Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Me and General Robert Lee

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Saturday, July 22, 2017

"What Does it Mean to be 10 Per Cent Irish?"

This was a search that found my blog today.

Perhaps the person doing the search simply missed out on a zero. I guess that's the most realistic explanation.

But I like the idea of somebody being ten per cent Irish. What would that look like?

On "Exposition-Dumping"

I'm still reading Dracula. Yesterday I came to my very favourite part of the novel, an extract of which follows. Feel free to skip it when it becomes tiresome to you....

When we met in Dr. Seward’s study two hours after dinner, which had been at six o’clock, we unconsciously formed a sort of board or committee. Professor Van Helsing took the head of the table, to which Dr. Seward motioned him as he came into the room. He made me sit next to him on his right, and asked me to act as secretary; Jonathan sat next to me. Opposite us were Lord Godalming, Dr. Seward, and Mr. Morris—Lord Godalming being next the Professor, and Dr. Seward in the centre. The Professor said:—

“I may, I suppose, take it that we are all acquainted with the facts that are in these papers.” We all expressed assent, and he went on:—

“Then it were, I think good that I tell you something of the kind of enemy with which we have to deal. I shall then make known to you something of the history of this man, which has been ascertained for me. So we then can discuss how we shall act, and can take our measure according...

All we have to go upon are traditions and superstitions. These do not at the first appear much, when the matter is one of life and death—nay of more than either life or death. Yet must we be satisfied; in the first place because we have to be—no other means is at our control—and secondly, because, after all, these things—tradition and superstition—are everything. Does not the belief in vampires rest for others—though not, alas! for us—on them? A year ago which of us would have received such a possibility, in the midst of our scientific, sceptical, matter-of-fact nineteenth century? We even scouted a belief that we saw justified under our very eyes. Take it, then, that the vampire, and the belief in his limitations and his cure, rest for the moment on the same base. For, let me tell you, he is known everywhere that men have been. In old Greece, in old Rome; he flourish in Germany all over, in France, in India, even in the Chernosese; and in China, so far from us in all ways, there even is he, and the peoples fear him at this day. He have follow the wake of the berserker Icelander, the devil-begotten Hun, the Slav, the Saxon, the Magyar. So far, then, we have all we may act upon; and let me tell you that very much of the beliefs are justified by what we have seen in our own so unhappy experience. The vampire live on, and cannot die by mere passing of the time; he can flourish when that he can fatten on the blood of the living. Even more, we have seen amongst us that he can even grow younger; that his vital faculties grow strenuous, and seem as though they refresh themselves when his special pabulum is plenty...

Reader, does this kind of thing make your spine tingle, as it makes mine?

"Exposition-dumping" is a term that some novelist coined to describe clumsy, all-at-once exposition in a work of fiction, as opposed to deftly dropping exposition throughout the story, like Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs. I don't like the term, because I love scenes where there's lots of exposition, like the one above.

My favourite chapters in The Lord of the Rings are "The Shadow of the Past" and "The Council of Elrond", scenes that are almost entirely devoted to characters talking, and filling each other in on backstory.

My favourite part of every single Sherlock Holmes story is when the client comes to 221B Baker Street, and tells Holmes and Watson their very singular (even "grotesque") case.

I was never a huge fan of Biggles, but my older brother read him, and so I read some of the books. The only part I liked was when Raymond, the air commodore, briefs Biggles and his chums on their next mission.

In Harry Potter, the Pensieve sequences were my favourite.

In The Wicker Man (I mean the original-- and if you haven't seen it, watch it NOW), it's the part where Sergeant Howie goes to the public library of the weird pagan island and reads up on their traditions. The way the camera lingers on the creepy etchings in the book is delicious.

Why do I love such sequences?

Perhaps it's the cosiness of the characters being in no immediate danger. Perhaps it's the excitement of a new horizon opening up. I don't know.

In horror, there is usually the added element that the protagonists are learning about something supernatural, paranormal, or monstrous. There's nearly always some variation on Hamlet's famous words, "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." How far the incredulity of the characters is maintained is a tricky subject. Too little incredulity, and the characters seem unreal. Too persistent an incredulity, and we get irritated at them. ("For goodness sake, you've already seen a man disappear...") Then again, how often do we feel the same thing about the disciples' persistent incredulity in the gospels?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

When the Saints Go Marching In...

...will be not quite yet, at least as far as I'm concerned, as I'm pausing my "Year with the Saints" blog.

It's getting single-figure statistics, and since the whole idea was to promote my book, I'm not sure how useful that will be. But I might revisit it. It's quite a lot of work for a questionable amount of good.

I've been told by the publisher that my book should be published in December, by the way. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Reading Dracula

I am reading Dracula. Not for the first time, but this time I am reading it for my horror club. I was actually the person who suggested we should take it as the next subject for discussion. It is usually either a story or a movie which is the "text" at my horror club meetings, but this time it is going to be the first four chapters of Dracula-- which cover Jonathan Harker's time in Castle Dracula.

I suggested we should tackle Dracula because the club has some very enthusiastic fans of the book-- people who have written and lectured on Dracula, and created visual works of art inspired by it. They seem to know it inside out. I suggested we should read our way through the book, since one of my favourite things in the world is listening to people who really know and love a subject talk about it. However, it was quickly pointed out that this would be a mammonth undertaking, so we are only going to discuss certain sections. 

Dracula is, of course, Irish. His creator was Bram Stoker from Clontarf. This is one of those facts that strike me afresh as surprising, every now and again. it is a grievance of my horror club that he is not sufficiently honoured in his native city. They were disgusted that an opportunity to name a bridge after him was missed quite recently. 

There is a delicious theory that the name "Dracula" is derived from the Irish language-- droch fhola being a literal translation of "bad blood". (I don't know how grammatical it is.) However, there is no foundation for this at all.

In my late teens, I borrowed a book about writing horror, fantasy and science fiction from the local library, and read it several times. Dracula was lauded for several reasons. One reason was the name "Dracula" itself, which was presented as the gold standard of horror character naming in a chapter on that subject. Another was Stoker's parsimonious use of the arch-villain. After the opening chapters, he rarely appears in person.

