Having ‘The Irish’

I don’t like trad music. To me it all sounds the same. They say Hell is full of accordion players – I know exactly what they mean.

So therefore it was a strange move for me to go to a trad school for a week. In Donegal, right beside Mount Errigal – the complete middle of nowhere.

I was only ever in Donegal once before. It has that endless desolate landscape – the sort of place that could be a Taliban stronghold, if only it the winters weren’t so rough.

As we drove through this bleak mountainous landscape, I could imagine seeing Ross Kemp jumping out of a jeep with a camera crew, out looking for insurgents in the hills. This certainly wasn’t my Midlands-style landscape with it’s reassuring flatness. The Taliban wouldn’t last five minutes in Offaly – we’d see them coming from miles away, and we’d be out with the hurls.

So why a week in Taliban trad territory? I wanted to see if I could be indoctrinated. Not by the Taliban – lurking around the back of Mount Errigal in their shawls, but by the trad music itself. Total immersion – like the way the Nazi’s used to make their prisoners learn German.

Because I believe you can indoctrinate yourself into liking any kind of music, if you give it enough time. It’s happened to me before, by mistake…

I once shot a load of hip-hop videos for a group of rappers in London. I never liked hip-hop before that. I’d never been exposed to it. But then in the hundreds of hours I spent absorbing those beats while editing those videos, I fell in love with the music. Now it’s all guns, drugs and bitches for me.

So could I also fall in love with that incessant fiddling, those brain-piercing high notes on the squeezebox, and that bloody banjo too….?

My main concern was that a week wouldn’t be enough time do a proper indoctrination. You need a significant amount of time to be properly brainwashed – any cult leader worth his Cool-Aid will tell you that.

But I needn’t have worried. I soon realised a lack of trad was not going to be a problem in this particular hostel.

Because trad players don’t get tired. They play all day, in sessions until five in the morning, and then they’ll be up fiddling away again around the breakfast table – three hours later.

At any stage of the day or night they’d be fluting and fiddling in the hallways, playing banjos in the lobby – basically knocking out the trad anywhere there were chairs available. The hostel kitchen proved particularly popular for all this fiddling and fluting – there were plenty of chairs in there. Not even the cutlery was safe – a pair of spoons was swiped by a young fella with the look in his eye of a man who’s going to show you how it’s done – whether you like it or not.

The next morning I walked into the kitchen to witness a Chinese woman speaking fluent Irish to her local Donegal husband. While waiting for the toast to pop, I enquired – in English – how she became so proficient in Irish. A language that’s unfortunately become both obscure and irrelevant – not just to Chinese people – but to fair few of us too.

She told me she’d moved to Donegal five years previously, and decided to learn the local lingo. She said she felt it was important, particularly as she was living in a Gaeltacht area.
I felt ashamed – I learned that same Irish for fourteen long years, and I can barely string a sentence together. That, coupled with the far more pressing and relevant fact that I am actually Irish – and not Chinese – further depressed me with my comparative lack of language.

I also felt like an eejit in the local shop, without a clue how to ask for the simplest of things in my supposed native tongue. I could ask your permission to go to the toilet, or I could rattle off the ‘Our Father’ fairly quickly for you. You can thank the Presentation Brothers for those two endlessly practical skills. But that’s about the extent of my Irish-language abilities today.

But a lot of the trad players could speak the Irish. I was interested in the correlation between being able to play the trad and speak the Irish. They should probably be the two qualifications for the passport, or if a Noah’s Ark situation ever arises again and we have to pick the best few Irish people to send on the boat. Trad players and Gaeilgeoirs, they’ll get the lifeboats first when the ship starts to sink – not the likes of me, a tradless fucker frantically reciting the ‘Our Father’ in the toilet.

