, we don’t love you anymore. We’ve discovered that a pint of rain is your only man.

Eddie Stack



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Irish Diaspora: The Scattering & The Gathering

51skBtRrXBL._SS500_Back in the late 1990s, Dermot McMahon, a Clare businessman had an idea to put together a book about the county’s emigrants. Called The Scattering, the book tracked 78 emigrants and sent a team of photographers around the globe to snap them in their adopted environment. In 2000, the late President Hillary launched The Scattering at Shannon Airport. It was a fitting and poignant venue, as most had left home from there.
A few of those featured in the book were back for the launch, including Martin Hayes and myself. There was much hand shaking and curious looks from well wishers. There was music, tea and sandwiches and the proceedings were broadcast live on ClareFM. I remember having quiet chat with Martin and we recalled the first time we left SNN and wondered how many more times we would walk under the departures sign. I figured we were the last generation that would leave, emigration was at a standstill and Ireland was doing well…

I was wrong, very wrong. Fast-forward a decade and Ireland had boomed, burst, was on the ropes, reeling from shocking changes. The country was in crisis — financially, politically, spiritually and culturally. The Irish were emigrating again and everyone was broke.

To help the country out of the fix, in July 2009 the government convened The Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh House in Dublin and invited the brightest Irish minds and others who had a Midas touch. It was the brainchild of David McWilliams, enfant terrible of economists and author of a few books on Ireland’s rise to fall. One of the elements that came to the fore most strongly in Farmleigh was the ‘potential for leveraging our cultural identity in support of economic regeneration‘. With this in mind, on March 2, 2010, Taoiseach Brian Cowan appointed Gabriel Byrne as the first Cultural Ambassador for Ireland. Probably Cowan’s most enlightened decision, this was a pro bono job, with expenses and would be for three years.

gabeByrne was a popular choice at home and abroad, and he set to work immediately. He played a central role in Imagine Ireland, a year of Irish arts in America sponsored by Culture Ireland. He organised several events that explored Irish identity, including a retrospective of Irish films at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and a series of documentaries about Ireland at the Lincoln Center. The Irish government invested €4 million in Imagine Ireland. Byrne did background work as well — he spoke with studios and filmmakers about making films in Ireland, and with Liam Neeson he produced ‘James X’, a play by Mannix Flynn about clerical sexual abuse in Ireland. By this time, Ireland had a change of government and when the new Taoiseach, Enda Kenny had harsh words for the Vatican, Mr. Byrne praised him for his courageous stance.

government1In June 2011, while Imagine Ireland was making waves in the US, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs announced that Certificate of Irishness would be available to applicants in the autumn. It was estimated that there were 70 million people of Irish heritage scattered all over the globe and the certificate would be a moneymaker. It would be aimed at those whose Irish ancestry went back beyond their grandparents, those Irish who are not eligible for an Irish passport. The new identification would grant them special tourist and travel deals as well as being a concrete acknowledgment of their Irish heritage. FEXCO, a Kerry-based company would provide the certs in association with the Department of Foreign Affairs.

While we were digesting this news, wondering would the idea fly or flop, a bigger announcement was made. At the Global Irish Economic Forum in July 2011, Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar unveiled The Gathering and told us that: “The Gathering will be a year-long program of events, festivals and fun designed to bring record numbers of visitors…an invitation to the world to come and join in Ireland’s renewal.” (Renewal, Leo? Remember what happened to the last New Ireland?)

The Gathering was predicted to generate an extra $399 million for the Irish economy and would cost $5 million. With an 80 to 1 payback, the government was home and dry. Every town and village in Ireland would be asked to participate in the events, aimed primarily at the Irish Diaspora, as well as people with an interest in the country. Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn said, “There are a lot of people with Irish connections or a fondness for Ireland who have a vague plan to get here some time — we want to light a fire under them and get them here in 2013.” (Right Shaun, you mean burn them…even before they arrive?)

TradFest And so the show was on the road. The Irish Diaspora was the market and Irish-America was the main target. It’s not known if the mandarins in Dublin had any contact with the Irish Cultural Ambassador, Mr. Byrne about the project. As the year wore on, we heard that: ‘The Gathering is the people’s party. It will kick off in spectacular style at the New Year’s Eve Festival in Dublin and will be celebrated through gatherings of the people and Ireland’s major festivals during 2013.’ (WTF? The people’s party? And the country up to its nose in debt? Was this some sort of ‘pack up your troubles and smile, smile, smile’ routine?)

Gabriel Byrne’s resignation as Ireland’s Cultural Ambassador was a surprise. In an interview with The Irish Times on December 11, 2011, he announced that he was stepping down at Christmas. He had been almost two years in the job and said,
“I just don’t have the time between my career and that.”

The Minister for Arts, Jimmy Deenihan said Byrne made “an outstanding contribution to the country” in his role. “His inspirational leadership of Imagine Ireland is helping to restore Ireland’s reputation at a critical time, breaking new ground for the next generation of Irish artists and helping them to find new audiences for their work in the US…The doors he has helped to open for Ireland and Irish artists in America this year offer huge opportunities for the years to come.”
That was the last we heard about Gabriel for a while.

The Gathering preparations went full steam ahead in 2012. Jim Miley, former general secretary of Fine Gael, was appointed as Program Director on a €168,000 salary. An ad agency was commissioned to spread the word and ads began to appear like spring snowdrops in newspapers and magazines that might be picked up by The Diaspora. On the ground, communities were encouraged and cajoled to create events, invite long-lost cousins home from Texas. 2013 would be The Year of The Irish. We were told that the world was coming to Ireland and urged to be a ‘part of it.’ Discover Ireland crooned: “Irish roots. Tall tales. A love of everything about the Emerald Isle, from Molly Malone to fields of green. Whatever the reason, come to our fair land for The Gathering 2013 and you’ll be part of something special.” (Something special? A heat wave?)

The first time I saw The Gathering logo I was reminded of a light show at a Mr. Floppy rave in San Francisco, late 1980’s. I thought the thing was alive and quickly looked away. But it became ubiquitous. The online edition of The Irish Times had several on its home page, same with other publications. Using this retro-techno version of our sacred triple spiral as a branding tool is distasteful at the very least…it may not bode well for The Gathering. Bad vibes from the ancients…
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The Gathering campaign was officially launched in the US on September 22, 2012. Táiniste Eamonn Gilmore and Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar came to New York to do the honours and to give out a few Certificates of Irishness. Irish-America was invited back to Ireland for a big hooley. You could come anytime of the year, it didn’t matter because the Irish were up for the craic 24/7. There was no sign of the former Cultural Ambassador at the event. And the bad news about the Certificate of Irishness was kept under wraps. In one year, just over 1,000 of the potential 70 million clients had forked out €40 to have a framed computer generated page on their wall. Did the government get it wrong about the Diaspora? Is the Diaspora smarter than the government thinks?