Of course, we have all been familiar with Dracula since we were toddlers. My first acquaintance with the novel itself came in a Ladybird version. My American readers may not know what Ladybird books are. They are picture-books, in which the page is usually divided half-and-half between text and a picture. In fact, most of the Ladybird books of my childhood had accompanying cassettes. There's no need to make that face; they were actually very good. Me and my two brothers listened to them over and over. Our favourites were the classic books series, and the inside back cover and facing page had a list of other classic titles in the series, with the heading "Stories...that have stood the test of time". They list had a kind of decorative gold frame pictured around it, and around that the page was coloured deep brown, like mahogany.  This stirred my imagination with the idea of timeless classics, and the magic of story.

The acquisition of Dracula was especially memorable. One afternoon, my father suggested out of the blue that we should buy it, and gave us the money. He'd obviously seen it in the supermarket. It's one of those little gestures that always remain with me.

Anyway, even though I've read the novel a couple of times since then, it's the Ladybird book that, in my mind, remains the definitive version. The phrase "London, with its teeming millions" (used in horrified anticipation of Dracula arriving there) has ever since evoked for me the poetry of a great city, better than any other phrase. The cry of the female vampire, upon being denied Jonathan Harker's neck in Castle Dracula-- "are we to have nothing tonight?"-- was rendered so powerfully on the cassette, that I can still hear it all these years later.

The passage from the Ladybird book that impressed me the most, however, had nothing horrific about it. Just before a terrible sea-storm occurs off the coast of Whitby, on the day that Dracula's load of coffins arrive in the town, there is such a spectacular sunset that a small crowd gathers to look at it: "The approach of sunset was so very beautiful, so grand in its masses of splendidly-coloured clouds, that there was quite an assemblage on the walk along the cliff in the old churchyard to enjoy the beauty." I'm glad this detail made it into the Ladybird book because I remember being completely fascinated by the idea of people actually stopping to look at the sky. I'd never heard of such a thing.

I read the book proper in my early twenties, but I can remember next to nothing about it. It's extraordinary how that happens. There are many novels of which I can say the same thing; Middlemarch, Crime and Punishment, The Way of All Flesh, Pride and Prejudice, and many others. It's as though a kind of film descended over my attention, or memory.

I read it again more recently, and got more out of it, but it still didn't made as big an impression on me as the Ladybird version.

The passage that excited me the most in the entire book, each time I read it, is probably Count Dracula's rhapsody on his family's past (this is before he has revealed himself as a supernatural being). Please skip this purple passage if you start to find it boring:

I have had a long talk with the Count. I asked him a few questions on Transylvania history, and he warmed up to the subject wonderfully. In his speaking of things and people, and especially of battles, he spoke as if he had been present at them all. This he afterwards explained by saying that to a boyar the pride of his house and name is his own pride, that their glory is his glory, that their fate is his fate. Whenever he spoke of his house he always said “we,” and spoke almost in the plural, like a king speaking. I wish I could put down all he said exactly as he said it, for to me it was most fascinating. It seemed to have in it a whole history of the country. He grew excited as he spoke, and walked about the room pulling his great white moustache and grasping anything on which he laid his hands as though he would crush it by main strength. One thing he said which I shall put down as nearly as I can; for it tells in its way the story of his race:—

“We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship. Here, in the whirlpool of European races, the Ugric tribe bore down from Iceland the fighting spirit which Thor and Wodin gave them, which their Berserkers displayed to such fell intent on the seaboards of Europe, ay, and of Asia and Africa too, till the peoples thought that the were-wolves themselves had come [....] Ah, young sir, the Szekelys—and the Dracula as their heart’s blood, their brains, and their swords—can boast a record that mushroom growths like the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs can never reach. The warlike days are over. Blood is too precious a thing in these days of dishonourable peace; and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told.”

The Count's words of appreciation for the howling of his wolves have become deservedly famous: "Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!". Indeed, I think those words might express the poetry of horror better than any other.

Another thrilling line from the book: "We are in Transylvania; and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things." 

I'd always assumed that Dracula was the book which introduced the vampire into popular fiction. But this is actually far from the case. Vampires were already seen as clichéd by the time that Stoker came along. He gave new life to the genre, so to speak. Indeed, this time round, I've noticed that, when the term "vampire" is first used in the novel, it's not even explained to the reader.

I'm often withering about feminist literary theory, post-colonial literary theory, and all the other lefty, identity-obsessed fields of literary theory on this blog. Well, the proponents of such approaches absolutely love Dracula, and I have to admit that it's a book in which it's difficult not to see such theories borne out. In fact, I wonder how much of this is actually conscious artistry on Stoker's part.

For instance: there is the famous scene where Lucy Westenra, who has become a vampire, is staked through the heart by the combined efforts of her fiancé and two other men who proposed to her earlier in the book. OK, feminists. You can have that one.

And the fact that Dracula is quite literally an infectious creature from a backward and uncivilized country, intent on corrupting and polluting the women of England, does seem to be a genuine projection of cultural anxieties. (The fact that Stoker was Irish is often dragged into these discussions. Was Dracula Irish, in a deeper sense than just having an Irish creator? Was Stoker instilling him with all his own feelings of being "the other" in England? Why am I even talking like this?)

 It's certainly a story...that has stood the test of time. I'm looking forward to hearing the horror club discussion on it!

St. Eadburh of Bicester

She is my saint of the day on my "Year with the Saints" blog.

My last entry has received a grand total of six views, so I thought I'd plug it again!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Nationalism is as Old as Mankind

I really believe this, and this is the impression I get from my historical reading.

The problem is that I don't have much of a head for history, so I can rarely marshal my scattered impressions when I get into an argument.

But today I was reading about St. Hedwig, a Queen of Poland in the fourteenth century. Her father had intended another one of his daughters for the throne, and arranged a marriage with a foreign king, but the Polish nobles weren't pleased about it.

Wikipedia says: "However, both her daughters had been engaged to foreign princes (Sigismund and William, respectively) unpopular in Poland. Polish lords who were opposed to a foreign monarch regarded the members of the Piast dynasty as possible candidates to the Polish throne."

What's this? That sounds very nationalistic. Way back in the fourteenth century. But wasn't nationalism invented in the nineteenth century? The neo-reactionaries who are all about aristocracy and disdain nationalism wouldn't approve.

And I've encountered hundreds of similar little references in my historical reading through the years. Maybe I should compile a dossier.

Great Article About Roman Jesuit Magazines' Attack on American Catholics

It's written by Tim Stanley and published in The Catholic Herald. The Catholic Herald, along with EWTN, has been a staunch voice of orthodoxy in the current crisis, avoiding the excesses of Life Site News and Church Militant. (Not that I don't often agree with those two websites.)

Read it here

I especially like the concluding paragraph.