In conversation with a woman from southside Dublin, I enquired as to whether she could speak the Irish too. She announced that she ‘had’ the Irish – as if she was some sort of chosen one – like Jesus or Stalin or the manager of Chelsea – but that she didn’t like to ‘use’ her Irish. She declared this with a dismissive wave of the hand that really wound me up. I’d just heard a woman from fucking Guangdong speak fluent Irish, and this D4 ‘Oirish’ eejit couldn’t be arsed?

I came away from the week in Donegal with a few questions for my parents. Despite the ginger hair, the foul mouth, and the fact I’ve seen U2 play live in Croke Park four times, I mustn’t actually be Irish at all. The place was full of trad-mad Italians, Swiss, Germans….and a Gaeilgeoir from Guangdong…..but I just couldn’t get into it.

I even learned a trad tune on the mandolin – my thinking being that if I actually became an active participant rather than a mere witness, I might get into it more. But that didn’t work either…

So I guess I’ll have to stick to the guns, drugs and bitches of hip-hop – rather than the flutes and the fiddling of the trad-scallions…

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12 Candahar Street, BT7 3AQ

When I was a child I was advised against ever trusting small men. I was told they’ve got aggression issues – because of their diminutive statures. Angry little terriers…

This advice came flooding back to me as my diminutive ex-landlord Malachy, and his landlady wife Geraldine refused to give myself and my Italian housemate our security deposits back – despite our respective bedrooms being left in absolute pristine condition.

The Italian said if we were Eastern Europeans, our ex-landlady would’ve given us our deposits back, no questions asked. He said we weren’t sufficiently scary. I agreed we weren’t scary at all.

I should’ve seen the red-flags from the word go. They wouldn’t offer us a contract when we first moved in, in a cunning move to exempt themselves from general basic privacy laws. They held spare keys to all our bedrooms, and were partial to a good poke around whenever the fancy took them, without the lawful 24 hours notice.

We felt completely invaded. Under siege. They’d be letting themselves in and out of our ex-home every single day with their spare keys without any prior notice – an absolute illegal invasion of our privacy. Then there were the constant sporadic demands for extra cash, coupled with threats of eviction if we didn’t cough up.

So last week, myself and The Italian decided enough was enough. We weren’t going to be bullied by a pair of short-arses anymore. We had paid our rent on time every single month for seven months. It was a house full of professionals, there were no parties, no students – it was quiet – we were the perfect tenants. But that didn’t hold any water with our vertically challenged land-barons…

Things got a bit heated – strong words were exchanged. Our ex-landlords even threatened to call the cops, as they felt we were being overly aggressive when looking for our money back. Which we weren’t – we were being assertive – there’s a difference. We just couldn’t accept the fact that we were being blatantly robbed in broad daylight.

Once the Peelers were mentioned, The Italian called their bluff. He took out his phone, handed it to our little ex-landlord, and told him to go ahead and call the cops. At this point the little ex-landlord panicked, as he knew there were two sides to his sordid story that the cops might be interested in hearing. So no Peelers were called….

It was standing in that kitchen being screamed at by a diminutive figure that the childhood advice came flooding back to me. Malachy the landlord was properly small – maybe 5 foot 5 – I can’t say for sure, I’ve never measured him. Geraldine the landlady was even smaller – I doubt she would’ve even been 5 foot. She struck me as the type of person who’d have difficulty getting on certain rides in amusement parks, where they have those boards as you’re queuing up, to measure kids to see if they’re tall enough to get on the roller-coaster.

Think about it for a second.  Think about all the shifty little players of contemporary global politics – Putin, Berlusconi, Sarkozy – all power-hungry, megalomaniac short-arses.

Then in recent history we had Ceaușescu – yet another short-arse dictator – 5 foot 6. He gave the Romanians an awful hard time until they had a revolution and shot him, back in 1989.

They’d taken enough shit from the little man, so they brought him outside, put him up against a wall, and shot him. It’s a pity things can’t always be that simple.

They shot the wife too, those Romanians, but she deserved it. That may sound a bit harsh, but she was way worse than him – always in his ear, telling him to have this fella or that fella clipped – she was running the show there. Wearing the blood-soaked trousers.