During the run up to the American Presidential election, TodayFM was broadcasting The Last Word with Matt Cooper live from New York. On November 5th, Gabriel Byrne was a guest on the show and dropped a few bombs. He said The Gathering was ‘a scam’, a ‘shakedown’ of the Irish Diaspora. Talking about his work as Cultural Ambassador, Byrne went on to say the he was “really disappointed the way all those contacts, all that hard work was just dropped and it really made me disillusioned and disappointed with this Government who go on about their love for culture, for arts and actually really don’t give a toss about it.”
The former Cultural Ambassador had gone rogue.

The Government and The Gathering heads and the tourist handlers went nuts. Project director Jim Miley denied the plan was a shakedown, and said while Byrne was “a man we all know and love, and he has his opinions — they are one man’s opinions”. Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar said: “the response to the Gathering has been really great in America” and then described Byrne as “popular with women of a certain age group” (WTF, Leo?) TD Michael Ring called Byrne ‘unpatriotic’. The only politician who came to Gabriel’s defense was President Michael D Higgins. He said Byrne was a “magnificent Irish person” who merely wants the Government’s flagship tourism initiative – which he branded a ‘scam’ – to have a deeper connection to the diaspora. Then somebody leaked Byrne’s expenses to The Irish Times. During his term, Gabe chalked up €15,845 for hotels, flights and chauffeurs. So what? He was doing the digging for free. I know a former county councillor who ran up twice that amount in a year and all he did was go to cattle marts and funerals. The expenses ‘leak’ overshadowed news that the government was pumping another $5 million into the The Gathering.

Byrne’s comments about The Gathering were widely reported. They struck a chord, both with the Irish at home and abroad and people began to wonder about this yearlong celebration. They frowned at the ads. The campaign seemed on the sick side of slick. The photos looked odd. We were being branded. Mad men showing the world what we were not like. This was the ‘Renewal’ that Leo mentioned. Discover Ireland horsing out crap such as “Gather ’round everyone – time to talk about The Gathering. C’mere and we’ll let you in on something. We’re planning something big. BIG big.” (oh Sweet Jesus…)

The Gathering organisers are active in social media and recently a picture of a Gathering ‘trad music session’ went viral among Irish musicians. It was a cheese-smile photo, clearly staged by models and day runners. There was not a genuine musician among them. How they held the instruments showed they were from Central Casting. Although The Gathering has given funding to the Willie Clancy School and other worthwhile events, it has already riled musicians and artists.

A recent thread on Twitter about the year-long celebration brought mostly negative comments —
“Gathering feels like a grubby moneymaking racket. We’re citizens, not commodities.”
“it seems like we’re pimping out our heritage and pimping off the emigrants.” “I don’t like how the politicians are promoting it.”
“the campaign is embarrassing and outdated. This event has no connection to either Ireland or the diaspora.”
“Anybody returning for the gathering is an idiot as it shows they support the morons running this country.”
Hmmmm…

Being still part of The Scattering, I came home to Ireland for Christmas. The Delta flight from JFK to Dublin was full and almost all were ex-pats. These were part of The Scattering, a much different tribe from those expected to attend the Gathering. Entering the arrivals hall in Dublin I felt a gush of welcome. Hundreds of smiling faces, everyone there to welcome Paddy and Biddy home. A boombox played Fairytale in New York, some sang along and a guy waved a sign that read GODOT. Screams of joy and hugs and kisses, nobody has a welcome for their own like the Irish. If only The Gathering could bottle that, the Yanks would never leave.

When I got home, junk mail about the Gathering was there before me. Every house in Ireland received the same. The photos were frightening — models with horse teeth smiles and the mind altering logo spattered everywhere like bird shit. One piece included two postcards invitations which we were encouraged to mail ‘to a friend or loved one overseas to come and visit Ireland in 2013’. All one had to do was affix a stamp and drop in the mail. The mailer said ‘It’s up to you.’ so I hung it on the wall to bulk up the Christmas cards.
Taoiseach---Tanaiste-launch-The-Gathering-Ireland-

Last night a few of the lads came to my place for a session. It was stormy and wet and I had a good fire blazing. We sat around and played tunes for a while, then drank tea and chatted about gigs and stuff like that. Sneezer frowned at The Gathering card over the hearth and said,
“Every house I’ve been to over the Christmas has these shagging cards on the wall like fugging Post-it Notes.”
“I’ve them on the wall too,” admitted Murphy, “I got no Christmas cards this year. Email has fucked all that up.”
“I can’t think of anyone to send them to,” I said.
“Me neither,” sighed Murphy, “I was half-thinkin’ of sending one to the ex, but she might take it up wrong…”
We were silent for a while and then Sneezer took flight.
“It’s a pity that poor ol’ Hunter Thompson passed away,” he said. “If he were alive, I’d arrange that hundreds of invites were sent to him. Hundreds. You know, do a lil’ fundraiser for the postage. I mean, it’s up to us…and the government want the world to come to Ireland, why not invite Hunter? He loved a good party and was always up for the craic. He’d stay for the whole year,so he would. Hunter’d light plenty fires, drink whiskey, back horses, buy drugs, make loud noises, shoot his AK47 at stop signs, lop a few grenades here and there and frighten the crap out of politicians and civil servants. They’d probably deport him, you know…but he would make The Gathering a memorable one.”
Murphy nodded and said,
“Maybe Hunter would be the only one that showed up. I’m getting worried that nobody is posting these fuckin’ cards to anyone.”
Me too.



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When Everyone in Ballyjames had Helicopters

This is an extract from When ‘Everyone in Ballyjames had Helicopters’, a very long short story. It’s from my recent book Quare Hawks, available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0098TKAAE . Quare Hawks can be read on Mac/PC with the free Kindle app from Amazon. American writer Willy Vlautin had this to say about the book:

“Quare Hawks is a collision between old and new Ireland. Both heartbreaking and hilarious, and hopeful and despairing. Eddie Stack has a way of making you laugh and cry at the same time. A brilliant collection from a great Irish storyteller.”

Willy Vlautin, author of Lean on Pete, Motel Life and Northline


The road from Mulla to Ballyjames is barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other, and miles of it weave along the northern face of the Killgory Mountains, through pine forest and high bog. The region is remote, sparsely populated by small farmers and a few reclusive artists who live in the hills.

About halfway between Mulla and Ballyjames, the pine forest falls away like stage curtains and Logra Lake appears unexpectedly. From the mountain behind, a waterfall pours into the lake, and the view is so spectacular, that the county council created a roadside vista area with two picnic tables and a litterbin. There is a small country store across the road from the vista area. Petty’s of Logra has been there for generations, catering to basic needs of the locals. A sleepy, two-story building with white walls, green windows and shop front, it doubles as a post office. Apart from Wednesday, business is very slow and sometimes the shop is shut for hours. Occasionally it might not open at all for a day or two.

Wednesday is doleday, and in the morning, recipients come to collect their allowance at the post office and buy a few provisions in the shop. A police car is always there with two officers, who bring the money and the departmental documentation. With a dozen or so local recipients, mostly small farmers, everyone knows everybody else and it’s as much a social gathering as an official roll call.

