The Dark Days Are Over


As the centenary looms and we prepare for our year of misplaced patriotism, there’s a different kind of rising on the horizon. Because as the bankers stand in court and the ghost estates stand empty, the people the Tiger didn’t bite are about to have their day in the sun.

We are a country internationally renowned for punching above our weight in the arts. Yet for most of us in the creative game, that Tiger passed us by. We watched from the dole queues as the fat men in Mercs drove past with wallets full of fifties.

In the world of writing, filmmaking, and particularly painting, the rule is show, don’t tell. The Samuel Beckett Bridge in Dublin shows everything we got grossly wrong in that mad period of false opulence.

Beckett would be spinning in his grave at the sight of Calatrava’s neo-futuristic bridge spanning the Liffey, named in his honour.  If Beckett were to build a bridge, it’d be a single plank of wood – that stopped half-way out across the river. But we were too drunk on debit to listen to that artist, or any artist that wasn’t making us money.

We’d finally shaken off the shackles of oppression.  Goaded by our chronic victim complex, we were busy building our own version of Dubai. We desecrating Dublin with glass and steel that’ll haunt the horizon for a century.

The Tiger’s scars are visible all over Galway too, where every available building was clad with that greenish copper look, that even now – less than a decade later – looks horrifically dated.

But then the fat lady sang, and it all came crashing down around us. The fat men in Mercs booked flights and filed for bankruptcy. Behind them lay ghost estates and ruined lives. As the skinny man said, there’s no strategy to combat negative equity.

I don’t understand the finer points of economics – booms, busts and subsequent recoveries. You need David McWilliams for that sort of thing. What I do understand though, is that I’m in a very privileged position to have nothing. Because it’s a far better place to be than owing vast quantities of cash that never even existed in the first place.

But show; don’t tell. At the height of the Celtic chaos I worked in a newsagents. The main problem we faced towards the end of each day was the cash register wouldn’t close because of the massive stack of fifties stored under the coin part. Everybody payed for everything with fifties. Scratch-cards, fags and mags, it was brown notes all the way.

That newsagents is now an empty shell of a building, another victim in the cycle of boom and bust. Suckers for a good dose of oppression, but this time around we didn’t even need the Brits – we did it to ourselves.

Speaking of Brits, during the Second World War, Winston Churchill was approached by one of his cabinet ministers with an idea. The minister suggested to Churchill that they slash the arts budget, and put all the money into the ongoing war effort. Churchill refused outright, and told his minister that if there was no art, what were they fighting for in the first place?

So now we find ourselves in this strange post-apocalyptic place where those of us with nothing are in pole position. We’re not being followed around by houses we bought for double their value, and we’re not being sought for extradition to answer for our crooked accounting and blatant lies.  I think Beckett would appreciate that irony…

So let The Rising commence; the dark days are over. But we don’t need to thump our chests and sing rebel songs for this rising.

What’s the moral of the story? How does the film end?

When the going gets tough the fat men in Mercs will fuck off and leave you high and dry, laughing at you from their gated mansions in the States. The glass and steel will eventually erode, along with that neo-futuristic bridge.

But Sam Beckett will be with you forever.

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Are You A Sociopath?

Tony Soprano

Every weekend the Irish country set get all tarted-up in blazers and bow-ties to go hunting foxes on horses. After their killing spree, they celebrate their murderous escapades with brandies and port down the local.

The majority of us don’t bat an eyelid to this weekly slaughter of innocent mammals – ripped to shreds by packs of hungry hounds. Why? Because dead foxes aren’t celebrities. And they don’t have names.

Especially fancy names like Cecil…

Cecil the Lion is still making headlines, weeks after a dentist from Pennsylvania did a Tony Soprano on him in the wilds of Zimbabwe. Presumably, the dentist in question wasn’t decked out like a meringue in a saddle at the time. The heat would’ve killed him, and possibly warned off the lion.