When the soldiers shot the pair of them, they fired ten times more rounds at the wife than they did at Ceaușescu himself. When a similar situation inevitably arises with our ex-landlord and his wife, I think myself and The Italian will definitely fire more at her than at him, like those Romanian soldiers did, back in ’89. But we’ll see when the time comes. Up against that wall…

Then further back you’ve got little Joe Stalin – 5 foot 4 – that’s beyond short. That’s even smaller than Malachy. Apart from the 50 million Soviets he murdered, Stalin the short-arse had several of his portrait painters shot – for not making him look tall enough.

Hitler was 5 foot 8. Not exactly a strapping fella either, and look what he did to all those Jews? Jesus, on the other hand, was a fine cut of a man – if we are to believe all those holy paintings and statues of him.

I would’ve liked to have been at that particular committee meeting in the back-room of the Vatican, the night they decided the guy from the Middle East was to look like a six-foot Scandinavian model, with flowing blonde hair and a six pack. And while that decision gave the Nuns a bit of much-needed eye-candy for those long lonely nights in the convent, it also displayed a chronic lack of long-range thinking – to a not-so-distant future where people could travel about the place a bit. With Ryanair and all that…

Ryanair don’t go to the Middle East. But I did. I was in Bethlehem. And I didn’t see any Scandinavians, apart from the ones that had jetted in for a bit of holiday war-tourism. But the lads in the Vatican can’t have known about all that Israel-Palestine stuff, at the committee meeting in that Vatican back-room, the night they gave geography the same two fingers they gave science – and decided that Jesus was to be a Viking in all future publications.

The list of tyrannical short-arses continues. Mussolini – 5 foot 6, Kim-Jong Ill – 5 foot 3, and shortest of all, former Iranian despot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – 5 foot 2.

So I’ve moved into a new house, and I breathed a sigh of relief upon meeting my new land-baron. He’s of average height, which put me at ease straight away.

So the next time you’re in the market for a house share, consider your prospective landlords height. Unless of course you’re Eastern European.

But whatever you do, don’t go near 12 Candahar Street – or any property owned by Geraldine and Malachy – the thieving gypsy tyrants.

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Muttered Prayers & Thousand Yard Stares

I asked them if they were protesting. They told me they weren’t. They said they were just praying…

It was like a scene from Father Ted. Three of them stood outside the family planning clinic on Berkeley Road, clutching rosary beads and a sign. Down with this sort of thing. Careful now…

When I walked past them first I was convinced they were Bog Merchants. As a fully paid-up Bog Merchant myself, I feel quite confidant I can spot a fellow culchie when I see one. One of them even had a handkerchief positioned on his head – a little knot tied in each corner – like a Midlands man at the sea-side.

So I went to Café Kylemore to get fully into character. I’d been in the city a couple of days and the bright lights were beginning to blind, pushing the bog back into the unlit corners of my Spud Head soul. I needed to surround myself in a sea of GAA jerseys, and I also needed strong tea. Two tea bags, no messing around. And none of your fancy coffee…

So the first thing that threw me when I approached the praying posse was the accents. They weren’t Bog Merchants at all. They were old-school Dubs.

And while they were weighed down with rosary beads, they looked much more like a protesting mob than a prayer group to me. Armed to the teeth with thousand yard stares and self-righteousness, like they’d never farted sideways in their lives.

A few weeks previously I’d had a conversation with the pro-lifers outside the church in Birr. On that occasion I’d wanted to ask them one question in particular, the same one I wanted to ask today.

I’d witnessed a distressing scene where an aggressive mob screamed abuse at a crying girl as she emerged from a family planning clinic. It struck me as the pinnacle of hypocrisy – how can these so-called ‘Christians’ excuse screaming at vunerable girls in the street? Whatever happened to that fundamental cornerstone of Christianity – love thy neighbour as thyself? Or have the rules been re-written for the internet age? Is it now love thy neighbour as thyself, until thy neighbour gets pregnant, then shout prayers at her on the street?