It’s a busy day for Paddy Petty – busy in the post office and busy in the shop. Dole day provides his week’s wages and he juggles hats as postmaster, shopkeeper and government paymaster. Medium height, eternally dressed in old blue suit, shirt and tie, Paddy uses Brylcreem to sculpt his dark wavy hair and tame his bushy eyebrows. Nearly fifty and fighting against it, he was once married, but his wife left a decade ago. She told him she was going to visit her sister in London and he drove her to the airport but never saw her again. She blew away like an autumn leaf, writing him a goodbye card from Southhampton. When people asked where she was, Paddy said she’d gone and joined the nuns and eventually they stopped asking. Nowadays he received comfort from Goldi, a hippie from the other side of the Killgory Mountains. Goldi swapped him free-range eggs and organic carrots for tobacco and chocolate. She was easy on his head and stayed with him once a month, often for three or four nights.

In late May, a few strangers turned up to collect dole at the post office. Scruffy young men and women, dressed in leather, they had odd hairstyles, tattoos and facial rings. When they got their money, they bought cartons of milk, bread, cheese and crisps from Paddy and went across the road to the picnic tables.

Paddy watched them from his shop. Two were jabbering on mobile phones, others admiring the view. He thought them mediaeval in their look and manner; even their speech was from another age and place, wherever that may be. A couple of mongrel dogs sniffed around the table and they threw them crusts. Three men and two women. Paddy looked at the new names on his register: Cloud Maggs; Sixtop Reeves; Birdie Cole; Zag Homa; Ork Toms. He noted they were all of ‘no fixed abode’ and pursed his lips, trying to match names with faces. When he peered through the window to jog his memory, they were gone.

He saw them again the following doleday. They came in a battered white van with foreign registration plates, and along with the original five, came four others of similar dress and appearance. Two of the new ones had blue woad on their foreheads, another had a raven on his shoulder. Paddy looked at the new names: Yorrel Hix; Midnight Lyke; Tatan Brown; Filly Downs. They were mannerly and pleasant, pocketed their money and bought bread, sardines, milk, rolling papers, pouches of tobacco, and cans of beans. Then they gathered around the outside tables, talked on phones and had a picnic. Paddy glanced out the window at them, checked the register: his ‘family’ was growing, twelve regulars and nine irregulars.

George West, a so-so English potter who had settled in the area, came to the shop around midday. He noticed the picnickers and whispered to Paddy, “I yam an ol’ hippie, but I never did see the likes of these in my travels. They’re like something from a bad trip, man.” Paddy added up his bill, glanced out the window.
“It takes all types to make a world, George, and their like have to be in it too.”
“They’re campin’ down by the lake at Collock’s Shore.”
“Easily known they’re not locals.”

The strangers came to the shop every few days. Paddy thought they didn’t wash and smelled of musty hay. He couldn’t place their accents or the language they spoke amongst themselves:
“Hey Zag, banda suko Tatan hagur zonka.”
“Ah no man, nishin suko zonka.”
“Why not? Burka lato sut?”
“Nah. Ishto.”
“Hi, two packs a Golden Virginia and four pints a milk.”

They all had a similarity in their leather jerkins, muddied jeans and badly-cut hair. It was difficult to tell one from the other and Paddy felt their numbers had grown. George the potter confirmed this when he came to do the Lotto at the weekend.
“Jesus man, there’s three vans down at the lake now and a horse-drawn wagon. There must be a couple a dozen of ‘em there. There’s kids an’ all runnin’ naked around the place, man.”

On dole day Paddy had thirty-eight strangers on the register, an all-time record when he added his regulars. They swarmed outside the shop and blocked the light coming through the door and window. When they moved to the picnic tables, Paddy sprayed the space with air freshener. He was annoyed at the amount of extra work they generated: all the counting and doling of piles of money, the watching in case they shoplifted. But they also bought a good deal and for this he was pleased.

Before leaving for HQ, the policemen came to see him and buy cigarettes.
“An odd bunch,” Sergeant McGee said.
“There’s no harm in them though,” Paddy suggested, wringing his hands.
“No, no. We believe they’re part of some pagan outfit or cult or something.”
“Is that so?”
“Earth magic and that sort of thing,” Constable Collins said.
“They’d learn plenty about it, if they went cutting hay or footing turf for a few days,” Paddy muttered.
“And there’s more of them on the way,” the sergeant told him.
“I s’pose it can’t be helped.”
“We’re expecting about forty more next week.”
“Jesus, that’ll be nearly eighty of them so,” Paddy winced.
“It’s a changing country,” Constable Collins sighed.
“There’s six helicopters in Ballyjames,” the sergeant said. “Every builder has one, and those who don’t, have race horses. Solve that one.”
“Everyone has a helicopter now.” Collins said. “On Sunday they come to Mass in them and land in the football field.”
“Terrible fucking noise,” McGee said, “you’re lucky there’s no helicopters around here, Paddy.”
“Tis something to be grateful for,” agreed Paddy.

Later that evening, a convoy of five vehicles came through Logra. An old school bus painted purple led, followed by a pickup truck with a makeshift cabin in the back. An ambulance towed a grey station wagon and they were tailed by a black Ford cargo van. Paddy watched from the doorway as they passed slowly, laden down with people and gear.

Next morning three horse-drawn wagons with green canvas barrel tops were stopped outside when he opened the shop and he was reminded of a scene from a cowboy film. A woman approached, followed by a toddler. They were scrawny and wild looking. Forest people, thought Paddy, smelling the moss and the leaves from them. She bought two pints of milk and two cans of sardines and paid in small coins.

After she left, two young men arrived, one of them leading a large blonde cat-like animal on a leash. It’s a fucking lion, thought Paddy in alarm, stepping back from the counter. The men rattled away in their own lingo:
“Hanz, serto von puka?”
“Ishna zee, sunto zog.”
“Cool. Albu onxa.”
Paddy heard the animal snarl and curled his toes. The man tightened the leash and spoke firmly to the creature.
“Smells another cat,” he said to Paddy, “two cans of beans and a pack of Golden Virginia, please.”
He was ten pence short, but Paddy nodded and suffered the loss, relieved to see them leave.



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Ireland, November 23, 2010

(this is a post by guest blogger Doireann O’Sullivan)

Never before has politics caused me great personal distress. I have gone on rants about student grants, gotten into arguments about the EU, shed tears for the Troubles and protested against the Iraq war. But not until this week have I experienced a constant state of emotion that veers between anger and upset, due to the actions of the Irish government.

The arrival of the IMF and the revelation that our economy is to be under its control, makes all of my day-to-day worries and activities insignificant. That might seem dramatic for someone my age, 29, given that I have no children, debt, or mortgage, or job. But for me, making plans seems futile because I don’t know if it is worth sticking around to see them through. Is this a country worth planning for?

I returned here after many years abroad because I missed the people and the sense of place, and wanted to build a life and a career here. Recent unemployment aside, for the most part, I have achieved this. I was instilled with a sense of hope when I saw things like the Greens getting into power, when I went to Electric Picnic for the first time and when I heard about creative ventures like Project Brand New and Story Land. I was proud that there was progress and creative initiative in my native land. We had turned a corner, a generational shift had occurred and we were looking at new ways of doing things. But in Ireland, things don’t change that quickly.