As Tony Soprano’s therapist would tell you, one of the defining marks of a sociopath is an affinity towards small children and animals – but scant regard for the rest of human life.

I find this all a bit troubling. Allow me to explain…

The global outpouring of grief over the death of one celebrity lion has been massive. Yet we don’t devote anything resembling the same level of sadness over the thousands of humans being murdered, raped, tortured and trafficked every single day.

So does this suggest we are a world full of sociopaths, crying into our cornflakes over one dead animal, while our fellow humans unfortunate enough to be born in the wrong time-zone suffer unfathomable fates?

Here in the ‘Free World’, American drone strikes massacre women and children on a daily basis, in the hope they might take out a suspected militant or two in the blood-soaked carnage.

Limbs ripped to shreds, children’s heads melted to mush – all watched on a computer screen by some military operator on the other side of the globe. Pushing a button in the Pentagon – as if playing the latest computer game.

Do we give that a second thought? Do we cry for those mutilated women and children like we cry for Cecil the Lion?  Do we fuck!

And while you’re up there on your pulpit, try to explain the plight of one celebrity lion to the families of the 210,000 dead Syrians wiped out in the most brutal civil war in recent history. Or the families of the 30,000 Libyans slaughtered since Gaddafi’s dead head was kicked about like a football on live TV – while we all cheered and drank our brandies and ports.

We don’t even have to look to the Middle East for our daily dose of blood and guts.

Three people are shot dead every hour in the States. Even closer to home, innocent people are caught in the cross-fire in the murky world of gangland slayings. The most those victims ever get is a day or two in the papers. Then we move onto something more relevant to our cosy ‘First World’ Irish lives – like water charges and gay marriages.

So how do the Zimbabwean’s themselves feel about this global outpouring of self-righteous moral panic?

Baffled! Eunice Vhunise, from the Zimbabwean capital Harare, has been quoted as saying there are much more pressing issues in the country than a single dead lion. Life-threatening issues, such as drastic water shortages, no electricity, no jobs – and to top it all, a geriatric despot as president. One dead lion is the very least of their worries…

Yet the hackneyed old argument exists that lions are an endangered species, and therefore worth our tears.

Tell that to the migrants in Calais, risking life and limb to try and make it across the Channel Tunnel. And while you’re up there on your PETA pulpit giving your sermon, explain your feline-grief to the Syrians, the Libyans, the Iraqis and the Afghans.

I doubt you’ll get much sympathy for Cecil…

However, here in the ‘First World’ where we take all our basic needs for granted, over 100,000 Americans have signed a public petition to have the lion-killing dentist extradited to Zimbabwe to face charges.

The hypocrisy is laughable. In the space of five years, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has recorded over 1,200 cases of human rights violations by the law enforcement agencies, including 363 cases of torture, 516 cases of assault, 58 cases of death threats, 399 cases of unlawful arrest, and 451 cases of unlawful detention. And that’s against their own people.

One can only imagine the fate of a lion-killing dentist from the States…

Yet 100,000 people from a country that routinely renditions (a fancy word for kidnapping) suspected militants, holds them for years without trial, and subjects them to well documented torture, want to send one of their own to a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world.

One thing is for sure – he wouldn’t be seeing much brandy and port over there.

So maybe those fancy eejits ripping foxes limbs to shreds are the sensible ones, while the rest of us sociopaths ignore human rape and murder, while we cry into our cornflakes over Cecil the fucking Lion…

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The Silly Season Has Started

A toddler screamed in her father’s arms, as the pounding drums of The Orange Order marked the start of  ‘The Silly Season’.   On Thursday evening they marched down the Lisburn Road, flanked by armed police, followed by PSNI Landrovers, and monitored from the sky by helicopters.   I used to think the Vintage Parade in Birr was fairly hectic, but all we need down there is a few bollards and a couple of stewards to keep it kosher.

