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Archive for the tag “Irish Elections”

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…

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.”

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.

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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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.

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.

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.

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…”

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

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.”

“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. ”


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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St. Patrick’s Day Story

hope this isn’t too long for reading onscreen in one go…couldn’t let the day pass by without posting something…dig the graphix…have a great 17th everyone

Granda and Me

Granda had a ‘thing’ about the church — he was excommunicated during the Irish War of Independence for carrying a gun and that turned his head. Even though Bishop Harty took him back to the fold afterwards and blessed him and everything, Granda never went back spiritually. He just went through the motions.

At Mass, I used watch his Einstein head from the choir gallery, his mind in another world, rising, kneeling and sitting with the flow of congregation. He came without prayer book or beads and sometimes fell asleep, even snored, during fire and brimstone sermons.

Granda seldom mentioned religion, which was kind of taboo in our house. If it did come up in conversation, he’d point to the picture of St. Patrick which hung above the radio in the kitchen and calmly say,
“D’you see that man up there who’s staring down at you? Your own patron saint? Well it’s that man’s followers who dug Ireland’s grave and put the stake in her heart to make sure she was dead and would never rise again.”
I saw grown men and women flee from our house in horror after hearing Granda’s revisionist theories on our patron saint and the men in black who came in his wake.

The picture of Saint Patrick was ever-present and I think it hung on the wall as a prop for Granda’s theories, sort of like a wanted poster. Sitting, eating or doing homework at the table, you couldn’t escape the Saint’s gaze as he stood on the sea-shore in bad weather, rage in his eyes, crosier raised and vestments flapping. At his feet were scores of wriggling snakes, squirming from Erin with their lives. It was a nightmarish sight.
“But what about the snakes?” I asked Granda one day.
“There were no snakes. All that snakes stuff is pure propaganda.”
Proper gander to my young ears, a polite way of saying total bullshit.

Saint Patrick came to the fore at school some months later when Brother Liston announced it was time to practise our Irish hymns, the National Holiday was coming round the bend. There was a big cheer in class, because we loved to sing. It was an easy way to pass the time and the noise we generated blocked the wind and rain and raised our tender young hearts. We could build up great steam with a hymn, belting out Latin words that meant nothing to us. When we got really cooking Brother Liston would light a few candles, put them in front of the statue of Our Lady, close his eyes and conduct the choir with a pencil. Sometimes we sang for hours, candles would expire and the smell of burning wax would bring Brother Liston back from Heaven. Then we’d finish with a rousing march that went—We stand for God, And for his Glory.

We had hymns for all season — requiems, High Mass, Benediction, Novenas, Rosaries, plain chant, hymns for the conversion of Russia, Easter specials, Christmas carols, but Saint Patrick’s melodies were the oddest. Unlike the others, they were mostly in Irish and so we understood the words. But that in turn opened another can of maggots when I deduced that one of the hymns was a plea to Saint Patrick to give us hope. I didn’t realize we were hopeless until then. It seemed something was going on that I knew nothing about. There was no point in discussing my anxiety with Brother Liston so I mentioned it to Granda one Lenten evening over a supper of kippered herrings and brown bread. He asked me to sing a snatch of the hymn, which I did:
Give us hope, Glorious Saint Patrick,
Great Liberator of Ireland,
Soul of brightness and joy,
You who vanquished the druids,
Dark hearted pagans of no good.

The song freaked Granda. He reeled from the table like he was shot. It was all wrong, he flared, it was propaganda. And what’s all this tripe about the druids, he asked, the druids were fine people, very learned and wise. And what was all this about the liberation of Ireland, he cried, sure it’s the Church that oppressed us. Jesus Christ, he moaned that’s the worst piece of propaganda I’ve heard in years. And worser still, it’s being drummed into the heads of children. My mother told him to shut up. His eyes glazed and he shook his wild head of wild white hair and muttered,
“That song is heresy. Pure unadulterated heresy. If the druids were around today, we’d be a lot better off.”
I didn’t know what heresy was, but I knew it was serious and after that I held back on the song at choir practice. Brother Liston twigged my reluctance to sing and stood beside me, his ear a foot from my mouth. Louder, he muttered. I obliged. Louder, he growled giving me a pinch on the ear. I skidded out of key and he hit me a fierce clatter across the head and knocked me out of my desk.