When NAMA was introduced, the Greens sold out, and so Fianna Fáil remained in power. There was no major backlash from the people at that time. Later, Bertie resigned, wrote a book, got a job with a tabloid newspaper and declared himself an artist. Though he had conned them, Irish people continued to buy his book, and read the rag he writes for, without a murmur of concern. People bemoaned the decline of the country but still refused to do anything about it. We kept going to Electric Picnic, even though it became one of the most expensive festivals in Europe. Surely now, after the past seven days, people will say ‘we’ve had it’?

There is a National Demonstration organised for next Saturday, November 27th. I have asked several friends and colleagues if they are attending, and most are not. It seems to me that for some reason, Irish people don’t believe in action. We don’t believe that change can be achieved through protest. We don’t believe in ourselves as a political force. This is probably why our country has been run by incompetent, corrupt, unimaginative and self-serving careerists for decades.

But who is to blame for that? Who voted them in? We can’t keep blaming older generations who consider their vote an inheritance, and maintain the alliances of their parents; that generation is almost gone. We can’t keep blaming the politicians because we’re the one who let them away with their actions. We’re aware there’s a lack of professionalism across the board in Irish society, most seriously at government level, but we have done little to address it.

Where are all the educated, well travelled, open minded, forward thinking citizens? Are they sitting at home, giving out and maybe posting links to articles online? The majority of them are not engaging in any real public discussion, never mind making plans to take radical action. They are not taking responsibility for the country’s affairs. Sound familiar? In a way, they are adopting the government’s stance. Monkey see, monkey do.

I don’t understand why this is so. I know intelligent, passionate people who have opinions about the current situation, but who will find a weak excuse not to take to the streets on Saturday or to attend meetings in the meantime. Am I radical? Are they lazy? Are they the product of an individualist society? Or are they completely disillusioned with politics after decades of corruption and mismanagement?

The answer to me is simple: We need change. We have voices. We have feet. We have brains. We need to engage, discuss, shout, write, march and make it known that we do not accept the recent decisions made by the government. As Fintan O’Toole rightly pointed out in today’s Irish Times, accepting the call for a general election in the new year, or post-budget, is too late. The damage will have been done. This needs to happen now! Before the budget goes through. The people I have spoken to seem resigned to the fact that an early election will not happen, and in turn, their resolution breeds inaction and their indifference is thus justified for another generation.

All over Ireland, students brandish posters of Che Guevara, people reminisce about punk, play Gil Scott-Heron, pass comment on Chavez, give out about Cowen. Sit in their houses. Let others take action.

It is upsetting to think that we are letting this happen. It is horribly sad to think that many Irish people do not feel their voice is powerful enough to force change; that we have no choice. Does this mean we deserve to be governed by people equally devoid of conviction?

I spoke to several people about the current crisis today, all of them in their twenties. Many of them were uncomfortable with the conversation after the opening minute. I felt like a crazed lefty when I asked if they were attending the demo on Saturday. They didn’t share my outrage. They wanted to discuss something else: yes, it’s terrible, but life must go on.

I tried to busy myself with plans for Christmas and beyond, but I couldn’t escape the news buzzing from the radio detailing the latest from Dáil Éireann. Meanwhile girls on the bus talked about ways to wear their hair. The actions of the government make me angry, but the inaction of the people makes me despair. I hope that the National Demonstration this Saturday will lift this cloud of despair and prove me wrong about the passivity of my fellow citizens.

Doireann O’Sullivan, Ireland.



After Hours, After Nama: The Resurrection

This is the 3rd and final part of After Hours, After Nama. It’s fiction… See Part 1 and Part 2 for previous pieces.

2.50AM Henry calls for two pints, and the anticipation of free porter puts The Geek on a roll. Egan begins filling the order and listens to him telling Henry, “We’d be in a different Ireland now, if the proletariat had taken to the streets when the shit first hit the fan. We took it lying down. Are we destined to be always picking up the tab for an elite?”

“My point exactly,” muttered Henry, looking at the floor. Egan topped the two pints and left them on the counter. Henry put a fistful of money beside them and said, “That’s the bank.”

The Geek's View of Ireland

“Sláinte, Henry.” saluted the Geek. He took a drink, smacked his lips and said, “We have a weak gene, which we indulge, rather than taking responsibility for it. We’re suckers for fairytales, deep down we believe the crock of gold and the rainbow crap…we’re weaned and reared on it. So at any given time, a certain percentage of the population are away with the fairies, whether they be the politicians or their followers or both. How else could the same clots be voted into government, election after election? We fall for the bait every time. We have a societal rot.”

Egan exhaled loudly and lit a cigarette. He knew The Geek would like a smoke, but didn’t offer him one.

“What do you mean by societal rot?” Henry asked politely.

“A suspension of critical faculties. ” The Geek said. “We are no longer independent thinkers, we do our masters bidding. We might as well be on a Roman slave galley. We’re all paddling, so guys can have chauffeurs and yachts and stuff…”

“All I know,” Egan sighed, “is that I’m being screwed.” And nodding to The Geek, he said, “I’ll need you to give me a hand with the books for the race.”

“Absolutely…no problem, Peter,” the nerd said, straightening his tie.

3.00AM
A harmonica played a few lonesome notes that segued into Dirty Old Town. Right on cue, Lulu Hoppal warbled, “I met my lo-ho-ho-hove by the gasworks wall…Dreamed a dreee-ee-eeaaam…” The bar howled and Egan picked up the remote control gizmo and zapped on the television.

Without warning, Lance Piggott of CNN loudly announced to the pub that killer bees were on the rampage in Zagrastan. The singing faltered, and everyone looked at the buzzing plague on the maxi screen above the fireplace. Enough of that, Egan clicked the remote and surfed his drinkers to Al Jazeera…BBC…a Korean cooking show, a jewelry auction in Boston. A roar erupted from the pub when he clicked to Telemundo Mexacali 12, broadcasting the Mexican Open Greyhound Grand Prix live from Ortega Stadium in Cancun.

3:06AM
Flickering television light and spatters of Spanish enter Monty’s brain and he regains consciousness slowly. To determine his whereabouts, he lifts an eyelid with caution. He sees the pub staring at the screen, where tall women parade dogs. The pub’s eyes search for Ballygale Bandit, the local greyhound, owned by John Joe Mac, trained by Murty Kerins and sponsored by NAMA.
“Which wan is he?” asked Dodo Malley.

“Number four, the brindle dog with the lady in the tricolour.” pointed Egan.

“I hope she comes home with them,” Henry said, “she’d warm me up on a winter’s night.”

“Jaysus, but that’s very like Miko Kelly there in the front with the red shirt,” Egan said, as shots of the spectators appear.

“Fuck me, it is!” cried Mary White, “and that’s Maggie Kane and Dolores beside him.”