And being a naive Freestater from that cosy Vintage-Week world of Midlands Ireland, when I moved up to Belfast a year ago, I made a definite point of not talking politics.  With anyone.  For starters, they don’t want to hear it – especially from some clueless Southerner.  It’d be patronising to pontificate on a situation I’d only ever seen on the Nine O’Clock News as a child.

But this self-preserving vow of silence becomes difficult to maintain once ‘The Silly Season’ comes around again and the whole city goes on lock-down.

Like most naive Southerners, I was under the impression the Orange Order marches only took place around the twelfth of July.  However, upon my arrival in Belfast last summer, I discovered they go on right up into September and, occasionally even beyond.  Every single weekend, in multiple locations across the city.

Some are genuine ‘Expressions of Culture’, and just involve a load of aul’ fellas in suits and sashes marching up a road banging drums and singing songs.  Others however, carry a far more threatening air, when it’s made very obvious their connection to paramilitary groups, with big letters painted across their drums, and their packs of drunk marauding supporters.

So all this week big mounds of timber pallets were being built a hundred-foot high, in multiple locations across the city – both in the city centre, and in Loyalist estates.  Perched on top of these massive mounds of pallets are tricolours and posters of Sinn Fein politicians, ready to be set ablaze on the night before the 12th. 

This highly charged atmosphere feels especially threatening when you’ve a southern accent. This is clearly much more than an ‘Expression of Culture’, as the Orange Order continually attempt to justify it as.  It’s a show of force.  And the vast majority of people – Catholic and Protestant, want absolutely nothing to do with it.  A sizable proportion of the locals leave the city for at least a week, and head for Donegal or Galway.  Shutters go down across the city as businesses close – some for the whole month of July.

As those marchers paraded past me on Thursday thumping their drums, what struck me was the age demographic.  While some of the marchers were staggering frailly towards their pensions, the majority were much younger than me.

Teenagers born post-Good Friday Agreement, decked out in sashes, aggressively thumping drums.  Totally unqualified for their hardline opinions – innocent young heads filled with romantic notions of a fight. Unfortunately, those same innocent young heads appear to have no room left in them to comprehend the brutal realities of that misplaced romanticism – those brutal realities us sheltered Southerners saw on the Nine O’Clock news for decades.

When I first arrived in Belfast a year ago, none of it made sense to me.  All this flag-business, this almost-sexual obsession with a piece of coloured cloth.  But Belfast has this way of making you acutely aware of who you are.  It’s a city obsessed with identity, and it’s frighteningly contagious.

Maybe it’s just this city confronts you with scenarios alien to the cosy Vintage Week world of Midlands Ireland.   Or anywhere else for that matter.

Your polished veneer of aloof detachment becomes quite difficult to preserve while watching a flag burn on-top of a pile of pallets.  In this city it’s impossible to be oblivious, so the key is not to get knocked over by that initial wobbling dart of identity.  It’s like meditation – allow the thoughts to enter your mind, but make sure the thoughs leave again fairly quickly  – preferably before you join a paramilitary organisation.  It’s important to keep yourself balanced.  Centred.

Grounded.  And over the course of my year here so far, Belfast has become my favourite place I’ve lived – and I’ve lived in so many cities I can’t remember them all.  It feels like home, more so than anywhere else I’ve been.  Belfast has a vibrancy that’s missing in Dublin, a definite friendliness, and an urgent sense of mischief.

But what I like about it most is it doesn’t take itself too seriously. You won’t find too many perfectly-bearded eejits with retro headphones and Yugoslavian bicycles from the 80’s poncing about eating paninis up here!

It’s a city on the rise, a city in recovery.  But in order for this rapid rise to continue, and Belfast to become a true European city, the annual summer push for polarisation needs to be resisted at all costs.

And that means getting rid of ‘Displays of Culture’, such as burning flags (of any colour) on top of stacks of pallets.

Nicky Larkin, July 2015

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Which Do You Prefer – Weddings or Funerals?

