The Belfies (full film)

The Belfies (Belfast Selfies)
The Belfast Selfies came about as a culmination of a number of ideas. The Belfies are an antidote to the instant ‘selfie’ way we capture portraits today. Our attention spans have become the casualties of the rapid-fire digital age we find ourselves positioned in, constantly surrounded by millions of ever-changing pixels wherever we go. Between popular culture and digital advertising, there appears to be no escape. The Belfast Selfie project also strives to present a new face of contemporary Belfast, different to the traditional, historically presented ideas of Belfast. Belfie subject’s names are not given, as even a name can identify and hence be troublesome in a city with such a fractured, sectarian past, such as Belfast. Each Belfie subject was chosen at random on the streets of Belfast city centre, and given only one simple direction – to look directly into the lens for a prolonged 30 second period.

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Just Another Touchy Paddy…


A few days ago in London I sat down in a low-end food and liquor merchants, part of a famous UK-wide chain. Surrounded by flashing fruit machines and alcoholic geriatrics, it’s truly a place souls go to die. But they do a fantastic Chicken Tikka, so swings and roundabouts I suppose.

The waitress came to take my order. I told her about the Tikka. Then she repeated my order back to me in a bad stab at an Irish accent.

It wasn’t even my flat midlands accent she tried to mimic. It was that awful patronising Hollywood-Paddy brogue – that Darby O’Gill beggorrah-bullshit. Think Julia Roberts in the Michael Collins biopic. Like a bad impression of a locked leprechaun.

The familiar tickle of the ginger-rage crept up along my spine towards my brain. I didn’t know what to do. So I stood up and stormed out, leaving the waitress stuck to her spot in shock. She’d clearly never angered a ginger before.

In her defence she tried to pacify me as I grabbed my jacket, but by then it was far too late. I’d gone past the point of no return – I knew I had to commit fully to my temper tantrum. It’s like having a seizure – you can’t just climb back up on the sofa and carry on chatting like nothing happened. People notice that sort of thing, it becomes a talking point. And I certainly didn’t want to watch those alcoholic geriatrics gossiping about the touchy heat-seeking Paddy in the corner.

I reached the door and kept storming up the street. But then as the initial blinding dose of ginger-fury began to evaporate, I started to doubt my explosion. Was it an over-reaction, I began to wonder? Was I being too touchy?

Then I passed a Chinese couple on the street, and I decided I was right. That waitress wouldn’t have done a bad Bruce Lee impression if they’d placed an order. That’d be racist – completely unacceptable in anyone’s book. That sort of stunt would get her fired, and her employers up in front of a judge, and rightly so.

But now after a few days reflection (and some serious over-thinking), I just feel confused. Even though the waitress’s little Paddy pantomime definitely wasn’t acceptable, as a contemporary nationality we’ve become over-sensitive to even the slightest hint of Paddy-Whackery. Perhaps this comes as a result of the rest of the world constantly telling us how fantastic we are, and telling us they wished they were Irish. 35 million Americans proudly proclaim their beloved hyphenated heritage, according to the 2010 US census.  That’s 11% of the total US population, and seven times our own population.  The biggest Paddy’s Day parade in the world doesn’t happen in Dublin, it happens 5,000 kilometres across the Atlantic, in Boston –  a city where 23% of the population claim Celtic heritage.

So is it any wonder our Irish egos have become overly massaged, to the point we’ll storm out of dodgy restaurants in a huff at even the smallest bit of slagging?!

But then as usual we completely contradict our own expectations.  Despite our sensitivities, ironically it’s us alone who are the single biggest producers of Paddy-Whackery.  We peddle homemade Paddy-Whackery on a massive scale, which we then flog all around the world. I recently read a theory that speculated the reason Mrs. Brown’s Boys has become such a phenomenal hit in the UK is because it’s a contemporary, socially acceptable way for the British to continue laughing at the backward Paddies.

While I don’t subscribe to that particularly touchy thesis, it’s an interesting idea never-the-less.  It’s alright to laugh at ourselves, but at what point do people stop laughing with us, and start laughing at us?  Or is the difference that important?  Either way, we only have ourselves to blame…

But I never bought into that brand of nationalistic paranoia many of my contemporaries subscribe to. It’s a telling symptom of collective low self-esteem at best, or collective schizophrenia at worst. It makes no sense to be paranoid when half  the world wishes they had Paddy passports. The idiots peddling locked leprechaun accents are few and far between. I was just unlucky.