Betting Odds Flashed on the screen:

La Bamba 3/1
El Greco Grande 5/2
Senor Castro 2/1
Ballygale Bandit 3/2
Coca Dolce 1/1
Chi Yung 3/2

Egan lowered the volume and announced, “I’m openin’ a book now if anyone’s interested in having an interest in the race.”

“I’ll put five on the Chinese dog,” Bart Hogan said, tossing 5 fedros on the counter.

“I’ll do ten on the Bandit,” Pakie Lamb said.

“Fuck the begrudgers,” Laya Lohan said, “I’ll do the same.”

“Me too,” a woman agreed.

A crush formed at the bar as Egan took the punters’ money. He wrote in his black book and called out numbers to The Geek, who scribbled dockets for the bets.

3:10AM
The hum of betting and clamour of drinking invades Monty’s head and his body heats up. The frada warms accordingly and clicks into life, quiet as a late night fridge. His mind begins to speed as thoughts hurtled through like meteors. His fingers tap on the instrument’s track pad. Dog, dog, he mutters, dog, dog. Suddenly the frada emits a bark that startles the pub.
“What the fuck was that?” Egan asked.

“Sounded like a dog,” Henry muttered.

“Must be outside,” Duddy Nixon said, placing two fedros on Senor Castro because his brother lived in a place named like that in San Francisco.

“Dogs can pick up the fever,” Olive Collins said, “you know…the vibe like…dogs always want to get in on the action…they’re like bankers and lawyers and the rest of them…”

3:25AM
Egan closes the book and makes a phone call to lay off his bets. The Geek has the remote control gizmo and turns up the volume. On the screen, the women lead the dogs to their traps, to a fanfare of trumpets. The pub is tense and silent, all eyes on the race.

A bell clangs, and an electric hare zooms down the track. Dogs yelp and traps shoot open as the ball of fur darts by. In the background, the race commentator, Diego Avilia, rattles in Spanish. Monty stands to get a better view of the screen and meanders to the counter. He picks up Henry Connoly’s pint and has a slug. Nobody sees him, the race has their full attention.

In front from the break, Senor Castro soon had a length on El Greco, who was followed closely by Chi Yung and Ballygale Bandit. Behind them came La Bamba and Cosa Dolce. The pub cheered on Ballygale, but he pulled back after the first bend and fell to last place. He slowed to a canter, then a dance. A split screen showed dogs racing in one screen and the Bandit waltzing in the other. The commentator rattled faster.
“Fuckin’ hell!” exclaimed Egan.

“He’s doped,” Geek said.

“This is…this is fuckin’ crazy!” cried Egan.

Ballygale Bandit was dancing in front of millions of viewers on satellite tv. The pub erupted in shouting and swearing and firing threats at the greyhound.

Monty was tapping the frada. There was something he should be doing…something concerning the dog on the television. Something to do with the microchip he implanted in the dog’s ear last week. Something to do with the frada. Something to do with NAMA.
“Oh no!” he shrieked and suddenly pecked at keys on the frada.

The television screen turned black. Green strings of computer code flashed on it, barks and static farted from the speakers. The Geek fiddled with the remote, but it made no difference. Egan grabbed the controls and clicked impatiently. More of the same. Then someone noticed Monty frantically toggling switches and knobs on the frada. They screamed at him to stop.

Henry grabbed Monty as he hit a power chord with full reverb. Suddenly, the screen filled with the head of a greyhound: Ballygale Bandit, tongue pumping and the pub forgot about Monty. They watched the Bandit clocking eighty miles an hour and leading Chi Yung by a shoulder coming into the last bend. They cheered for the homedog and wild as Hendrix, Monty worked up steam, pushing the frada to the max. He was drowned out by the roar that went up as Ballygale Bandit pulled away on the home stretch and finished almost two lengths ahead of the field.

While everyone cheered and hugged and laughed in the pub, Monty powered down the frada, wiped his brow on the sleeve of the fur coat. He lifted a pint from the counter and had a good slug out of it.
“Jesus,” he whispered to Henry, “I almost fucked that up, man, the Bandit was supposed to do the dance at the end…you know…at the presentation…I can’t even remember the fuckin code for the dance now…but fuck it, who gives a shit, right? We won, right?”

Henry nodded and prised the pint from his hand.

“That dog was carrying a lot of cash,” Monty whispered, “NAMA would have hung my ass if I fucked up…but I didn’t, see? I didn’t fuck-up and we won, right? Monty might be fucked-up but he doesn’t fuck-up. Right? I’m not like the developers, right?”

He tapped the frada and two horrendous barks froze the jubilant pub. In the silent vacuum Monty politely asked, “May I please have a pint, Mr. Egan, to toast our local greyhound’s victory.”

Exhaling a cone of smoke, Egan shook his head and said, “Sorry Monty, you’ve had enough. Yourself and your frada nearly fucked up everything here tonight…not just once or twice, but several times.”

“But we won, didn’t we?” pleaded Monty, “only for the frada this fucking country would be bankrupt again tomorrow. And that fucking dog would be in a taco. What have you against my frada? Where’s your vision, man? Where’s your vision?”

Monty's Mantra for the NAMA Blues


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After Hours, After Nama: Part 2 — The Google Deal

Here’s the second part…like NAMA, it’s taking unexpected twists.
Read part 1 here

2.05AM
Peggy Morgan came to the counter and ordered a small brandy and a bottle of Tarzan Extra. She was with her mother’s lodger, Ms. McCabe, who worked for the dentist, and Egan wondered if they were lovers or just friends. After serving her, he asked Henry, “Has she a NAMA deal as well?”

“She has indeed. Apparently she’s a poet and gets a good slice of pie. Imagine! Did you know, that according to Fás, there are sixty-five registered poets in Ennis? Hah? More poets there now than Polish plasterers in the old days. Go figure that one out.”

“Brutal. And I bet you, there’s none of them as good a poet as Quaker Leary from Ballyfin.” Egan said.

“My point exactly. The Quaker wouldn’t go within an asses’ roar of NAMA; he wouldn’t take a penny from them. He paddles his own canoe. And for the record, there’s twenty-two potters in Kilfadeen, all on the NAMA tit. I mean, how many jugs do you want on the dresser? Hah?”

Happy Leprechaun with friend

“Twenty-two blue cuckoos,” said Egan, filling a pint for himself, “And you heard that Mattie Clark got on the Leprechaun Scheme? I mean, more luck to the poor devil, but do we need another fuckin’ leprechaun in this parish? Like, we have at least a dozen of ‘em.”

“My point exactly. But you see, Peter, we’re a tourist nation now, we’re in arts and entertainment. Tourists expect to meet leprechauns and talk to them, watch them do tricks with a crock of brass coins. But most of these shagging leprechauns spend their days on the beer. And a more awkward bunch of flutes you won’t meet in a month of Sundays. In my opinion they’re a liability to the place, they’re giving us a bad name…I mean how can it serve us well, to be known as the leprechaun capital of the world? Give me a break! Cut them off! The same goes for that terrible bore, MacClune the sheanachie, he’s another NAMA beneficiary, another national asset, an’ a most toxic one. I cringe every time I see him giving a spiel to tourists…and he hanging around Doyle’s Corner with a caubeen and a clay pipe. Straight from Disneyland. You see, they get paid for this shit. They’re all artists now, Peter.”