The wedding season approaches again, and my friends are busy getting married again.  Different friends than the ones who got married last summer; that’d be just weird.  Old friends, decades old.  School friends.  I’m really looking forward to seeing everybody again, it’s been six months – longer in some cases.

Weddings are usually seasonal.  People hold off for the weather I presume; I’ve never been involved in one myself.  Obituaries, on the other hand, are big business all year around.  I’ve had my fair share of them.  Hail, rain or snow…there’s never a bad time for a funeral.  And we fucking love them.

But try explaining this strange, unspoken preference for darkness to light to a non-Spud-Head friend.  You sound cruel.  Psychopathic even.  Sociopathic, at best.  But after five years living in Ireland, an Italian friend of mine said he still couldn’t understand our national obsession with obituaries.

It was beginning to bother him. At lunchtime in work, he’d watch his colleagues flick straight to the back pages – for a quick scan through the deaths. My Italian friend wondered why they were so eager to see who’d croaked it?  It made him paranoid.

But then my Italian confessed he’d never been to an Irish funeral. Immediately I understood his confusion.

An Irish funeral is like a U2 gig.  It’s a unique experience you can’t fully comprehend, until you’ve actually been to one. The sandwiches, the hip-flasks, the mumbling, the keening, the shitty weather, the tears, the bus back to Offaly…

Plus, like a U2 gig, funerals have advantages over weddings.

You don’t have to be invited. You don’t have to bring a present either.

However, our Paddy-preference for despair runs much deeper than superficialities such as free drink and endless wailing.  Funerals provide us with a sincere sense of ‘one-up-man-ship’ that’s simply unavailable at weddings.  Because there’s nothing we Bog-Merchants love more than seeing somebody ‘with ideas above their station’ getting a good land for themselves…

Whether it’s a sparkling new Beamer get a fresh scratch down the side, or some pony fancy-shirt wearing millionaire getting crucified for tax-evasion, there’s absolutely nothing we relish more than witnessing someone getting ‘taken down a peg or two.’  Or three, if possible.

And the more publicly, the better.  Obviously.  Similarly, we grin through gritted teeth at lottery winners, and we do our utmost to embarrass the groom on his wedding-day.

I don’t know whether this Irish love of begrudgery is unique to us, or whether there are other peoples who revel in this same darkness, people who also shunning the light in search of that special sort of divilment craic?  There must be.  Unfortunately, our neighbours to our immediate east have their ‘stiff-upper-lips’ wank – so you can’t really tell what they’re thinking.  Plotting our downfall, no doubt.  They’ve been too quiet for too long….

Our neighbours to the west definitely don’t share our cruel preference for pessimism.

When a Yank sees success, he gets all ambitious and speculates that someday he’ll be that guy.  We have a more pragmatic, realistic approach.  It’s really quite different. When an Irish person see similar success, we speculate that someday we’ll get that fucker.

And by going to his funeral, getting tanked on his liquor, insulting his relations, and scoffing all his corn-beef sandwiches, you kind of are getting the upper hand on that fucker.

Plus there’s no greater physical expression of ‘one-up-man-ship’ than standing over a coffin, leaning down at a corpse all caked in makeup, draped in rosary-beads, and decked out in his best suit.  As if he’s off to mass.  Which I suppose he technically is.

This more realistic/pessimistic style of ambition appears inbuilt into our national psyche, no matter how many cycles of boom and bust we endure. There was perhaps a brief moment of attempted change, when we were up to our guts in cash and cocaine around 2004.

We began buying self-help books on success – obviously all written by those optimistic fucking Yanks. We also started doing yoga around that same time too.
But then the model died, it all started to fall apart, and we quickly reverted to our old begrudging, gurning ways.  Stick to what you know, and all that….

Now we’re busy cutting deals with higher powers to ensure our existence.  Sitting in Rooms, listening for answers.