None of it makes sense, it’s pick n’ mix Christianity. Where’s the compassion when it’s most required?

But at least the ones down the country would talk to me. They were articulate, and keen to impart their side of the story. They said they didn’t condone the loutish behaviour of the scene I’d described to them. They recognised it didn’t help anybody, and that such ignorant tactics only damaged their message.

But the ones I met today were different. They were more interested in muttering prayers with thousand-yard stares, like nuns at a country wake. They were either unsure of what their message actually was, or they’d no interest conversing with a dirty heathen like me.

When I described the scene with the crying girl and the screamed prayers to them, they said they weren’t there that day. But of course….nobody saw nothing, like a shooting in The Sopranos…

I asked them why they didn’t placard at suicide funerals. They didn’t know the answer, and went back to feeling beads.

I don’t like being ignored. And I felt I had been gentle and polite. But I was starting to feel the ginger rage climb up along my spine…

Then one of them told me I was disturbing their prayers. She said they’d a right to pray wherever they wanted. I agreed that they did have that right, but asked her why she needed a placard to pray.

She didn’t know the answer to that one either. And so the rosary resumed…

My patience with being ignored was wearing thin. It was getting really hot, and I didn’t have a handkerchief for my head. And those pricks in the Kylemore only gave me one tea-bag…

So in a last ditch attempt I tried a different approach. I asked them what their opinions were of women who had already had abortions. Were they eternally damned, doomed to the red-hot pokers and the slow broadband speed and whatever else goes on down in hell?

Suddenly the rosary stopped. I sensed a definite sense of smugness, as if they’d finally remembered an answer. They were delighted to inform me that there was in fact hope – they had a centre for helping these ‘fallen’ women. But between the three of them they couldn’t remember the name of the centre. It was at this point I gave up in frustration. Game set and match to the rosary beads…

The one thing I learned from the encounter was that ignorance is a very effective debating tactic. You can’t be wrong if you don’t answer the question. It struck me as quite ingenious – if all else fails go back to the thousand yard stares and muttered prayers.

I hadn’t even told them what side of the fence I was on. I’d been courteous and polite, and had some genuine questions. But they didn’t want to know. I sensed they had no answers. They were proper fundamentalists, as opposed to people with strong views. But above all else, they were just plain rude.

If I were a Christian – and not a dirty heathen – I would feel grossly misrepresented by this inarticulate sea of ignorance. They are the frontmen for the larger show. If I was Jesus I’d have my lawyer on speed-dial…

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Give Us Back Our Poles

In 2008 I lived in Cork. As I walked down North Main Street each morning, I found it hard to distinguish between the rounded vowels of Corkish and Polish, for the first few seconds of an overheard conversation. ‘The People’s Capital’ was home to a significant Polish community at the time.

Because four years previously in 2004, Ireland was one of only three EU countries to open the doors to the Poles. But between the Brits, the Swedes and Paddies, we became their favourite.

And lucky thing – because we needed them. A couple of decades of central heating and an economic boom had turned us soft. We didn’t want to do those winter night-shifts cleaning-out killing-rooms in meat factories anymore. As for flipping burgers – we were too busy flipping property. But we still needed sausages. And the Poles weren’t afraid to get cold.

Our new arrivals were tougher people than us all-round. And I think we were begrudgingly impressed. They reminded us of ourselves, before we got soft. Working hard, going to mass, drinking pints, sending money back home.

But since our glory days came crashing down around us – that year I lived in Cork – over half our Poles have disappeared. We’re now down to 63,000, from 122,000 at our peak. I’m rounding out the numbers here due to Ryan Air’s frantic scheduling, particularly when it comes to Poland. You can never be exactly sure who’s where anymore these days…

But it’s not just our Poles that are leaving us. We’ve reached a point where Ireland currently has the highest rate of net migration of the whole EU. We also have one of the lowest population densities in the EU, with an average of only 65 people per square kilometre. The UK has 255 people per square kilometre. To put that in context, Singapore has 7,100 people per square kilometre. And they make a lot of our clothes.