Having that said – and having clearly over-thought the whole situation – I still couldn’t resist firing off a scaldy email to the management of that dodgy restaurant chain. Because no matter how much over-thinking I do on the issue, at heart I’m just another touchy Paddy. Prone to the ginger rage…

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Compo-Culture reduces us to a bunch of bone-picking vultures

Compo-Culture and the rise of the anti-hero….

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Leaving Cert Points


It’s been 12 years since I did my Leaving Cert, yet I still have nightmares about it. I wake up in a cold sweat, panicking. It takes me a minute or two to calm down, and reassure myself that I’m not actually doing my Leaving Cert again.

In this horrible re-occurring dream I’m always the same age I am now, except for some reason I’m about to start my Leaving Cert. Tomorrow. And I’ve only just found out. So I’m desperately trying to remember a load of irrelevant details I once learned off-by-heart, then promptly forgot. 12 years ago…

You can see why it makes for a very effective nightmare – it scores high points on that fear/panic scale.

And that’s the problem with the Leaving Cert, or at least it was in 2002. It was just a horrible fear-inspiring memory test, where you had to remember a load of irrelevant details, then write them down on a piece of paper. Even the subjects you think wouldn’t be a memory test, were still a memory test. English for example.

I remember wondering whether to take a gamble on the amount of poets I had ready for the exam. Not ready as in a bunch of poets waiting outside in a van, ready as in how many poets I could quickly recite an essay on. An essay I wrote several months earlier under no pressure whatsoever.

If the gamble payed off and the right dose of poets came up, you were completely sorted. If the gamble failed and the wrong dose of poets came up, you were completely screwed. It was like Las Vegas for Civil Servants.

The other problem with the Leaving Cert that’s definitely still the same in 2014, is it retains that bloated, crushing, overinflated sense of importance it did in 2002. They tell you it’s the most important thing in your life. How it will decide what you do for the rest of your days. Your whole existence seems suddenly defined by how large a quantity of irrelevant information you can store in your short-term memory…

So a horribly big memory test – that you believe your life depends on. That’s a fairly stressful combination.

And although still hugely stressful, the underlying motivations being peddled today have changed direction slightly since I did my leaving Cert. In 2002 we were half-way through a Tiger, pumping out quantity surveyors and occupational therapists like there was no tomorrow. But if you wanted a taste of Tiger-pie, you had to do a science subject. The teachers recited that to us like a mantra – as if they were on commission from science itself. You’d be at nothing without a science subject, those teachers said. A pointless operation, those teachers said…

Still I had no interest in science. But those teachers just wouldn’t stop warning us of all the awful fates that could befall a person who didn’t have a Leaving Cert science subject.

Feeling backed into a corner, I picked chemistry. My rationale was that physics involved a load of maths – the only thing I hated more than science. I didn’t have the stomach for brutalising dead mice, or whatever it is those perverts get up to in their shady biology rooms. And agricultural science was just a room full of farmers. Having no road-frontage in the family and being completely useless at hurling, I had no business in that room whatsoever.

So chemistry it was then – by process of elimination. Apart from not understanding the scientific jibberish in the books, I definitely knew it wasn’t my cup of tea every time we did an experiment. The rest of the class would get – what I felt to be – disproportionately excited, when the teacher horsed a little fleck of magnesium into a bowl of water – and it went alight. I honestly couldn’t care less, I’d rather be doing anything else.

Hurtling towards a solid fail, I dropped chemistry in sixth year, and took up geography instead. I really liked it, I could handle remembering a load of irrelevant details about fishing in Norway, or shipping in The Netherlands. Why didn’t I think of this a year previously, when choosing subjects for fifth year? Why didn’t I pick geography instead of chemistry first time around?

But no, we were told we definitely needed a science subject, especially now there was an invisible Tiger printing money outside.

We were told if we didn’t have that elusive science subject, our whole existence would be a sham. We’d be destined for lives as washed-up, weeping alcoholics, sleeping on our brother-in-law’s sofas, like the science-less wasters we were. But that never happened to me – I don’t have a brother-in-law.

Also, I knew I was going to art college way before I even made my first communion. There was never any doubt in my mind. And yet I still allowed myself to be talked into doing a science subject in fifth year – out of pure fear-mongering and gossip. Art colleges aren’t renowned breeding grounds for Nobel Prize-winning scientists. But then Einstein wasn’t much of a painter.