That year, a new curate called Father Malachy organized the first ever Saint Patrick’s Day parade in our parish. It was a small affair that started outside the church after last Mass and trailed through the street, ending at the Protestant Church on the other end of town. The parade was led by a fife and drum band from a place called Bunwanny, a bedraggled lot in kilts and black tunics, they were famous for the amount they drank and they made an awful sound. Behind them marched a company of soldiers without guns, followed by our civil defence corp—the men from the firebrigade, then Bogie Molloy leading a pack of greyhounds. Next came a couple of floats—coal and sand trucks decked with green ribbons, carrying dancers, footballers and local characters.

We had no experience with parades and wondered what to do as it passed. Should we cheer like they did in America? Heckle like we did politicians? Or join in behind Willie Daly’s pony troupe? We joined in. The whole street joined in: shouting and cheering like a crowd of jail breakers, we marched behind Daly’s team of ponies. The town hadn’t seen so much jubilation since the night Bogie’s greyhound won a big race in Shelbourne Park.

Afterwards, Brother Liston corralled us into the parochial hall to sing hymns for the annual old folks party. We sang well, got sweets and green jelly for our efforts and were allowed to stay for the sing-song. Granda was there, a big sprig of shamrock in his cap. He had drink taken and no sooner were we finished with our hymns than he stood up, dragged Murt Hynes, (who sat beside him) to his feet and announced that they were going to sing.
They sang a rebel song, Down By The Glenside. They were old soldiers and never missed a chance to put things in perspective. Brother Liston smiled but didn’t join in the chorus like everyone else. I sang like a lark,
“Glory-oh, glory-oh, to the bold Fenian men.”
After that performance, when the clapping died down, Aggie Marrinan began to croon in a soft voice,
“The night was dark and the fight was over,
The moon shone down on O’Connell Street.”

Everyone sang and the mood had shifted from a religious one to a patriotic one. I was beginning to notice there were different layers to Saint Patrick’s Day. Some had nothing to do with the saint, as far as I could see. It was an occasion to open the valve and let it all out. You could be as Irish as you liked and feel good about it. You could put away the Halloween costume for a day.
Granda was asked to sing again and he obliged with an emigration song which began “On the dock the ship is anchored…” and had a line in the chorus that went — “Three leaf Shamrock I adore thee.”
That started a spate of shamrock songs and then Brother Liston took the limelight and sang a quasi-religious ballad called “Dear Little Shamrock.”
He had a quivering tenor voice, a trained voice, as Aggie Marrinan would say, and his performance was unsettling. Old timers shuffled their feet under the tables, cutlery fell on the floor, chairs creaked. He finished on a high tension note that lasted for half a minute or more, but before anyone could applaud, Granda thumped the table, staggered to his feet and shouted,
“Propaganda! Propaganda!” at the startled Christian Brother.
Cronies pulled at Granda and whispered,
“Sit down Ned. Take it easy.”
John Gallery muttered to me,
“Jesus, your grandfather will be arrested.”
Granda wagged his finger at the monk and shouted,
“Don’t hijack the shamrock, ye did it once but ye won’t do it again!”
The party delved into confusion. People shouted, staggered, chairs overturned, Father Malachy appealed for calm. Aggie Marrinan seized the moment and thumped out “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” on the piano. But they weren’t, they were just cockeyed with drink and anarchy.

Granda was taken home by Coyne the butcher and later that night Father Malachy came to the house to see how he was. In bed, my mother said, opening the door three inches. He didn’t rise for two days and when he did, mother ignored him.
Back at school Brother Liston looked at me strangely and didn’t ask me anything for days, kept out of my space. My mother’s intuition told her he was planning to give me a trouncing for Granda’s indiscretions. She suggested that Granda write an apology to the monk and when he made no attempt to, she wrote one herself. I brought the note to school with me and planned to give it to Liston at the eleven o’clock break, as discreetly as possible.
The note gave me a sense of security, like a holy medal or a drop of Lourdes water is said to give. But then when I wasn’t expecting it, Brother Liston pounced. It was Catechism class and he asked me to prove the existence of God. My proof didn’t even convince me. It was curtains.
“Come up here you pagan,” squalled Brother Liston, beckoning me up to the front of the class for public execution.
“Put out your hand and take it like a man,” he ordered.
I did, and with every blow wanted to scream ‘propaganda’ at the panting monk. He belted me until I cried, not with hurt but with rage. Then he gave me two clips across the face for good measure and said,
“You better learn the Proof of the Existence of God by tomorrow or you’ll get twice the hiding. Pagans aren’t welcome in my class.”