This is offensive. I suspect I know what’s behind it. If the essayists are allowed to engage in corny psychoanalysis, then permit me to do the same. Many Europeans and Latin Americans, ashamed of their countries’ dalliance with fascism, often try to implicate America in the same historical forces. But it’s more a more complex job than they think. There is such a thing as American fascism: slavery and segregation are its most obvious outward signs, and Catholics engaged in both alongside Protestants. But in the Thirties, democracy held out in the US in the way that it didn’t in Europe. And part of the reason for that was a history of resistance to state power and corporatism that is part of the DNA of America’s vibrant, violent, sometimes quite insane religious culture. American history is complicated. It defies lazy caricatures.

I've always been more friendly towards "the religious right" in America than most other Europeans, even when I was an agnostic. Back when I listened to heavy metal, all the songs attacking televangelists and fundamentalists irritated me, and seemed cheap.

To put it crudely, they have stones. They are willing to be counter-cultural. They are willing to be laughed at. That counts for an awful lot.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

I Love This Ad

As mentioned before, I recently set up the Irish Conservatives Forum, which has been thriving, in a modest sort of way. If you're interested in joining in, there's a link on the right of the blog.

Pro Boards, the website on which the forum is hosted, advertises itself with this ad (on its own site). I can't make it any larger without overrunning the margin of the page, but you can click on it for a closer look.

I can't really make out the character in the picture too well. He or she seems to be a figure in a white hood and cloak. The image has a kind of fantasy feeling to it. I think part of its appeal, for me, is that it speaks to my inner child. It looks like somebody dressing up and playing, in a wilderness of some kind. I love how enigmatic it is.

I've been pondering it for a few days now. On this blog, I've often mentioned my love of limits and boundaries. And I certainly do love limits and boundaries, but that's only half the story. The idea of an unbounded horizon is also inspiring. We need something we can lose ourselves in, that we're not in any danger of running out of, that's effectively infinite.

I think we need the comfort (and excitement!) of boundaries and limits along with some horizon, or horizons, we can plunge into without fear of ever reaching the end.

What a simple and effective ad!

My New Blog

Regular readers will remember me discussing Inspiration from the Lives of the Saints, a book that I've been writing for the past year or so. Well, the revised manuscript is with the publisher now and I'm waiting to hear back from them.

However, I'm told that marketing and promotion is all-important when it comes to selling a book these days, so I'm trying to think of ways to do this.

One idea I've had is to start a new blog, A Year with the Saints. This blog will combine my interest in the liturgical year and my interest in the saints. Every day, I'm going to choose one of the saints celebrated that day, and write about them. It's going to be very personal and subjective. Hopefully, when my book comes out, I can flog some copies through it.

The introductory post is here.

And the first saint is here.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Some Final (For Now) Thoughts on Political Correctness

I'm aware that I'm at risk of exasperating my readership if I talk about political correctness too much. I realize that most people, even most Catholics or most conservatives, don't view it with the same perturbation as me. So a few quick and final-for-now remarks.

One of the standard defences of political correctness is: "It's just trying to include everyone. If you want to say Merry Christmas to your friends and family, nobody is stopping you from doing that. But why should government departments and businesses discriminate in favour of Christians, and against people who don't observe Christmas? Why do you have to impose your wishes on other people?"

The underlying assumption of this argument is that there should be a radical cleavage between private life and public life. Indeed, it's hard not to resort to this idea ourselves-- how often do Christians and conservatives (myself included) assert that this piece of gay propaganda or that piece of blasphemy should be taken from the airwaves, or from a public space, because it discriminates against us? At this stage, we are scared to say it should be removed because it's obscene or blasphemous.

Political correctness doesn't only affect me when it constrains what I can say, in private. (And where is "private" these days, outside your own home, if you have one?) It affects me when it constrains what other people can say, even what other people want to say. I'm not a libertarian. I'm a traditionalist conservative. I don't see society as some kind of huge hotel or apartment block. I see it more as an extended family.

Political correctness depresses me because I don't want public discourse (including that used in working life) to be drained of all that is colourful, controversial, traditional, chivalrous, poetic, mischievous, informal, etc. etc. We should not have to sterilize our language like a surgeon sterilizing his instruments before open heart surgery. It diminishes all our lives.

I think I've pretty consistently denounced political correctness, all my life, even when it was my own "side" pushing it. For instance, I find it tiresome when Irish people complain about the term "British isles". I find it over-precious when Catholics complain about Guy Fawkes Night because of the anti-Catholic sentiments that were attached to it, historically. And so forth.

Another common defence of PC (although it's not one likely to go down well with anyone reading this blog) is: "Get over it. You used to be able to say anything you wanted about blacks, gays, and other minorities. Now you can't. The world is better for it."

Even if I accepted this argument (which I don't), it has such an absurdly truncated view of political correctness-- as though it only applied to terminology or jokes. But political correctness pervades our entire lives. It especially affects the opinions we express. I believe a society is oppressive if someone is forced to affirm a view of the world which they don't, in fact, hold. If I'm forced to call a man in a dress "she", I'm oppressed.

Besides, the question of what is actually offensive is obviously an open one. The Irish tabloids today had front-page headlines about Conor McGregor (the mixed martial arts champion) calling an opponent a "boy", and petitions calling him to aplogize. Presumably the opponent is black. This is obviously ludicrous. But the ever-increasing stranglehold of PC means it's increasingly hard to distinguish between that which is genuinely offensive and that which is not. Everybody is afraid to speak up.

These matters are complicated for me because I'm not an absolutist when it comes to free speech. I think society has a right to frown on certain manners of expression, and indeed to suppress them. I would like to go back to a Victorian standard of prudishness in public discourse. I think the Hays Code of film self-censorship was a great thing. So, yes, it is the sort of suppression I'm complaining about.

Friday, July 14, 2017


I am feeling dejected tonight. I am well aware that some might find something comical in my dismay at the "ladies and gentleman" business (see post below). However, this phrase had a certain totemic importance for me. I kept saying to myself: "Well, at least people still say ladies and gentlemen". And yes, this is just one policy in one organization, but it seems extremely ominous.

Some readers might think I enjoy getting worked up about political correctness. I've mentioned before that I like a fight. We all enjoy a bit of indignation. But really, I take political correctness very seriously and get very depressed about it. I wish we didn't have to fight this fight. There is too much at stake.