Then, as if the combination of highest migration and lowest population isn’t already enough to think about, a worrying correlation exists between low population density and inbreeding.

Because while we can scrub-up well, we wouldn’t exactly be renowned as a bunch of natural beauties. If you’ve ever stood in the queue for one of those Ryanair red-eye’s full of hung-over Paddies clutching cardboard coffees, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. So the aesthetic results of inbreeding are already a luxury we can’t afford.

But the news isn’t all bad. There are a couple of things to consider…

We have the youngest population in the whole EU. So our population is expected to grow for decades to come. Meanwhile, in almost every other EU country, it’s going drastically in the other direction. They’re all getting older and fewer, while we’re getting more and newer.

So as far as I can see, that means we’re going to be running the show in a few years time – when all the rest of them retire.

Yet despite Europe experiencing this rapidly dropping birth-rate and declining population density (let’s not forget that inbreeding), there’s also been a sharp rise of anti-immigration sentiment across the continent. That doesn’t seem to make sense. You’d think they’d be panicking about their dwindling numbers – not trying to stop more people coming….

But the strangest thing about this current Europe-wide anti-immigration rhetoric is the traditional ‘left-right’ agendas don’t seem to apply. It’s all a bit confusing.

In the UK, the Labour opposition leader is attacking the Conservative Prime Minister for his failure to stop foreigners coming.

‘Red’ Ed Miliband – a half step from a Marxist – has been slagging off the Tory Prime Minister for his failure to curb net migration. The only ones staying true to form are UKIP, who don’t agree with anything not made in England. Whipping up the moral panic about ‘benefit tourism’…

To confuse the issue further, the only one with a sane attitude to the appears to be Boris Johnson – himself a half step from Thatcher. He says the number of so-called ‘benefit tourists’ in the UK is probably quite small.

They’re particularly panicked on the immigration issue across the water recently, as it was revealed the most popular name for new-born babies in the UK is Mohammad. But I’m not even going to touch that one.

Because things are different here. For one thing, here we have the space. In fact, we urgently need to up our population density, before the aformentioned inbreeding occurs. And we can’t make the country any smaller….

So give us back our Poles. Maybe we should’ve told them we loved them while we still had the chance, instead of making them work for less wages than us. It was all a bit hypocritical, considering how much they reminded us of ourselves….

Back in the day, before we got soft…

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Roesy and The Belfies…

“I can’t have my photo taken with her. I can’t even be seen with her. We’re having an affair and her fella would kill me.”

I was out shooting people on the streets of Belfast. But in the contemporary sense of the word – armed was I only with camera. The idea was to ask people to stare straight into that camera for 60 seconds, while I filmed them.

The antidote to today’s instant ‘selfie’ method of taking portraits. ‘The Belfies‘, if you will…

When you’re talking about a minute, faces get tired. Smiles start to drop. But nobody scowled. It was all for the art. But sixty seconds seemed a bit excessive. Everyone involved was getting awkward.

Then the singer-songwriter Roesy contacted me. A fellow Birr Bog-Merchant, we’ve known each other years. Also a painter, we’ve done art shows together during Vintage Week in Birr. He consistently outsold me in our native town. Not that I’m bitter. I’ve moved on…

So after talking to my contemporary about a collaboration, I went out on the streets to get more “Belfies” for a music video for a track from his forthcoming album ‘Wolf Counsel’. This time around it was cold, and the Christmas market in the background at City Hall was ruining all my shots. Not that I’m bitter. I’ve moved on…

And just like the two nights I spent on the streets of Dublin sleeping rough a few months ago, I knew I had to bring some hardware. So like the last time, I bought twenty fags I’d no interest in smoking. Those essential ice-breakers that worked so well down on the cracked pavements of the capital.