As for this wedding; I’m looking forward to it.   I’ve had my fill of funerals.  I don’t like surprises.  At least you get decent notice of a wedding.  And I’ve got the tickets…

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Smoking at My Granny’s Funeral

I first smoked at my granny’s funeral. I don’t think she would have approved.

Not that she was a Holy-Joe; my granny. Not at all. The woman liked the odd 60 fags-a-day herself. She used to pass around fags to her kids after dinner on Sundays back in the day. The weekly treat – but only if they’d had been good at mass.

I’m talking proper kids. Not teenagers. A load of children sitting ’round the kitchen table, smoking fags on Sunday afternoons. And then my granny had the nerve to get scaldy – ’cause her grandsons were smoking out in the garage. At her funeral. A bit hypocritical, if you ask me, considering her fag-peddling antics to children, fifty years previously!

Except I don’t think my granny was overly concerned about her grandson’s smoking out in the garage at her funeral. For a start she was dead, plus she was pragmatic. Laid out in the sitting room she was, under a big stitched picture of Jesus getting thick with some fellas at a temple.

It could’ve been Jesus, or maybe Moses. I never enquired, it was none of my business either way – Jesus or Moses. Both grand fellas by all accounts, either of them deserved to be stitched on a rug hanging on walls in ‘aul wan’s houses.

I’ve no problems there. But whoever it was – Jesus or Moses – he had a fierce scorpy temper on him. Judging by that big stitched picture hanging over my dead granny.

A load of beardy lads in red and beige dresses, getting thick with each other outside a fancy building. Losing the heads altogether they were. All stitched onto that big rug. Hanging on the wall of my dead granny’s house.

She wasn’t the last – my granny – there was one more straggler a year or two after, one more funeral, and then that was it. That whole generation of us dead.

No grandparents left. It’s a strange feeling. I can only imagine the day your last parent dies, and its just you, that whole generation of you is now also gone – and your generation are suddenly the oldest ones left.

But the problem with funerals I find, is there’s no ticketing system – no invites. It’s a fucking free for all, especially in country towns.

Also, it’s a well established fact that there’ll definitely be endless hard-liquor and ham-sandwiches available at all times throughout the wake at a country funeral. It’s like Turkish Airlines – free liquor all the way, but a woeful safety record so you can never be sure exactly what way things will turn out.

But the thing about Turkish airlines is their main clientèle are usually Muslim, so they don’t end up getting shafted by a bunch of booze-hungry Spud-Heads.

No such luck at my granny’s wake, we didn’t know any Muslims. Just half the town in your granny’s front room, all shaking hands with you and saying how sorry they are for your troubles – as if they’d something to do with the death themselves – the big guilty half-jarred heads on them.

Even the nuns looked guilty. Frantically doing their holy mumbles. Muttering away, feeling beads. My granny wouldn’t have been into that craic at all. She wasn’t mental.

But she had no say in the matter. Once again, ticketing issues and a lack of invites can’t be ignored as a significant problem here. I feel this needs to be addressed at committee level, the next time rural funeral logistics are on the agenda.

Because once those pious-fucking nuns get the whiff of a funeral, the mumbling hordes come banging down doors, out on the hunt for misery and sandwiches.

They never said anything of significance at funerals, those nuns. Just muttered prayers and thousand yard stares. They wouldn’t even have enough craic in them to have a cup of tea.

Anyway, you wouldn’t be able to say the rosary properly if you were holding tea, you’d be fucked. Spilling it all over your frock with all that frantic blessing yourself like a Holy epileptic.

Eventually the muttering nuns get to a point where you’re all supposed to join in with the muttering. Everybody somehow knows the lyrics; it’s like a fucking Garth Brooks song.

You don’t really have a choice in the matter, you just somehow know those fucking lyrics, they’re implanted somewhere in the darker corners of your brain, waiting to jump out when needed. Bored (or beaten) into you by those Presentation Brothers, ready to recite at funerals.  And on New Years’s Eve in Donegal.