So finally arriving in that art college after the big memory test was all over was a massive, overwhelming jolt to the system. But in a good way, like a defibrillator when flatlining in the back of an ambulance.

Thankfully over the past 12 years I’ve mainly managed to avoid situations where I become convinced my life depends on remembering a load of irrelevant details, and then writing them down on a big piece of paper. But it still doesn’t stop those Leaving Cert nightmares…

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Escape to Mosney…

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The ha'Penny Hustlers

The Ha’Penny Hustlers

Feature I wrote originally published in The Sunday Independent after going ‘undercover’ homeless for a couple of nights on the streets of Dublin.

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The Semiotics of Spin


Hordes of grinning hopefuls hang on lampposts up and down the country, trying to convince us to part with our number one votes. These legal lamppost vandals employ all manner of visual tactics on their campaign posters, ever-smiling salesmen posing in Sunday bests.  But a marked difference exists between city politics and bog politics, when it comes to their semiotic strategies.

Semiotics is the study of signs, metaphor, and symbolism.  You hear a lot about semiology in art college. You also hear a lot about semiology if you watch The DaVinci Code, where Tom Hanks runs around Europe deciphering stressful puzzles.

Fortunately it doesn’t require an art college professor – or Tom Hanks – to decipher the blunt semiological tactics employed by our prospective politicians, which are about as subtle as a brick in the face.

In Dublin, this year’s trending emphasis on campaign posters appears to be on making those faces as big as physically possible, in an attempt to position youth firmly in the foreground. It’s the first time I’ve been surrounded by people younger than me leering down from those lampposts.  A whole fresh crop of first-timers, huge faces with no history – and therefore nothing much to hide.

These fresh faces loom large and centred – the clear focal point of the display – taking up the majority of space on their signs.   The backgrounds – and hence their histories – are not so important.  Overall there’s a bang of gawky openness that seems dangerously alien to the wider political process. It feels cautiously refreshing, like the first few days of a ceasefire.

Down the country however, that age demographic changes.   Down the country we’re far more suspicious of youth.  Down the country we prefer people to have proven themselves – possibly at the Ploughing Championships, or maybe even in Croke Park – before we consider giving them the top jobs in Tullamore or Brussels.   Down the country the only concession made for youth is you can get the tractor license at sixteen.

Other than that the old mantra reminds us that there’s no substitute for experience, whether on the hurling pitch or in the County Council.

But this coveted experience comes at a price. The price of this experience is a history, and a history can leave you open to awkward questions.  The best way to avoid these awkward questions is to distract people from asking them in the first place.  And the best way of distracting anyone in Ireland is fine weather.

So as a result, take a drive through the rural Midlands today, and instead of the front and centre fresh-faced hopefuls hanging on those city lampposts, rural lampposts are plastered with a plethora of shifty looking aul’ fellas superimposed against a backdrop of fine weather.

Some of these shifty looking aul’ fellas are even photographed from the side, with their shoulders sloped back to direct your gaze out past them, diverting your focus towards that lovely blue sky behind them. They are saying “look at me – but don’t look too closely. By the way, have you seen that blue sky I’ve got with me? It could be another fine summer ahead, if you play your cards right…”

These prospective politicians have copped that the only thing Irish people like more than fine weather, is speculating about the prospect of further fine weather.  Not only does it distract us, it puts us in a good mood.  People who are both distracted and in a good mood are far more prone to making bad decisions, with unfortunate long-term consequences.  Like posting on Facebook while driving a car.

But the thing these weather-peddling politicians have not copped, is that our love of all things meteorological is merely a product of our mortal fear of silence.  It a superficial mechanism we employ to avoid awkward silences in supermarket queues in small towns.

That dreaded social silence that melts our Irish spines and reduces us to nervous wrecks is the only reason we waffle about the weather to anybody within shouting distance.  It’s born merely as a tactic of avoidance – it’s not as if we all go home and study the long-range shipping forecast, or check what Mizen head will be like in the morning.

Therefore I feel more inclined towards trusting those large youthful faces – printed facing straight towards me with nothing much behind them, than trusting those shifty looking weather-peddlers – standing at an angle, employing their superficial meteorological mechanisms as a tactic of avoidance.

And shir isn’t there a grand stretch in the evenings these days now anyway…?

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