Peddling ‘fegs’, as they call them up here. But I’m not pushing the benefits of respertory illness on anyone. Non-smokers – and children who haven’t decided yet – were obviously exempt. Ironically, a half-naked rugby team sung Christmas carols for a cancer charity behind me, as I filmed my ‘feg’ smokers in action.

As an unexpected result, the first cut of the music video looked like some form of pro-cigarette campaign. Not exactly what I was after. So I had to go out on the streets again.

Lurking around in the Christmas cold, camera and tripod at the ready. Waiting to find another victim to shoot. The obvious target was buskers. But Belfast is home to a breed of busking we don’t see quite as much of down south of the border.

Amped-up with the rest of the strummers and the drummers are a particularly persistent group of buskers. Out on those streets, armed to the teeth with leaflets and optimism. Busking the benefits of Jesus to anyone who’ll listen.

Usually I give them a good run-out – a pre-season practice match to exercise their miraculous patter on a potential convert. But this time I wasn’t biting. I wanted to avoid any sort of buskers – religious or otherwise – seen as this was a music video.

Until I saw an elderly American Evangelist I just couldn’t ignore.

This guy was something special. This guy was carrying a massive metal crucifix over his shoulder. With a little wheel on the end of its base, so it wouldn’t drag along the road as he lugged it around. Like those wheels you see on posh amputee dogs, when they’ve got no back legs.

He told me he’s been traveling across the world with this cross for the last 35 years. Spreading the good word. He had a leaflet, with pictures of himself – everywhere from the Soviet Union to El Salvador. Just him, and his cross. And his bank details. Mastercard or Visa, he was equal opportunities. Someone has to fund his global travel. And Jesus was never known for booking flights.

So after reading his leaflet, I asked him could I have a go on his cross. At first he wasn’t too keen, but my persistence convinced him. So he got out from underneath it, and placed it down on upon my shoulders. It was hollow and light-weight. For a crucifix….

I felt he was cheating a bit, between the dog-wheel and the light-weight frame. I told him I expected it to be heavier. He said it used to be heavier, but he had to change it, now he was over sixty. It reminded me of the bit in Only Fools and Horses, where Trigger gets an award from the council for using the same road sweeping-brush for twenty years. Then Trigger reveals that same brush has had eight new handles, and twelve new heads.

But Jesus or no Jesus, I was still short a few ‘Belfies’ for Roesy. So I went back out shooting people on the streets of Belfast. It was Black Friday, and people were getting arrested for boxing the heads off each other in supermarkets. The Peelers were all tooled-up with armed response units on the Ormeau Road. I never knew people took shopping so seriously.

The significance of Roesy’s song’s title only struck me while I was out there on those cold Belfast streets. His song is called ‘Learning to Crawl’, and maybe that’s what’s happening here now in this city. ‘The Belfies’ have been on their knees for forty years of chaos – the likes of which Roesy and I will never understand – coming from our cosy Vintage Week world of Midlands Ireland.

I keep wondering how the same project would’ve worked out in Dublin, where the Hipsters have no such sense of perspective to remove them from their own holes for a minute to the time for a quick laugh at themselves.

Because of all the people on the streets of Belfast I approached, only a few turned me down.

Not that I’m bitter. I’ve moved on. And to me, that’s what they’ve done here too, as far as my experiences shooting people on the street goes.

‘Learning To Crawl’ Roesy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGCGNyIklIY&feature=youtu.be

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It’s a Rat Trap – And You’ve Been Caught

When I was twelve a turkey introduced me to my favourite song. I played Bob Geldof and Dustin’s cover of ‘Rat Trap’ by the Boomtown Rats over and over again on my new CD player. Pure high-tech stuff. It was 1995.