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Proper Gossip Syndrome

While indulging my wikipedia addiction, I came across an interesting syndrome. ‘Mean World Syndrome’ is a phenomena where violence on TV makes viewers believe the world is more dangerous than it actually is. But in the past few weeks we don’t need CSI to convince us it’s a mean world out there.

We’ve had a pilot fly a plane full of children into a mountain. We’ve had a college student acquitted of murder in Perugia. But scariest of all, we’ve had a harmless-looking architect found guilty of one of the grimmest crimes in recent Irish history.

Yet bad news is nothing new to us. Some would say we thrive on it. So why does our recent ration of despair seem darker than our usual dose?

We don’t bat an eyelid when a building blows up in Somalia, and we don’t seem overly worried about the slaughter in Syria. All those kidnapped children in Nigeria didn’t cause us much panic. But give us a south-side architect with a polo-neck and a blood-lust, and we’ll give him more column inches than 9-11.

The obvious answer is it’s a question of proximity, that we only care about things that happen in our own part of the world.  As scary as they are, Isis will never arrive in Athlone. But I don’t think geographical closeness to a crime has much to do with our reactions. We don’t seem too concerned about gangland hits in Drumcondra. So it must be another factor…

I think it’s more about the potential for gossip. So like Mean World Syndrome, there is an infinitely more Irish syndrome currently doing the rounds. It’s giving us The Fear, convincing us it’s a very mean world indeed. But this particular affliction has nothing to do with watching endless streams of CSI…

I’m going to call it Proper Gossip Syndrome.

Proper Gossip Syndrome is why we don’t worry about gangland hits in Drumcondra, despite their geographical proximity. Yes gangland murder makes for good reading, but like Isis and Love/Hate it’s not relevant to our own lives, unless we’re unlucky enough to get caught in the crossfire. And therefore while it grabs our attention – and dare I say entertains us – for a few minutes, it’s not something we fear will ever happen to us.

Because to properly gossip about something – the key component in acquiring The Fear – we have to have a little bit of understanding of the event we’re gossiping about.  We have to be able to relate, in some small way.  This is why the doomed flight, the student in Perugia, and the pudgy polo-necked architect provide us with Proper Gossip material, while gangland hits and fundamental Islamists don’t cause us much lasting concern.

Luckily that particular pilot’s name was Andreas and not Adhmed, so nobody has mentioned the dreaded word jihad in connection to his kamikaze antics. Because here in Ireland as soon as jihad is mentioned, we lose all potential for Proper Gossip. We don’t understand jihad, we can’t relate, it’s beyond our Spud-Head reach. But we all know people who ‘suffer with the nerves’. Maybe we suffer with the nerves ourselves.

Also, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that any of us could end up on a doomed flight someday. So we have all the angles covered on that particular dose of misery. Therefore it makes for some Proper Gossip, even though it didn’t happen in our jurisdiction.

Likewise, the Amanda Knox trial and subsequent acquittal on appeal captured our imaginations because we all know college students who’ve gone abroad. Perhaps we are college students who’ve gone abroad ourselves, or our kids are college students abroad. Knox’s own father didn’t want her going to Italy as he felt she was too naïve!

As for the pudgy little architect in his polo-neck? In terms of Proper Gossip, we’ll be a long time waiting to top that one. We’ve come to expect pre-meditated murder from our drug-lords and jihadists, but not from well-heeled architects in Foxrock.  And to see those smiling pictures of him posing with his model airplanes you’d think he wasn’t capable of a cross word… 

But the poster boy for the Celtic Tiger has pissed on our paninis, and now we don’t know who we can trust.  

The solution to Proper Gossip Syndrome?  Turn off the news, close the papers, and immerse yourself in an endless stream of CSI, in an attempt to contract a dose of Mean World Syndrome.  One of the main symptoms of Mean World Syndrome is sufferers take unnecessary precautions because of the illogical fears they’ve built up, due to all the gruesome fiction they’ve been watching.

