On the whole, Ireland’s history has been so nutty we shouldn’t really ever travel without an EpiPen, whether it be losing battles due to our hired help showing up at the wrong place like at Kinsale in 1603, or the Earls fleeing Ireland accidentally forgetting to bring their wives in 1607. You’d think modernity would have ironed out some of our more idiosyncratic creases, but not so. Our government just won’t let that happen.
Last week Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith announced that the government would be giving out free cheese to the needy just before Christmas. Yup, free cheese. Inevitably, the announcement was met with incredulous, mocking derision. In a year where another government bright idea was taxing ATM withdrawals to curb tiger kidnappings, the notion that 53 tonnes of cheese would raise national morale was the high water mark of the “if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry” feeling currently pervading the country.
So, as we descend into a kind of Blanche du Bois madness, what better time to have a look back at some of the events and people that have made Ireland the baffling and out and out ludicrous country it is today.
The Insane Adventures of Oliver J Flanagan:
Olly J was elected to the Dáil at the age of 23 on a Monetary Reform ticket, meeting people at mass gates and riding his bicycle around the constituency while wearing placards saying “HERE COMES OLIVER” on the front and “THERE GOES FLANAGAN” on the back. Over his 44 years service in the Dáil he’d be repeatedly returned with stonking majorities despite being one of the most patently bonkers politicians to ever serve in any forum anywhere. During his maiden speech he was admonished by the Ceann Comhairle for being “persistently irrelevant” and a week later blamed the Jews and Masons for all of Ireland’s woes, going as far to claim that “Where there are bees there is honey, and where there are Jews there is money”, criticised them for “killing our saviour nineteen hundred years ago” and praised Germany for routing them out of the country. Being an ultra-Catholic Knight of Columbanus he was not only quite keen on Jesus but fond on maintaining public morals too, and condemned the notoriously racy “Late Late Show” because “There was no sex in Ireland before Teilifís Eireann”.
Oliver was as likely a candidate for a place at cabinet as he would’ve been for a part in The Hangover 2, but a minister he became in 1976, replacing Paddy Donegan as Minister for Defence after he called the President a “thundering disgrace” (and some other things too). He died in 1987 and was replaced by his son Charlie, who as Fine Gael spokesman on Justice gave full-throated backing to the Civil Partnerships Bill. So that’s progress at least.
I’ve always been fond of the 1920’s – the pinstripes, the dancing, the dames – but as fun as Chicago back then must have been the Dáil and Senate gave it a run for its money. At the foundation of the state, for example, there was a Ministry of Fine Arts. During a debate to adopt Daylight Saving Time, one member argued against the measure saying that “No self respecting cow can be expected to be milked at 2:30am in the morning”, while another thought it would be a good idea as being an hour out of synch with Northern Ireland would entrench partition. Perhaps the most dramatic parliamentary event of the twenties though was the motion of no confidence placed against WT Cosgrave. Whip counts indicated he should have lost narrowly, but as it turned out the vote was a dead heat and with the chair’s casting vote, Cosgrave was saved. The reason the opposition lost was because the National League TD John Jinks, who would’ve tilted the balance, mysteriously disappeared before the vote for reasons to this day not completely known. Incidentally, the National League Party were formed in protest at the Intoxicating Liquor Act, which restricted pub opening times.
The National Broadcaster
Mercifully these days there are as many TV channels available to the casual viewer as stones on Salthill beach, but there was a time when certain people only had the two Radio Teilifís Éireann stations to choose from. Some were lucky and had “The Channels” (BBC, ITV, et al) but there were many more who suffered in silence, as silence was often preferable to watching RTÉ. There were two shows however that had the country hooked: “Glenroe” and “The Late Late Show”. Glenroe was a soap in the literal and metaphorical sense, as not only was it showed every Sunday night at 8:30pm but it was also synonymous with national school students’ bath time. The show ended over a decade ago, but I think I speak for every Irish man, woman and child when I say nobody will ever forget where they were when the wardrobe fell on top of Dinny, when Miley cheated on Biddy with Fidelma in the haystacks or when George was killed by Peruvian guerrillas.
The Late Late meanwhile was the national water cooler, furnishing us with talking points like Terry Keane’s affair with Charles Haughey, Peter Brooke singing My Darling Clementine unaware that an IRA bomb had killed several people that same day in the north and Padraig Flynn’s infamous “Try It Some Time” interview. One particular Late Late item that has taken on cult status of late that would make you spit your cooled water out in disbelief was the “Rap Against Rape” initiative in 1990. Consisting of five radio DJ’s, the singer Hazel O’Connor and a couple of black lads dancing at the back in a vein attempt at credibility, their song was called “What Did I Do Wrong?” Well, if you have to ask... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKMTSGgJPGA
With Leaders Like These...
I don’t know if leaders reflect their people or vice versa, but either way we’ve had some interesting characters with their hand on the national tiller. WT Cosgrave went to Mass three times a day due to his crushing post-Civil War guilt. Eamon deValera ended a masterful career of political bluffing as President by, despite being quite blind, pretending to know what was going on thanks to an advisor whose work ought to have got him a consultant credit on “Weekend At Bernie’s”. John A. Costello, in conversation with his party colleagues James Dillon and Paddy Lindsay, confessed the only time he’d been in a pub he’d nearly choked on a bottle of orange, leading a dejected Lindsay to exclaim it was small wonder Fine Gael were never in power. At a meeting during the FitzGerald government, Jim Mitchell made a reference to the film “Rambo”, finishing with a knowing glance to Garret and saying “I’m sure you’ve seen that film, Taoiseach”. The Good Doctor, not known for his grasp of culture contemporaneous, replied apologetically “Oh, no, I’m afraid I haven’t” to much giggling.
What A Scoop!
Gone may be the days of the kind of all-powerful publishing giants and wisecracking newspapermen Cary Grant would play in old timey movies, but at least in the field of Irish local news there are still some characters who can inject some colour into a black and white business. John McAteer, the editor of the Tirconnail Tribune, once took the Donegal County Council to task in an editorial, calling their facilities variously “a complete dog’s dick” and “pure shite”. In an editorial. A bit up the road, the tiny publication The Inishowen Independent tried an ambitious advertising campaign consisting of a large sign with bold, capital letters on the main Buncrana road. Their chosen slogan was supposed to convey that it was a paper that not only covered the stories of the locale but had a unique knowledge of the area and its inhabitants, but it took on a more ominous tone as you drove past it. The sign read: “The Inishowen Independent: WE KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE!”