Back at the desk I sat on my hands to ease the searing pain. My cheeks blazed as if they’d been branded with a red-hot cattle iron and I hung my head in shame as the Christian Brother ridiculed me and my family in front of the class. I think that was the day I became totally disillusioned with God, St. Patrick, Rome, vocations, teachers and men in dark clothes.
Mid-morning break came, time to slip Liston the note. As I walked towards him, something older than me muttered inside my head, “don’t bother”. I hurried past the sneering holy man and went straight to the toilet, locked myself into a stall, tore the note into tiny pieces and scattered them into the bowl. I pulled the chain and rang out the bells of hell again and again until a torrent of monastery water washed away my poor mother’s plea in a hundred pieces. No apology, no surrender. That’s the way Granda would have done it.

Books by Eddie Stack

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Revolution: Stories from Ireland Podcast

This story returns to a time when the Revolution was just around the corner. It’s from The West and was recorded in San Francisco. Music is by Martin Hayes + Dennis Cahill and the tune is MacAllistrom’s March.


A friend who had a radio show on ClareFm discovered that Revolution upset the Ennis taxi drivers for some unfathomable reason. So he’d play it and they’d call the station and scream at him to can the track…it’s 11 minutes approx. He’d let it go for a few weeks and then drop it on them like a bomb, some wet night when they’d all be ranked around the monument in town. One night they drove out to the station and honked until the cops came…I never take a taxi around Ennis…

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County Councilors, Clampers and Visionaries


The Clare Crest: Faithful to our Heritage

Eyebrows were arched recently in Clare with the publication of the expenses incurred by candidates in last June’s county council elections. The top spenders included Cllr Tony Mulqueen (FG), who spent €6,531, Cllr Michael Begley (Ind) €6,173, Eugene McNamara (Ind) €5,541, Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) €5,830 and Cllr Brian Meaney (Greens) €5,180. Mr. McNamara, an Ennistymon publican, did not get elected, even though he ran a sleek campaign with snazzy suit, shiny car and Obamaesque posters. A total of 55 candidates went into the election battle and they included die-hard politicos, crackpots, local characters and a multi-millionaire.

Ironically, the multi-millionaire, Mr. JJ McCabe, only spent €2,390 on the campaign trail. It was his fifth time going for office and he was eliminated after the 1st count with 239 votes. The 73-year-old McCabe told the media he didn’t want to ‘buy’ the election and that he would never run for office again. He said:
“I have lost nothing. It is the electorate who have lost a man of great ability and skill.”
Fair enough, maybe he has a point.


JJ on the campaign trail

Back in 2004, when JJ last went for election, he was a small farmer with about 20 cows, give or take. He had a holding of 48 acres of rough land near the Ennis by-pass and lived the life of a rural bachelor who had a bit of style. A well-known hurling supporter, he soldiered at the annual matching-making melee in Lisdoonvarna, fleadh ceols, parties, discos and parish dances. Everyone knew JJ and his adventures coloured local conversation — like the time his car was clamped in Ennis. On that occasion JJ hitched home, came back to town with a tractor and low-loader and lifted the disabled vehicle on board. Then he booted for home, clampers following in their white van with lights flashing and horns blaring. JJ wouldn’t stop, swept up the boreen and into his farmyard, maniacal clampers behind him. Once they were in the yard, he closed the gate locked them inside. He told them they were on private property and went off and made tea, fed cattle, watched the news on television…Hours later, when they had unclamped his car, he unlocked the gate and wished them a safe journey home.