Also, events in the Church are getting me down. The removal of Cardinal Muller from CDF makes my blood freeze. He seemed like the one sane voice in the Vatican lately. It may be an exaggeration, but it's hard not to feel that the Church is in the control of a junta at the moment. And for how long, given the cardinals and bishops that are now being appointed? I used to roll my eyes at all the "smoke of Satan" talk I heard amongst hardline conservative Catholics, but I'm less inclined to laugh now.

The fact that Catholics who I thought were orthodox are cheering developments is even more disturbing. It must have been how French partisans felt when friends and neighbours turned out to be collaborators in Vichy France. I agree that's a dramatic analogy, but it doesn't seem entirely inappropriate.

Dark times.

No More Ladies and Gentlemen

My American and other international readers may not have heard that London Underground announcers will no longer use the term "ladies and gentlemen".

I find this deeply depressing. Deeply, deeply depressing. I'm not joking. This is the most depressing news I've heard all year.

And if you say: "Really? More depressing than terrorist attackis and burning towers?", I would say: "Yes, really." Because we expect a certain amount of tragedies and outrages to happen every year, but this is something entirely different and disturbing.

People are treating this as a joke. I don't think it's a joke. I think it's heart-breaking. Nothing seems to deter the onward march of PC-- not Donald Trump, not Brexit, not Milo Yiannapoulos, not the Alt Right, nothing.

I'm not going to buy the whole "you can overreact to political correctness" thing. I don't think it's even possible to overreact to PC. I think we need to push against it as hard as we possibly can, the only inhibiting factor being how much danger we are putting ourselves in.

Good Article by Damian Thompson in the Catholic Herald

Can Anything Stop Catholic In-Fighting?

I'm not that interested in the main focus of the article, as I'm not sure we should even be trying to avoid in-fighting right now. And yes, I know there are various Scripture verses that could be quoted at me here, but there are also plenty of Scripture verses asserting the duty of orthodoxy, of which Galatians 1:8 is my favourite.

Some of the other passages are very interesting, though, including these passages on Traditionalism: "Traditionalists must stop fantasising that one day the whole Catholic world will return to the “timeless” Latin rituals of the pre-conciliar Church. It’s the Mass that’s timeless, not a particular cultural expression of it, however numinous. Demand for the 1962 Missal may grow, but it will always be limited because there is almost no one left who grew up with it."

"It's the Mass that's timeless, not a particular cultural expression of it, however numinous". That's how I feel. I'm all in favour of the Latin Mass, I just can't get as worked up about it as other people I know-- including some dear friends, and indeed readers of this blog! My attitude might change in the future, but right now it would seem an affectation to pose as a traddie. (Though maybe I should "fake it till I make it".) Listening to Traditionalists talk about liturgy is, to me, a bit like listening to audiophiles talking about sound systems, or listening to bibliophiles talk about binding and gilt edges.

He also says: "Secular culture wars have created a dichotomy that is meaningless to Catholics in Africa and Asia, who are often happy to celebrate Mass with exuberant, made-up rubrics but are at the same time as uncompromising as Cardinal Burke on issues of sexual morality." Take that for whatever it's worth. I'm no more keen on "exuberant, made-up rubrics" than your average Traditionalist.

However, I really liked this bit: "Finally, the Church needs to face up honestly to people’s fundamental objection to the Catholic faith. It has very little to do with sexual scandals or styles of worship. The problem is that doctrines such as transubstantiation and the Virgin Birth are hard to believe. These teachings are not negotiable – but, at the same time, they are less plausible to modern people than they were to our ancestors, whose imaginations were formed by societies that were naturally receptive to miracles and metaphysics."

Now, it's true that I came to faith after years of agnosticism verging on atheism. And it's also true that I'm a natural sceptic (even now). So I may be projecting my own frame of mind on others. Furthermore, I'm often surprised at the ease with which other people accept the supernatural and miraculous-- sometimes people who I'd expect to be outright rationalists.

Having said all that, I still think Thompson is onto something. So much of Catholic apologetics seems to defend details, venerable points of controversy with Protestants and other old sparring partners, rather than the basic credibility of the supernatural. I think we could pay a lot more attention to that.

The Stories of Patrick Pearse

That's a very serious-sounding title for what's going to be a very quick blog post, merely an observation.

Regular readers (for such poor creatures exist) will know my admiration for Patrick Pearse, the leader of the 1916 Rising and a central figure in the Gaelic Revival. He is a lifelong hero of my father's (who describes him as "Christ-like"), and therefore I heard a lot about him, growing up. (Not that this was a personal quirk of my father's. He is an important figure in Irish history and culture, by any standards. But my father is particularly devoted to him.)

I reacted against Pearse at various times, and even now I think his Irish nationalism sometimes reached the point of idolatry, and that his fiery rhetoric may have, not inspired, but encouraged some republican terrorists. (His example, however, should have had the opposite effect. I mentioned the book I was recently reading about the 1981 hunger strikers-- reading it, I learned that very many Irish nationalists at this time, in attempting to persuade the IRA to give up terrorism, appealed to the example of Patrick Pearse, who called a halt to the 1916 Rising for the explicit reason that too many civilians were being killed. The same appeal was made to the hunger strikers, as there was a real fear that their deaths might spark a full-blown civil war.)

The most fascinating thing about Patrick Pearse is that he left his mark on everything he touched. In a brief life (only thirty-six years) he poured himself into various different tasks, all of which served the overriding purpose of Irish nationalism. He founded and ran an Irish language school. He edited an Irish language newspaper. He wrote poetry and stories, in Irish and English. And he led the 1916 Rising. If he'd only been remembered for one of these things, he would have had an important role in Irish history.

I'm a particular fan of his English poetry, especially 'The Fool' and 'The Wayfarer' (both of which can be read at this link.) Not only are they first class poems, in my view, but they express some of my most cherished beliefs more eloquently than I ever could.

I'd avoided reading Pearse's Irish language stories. I taught they couldn't be much good, since Irish wasn't his first language, and since modern Irish literature was something of an artificial creation. Besides, I'd assumed they were stories written, not for their own sake, but for the sake of writing stories in Irish-- and that kind of thing always scares me off. In reading biographies of Pearse, I must have either skipped the passages concerning his short stories, or read them very inattentively, because I'd managed to gather very little foreknowledge of their contents. When I eventually read them, I did so dutifully, bracing myself for tedium.