2:20AM
“What gets me most about this art stuff,” confided Egan, “is that it’s impossible to know the good from the bad. Like, you know if a carpenter hangs a door the wrong way…but this art stuff is different.”

“Aha!” said Henry, after he had a drink. “You put your finger on the crux of the matter. With art, there is no good or bad. Not anymore. I always said there should be a regulator for the arts.”

Book of Kells, Saints and Scholars

“But you know, I blame Labour and the Greens. When they were in government, the whole shebang went belly-up…”

“I agree. NAMA should have stuck to the property problem, letting them near the arts was ludicrous. But that was the Greens, that was the Greens. And once NAMA sold the Book of Kells to Google, we were shagged, After that, everything was on the table. I know it got us out of a hole at the time, but…”

“Well of course, that was let go because of the whole church scandal but then they sold the Cliffs of Moher to Microsoft who hung a big fuckin’ sign on it that you can see from New York! What’s all that about?” Egan asked.

“My point exactly!” Henry said, beckoning for another pint, “We became a brand…good old Ireland of the grá mo chroí welcomes. Céad Míle Fáilte and all that shit. You see, even though Labour and the Greens were top-heavy with brains, they were no match for Google or Microsoft or Don Draper.”

Egan nodded. He knew Henry was getting loaded, but good enough for a few more pints, so he put another one in front of him.
“None of them were as smart as poor ol’ Charlie Haughey, bad and all as he was,” he said.
“My point exactly!” Henry said.
A woman named Kiki O’Neill was singing ‘Two Little Orphans’ and the pub roared the chorus. Brutal stuff. Henry said she had a NAMA deal — she sang five hundred songs a year and got big money for it. A microchip sent a message back to Apple every time she sang, he said, and money went straight into her bank account in Kilrush.

“It’s all microchips and PIN numbers now,” complained Egan.

“My point exactly!” said Henry, “we’re owned by Google and Microsoft and Apple, like it or lump it. They know where we live, what we ate. We’re fuckin’ guinea pigs, Peter, and they’re watching us. Monty explained it all to me one night. Bad and all as poor old Monty is, at least he’s a genius, I mean, and I really don’t begrudge him the Elite Plan he has. In all fairness, the likes of him need to be supported. ”

2:35AM

The Geek Hynes

The Geek Hynes, a thirty-year-old unemployed nerd had been eavesdropping and said,
“What’s wrong with a poet or a singer getting a NAMA deal? NAMA helped all the big crooks, didn’t they?”

“But tis gone too far,” Egan said and Henry nodded, “I mean, there’s a fella in Barrana who got a NAMA deal to make statues out of old telegraph poles with a chainsaw…”

“My point exactly!” said Henry, “and they gave thousands to that nut Babbler Forrester to compose a concerto! I mean that guy hasn’t a note in his head…what was that Shakespeare said about the monkey and the typewriter? Oh damn, it escapes me now…but it’s the same thing.”

“The reality is, this country is just an anthill now,” the Geek said, “we’re all drones, bringing home bacon for the queens. We should have revolted when the Celtic Tiger imploded…we needed a program like the WPA that the Yanks had during the Depression. But we had to reinvent the wheel and fucked it up. Anyway, we can’t blame the Brits for the disaster, we showed the world we were well able to crucify ourselves. We believed our own blarney, the joke is on us.”

Egan moved down the counter to serve Dilly Mangan. He only tolerated the Geek because he needed him to hack the till now and again to get around the NAMA taxes. The landlord figured the Geek was too bright for his own good, and too thirsty as well. A tipsy woman was singing “Wooden Heart” in the dark and like a mating call at twilight, Dixie Daly, an amateur jockey, harmonized in the chorus. Egan wondered if they too had NAMA deals. The Guinness clock over the bar read 2.45am. Soon the greyhound race would be broadcast from Cancun, so he filled himself a pint, lit a cigarette and took a black ledger from under the counter.

(to be continued…)


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After Hours, After NAMA

I’ve tried getting a blog together on NAMA, but it’s a slippery fish, hard to grasp and gets weirder by the day. So I thought I’d write a bit about Post Nama Ireland instead. This is fiction and in three parts.

It was well past closing time and the pub was crowded, dark and steamy. Monty Hogan staggered towards the counter, lost balance and fell on a table of drinkers. Men and women scrambled out of his way, toppling bottles and smashing glasses. Drinks splashed and a woman screamed that her dress was ruined. Another woman cried,
“Fuck you Monty!”
Helpless as a babe in a cot, Monty lay across the table, clutching his frada — an electronic gadget that looked like a computer fixed to a guitar neck. It blared head wrecking psychedelic whirls and a man roared,
“Stop that noise!”
“Turn off the frada!” a women shouted, “turn off the fuckin’ frada!”

The Frada, financed by NAMA

The frada screeched louder when two men lifted Monty off the table. Peter Egan, the publican, grabbed a syphon of soda water from a shelf and sprayed the flashing instrument. There was a sizzle and Monty jolted, then collapsed on the floor clutching the silenced gadget.
“Don’t touch him or ye’ll get electrocuted!” warned Mossy Fossett, “call d’ambulance! d’ambulance!”
“I’ll call fuck-all at this hour of the morn!” shouted Egan, “Drink up or shut-up!”

Two Good Samaritans settled Monty on a bench seat. He was drenched in soda water and Lily Doyle felt his brow and took his pulse.
“He’s alive anyway,” she announced, and a jumble of relief and disappointment rumbled around the pub.

1:25AM
Monty is forgotten and Lulu Hopal, the merriest widow in town, croons ‘Yesterday’. Her voice is ethereal at first, but gets distraught by the second verse. She veers off song and addresses her dead husband Faxo, asking why he had to go and spoil the show.
In tears, Mary White orders a gin and tonic, and Egan the landlord has to lower his head, to catch her whisper. Then she puts her tongue in his ear and kisses his cheek. Perks of the job, he fondles her breasts and she sighs,
“You never visited me like you promised.”
“Any night now,” he muttered and turned away to fill a pint of porter for Oliver Collins, and another for himself.

Bart Carson, an undercover gossip, asked Egan if he’d heard the rumour about Bella Donnell and Father Wogan. He hadn’t, and took a sharp draw on a fag when Bart said the priest tried to exorcise a demon from the ex-nun and failed.
“She ended up on top of him,” Bart whispered, clutching Egan’s elbow, “the two of ’em were bollix naked when Mary Callinan came into the room with a Mass card for him to sign!”
Shaking his head, Egan turns away and fills two half-whiskeys for Dido Lavorn, a blonde hell raiser, decades beyond her prime.
“Peter,” she whispers, “if you want a bit of housework done anytime, just let me know.”
“Sound,” he nods, and lies that he has no ice.