It was a decade after Live Aid, but I’d never heard much of Bob Geldof. I wasn’t even born when the Boomtown Rats were big. I was in nappies for all that Band Aid stuff, and I was only aware of Live Aid because of my obsession with Queen. I was far more interested in Dustin – the North-Sider trash-talkin’ turkey from The Den on RTE, who’d have probably done fairly well for himself in Love/Hate if he was still in the game today. Geldof, on the other hand, looked like he wouldn’t last five minutes on Love/Hate.

So to my twelve year-old eyes, Bob Geldof was this curious creature with a weird facial hair arrangement, who seemed very angry. But more importantly, he was a man who played second fiddle to a turkey. That’s enough to anger any man, before you even begin to consider world hunger or dodgy facial hair.

But then I grew up and I learned what a legend Sir Bob Geldof is, and how he saved Ethiopa along with Midge Ure and Elton John and Phil Collins and Freddie Mercury and a whole load of other multi-millionaires who’d never even seen Athlone, never mind Africa. But either way, Live Aid in 1985 was the biggest television broadcast of all time – a stunning 1.9 billion people watched it at a time when there was only 4.8 billion of us in the world.

150 million was raised for the Ethiopian famine crisis, with donations from 150 countries. It remains the biggest and best example of the whole world clubbing together to help our fellow humans. It was a beautiful moment of pure global empathy – incredible. And it was all down to Bob Geldof, ranting and raving at us to “give us yer fucking money.”
Then 19 years after his famous rant on live TV, Bob did a second Do They Know It’s Christmas? single in 2004 – again for famine – and guilted us all into buying it. And now a decade later he’s at it again – third time around – trying to make us all feel guilty for not downloading yet another re-hash of that same single. And it’s not even for famine this time. This time it’s for Ebola. Well I’m not having it. Not this time Bob…

Because while you were spot on with the relevance of your campaigns in the past, lets look at the facts on your current project. Ebola is not the ‘end-of-days’ plague we were first lead to believe. So far, it has claimed the lives of 5,800 people. In stark contrast, 191,000 Syrians have been slaughtered in the past three years. That’s 32 times as many people that have died from Ebola. So Sir Bob has sat back and watched the most brutal civil war witnessed in modern times unfold, without feeling the need to pick up the phone and call One Direction to try and sort it all out.

And if we’re talking about releasing singles for relevant charitable causes, what about the First World’s plague of the modern age? 365,000 Americans die of obesity-related diseases every year. That’s 63 times Ebola. There are currently 2.1 billion obese people in a world of 7.2 billion. 66% of Irish men are obese. That’s an epidemic Bob – we are on the verge of wiping ourselves out, total annihilation, self-destruction by frying pans and pints. But Bob’s not bothered with that one either.

And then what about us here in Ireland? In ‘Rat Trap’, Bob sang about the social depravation of Dublin at the time, and how they were screaming and crying in the high-rise blocks. They’re still screaming and crying in those high-rise blocks. There’s mothers sleeping in their cars with their kids cause they couldn’t pay their rent. Where’s the charity single there Bob? Or are you too busy having lunch over the phone with Phil Collins, while reading your name on The Sunday Times Rich List? Get real Geldof, or get off the pulpet. Your harassing of the Scottish people on which way to vote in their independence referendum was yet another example of your increasingly bizarre antics. But then maybe that was in the small print of your OBE…

I havent seen the new version of Bob’s new charity single. The only thing I’ve heard about it is they’ve changed Bono’s iconic line “and tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you.” That was the best bit. Hair-raising. But maybe it was a bit too close to the bone for our Bob – on that Sunday Times Rich List – while all those people are still screaming and crying in the high-rise blocks he was singing about, all those decades ago.

Your work here is done Sir Geldof. You’re already a legend. So take up golf, go for a swim, or write some more songs. Because if you continue with all this wild unfocused ranting and raving, you’re in grave danger of becoming a mouthy parody. Just like your mate Dustin the turkey.

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Eunuchs in a Harem

Brendan Behan

For a tiny island on the edge of Europe, throughout history we’ve always punched above our weight in the arts.  Whether it’s painting, poetry, music or literature, the volume of Irish heavyweights has been consistently impressive.  But now all that central heating and cups of tea have suffocated our imaginations, and we’ve become complacent.