How surprised I was when I read them! They're haunting, lyrical vignettes of life in an Irish-speaking rural area, beguilingly simple, fresh and naive. Although Pearse famously (and controversially) drew on modern European models, they seem more like folk tales than anything else-- or perhaps, prose poems. Most of them involve some kind of supernatural or visionary encounter, and most have children as their protagonists. An atmosphere of the semi-eternal, of time pervaded by timelessness, of the folk-life, fills each one.

But the thing that impressed me most about them was that they are real stories. They seem to exist in their own right, to have a kind of ontological reality, independent of their author or the circumstances of their creation.

The same thought struck me when I was reading one of the Harry Potter books. This was one of the later volumes, and I was reading it soon after it was published, so the entire world was abuzz with it. Probably somebody in every street in the world was reading the book. But, as I read it, I forgot all about the hype and the hoop-la-- it was such an absorbing story that it might just as well have been an obscure book I took from a dusty shelf in a second-hand bookshop. It was just me, and the characters. 

This is a quality that fascinates me. When a story becomes real, it seems to take on a life of is own. And this doesn't necessarily have anything to do with psychological realism, plausibility, universality, ingeniousness, artistic merit, or any other particular characteristic we can isolate. It seems to be something completely unpredictable and separate.

James Bond is real. Dracula is real. The escaped lunatic in the urban legend of The Hook is real. Freddy Krueger is real. Calvin and Hobbes are real. Every character in a well-known joke is real. When we think of them, we're not saying: "Let's pretend". We buy into the story, even if it's the most impossible and unbelievable story. It momentarily becomes its own reality. It's an extraordinary thing, and the fact Pearse could pull it off in his Irish language stories only deepens my admiration for him.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Irish Traditions, Customs and Characteristics

This is a thread I started on the Irish Conservatives Forum. Any suggestion from my blog readers is welcome:

OK, this thread is close to my heart, and I'm going to pin it-- because I get to do that. If anyone has a problem with that, please send a letter of complaint to Complaints Department, Irish Conservatives Forum, P.O. Box Go Jump in a Lake.

I've always wanted to compile an attemptedly exhaustive list of Irish traditions and customs-- including both the obvious ones, and the ones that we never think about. I mean, trying to get really fine-grained and forensic about it.

It's extraordinary how we don't think of a lot of our traditions and customs. When I was getting married, my wife was very interested to know about Irish wedding customs, and I get kept saying: "I can't really think of any. I've only ever been to one wedding and I was a kid." One day, we were in a shop, and the shop assistant fumbled (or, more likely, I fumbled) the change and it fell everywhere. "Grushie!", someone said. "What's grushie?", my wife asked. "Oh, it's an Irish wedding tradition where you throw coins at a wedding", I said.

The "floozie in the jacuzzi"

A few years ago, I heard the card game twenty-five was Ireland's national card game. I'd never heard this. It's little things like that fly under the radar.

Someone on another thread mentioned the Irish tendency to ignore celebrities, which seems distinctively Irish (though doubtless it's not uniquely Irish). This is the kind of tradition or custom we never think of when it comes to these lists. So I wanted to see can I make a really exhaustive list which could be added to by others, over time. They can be quirks of language, quirks of personality...anything which makes Ireland distinctive (again, doesn't have to be unique).

Please add posts and I will integrate them into the main lists.

So I am going to kick off with all the most obvious ones:


Gaelic Football
The Munster Hurling Final
Road bowling
Rugby, especially in Limerick
Horse racing and horse breeding
Supporting English soccer teams
The John 3:7 placard
Swimming in the forty-foot.

I'm not that much of a sports person, I prefer soccer to Gaelic games. Maybe some people can tell me traditions within those sports, such as making mad speeches when awarded the All-Ireland trophy.

Music and Dance

Irish traditional music
Sean-nós singing
Irish folk ballads
Tin whistle
Uileann pipes
Set dancing
Lúibíní, whatever the hell they are
Country music, in some areas. (I hear it is a way of life in some towns. Is that true?)

The "hags with the bags"


The Irish language
The various dialects
Yola and Old Fingalian (well, these are more memories than traditions, but I'll put them in anyway).
Hiberno-English, which deserves a section all of its own


Giving rhyming names to Dublin statues (the Floozy in the Jacuzzi, the pr---- with the sick, the hags with the bags, the tart with the cart, etc.) No name for the Millennium Spire ever stuck, despite many efforts.

Visual arts

Celtic knotwork
Pre-Celtic spirals
Hiberno-Romanesque architecture


Corned beef, cabbage and potatoes (puke puke)
A full Irish breakfast (which is...?)
Colcannon on Halloween
Red, white and orange ice-cream and jelly on St. Patrick's Day
Tea. Strong tea, especially in rural areas. Lyons and Barry's.
Red lemonade.
Cadet Orange.
Cavan Cola.
Irish stew.
Dublin coddle.


Catch-all parties.
Clientelism and parish pump politics.
The two-and-a-half party system.
Small, breakaway parties that are successful for a while and then disappear.
Splits. ("The first item on the agenda of every Irish organization is the split.")

The "tart with the cart"


The Late-Late Toy Show
The Late Late Show itself
The dawn chorus on Mooney Goes Wild
Dustin the turkey
Shows in the format of Scrap Saturday


The Irish wake.
"I'm sorry for your troubles".


The "debs"
The colours debate between Trinity and UCD

Social Life

Pretending not to see famous people.
"You're very good" expression.
The Irish mammy-- matriarch in working class areas (at least she used to be).
St. Patrick's Day parade
St. Patrick's Day shamrock


Standing at the back of Mass
Taking the straw from the Christmas crib
First Communion madness
St. Brigid's Cross
St. Patrick's Day being a "break" from Lent

Clothes and jewellery

Aran sweaters
Cloth caps
Tara brooch replicas
Claddagh ring

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Guessing Game

Recently I've been contemplating a blog post about a sale-of-work I attended in my school, as a child. (Actually, it was an annual event, so it's really several sales-of-work.) It had quite an effect on me and I wanted to write about that.

Then I wondered if my readers could guess what I was going to say about it, what effect it had on me.

I'm intrigued to see would anyone be able to guess.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Dublin Millennium of 1988

Today I found myself remembering the Dublin Millennium of 1988. I'm surprised I've never written a post about it before. When I went online to find an informational link, I was surprised to find that there isn't one. There isn't even a Wikipedia page! Given the internet's propensity for nostalgia, and considering that eighties kids are just the right age for nostalgia-wallowing, this surprises me. Maybe this blog post will become the go-to page for those seeking Dublin Millennium knowledge?