The N18: Motorway adjoining JJ's farmThose in the know say that JJ’s actions made the gods laugh and they showered him with good karma: it seems gods don’t like clampers… The next caller to his house was a developer who wanted to buy his land. JJ said lovely hurling and asked for 20 million. He had bought the holding from Lord Inchiquin for £5,000 some years previously, when the aristocrat was stuck for cash. JJ settled for €18.8 million. It was the biggest land deal in Clare during the building boom and the developer was subsequently refused planning permission. The land will probably be Clare’s biggest NAMA asset. JJ bought a pad in the Algarve, and an estate in France that has a castle, a hotel and ten houses on the grounds.

Now that he didn’t become a councilor, Mr. McCabe spends more time on his estate in France, drops over to the Med when he needs a change of scene. From there he can read what the successful councilors are up to. If he tunes into the news from Ennis town council he’ll learn about the proposal to recruit ‘Urine Wardens’ to police the county town on weekends — a revenue generating scheme like parking tickets for pee-pee violators. He’ll probably conclude that he’s better off being far away from Clare politics and uncork a bottle of vintage plonk from his vineyard.

And if he’s keeping up with local religious affairs, he’ll see that the Bishop of Killaloe, Willie Walsh (who he’d know from the hurling matches) has come out strongly against the recent apparition hysteria in Knock. According to Dublin ‘visionaries’ Joe Coleman and Keith Henderson, Our Lady will appear at Knock Shrine on December 5th next, at 3pm sharp. The bishop said,
“This sort of thing can bring religion into disrepute.”
While he would not normally discourage people from going to Knock, he thought they should stay away on that day. He continued,
“I would be unhappy about people dashing off to Knock just because the rumour goes out that there will be a vision. It has been proven time and time again that there is autosuggestion going on. For instance, like the moving statues — quite intelligent, normally sane people can believe they saw something. It’s like anything… if you look long enough at any object, you’re going to use your imagination and are liable to see something you hadn’t noticed before. If it is already suggested that this is a vision then you can in some way, unconsciously, convince yourself.”


Visionaries Coleman and Henderson

But like it or lump it, thousands will ignore Bishop Walsh and all the other bishops and follow the visionaries to Knock for the Apparition. Our Lady was scheduled to appear there at Halloween, and an estimated 15,000 people came for the event. Some claim they saw The Virgin, others reported seeing the sun change colour and dance in the sky. Skeptics wonder if the holy water was spiked. Others blame the recession for the ‘visions’. The Bishop said, “That view has been expressed before but I don’t know whether this happens in times of depression.”

Ok, Bishop…but what if she does appear…and gives out the winning numbers for the Lotto on Dec 5th? Should we still do the quick-pick or listen to Our Lady? We wouldn’t mind having a châteaux in the South of France and be able to drop in to JJ for an evening of craic in castle. It can be wet and dreary around Clare in the depth of winter, especially when prayer falls on deaf ears.

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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.

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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The Stroke, The Stunning: Ireland Brewing Up A Storm

After a few days of glorious weather, my late father, Jimmy Stack, would announce, “The few fine days make a great job of the place.”
He was right. Ireland becomes a different planet after a few hot sunny days, and the longer it lasts, the better the place begins to look and feel. I always hope that maybe, just maybe, it could stay like like this, stick with us until we round the next bend in life…give us a bit of a break from the grey.DSC00497

The weather was good to us for almost the last two weeks. It affected everything -people got happy, election candidates sweated more than usual and the sun blessed the nation…people were working in gardens, going to the seaside, cutting hay. We’d received a slice of heaven, the kind of Ireland you’d love to tell tourists about.

Word reached me that the Volvo Race Village in Galway was the happening place. I was getting texts, invites to go in, threats if I didn’t. The Stunning were doing a gig there on Friday night, so done deal, have to support the home boys.

On the way to the gig, my son Jamie and I stopped off to vote. In the lobby between the door of our station and the polling room, there was the mumble of voices – Michael ‘The Stroke’ Fahy and someone else. An ‘outgoing councillor’ of 30 years experience, Mr. Fahy was running as an independent. He was formerly Independent Fianna Fáil and before that plain Fianna Fáil. He is well known throughout the region and beyond as The Stroke and is somewhat legendary in the wake of a much publicized court case last year. He fell from grace, and some thought he paid a heavy price for stroking a few grand, when bankers get away with billions. Fahy was ruined, alone, an isolated party of one, he had no posters this election and adopted a more personal campaign with a low public profile. Seeing us approach, he immediately leaned forward with a gracious bow and shook our hands, like greeting a member of the bereaved at a funeral. We reciprocated with a mumble and the word Michael in it somewhere, and proceeded into the room.