1:42AM
Henry Connoly, a long time patron, sings ‘When the Swallows come back to Capistrano’ and Sharon Jones holds Egan’s hand over the counter and hums along in harmony. After the applause, from a dark corner near the Ladies, the sultry voice of Dodo Malley pleads,
“Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone…”
Glasses clink in anticipation of a classic performance as she emerges from the darkness, singing from her heart, holding a small mixer bottle as a microphone:
“I’ll tell the mah-ha-haaan, to turn the jukebox way down lo-ho-hooo…”
Some other women wailed along and Egan wondered if he should call it a night and throw them all out before things turned chaotic. That happened once in a blue moon, things slipped out of order in a blink. Someone would fuck-up, some one else would react and next there’d be an explosion. He pulled on a cigarette, slugged his pint and gauged the crowd. They were mostly well-on, but good humoured. He’d let them be. Anyway, soon the dog race from Mexico would be on the television and he’d make a good till.

Egan squinted over at Monty, drew hard on the fag, and asked Henry Connoly,
“What kind of a yoke is that frada anyway?”
“Something he invented from bits a computers an’ electric guitars an’ things. Monty’s a genius.”
“I know,” Egan sighed, topping his pint and beginning one for Henry, “the fucker is nuts. The rig-out of him…in a fuckin ballet dress an’ a fur coat…isn’t he getting dosh from NAMA?”
“Apparently every month he gets a thousand fedros or maybe more from them and all the pills and stuff that he can swallow.”
“It’s an amazing NAMA,” Egan said cynically, “the rest of us payin’ tax to keep the show on the road an’ Monty inventing contraptions to drive us up the fuckin wall…”
“National Asset and Protected Personalities, I think that’s the name of the fund he’s drawin’ from.”
“Jesus wept.”
“Well, I knew that scheme to monitise the arts was always going to be a disaster. Money down the drain. It’s worse than NAMA 1. I mean, Monty and his likes add damn all to the economy. They make this art shit and they’re costing us a fortune. Give me a break.”
“At least the builders built something and used up sand and timber and stuff. And they spent their money.”
“Exactly, Peter. We’re back to the Saints and Scholars, that’s what we’re famous for now. Geniuses like Monty, no more tar and cement. It’s all art nowadays. Apparently that’s what the tourists want to experience, the arts.”

Egan lit a cigarette and said, “I don’t know what tourist would want to come and visit Monty.”
“Well, of course he’s very talented,” said Henry, “and he’s a fine fella when he’s not on a jag, very well mannered and sociable, sensible dress ex-ceterra, ex-ceterra. Afternoon tea in the Imperial Hotel with his mother and so on. And then he snaps…something gets to the poor hure and he goes astray bit by bit until he’s gone totally gaga. Then Galligan gives him the needle and after a few days he’s right as rain.”
“He’s gaga enough now,” said Egan, “I mean…you could put up with the frada occasionally, if he could play it or turn the fuckin’ volume down…and anyone can get shit-faced once in a while but havin’ both of them full-on and he prancing around in the ballet get-up, now that shit can get to you.”
“And of course you can’t bar him or you’d have wan of them shaggin’ anti-discrimination cops on your arse. But sure there’s no harm in the poor hure, he’s his own worst enemy. And who’s to say that if we had a mother and father like Monty has, that we’d be any better than him. Worse maybe.”
“NAMA has a lot to answer for.”

(to be continued…)



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Turas Bride — Bridget’s Journey through Ireland, 2010

Tomorrow is February 1st, known in Ireland as Féile Bride or St. Bridget’s Day. It marks the beginning of spring in the Irish calendar, a day dedicated to the ancient goddess of fertility, animals and agriculture. Bridget has a pagan and Christian side, depending on who’s mind she’s in. She’s a patron saint of Ireland, like Patrick.

Bridget's Cross

We grew up believing that Bridget travelled the country on the eve of her feast day and we made small crosses from rushes on Jan 31 to honour and welcome her. On her travels she blessed people, animals, barns, fields and winter crops. After her feast day, the weather always improved and winter was over; farmers went to work in the fields and fishermen began getting boats and nets ready for the coming season.

This year when Bridget does her tour of the country she’ll see a lot of changes. Strolling through the streets of Galway, she’ll notice how quiet and almost serene the city has become since last year. She might be curious at the absence of all the pinstriped men and women, the twenty-thirty-forty-fifty somethings who strode around clutching important files and rabbiting on cell phones. Auctioneers, and engineers, solicitors, bluffers, bimbos, con artists, bankers, developers, builders, architects, shysters and hustlers — in previous years they pushed her out of their way. They’re ghosts now, and just the echo of their well tipped heels remain. She’ll say a quiet prayer that the musicians, poets, writers, artists and actors who gave Galway her counter-culture edge will return and retake their territory.

Bank advert from the Boom

Out the country, she’ll wince at the desolate half-built housing estates on once green meadows; monuments to greed and folly, the land is littered with them and they’ll never be finished. She’ll frown at all the lopsided ‘For Sale’ signs outside buildings and she’ll need a lantern to guide her way on the potholed roads. Craters deep enough to drown a calf will concern her and she’ll wonder why the county councils are not repairing them.

If Bridget rambles into any supermarket around Gort, she’ll notice that shelves are not as well stocked as last year. Gourmet is passé and some sections are combined — Asian, Italian and French food stuffs are all lumped together. She may wonder if people now have curry risotto with white wine sauce over noodles, sweet and sour coq au vin with fettucine. She’ll notice the East European and Brazilian shelves have given way to own brand juices, toothpaste, bathroom tissue and firelighters. She’ll see that shoppers are spending more time browsing prices, weighing up options. They’re more mindful and the days of ‘pick and toss into the cart’ are gone. But she’ll wonder why farmers are buying imported fruit and veg rather than growing their own. She may feel slighted by this, and file it away for future reference.

As she tracks out of Gort and over to the Burren, she might think the flapping remnants in the roadside trees and hedgerows are prayer flags in her honour. Coming closer she’ll see they are plastic bags and debris left behind by the floods. In most places the high water mark will be well above her head. Then she’ll know that the sandbags around some houses are there to keep out the water and not the rebels.

Colman's Stash

It will be late in the night when Bridget reaches Glencolmcille in the Burren. She’ll head to the glimmer of light in the hazel valley, the cell of Saint Colman, poet and mystic. He’ll have the kettle boiling and greet her with a mug of hot potín and a verse of blessings. Bridget will tell him what she has seen, as she does every year and he’ll listen in silence, only moving to feed the fire. Then he’ll give her his take on the place since they last met. He’ll tell her the circus has left town, but there’s still a few clowns around. Most of the trapeze artists and the contortionists are in hiding, but the Houdinis have escaped.