As most of my readers will know, Dublin was founded as a Viking city (although I understand some kind of settlement existed before the Vikings came). The choice of 1988 as Dublin's millennium year was pretty arbitrary. The year the Vikings founded their city seems to be given as 841 on most websites. The thousand-year anniversary apparently relates to the time that the Norse King of Dublin agreed to pay taxes to the Irish High King, who bore my name. (Even here, apparently, the dating might be out a bit!)

I've heard the theory (which seems reasonable to me) that the Dublin Millennium was announced to give Dubliners some reason for celebration. The late eighties were famously crummy in Ireland. All anyone ever seemed to talk about were recession, unemployment, emigration, the Troubles, and drugs. And so, the theory goes, someone in local government came up with this idea to give Dubliners a boost.

This is actually the reason I found myself thinking about the subject. I was reflecting that this kind of benign paternalism actually appeals to me. Why is paternalism always seen as a bad thing?

I was eleven years old when the Dublin Millennium was celebrated. Of course, I took it seriously. But what surprises me, looking back, is how seriously adults seemed to take it, too.

For one thing, my father issued a special "Millennium edition" of his magazine, the Ballymun News. At the time, he was running a community centre (which was eventually destroyed by vandals), and giving training to local young people there, as part of a government scheme. The young people wrote articles for the Millennium edition of the magazine, and I can still (incredibly) remember whole verses of one poem entitled "Don't Let Dublin Fade":

As I walk through this city
All that I can see
Is Dublin keeps on changing
All its history
By tearing down the places
Where history was made.
I don't like the dawning
Of this new age.

Don't let Dublin fade
Don't let it disappear
Now that we have reached
Our Millennium year
Think of all the people
Who fought and died
So the people of today
Could walk their streets with pride.

(The poem was quite topical, as the tearing down of historical buildings was a subject of considerable controversy at this time. I think things have improved since then.)

The most famous element of the Millennium celebrations was the Dublin millennium fifty pence piece. Of course, this was before our national currency had been borged into the euro. ("Borged" is a verb derived from the Borg in Star Trek. Enough said.)

I think few images would be more reminiscent of eighties Ireland, at least to Dubliners, than the millennium fifty pence piece. They were quite handsome things. I liked their medieval flavour. (I like their distinctive shape, too, but that was common to all fifty pence coins.) I can remember children collecting these. I wonder how many still have them?

Another very memorable aspect of the Dublin Millennium was the Hagar the Horrible cartoons on Cara matchboxes. ('Cara' means friendship in Irish.) Hagar the Horrible, as most readers will know, was a Viking cartoon character in newspaper cartoons. I can't find any reference to these special edition match-boxes on the internet.

My school engaged in various Millennial activities. A wall in the assembly hall was painted with a medieval Dublin-themed mural. I can't remember if the children themselves had a hand in it or whether a professional artist did it all. The former, I think.

The professional artist, a rather old fat man, was knocking around at this time. I remember he would supervise our art classes. Once he looked at my easel and complimented the slates that I was painting, taking over from me and adding some more, quite enthusiastically. They weren't slates at all, but I didn't say anything. I can't remember what they were.

The slogan for the Millennium was "Dublin's great in '88!", which was pretty catchy. You still here it cited now and again. A recent advertisement for an online betting shop, or an online casino, had professional snooker player Ken Doherty boasting that he could gamble while wearing a "Dublin's great in '88" t-shirt, pyjamas bottoms, and slippers.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Dublin millennium was a creative project undertaken by my class-mates. They started building a cardboard model of medieval Dublin. This began on a small-scale but grew larger and larger, until it was at risk of taking over the class-room. This went on for weeks or maybe even months, and became a subject for jokes. Then everybody lost interest. I was offered the entire model to take home (because nobody else wanted it). I didn't want it, either. I remember feeling surprised by this whole phenomenon because I regarded myself as the creative, imaginative member of the class, and I regarded my class-mates as soulless, mindless cretins. And yet this whole thing happened more or less without me. (I think I added one small piece to it.)

There's still a Dublin Millennium logo worked into the brickwork on the side of the Stephen's Green shopping centre, in Dublin City Centre. More notably, the famously buxom Molly Malone statue, which used to stand on Grafton Street but is now on Suffolk Street, was built and unveiled as part of the Dublin Millennium celebrations. It's a good statute. I wish Dublin had more like it.

I'm glad the Dublin Millennium happened. I'm glad of the cultural memories, the landmark in time it created. I wish there more such things. Dublin may not have been great in eighty-eight, but it was a valiant effort.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Viewmaster

How many of my readers know what a Viewmaster is? Well, here is a picture. You put the slides (the wheel-shaped things) into the top of the Viewmaster, hold it up to the light, and look at the pictures contained in them. Each of the dark rectangles on the wheels is another picture.

Someone gave me a Viewmaster for my birthday a good few years ago. I was delighted by the gift. As regular readers might now, I love anything which you can look through, which creates a distinctive view or atmosphere, which provides a window of some sort. I love the cinema. I love kaleidoscopes. I love projector slides. I loved coloured glass and photographs taken through a monochrome lens of some kind. I love decorated pub mirrors, reflective Christmas baubles, and so forth.
On a more figurative level, I love listening to peoples' memories and stories, which are a window onto their past and lives.

Guess who expressed this particular fascination better than anyone else, for my money? That's right, it was our old friend G.K. Chesterton. Chapter two of his Autobiography is entitled "The Man with the Golden Key", and the very opening passage takes up this theme:
The very first thing I can ever remember seeing with my own eyes was a young man walking across a bridge. He had a curly moustache and an attitude of confidence verging on swagger. He carried in his hand a disproportionately large key of a shining yellow metal and wore a large golden or gilded crown. The bridge he was crossing sprang on the one side from the edge of a highly perilous mountain chasm, the peaks of the range rising fantastically in the distance; and at the other end it joined the upper part of the tower of an almost excessively castellated castle. In the castle tower there was one window, out of which a young lady was looking. I cannot remember in the least what she looked like; but I will do battle with anyone who denies her superlative good looks.

To those who may object that such a scene is rare in the home life of house-agents living immediately to the north of Kensington High Street, in the later seventies of the last century, I shall be compelled to admit, not that the scene was unreal, but that I saw it through a window more wonderful than the window in the tower; through the proscenium of a toy theatre constructed by my father; and that (if I am really to be pestered about such irrelevant details) the young man in the crown was about six inches high and proved on investigation to be made of cardboard. But it is strictly true to say that I saw him before I can remember seeing anybody else; and that, so far as my memory is concerned, this was the sight on which my eyes first opened in this world. And the scene has to me a sort of aboriginal authenticity impossible to describe; something at the back of all my thoughts; like the very back-scene of the theatre of things....All the rest is gone; scenes, subject, story, characters; but that one scene glows in my memory like a glimpse of some incredible paradise; and, for all I know, I shall still remember it when all other memory is gone out of my mind. 