Michael 'The Stroke' Fahy

Michael 'The Stroke' Fahy

There was a man ahead of us and the person with the register was having difficulty in locating his name on the roll. He seemed new to the area and he didn’t have a voting card. He was a little confused as to his townland address, and Mr. Fahy his head in from the hall and verified that the gentleman was a resident who lived near himself. We got our voting sheets and went to the pens on the window cill. Postage stamp photos, party affiliations and one liners…our potential leaders, our mysteries. Where have all the flowers gone, the answer is blowing in the wind. A number here and a number there, best of a bad lot for the most part. Fold like a love note and bring it to the gun metal black box on the table. Battered and scarred by the battles of Erin, it had seen many campaigns. It’s full to capacity with Euro and local government votes.

On the way out, Mr. Fahy takes a break from his conversation and shakes our hands, this time like a concierge who’s hotel we are leaving. All politics are local but it does not get more local than this.

We parked in Oranmore and took the bus into Galway. The wind was beginning to rise with a crankiness that says a warm spell was over and rain on the way. But spirits were high and there was a buzz at the bus top. Loads of BMWs dropping people off, bus comes and fills quickly, another one behind, climb aboard and off to the show.

I wasn’t prepared for the transformation of Galway. It’s a place I have fond and very dear memories of since my student days and it has always been good to me. In the past decade, I generally avoided the city because of loss of character, commercialization and nightmare traffic. But the other night restored my faith in the essence of Galway. The city understood what the people needed and gave it to them. They were able to get a great project together and throw it open free to the public. It was done with precision, professionalism and panache. They polished the jewel that was Galway and it sparkled. And of course, the sun helped.

Galway Graffiti: was artist a Stroke voter?

Galway Graffiti: was artist a Stroke voter?

The Volvo Village was huge, just like stepping into a boutique music festival. There was an immediate sense of fun and relaxation, people enjoying themselves, a party without the frenzy. Galway dockland looked like Barcelona, but it felt like home, sweet home, somewhere away from recession and election, an oasis from the doom and gloom. People were happy, the weather was fine albeit a little cool, there was plenty space. They promenaded, took pictures, ate, drank, looked at the yachts, but mostly hung out and caught up. There was flags and buntings, colour and style and there was few signs of the Tiger. Apart from the yachts, there was little beyond our grasp. We were a happy people, unbroken by incompetent government and golden circles. We were ourselves again and it felt good. The world and its mother were there…it was as if we’d floated away from the rest of the Ireland and her cares. And there was great music up ahead: The Stunning were due onstage at 9:30pm.

Malaysian chicken curry and two veggie spring rolls for €7? Can’t go wrong, in any upscale restaurant it would be 30 at least and maybe not as good. A stroll by the waterfront, dawdling at the arts stalls and the doodad tents, meeting people, including a few readers of this blog. Mr. H from North Clare ordered me to write something happy and Ms N from Galway wondered about last week’s Biddy Early story….and would Biddy appear. There will be an update to this story in the coming week/s.

The Stunning

The Stunning

By the time we got over to the Topaz stage, the band were into their second number and the area was full. Dressed in white, The Stunning cut a dash, Steve with his cap and Jimmy Higgins in the shades. They’re the only band who’d get away with a nautical look…they have style.

Huge screens brought them close and you could feel the Galway pulse. The band formed here in the late eighties: Steve and Joe Wall (Clare), Declan Murray and Cormac Dunne (Donegal) and Jimmy Higgins. They had talent, captured a current, wrote intelligent songs and had a large following as Galway became known as the counter culture capital of Ireland. It felt like that again last Friday night with Steve Wall singing ‘Half Past Two.’ People sang along and you realise a huge amount of the audience have followed this band for years. They know the songs, tap into the vibe.