And if you never leave the house, you’ve much less chance of being involved in a plane crash or meeting a blood-thirsty architect in a polo-neck…

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My Lost Generation of Gaeilgeoirs

According to the internet, Irish is my first official language. It’s also an official language of the EU. Yet apart from asking permission to go to the toilet and rattling off the Our Father, I can’t speak a word of it.

Recently I’ve noticed how cool Irish has become, and I’m jealous. It wasn’t cool in the 90’s when I was saying prayers in the toilet. Back then it was the preserve of medicated nuns, and that one reclusive family in every Midlands town. You know the type – always giving out about Protestants, no TV in the house, and a wonk-eyed father who insisted on his court cases being conducted ‘as Gaeilge.’

Naturally I wanted no part of it. The only remaining option for budding Gaeilgeoirs was to be exiled to Irish college for three weeks every summer. I wanted no part of that either. Even as a child I could see that was a strange arrangement – despite all the barely teenaged heroes returning to Offaly with tales of disco shifts.

But as a result, I can’t speak my native language. And unfortunately I’m not alone. Not many of my lost generation of Gaeilgeoirs can speak Irish with anything approaching fluency. Not that we’d ever admit it – particularly now with that centenary looming large on the horizon.

Our misplaced patriotism seems all the more hypocritical since that Enda Kenny/Mick Wallace showdown was seen all over the globe.  Because of that disaster we haven’t a leg left to stand on when ticking boxes on census forms. Confusingly, they look a lot more like Mick Wallace out in the wilds of Connemara than they do Enda Kenny.

Yet even more mortifying than that showdown, we are the only nation in the whole EU where citizens get paid to speak their first official language. You can get 260 of those EU euros a year if your kids can demonstrate fluency.

How do I know that? Again, I asked the internet. That’s what my lost generation of Gaeilgeoirs does. While I was asking said web, an ad popped up advertising Irish lessons. In the sales pitch they told me the Irish language is not dead. The ad said it’s alive in everyday usage – we just don’t realise.

Two examples the ad gave me were the words ‘craic’ and ‘smithereens.’

Fair enough. However in reality – as opposed to on the internet – only 3% of us use Irish as our main household language. That’s not great considering it’s ‘official EU language’ status.

And then to make things more tangled, we have all these different flavours of Irish. They don’t speak the same Irish in Donegal as they do on Inis Oirr. And the Irish on Inis Oirr doesn’t bare much resemblance to that list of Modh Coinniollach the deranged nun scared into us, back when we were 13.

Another thing that happened when I was 13 was the launch of TG4 – or as we called it – Tina Jee. Back then Tina Jee could only claim a 1.5% stake of the national television market. Not great either, for an official EU language we all claim to understand.

But since the sexy name change, TG4 has managed to double that figure to 3% of our TV market. Those reclusive families clearly got televisions on the sly while their father was ‘away’ for his stretch. Plus the Protestants have started learning Irish too.

But despite these miserable figures all is not lost.  The Irish language has re-emerged with it’s own urban patois, complete with brand new words for hip-hop and blogging. And nobody had to be exiled to the Gaeltacht for that to happen, despite the chances of disco-shifts.

I really like the fact that Irish has been snatched back from the hairy-knuckled clutches of frothing nuns and twisted dissidents. That was a seriously wrong turn in the history of our native tongue. All it did was render a whole generation apathetic towards a language we should be fluent in.

One thing niggles on my mind though. Am I less Irish, because I can’t speak Irish? I can’t do Irish dancing either, but that doesn’t bother me. And I’m not much of a hurler, despite the best efforts of the Presentation Brothers.

In my defence, I have seen U2 live four times. I remember when Packie was a goalkeeper and not a racist slur. And with my ginger hair and pasty spud-head skin I’m like a walking Bord Failte ad. So language or no language, my credentials are unquestionable.

But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming about getting paid for speaking my first language. Oh that’ll be the day alright, because as far as scams go – that’s about as Irish as they come.

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