Apart from the fact of it being my first memory, I have several reasons for putting it first. I am no psychologist, thank God; but if psychologists are still saying what ordinary sane people have always said--that early impressions count considerably in life--I recognise a sort of symbol of all that I happen to like in imagery and ideas. All my life I have loved edges; and the boundary-line that brings one thing sharply against another. All my life I have loved frames and limits; and I will maintain that the largest wilderness looks larger seen through a window.

As for Chesterton, so for me. I don't remember any formative experience which gave me a love of "frames and limits", but I think I've always had it; and precisely because "the largest wilderness looks larger seen through a window".

This love influences my entire worldview. It reinforces my Catholicism (the "frame and limit" in this case being dogma). It influences my nationalism (the frames and limits in this case being borders, particularism, and so forth). It influences my taste in literature (the frames and limits being rhyme, metre, and other conventions). And of course, it influences my social conservatism (the "frames and limits" of gender, tradition, custom, etc. etc.)

So you can understand why I like Viewmaster. Having said all that, these days I don't look at my Viewmaster for months or maybe even years at a time. The screen has become fairly scratched and dirty. I tried to clean it but it seems to be damage or corrosion of the material itself.

The original Viewmaster came with scenes of Oregon and American national monuments. I bought some extra sets of slides on my own-- I thought about becoming a collector, but I couldn't really justify the expense. I bought sets of slides showing scenes of Norway, famous people from the nineteen-twenties (or thereabouts), the Pennsylvania Dutch, and the Christmas story.

The Christmas story is by far my favourite. It's unique amongst the sets I have, because the photographs are all of clay model tableaux. They're pretty artistic, but at the same time, quite endearingly crude. Here, for instance, is the Annunciation.

My favourite slide, though, is the three kings following the star.

One of the things I like about the Viewmaster is how crummy it is. There's really not much to it. Although many of the slides have an interesting 3D effect (which I'm not sure how to describe), many of them are scenes so unremarkable, nobody would give them a second look in real life. Only the fact that you are looking at them through the Viewmaster makes them in any way special. I like the contemplative atmosphere this engenders.

(And the crumminess is only relative, anyway. I've used a virtual reality headset. It's amazing, but the novelty fades quiet quickly.)

Viewmaster is deliciously private. Only one person can see the slides at at time, and nobody can see what you're seeing by looking at you. That fascinates me.

I like the way the slides glow when you hold them against a source of light.

I like the sound of the Viewmaster clicking when you press the tab for a new slide.

I like how simple it is. The technology (if you can even call it technology) has remained the same over decades,. Sadly, there is now virtual reality Viewmasters-- yuk!

Viewmaster isn't that great. Ten minutes playing with one will satisfy anyone over the age of seven, probably. And then you will lay it aside for a long time, unless you are a collector or an enthusiast of some kind.

But it is pleasantly quirky, and worth a post. 

(By the way, isn't 'proscenium' a lovely word? It means the space in front of the theatre stage, the so-called "fourth wall". Chesterton never hesitated to use rare or technical words, without explanation.)

Trump and Christianity

I generally avoid writing about The Donald, because I'm aware I could alienate half of my readership, and I'm not familiar with the intricacies of American politics. But I felt moved to write a few words about Trump and his gestures towards Christianity.

First of all, let me admit that I have no idea of the state of his soul. This is a truism when it comes to anybody, but especially true in his case. He may have a very deep and sincere Christian faith, for all I know. On the other hand, he may be laughing up his sleeve at the Christians who vote for him even as he invokes God.

But my gut instinct is that neither of those things is the case. My impression is that faith doesn't play a big part in his daily life and thoughts, but that he has a genuine (if rather crude) respect for religion and for Christianity. I also believe his pro-life leanings are sincere.

This train of thought was set off when I read, in one interview, how he spoke about "when I drink my little wine and when I eat my little cracker". (Talking about communion, of course-- Protestant communion.) If I was to read a New Atheist refer to communion  (even Protestant communion) as wine and crackers, I'd be incensed, and rightly so. But when Trump says it, it's somehow child-like and appealing. You know that no irreverence is intended.

He reminds me of some medieval king who would throw himself into battle after battle with gusto, and keep a whole string of mistresses, while also zealously upholding the orthodox faith and regarding priests, monks and churches with awe.

His attitude to Christianity seems so much preferable to all the smooth-talk of a sophisticated sceptic like Obama. It's a strange word to use for someone who is undoubtedly a braggart and an egomaniac, but when it comes to religion, Trump seems to display a genuine humility, a genuine deference. The very tone in which he invokes the name of God impresses me.

I might be completely wrong. Reader, if the very sight of Trump or the sound of his name makes you grit your teeth, please don't take my words amiss. You might be completely right. Please take my comments here as less about Trump himself than an observation on the manner in which we speak of God and Christianity in public. I like how Trump does it, that's all.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Thoughts on Northern Ireland

I've been reading a book called Biting at the Grave by Pádraig Ó Malley. It's an account of the 1981 Hunger Strikes in Northern Ireland, which resulted in the deaths of ten Irish republican hunger strikers in prison. Ó Malley is fairly neutral, and has plenty of criticism for everybody involved-- the British government, the Irish government, the hunger strikers, the IRA, the nationalist community in the North, the unionist community, the Catholic Church, the Protestant churches, and pretty much everybody else. I think most of the criticism is quite fair.

I picked up the book through pure accident-- it appeared on the book exchange shelf outside the library. However, it's had me thinking about Northern Ireland.

I'm too young to remember the Hunger Strikes myself. I was only four. The Troubles were in media res as I became aware of the world around me, and I assumed they had gone on forever and always would.