Steve Wall

Steve Wall

I asked a stranger beside me what made the Stunning special for him. “The sound and the songs,” he said, “the songs are class…Like, there’s stories in them. They’re about real things.” He was in his thirties and from Carraroe in the heart of the Gaelteacht. “Bono and them lads write songs to make money,” he continued, “but Steve Wall writes about what’s goin’ on. The words are mighty.”
Since The Stunning reformed a few years ago for the occasional tour, he’s seen them seven times. “It’s a shame,” he said, “they should have made it. They’re brilliant and they’re so real.”

They played a few Ennistymon songs including ‘Town for Sale’, an evocative piece that always brings me chills. Great lines, pure poetry, wish I could have said that: down the old glen where boys became men and girls lost all.
They played their anthems: ‘Rusty old River’, ‘Everything that Rises’, ‘Mr. Ginger’…They played their hearts out. The crowd sang along. For the encore Steve + Joe + Jimmy Higgins began with the Walls hit ‘To the Bright and Shining Sun.’

The Stunning: Romeo's on Fire

The Stunning: Romeo's on Fire

Then the rest of the lads came on stage and Galway rocked. Maybe it was me, but I sensed we’d turned a corner. We got to vote, saw a great show, a shot in the arm for a jaded nation. Thanks Galway and the organizers of this event. Thanks Stunning, we all needed that blast before we have to deal with the election results.

(As I post this, Michael ‘The Stroke’ Fahy has been elected to serve on Galway County Council again. He topped the poll with 2247 first preferences. No party, no machine, just an electorate who felt he was hard done by. What a long, strange trip, he has had.)

photo credit: Stunning pix + Galway Graffiti thanks to irishwhiskeychaser

The Stunning

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Ireland: Boom, Burst…Revolution?



Yesterday afternoon, I was looking at the grey sky, wondering if it would rain, when I heard an unusual sound for this part of the country. The sort of sound you’d associate with Mr. Whippy’s Ice Cream Van — a jingle in the wind, a few indistinct words and another jingle. It brought me back to my childhood and I fumbled in my pockets for a few euros…nothing like an ice cream cone to raise the spirits. And it was coming down our road! But as it came closer, I recognised the music…low grade Country & Western…and the voice, oh the voice…the syrupy sound of Paschal Mooney, radio DJ and Fianna Fáíl politician. Mooney’s Tunes…he’s running for election…wants to represent us in Europe. I ran inside and locked the door, turned Jimi Hendrix up to the limit to block out the nightmare. It’s election time in Ireland — hounds are off the leash and putting their mark on every lamp post, telephone pole and street corner. All politics are local, it’s all about being King of the Bog.



They say a country gets the government it deserves, but I doubt we deserve anything like the calibre of runners seeking office here in the upcoming Euro or the local county council elections. We know from recent exposés on corruption, cronyism and plain stupidity, that Ireland cannot keep doing ‘business as usual’; but yet the same kind of klutzes are out there salivating for votes. There are a few exceptions, but the klutzes out spend and out bark them. Ireland is broke. Not just financially, it’s morally bankrupt, spiritually drained, depressed and psychically disabled. Maybe it’s our Karma. Maybe we’re gullible, or naive — we never seem to learn from experience, never seem to be able to spot the sharks, whether they’re politicians, civil servants, builders, bankers, lawyers, etc in Armani suits — or thugs and perverts in religious robes decked with silver crucifixes. When we spot them it’s too late, and unimaginable carnage has been done. Then we have a tribunal, tomato throwing in the Dáil, talking air-heads on radio and TV. And in the distraction, there’s a nasty new stew being cooked by another cabal in some dark corner.



It seems that once we got our freedom, we just replaced the brutal and incompetent British administration with our own brand of the same. And to guide the incompetents, we gave the Catholic Church a special place in our constitution and a kick in the butt to the Prods at the same time. Nice one guys… So, if our government ever needed help, all they had do was nip down to the Cardinal and he’d call God for them. And of course by having the Church on side, obedience was total. Like it or lump it, for most of our Independence, Ireland has been ruled by the prayer book and the political stroke. We may rant and rave about how bad the Brits were, but some of our own rulers were not much better. Craftier maybe, but just as sinister and two faced. And yet in spite of them, the Plain People of Ireland managed to survive, thanks in large part to help from our exiles and emigrants abroad.