Gone soft around the middle, we’re no longer the warrior poets outside in the rain.  We’re the drunken poets inside by the fire, talking about all the great art we’ll someday make.  With our collective imagination dampened we’re now resigned to looking for decent sequels instead of creating true originals.  How many times have you heard the phrase ‘the next U2’ applied to an up-and-coming Irish act?  The same can be applied across the arts in this country.

Recently I was at an ‘up-and-coming’ Irish film festival.   The international shorts were spectacular.  600 films were submitted from 52 different countries, and we were treated to a selection of about 20 of the best.  Raising the bar one after the next, each film squeezed different juice from the packed audience of twisted melons.

Each film left you pondering for a period far exceeding their actual playing time.  Jarringly intense, they lingered with you and invaded your thoughts for days to come –  like any great work of art should.  Each film left me questioning my own capabilities as a filmmaker, compared to the masterpieces unfolding in front of me.

The Irish short films however, failed to provoke any such reaction.  Not from me anyway, I was bored.

A morbid sentimentality took grip upon the venue as each filmmaker tried to be Lenny Abrahamson.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of Lenny Abrahamson. A post-Tiger poet, his minimalist method honed to perfection, every beat expertly measured.

But it took Lenny Abrahamson years to be Lenny Abrahamson, the same way it took U2 years to be U2.  Neither was borne from a desire to be ‘the next’ anything.  So you can’t just start out as a filmmaker by copying Lenny Abrahamson.  When Lenny Abrahamson does Lenny Abrahamson, it’s spellbinding.  When anyone else tries to do Lenny Abrahamson, it doesn’t quite work out the same way.

But that’s what happened.  One film after the other – a series of wordless wonders featuring well-known actors not saying much – played out before us.  Bereft of dialogue the collection of shorts became an altogether sombre affair.  It was as if the stars of each film were being paid by the line – and the budgets were extremely tight.

Except judging by the logos in the credits, the budgets weren’t tight at all.  Most of the shorts in question had serious funding secured from various bodies, and featured extensive cast and crews. I’m always suspicious when I see two hundred names in the credits of a five-minute film.  How can those international fellas make fantastic films with a budget of five euros and only two crew-members?  They seem to have a hunger we’ve lost.  Perhaps they don’t have central heating.

I asked the festival director had the short film programmers purposely curated a sombre selection, when it came to the Irish films.  He told me they were genuinely the best of the Irish submissions.  So it was nothing to do with the programming.  It was the same team that curated the mind-blowing international section, as selected the Irish section.

It’s easy to be critical for the sake of it.  It’s also easy to fall into the cynical trap of automatically thinking anything from abroad must be better than anything homemade.  But as an Irish filmmaker I don’t subscribe to either ideology.   I left the Irish films feeling deflated, disappointed that such a critical gap had opened between the international and the homespun.  But I was even more disappointed that they all appeared to be following a singular trend  – trying to be decent sequels instead of true originals. A dangerous trend that has contaminated all areas of contemporary Irish culture, leaving everybody on the hunt for ‘the next…’, instead of trying to find ‘the first’….

Maybe it’s just me.  Perhaps my tastes are averse to this contemporary trend for silence.  But I can’t for the life of me work out why this fashion for non-verbal filmmaking has emerged in a country so famed for it’s gift of the gab? Our sharp wit, turn of phrase and general fear of silence has contributed greatly to our status as the cultural heavyweights of Europe.  It seems almost an act of self-sabotage to ignore it.

But that’s just my opinion.  And as I’ve found out through the process of making my own films, unfortunately everybody’s got one.  But then as Brendan Behan said –  “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem.  They know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done everyday – but they cant do it themselves.”

Harsh words indeed.  But they were uttered back in the days before we lost our edge, and became resigned to a life of searching for sequels.

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