At this point, I'm going to indulge in another numbered list-- perhaps not the most elegant way of writing, but a good way of keeping focused, and of dispensing with forced segues. Here are my thoughts on the Northern Ireland Troubles, and Northern Ireland in general:

1) I can't stand Sinn Féin, the party which was the political wing of the IRA during the Troubles.  Not so much because of their former links to the IRA-- I don't see any benefit in holding onto bitterness about that-- but because of their social liberalism. Atheist Ireland, some years ago, ranked Sinn Féin as the most secularist party in Ireland. Having had Marxist leanings for decades, they are now passionate advocates for every left-wing social measure, including gay marriage. They've had to fudge about abortion in the past, more out of tribal Catholicism than anything else, but it seems they are now coming to an openly pro-abortion position. Many devout Catholics in Northern Ireland have started voting for the DUP, a unionist party which is socially conservative-- and so would I, if I lived there.

I'm also baffled and disdainful of Sinn Féin's attitude towards immigration. They seem to be in favour of open door immigration, or something close to it. For years, one of the most common Irish republican slogans was: "Brits out!". In some quarters of the internet, I've seen Sinn Féin taunted with the mock slogan: "Brits out, everybody else in." What's the point of that?

Of course, this simply highlights the conflict that has long existed in Sinn Féin between Irish nationalism and Marxist internationalism.

2) I  grew up during the Troubles, and like most of the population of the Republic, I regarded the acts of terrorism by both sides with genuine horror and loathing. Looking back, I realize that I was quite proud of public opinion in the Republic. It was decidedly nationalist (it wanted a United Ireland), but also overwhelmingly opposed to the use of violence to achieve this end-- especially violence against civilians

The Hunger Strikes were something of an anomaly in this regard, as public opinion in the Irish Republic was strongly supportive of the hunger strikers (who wanted to be treated as political prisoners, rather than common criminals). It has to be admitted that the book I'm reading identifies a good deal of hypocrisy in public attitudes to the issue, south of the border. It seems to have been temporarily forgotten that the hunger strikers were unrepentant members of a terrorist organization. It also seems to have been forgotten that the Irish state itself had let IRA prisoners die on hunger strike, in previous decades.

While I've never lost my loathing or my opposition to IRA terrorism, I've come to realize that it's very easy to be sanctimonious. South of the border, we had very little idea of the conditions under which both communities lived in Northern Ireland. Hundreds of very ordinary men and women were radicalized by their experiences-- harassment by soldiers, internment of innocent civilians, being driven from their homes by petrol bombs, and so forth. None of this justifies any of the atrocities that occurred, but it's all too easy to condemn without understanding.

3) During the Troubles, the term "Norn Iron" came to be derisively used in the Republic, mocking the mechanical way the words would be rattled off by newsreaders and politicians. Norn Iron. Norn Iron. Norn Iron. We were sick of hearing about Norn Iron. The whole saga was unutterably tiresome and irksome.

I can certainly sympathize with the notorious words of Winston Churchill, frustrated at having to deal with the "Ulster question" again, after the high drama of World War One: "The position of countries has been violently altered. The modes of thought of men, the whole outlook on affairs, the grouping of parties, all have encountered violent and tremendous change in the deluge of the world. But as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again. The integrity of their quarrel is one of the few institutions that have been unaltered in the cataclysm which has swept the world."

To be honest, I very much sympathized with that irritation. I don't want to offend anyone, but the very sound of a Belfast accent grated on me, and it still does. Northern Ireland seemed (and seems) like a de facto foreign country to me. The nationalists do not seem Irish as they claim to be, and the unionists do not seem British as they claim to be. They seem more like each other than anything else.

Here's an example of the irritation that Norn Iron often provoked in me. In the year 2004, I took some philosophy classes. One of my class-mates was a chap from Northern Ireland. During one class about free will, the lecturer (an Armenian lady) took the example of the hunger strikers who had come off the hunger strike, compared with those who had persevered. It was a bad example, but the Norn Iron student suddenly came to life, angrily insisting that the hunger strikers who had come off the strike had wanted to persevere with it. I remember feeling extremely irritated. I felt like snapping: "Oh for goodness sake, she was only using an example. Do you people ever miss an opportunity to be aggrieved?"

The same student, in a later class, insisted he would happily hook himself up to Robert Nozick's happiness machine (a thought experiment in which purely artifical happiness is created directly in the brain). He was a middle-aged, overweight, ostentatiously cynical fellow who showed no hint of idealism or intellectual curiosity-- except for that one moment of high-horse-climbing. And in this he seemed all to typical of Irish republicanism-- at least, the representatives of it that I'd met. Doubtless I was prejudiced.

4) In complete contradiction with the above, I've felt an intermittent fascination with Northern Ireland, the Troubles, and the conflict. Whenever the subject forced itself on me uninvited, I would resent it. But sometimes I would read up on it myself, for periods at a time.

What interested me most of all were the ideologies at work. I have always been fascinated by ideologies, causes, movements, belief systems, struggles, and the intensity and idealism all these things generate.

Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote: "You say it is the good cause that hallows even war? I say unto you: It is the good war that hallows any cause". I don't believe that for a moment, and yet the idea has a certain power.

Though I despised the killing and violence in Northern Ireland, a lot of the non-violent aspects of the struggle fascinated me and even appealed to me. The murals. The rebel songs. The folklore. The traditions. The idea of prisoners learning and speaking the Irish language in prison. The marches. The solidarity. The tribal rituals on both sides-- for instance, dustbin lids were rattled off pavements when a hunger striker died, and houses in nationalist areas were expected to switch their lights on to mark the event, even in the middle of the night. (Not to do so was to risk a stone through one's window.) The slogans-- tiocfaidh ar lá (our day will come) was the most famous republican slogan. The historical debates-- I would often hear commentators deplore the fact that centuries-old history was a live issue in Northern Ireland, even an explosive issue. I didn't understand why this should be lamented, in itself. It seemed a good thing to me. It still does.

I've often found myself wondering-- why can't we have all this kind of thing, without the killing and violence? Why does it take a life-and-death conflict for people to celebrate their culture, and to prefer solidarity over individualism? Why did popular interest in Irish cultural revival rapidly diminish, south of the border, after independence had been won? Does it always have to be this way?

(Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I'm so interested in the Alt Right. I find it fascinating that they've evolved their own vocabulary, iconography, and internal debates: red pill, black pill, cuckservatism, Pepé the Frog, normie, "don't punch right", etc. etc. I think it would be great if traditionalist conservatives could do something similar.)

On a lighter note, the book contains one of the most unintentionally funny lines I have ever read. In a biographical description of Brendan "Bik" McFarlane, a republican prisoner who helped organize the hunger strikes, we are told this about his time as an altar boy: "The sacristan of Holy Cross puts him in the top ten per cent of the altar boys he has trained and worked with". This made me laugh out loud on the bus.