Over the last year or so, Ireland has been turned on her head. The once lauded Celtic Tiger has slunk away, tail between it’s legs, like a dog who’s done the dirty on an Ikea sofa. Many Irish bankers, builders, politicians, religious orders, civil servants, lawyers and other professional high flyers have been exposed as people of low moral standards, scammers and parasites. The true standard bearers are our artists, musicians + writers. Culture, heritage and landscape make up the spirit of a nation and thankfully, we’ve some of that left. Though there’s more karma to reap up ahead for the madcap and sacrilegious deeds of building of highways and pipelines through sacred places, blighting beautiful spaces with McMansions. To quote singer/songwriter Steve Wall: “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone/ the gombeen sold her for a song/ is it too late to right a wrong? I hate to lose her…”
Listen to Romantic Ireland's Dead & Gone: The Walls



Last week, the image of Ireland being an Island of Saints and Scholars was nuked forever with the publication of the Commission into Child Abuse Report. It stunned the country. Posted online, it was read worldwide and told how the Catholic orders treated the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society for decades. On Saturday morning, government member Dr. Michael Woods was on radio, spinning his part in the compensation deal for the victims. He came across as a slippery shithead and frustrated his interviewer, the cool and calm Rachael English. Woody seemed on a different planet, and he may as well have been talking about farm animals rather than innocent children. After the segment, Ms. English said she was taken aback by the public reaction to his spiel. All the while, people were queueing in Dublin to sign a book of solidarity for the victims of abuse. Now politicians and clergy are doing a backtrack dance. Too late guys. You’re all guilty, come out with your hands raised above your heads.



Something is going to ‘give’ in Ireland, and it could happen soon and happen suddenly. There’s an emotional undercurrent here, a deep sense of hurt and injustice. A widespread feeling that the country has been let down by it’s elected leaders, by the church, bankers and paragons of society. The Irish people were lied to, hoodwinked, sold dummies and now they’re being told they’ll have to pay for someone else’s mistakes. Maybe they’ll refuse. In other parts of the world, these ingredients would spark a revolt.

What’s going to happen? We don’t seem to have any leaders, no Fionn MacCool, Brian Ború, Wolf Tone in the locker room. We’ve lost all street cred with our age old European old allies — the French and the Spanish. There will be no more Armadas and no matter how many songs we sing about Napoleon, he won’t resurrect and send us a Saviour. And we’ve ripped off the Irish Americans and sold them theme park culture and synthetic shamrock for way too long. And yet they are our only hope: Irish America, Old Ireland needs you…send us your brightest and your hippest. You could start by sending us Prosecutor Patrick FItzgerald to sort a out a few smart asses here. And ask him to bring his fiddle, there will always be a place for him at the Clare trad sessions. He knows our tunes.

Speaking of Clare, I’ve a friend there who’s a postman. He is a good bell weather for what’s happening in the country, he delivers the personal news — good and bad. A few years back he alerted me to the Boom time bomb when he quietly mentioned over a pint about having an to deliver ‘an awful lot of letters with windows to certain people’. Another time he told me that a ‘certain party’ were refusing to accept certified mail from certain other parties. He becked his head towards an area locally known as Millionaire’s Road. Everyone up there had massive six plus bedroom houses, putting green lawns, two cars in the drive, decks, barbecues, verandas — the whole Celtic Caboodle. Now several of the houses are for sale, marriages have gone on the rocks and there’s weeds growing where SUVs used park.

I met him during the week while driving through Lisdoonvarna and we had a chat and a catch-up.
“Tell me,” I said, “what sort of reception are all these political flyers getting when you deliver them?”
“People are tearing ‘em up without reading ‘em,” he said, “they’re pissed off with every political party. Doesn’t matter if it’s Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin, Labour or Fine Gael, people are tired of them all. They see them as crooks and scumbags.”
“Lord God,” I muttered, “what’s the solution…”
“Jaysus, I don’t know,” he said, “but I’m thinkin’ we’re classa headin’ for a revolution.”



The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse: Read + Download Reports

Special thanks: Steve & Joe Wall

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