While the night wears on, Colman will relate stories of the boom, and how former taoiseach Bertie Ahearn had assured the nation that they were on the pig’s back and urged them to ride that hog all the way to the bacon factory. People didn’t understand how to ride pigs and they did the daftest of things. Small town taxi drivers bought apartments in Dubai and farmers became builders. School kids got their own cars and crane drivers took to cocaine. Hot tubs were installed in neo country cottages and swinger parties replaced the Saturday night game of cards. Lattes out did Barry’s tea for the morning jolt and the Panini trumped the sandwich. And then it turns out that there were no pigs, it was all an illusion and the fall was a heavy one. Colman will say that those who held Bridget in their hearts were unscathed by the boom and its aftermath.

Bridget will promise to pray for the country and rise to continue her journey. Colman will wrap his winter robe around himself and they’ll cross the Burren mountains towards the Atlantic. Over near Fanore they’ll reach the coast road, turn left for Doolin and continue to the Cliffs of Moher. Before dawn they will reach Dabhach Bride, Bridget’s holy well. She’ll bless the water as the sun rises and Colman and herself will recite prayers for those resting in the surrounding graveyard. Then they’ll hang in the shadows of the sacred grove above the well and wait for the pilgrims to arrive.

Dabhach Bride @ 1900

Colman will note that Clare still believes in her, that the tide has turned and more and more people are arriving every year: locals, strangers and New Age pagans. They’ll gaze across Liscannor Bay and down along the West Clare Coast and recall times past when huge crowds assembled at the well from as far as the eye could see. In the afternoon, the gentle sound of jigs and reels will seep from Murphy’s pub nearby. They’ll know the tunes, local to the core — The Piper’s Chair, The Heathery Breeze, The Doonagore Reel, Paddy Killoughery’s Jig.
“My duty is done,” she’ll say to Colman and they’ll stroll down the path and into Murphy’s.
Colman will order two hot whiskeys and they’ll sit by the fire and listen to the fiddle and flute. They might have a second drink and then leave as quietly as they entered. The fiddler will ask who they are and the barman will say,
“I don’t know their names but they come here every year since I was a boy at least.”

Maybe they’ll still be around when I go to Bridget’s Well tomorrow.


Dabhach Bride photo: Clare County Library


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John O’Donoghue & The Pogues: a match made in San Francisco?

The Art of the Con

The Art of the Con

John ‘The Bull’ O’Donoghue, former Minister for the Arts, Sports and Tourism, resigned as Ceann Comhairle on the same day the Pogues played in San Francisco. Normally these two events would be mutually exclusive, but with the recession, everything is connected.

The Bull racked up a half-million euro tab over his few years as mandarin for d’Arts and had an extravagant lifestyle, at the expense of the Plain People of Ireland. A martyr for top-shelf brandy, best of wine, fatted lamb, caviar, horses, plane hops, limos, banquets, nothing was too good or too sacred for The Bull. He consumed all before him like a Pac man, while Irish artists waited for the crumbs that fell from his department. How many stories might that half-million euro have helped write? How many tunes could it have composed? How many songs could have it sung? The Bull’s expense account could have kept an artist in clover for 50 years and raised spirits in the process. Instead, it fattened himself and his herd. It’s a triumph for Irish journalism that he was exposed and forced to resign. Take a bow, Sunday Tribune but don’t rest on your laurels.

pogues_cloverA long white stretch limo was pulled at the curb outside the Pogues gig and it reminded us of The Bull and how he loved long shiny cars. We suddenly felt charitable and wondered if he should be rehabilitated rather than despised as a parasite. Then we had a brainwave: what if the Bull could drive the Pogues limo!! Maybe Shane would lend his Mexican Air Force cap to him…just while he’s behind the wheel. He could be cured. Cruising a half million miles up highways and down autobahns and boreens, the Kerryman would get plenty therapy from the lads. Plus, he’d still have a touch of the high life, he’d still be rubbing shoulders with stars and starlets…still be supping good grog, but not at the taxpayers expense. He could get really into it…maybe get promoted to roadie status.

Pogues, SF

Pogues, SF

The idea was exciting and when Mr. McGowan came onstage that night, a red plastic tumbler in each hand, we saw an expanded role for The Bull: he could be Shane’s batman!…carry the bevs for him, place them on the small table at the front of the stage and make sure to top them up now and again. He could light cigarettes for Mac…and anything else for that matter. In fact, The Bull might even test the mike for Shane. Wouldn’t it be a thrill to see him front of stage saying, “One, one, one, two, two. Check, check.” And maybe in true punk form he’d get showered with rotten tomatoes or eggs…

pogues6As the Pogues ploughed through their greatest songs in San Francisco, and Mac weaved this way and that, the idea of The Bull being part of the scene became more clear. The band might even give him a cameo part — take a bit of weight from Spider by having the Bull bang the tin beer tray against his head. And I know this is pushing it a bit, but maybe The Bull could play a bit of bodhran? On say, ‘The Irish Rover’? Would the lads let him join in the chorus? What about ‘Dirty Old Town’? Can’t you just see him on stage, belting out the refrain, sweet Cahersiveen etched on his face? Would he ever get to lash out ‘The Boys of Barr na Sráide’? His very own party piece…

On second thoughts, it may be better to keep him from the limelight for a while. It might be wiser to have him set up the backstage for the band, make sure everyone’s tastes and mores are catered for, and that there’s plenty of everything. He’d be good at that, he’s been freeloading for years and knows every rope in the book. He wouldn’t have an assistant, just an iPhone which he’d have to learn to use…there’s probably a Fás course for that. He’d have to know at any time, where drink, smoke and get-well cards could be got. And he’d have to learn to mix Tequila Dropkicks, Whiskey Windfalls and Brandy Bomb-Bombs…maybe learn how to hand-roll cigarettes. He’d get a much better education with the lads than he’d get hanging around the crowd in the Dáil bar.
IfIShould

We know it’s a privilege to work with the Pogues, and some might say that The Bull doesn’t deserve the chance. We understand all that, but feel it would be for the Greater Good, if he were rehabbed rather than punished or left to waste away on the backbenches of government. As some perverted form of entertainment, the Kerry voters will continue to return his whale carcass to the Dáil, forever more amen. It would take a few Pogues gigs to persuade them to release The Bull for the sake of art and culture. The band could play The Puck Fair, The Rose of Tralee, Listowel Races, Cahersiveen Winkle Festival. The Bull could play support for them at the ’Sive gig — it would be a perfect homecoming for the Prodigal Son.

It’s a win-win situation. The job would be good for The Bull: he’d still be flying around the place, ride limos and drink until maidin geal. He would be indentured to the Pogues. And here it should be said, the band would be better for his rehabilitation than U2. Like, Bono and The Bull could talk shite to each other all night and next morning…but there would be no shite talk with the Pogues. Everything would be straight up and politically incorrect.

The Pogues are The Bull’s only hope. And I know this is stretching it a bit far…but, what about Mrs. Bull doing a bit now and again? Remember, she was also part of his act and liked to jet away too. She’s a lovely singer and maybe she could do the female vox on Fairytale? And when Shane waltzes off stage with her, would The Bull know it’s only rock and roll? Or would he lose the head, like he did in the Dáil, and end up on YouTube again?



Pogues SF photo: Seán Chon


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