Talking Movies

August 24, 2017

Work Suspended… And Other Stories

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 4:24 pm
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Some months ago I vaingloriously promised that the blog would be getting back on track. As regular readers might note, it didn’t quite do so.

I explained that I’d been experiencing tremendous logistical and technical difficulties in writing and posting the blog for quite some time, and foolishly opined that they should be resolved in the coming days. Alors… The technical difficulties were overcome, only for more and gravely deeper logistical difficulties to unexpectedly appear, and then as a final coup de grace different technical difficulties cropped up. Making promises is a foolhardy business, so I will refrain from offering any further hostages to fortune. Talking Movies is back on as even a keel as can be expected from it any more. I aspire to update the blog weekly, but I know that I will not always achieve that aspiration. I expect to write less and less as the year goes on, but will try to cover the most important films and plays as practicable.

Now here, at last, are the theatre reviews of then recent productions promised all the way back in March: The Pillowman, Arlington, The Dumb Waiter.

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June 16, 2017

Vermeer: Beyond Time

VERMEER BEYOND TIME documentary to screen across Ireland to celebrate forthcoming National Gallery of Ireland exhibition – Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry

Vermeer Beyond Time, a new documentary chronicling the life and times of one of the most-loved, treasured and well-known artists in the world today, Johannes Vermeer, will have screenings across the country this summer to coincide with the once-in-a-lifetime exhibition Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry at the National Gallery of Ireland from Saturday 17th June, in collaboration with the Musée du Louvre, Paris, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

In the feature documentary, Vermeer, Beyond Time, French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Cottet adopts an imaginative and sensitive approach to his subject focusing on the work itself but also explores Vermeer’s family life including his conversion to Catholicism, his artistic contemporaries and the wider world of the short lived Dutch Golden Age of the 17th Century. Cottet’s film explores the individual paintings and teases out what has come to be known as the Vermeer style; the representation of light, the interplay of colour and the effects of perspective across the same themes, places and objects.

Vermeer’s paintings are of a world inhabited by refined and cultivated women; respectful or troublesome servants; charming young people and learned men. His ruthless elimination of objects and things that serve no purpose results in an art that suspends time and that leaves us, the viewer, always wanting to know more. The film adds much to our understanding and knowledge of the painter, while still allowing for the mystery and allure of his art. Vermeer’s death in 1675 is sudden and incredibly sad.  Overwhelmed by poverty, physically weakened and humiliated, he dies at the age of 45.  Soon afterwards, his paintings are sold to cover his debts.  Vermeer disappears from memory.  His rediscovery some 200 years later has seen his popularity soar, claiming both our hearts and our admiration.

James Mitchell of Irish production company Soho Moon produced the documentary and it is narrated by Fiona Shaw.

Cert: PG

Running Time: 91 mins

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5U2hRC0oKU&feature=youtu.be

Vermeer, Beyond Time screens at the following cinemas on Wednesday 21st June – Gate Cork and Light House Dublin; Thursday 22nd June – Mermaid Arts Centre Bray; Sunday 9th July – Tracton The Inkwell Theatre Cork.  For future screenings, please contact Eclipse Pictures – details below

For advance ticket booking for the upcoming exhibition, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry at The National Gallery of Ireland, go to www.nationalgallery.ie.

The exhibition, which had record numbers at the Paris venue and complimentary reviews in the international media, opens in the National Gallery of Ireland on Saturday 17th June and runs through to 17th September.  It will be the major Old Master exhibition in Europe this summer coinciding with the reopening of the National Gallery of Ireland’s refurbished historic wings and new display of the permanent collection which opens to the public on Thursday 15th June.

Conceived by the National Gallery of Ireland, this revelatory exhibition celebrates the work of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) and will give new insights into the relationships the artist maintained with other great painters of the Dutch Golden Age.  It will bring together some 60 paintings from major public and private collections around the world. Ten masterpieces by Vermeer will be included representing nearly a third of the artist’s surviving works and the third highest number of works by Vermeer ever assembled. The National Gallery of Ireland’s own Vermeer, Woman Writing a Letter, with her Maid c.1670, which is regarded as one of the artist’s finest works, will be shown alongside other exquisite compositions including Woman with a Balance, c.1663–4 (National Gallery of Art, Washington); Woman with a Pearl Necklace, 1663–4 (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin); The Astronomer, 1668 (Musée du Louvre, Paris) and The Geographer, 1669 (Städel Museum, Frankfurt). Paintings of daily life by contemporaries of Vermeer, including Gerrit Dou, Gerard ter Borch, Jan Steen, Gabriel Metsu, Pieter de Hooch and Frans van Mieris, will also feature.

Dr Adriaan Waiboer, Head of Collections and Research at the National Gallery of Ireland, and curator of the exhibition, says: “Johannes Vermeer is frequently portrayed as an enigmatic figure working largely in isolation, but this exhibition clearly demonstrates how Vermeer’s subjects, compositions and figure types owe much to works by contemporary Dutch artists, including Gerrit Dou, Gerard ter Borch and Frans van Mieris, all of whom were more successful and influential in their time.” The exhibition brings together groups of paintings of domestic scenes – letter writing, in front of a mirror, musical scenes – and the obvious similarity of the compositions shows the interplay between artists – nonetheless Vermeer’s brilliance and originality brings new heights to the subjects and his work takes genre painting to a yet higher level.

March 24, 2017

Work Suspended

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 11:23 am
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been experiencing tremendous logistical and technical difficulties in writing and posting the blog for quite a while now.

Hopefully they should all be resolved in the coming days.

Talking Movies will then return with belated theatre reviews of recent productions of The Pillowman, Arlington, and The Dumb Waiter.

January 25, 2017

That’s “Mr. President The Donald” to you…

Yes, it’s time for one of the regrettable lapses into politics on this blog; occasioned by the vitriol thrown at Donald Trump’s Presidency, which is of dubious historical merit when considered under the headings of mandate, legitimacy, and suitability.

donald-trump-got-only-8-words-into-his-campaign-before-we-found-a-seriously-questionable-fact

MANDATE

Donald Trump got 46% of the popular vote.

Bill Clinton got 43.01% of the popular vote in 1992.

Woodrow Wilson got 41.8% of the popular vote in 1912.

Armando Iannucci is one of many people to claim that Trump has no mandate, because more people voted for someone else.

Well, the only way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to win over 50% of the popular vote, isn’t it?

If a candidate must receive more than 50% of the popular vote to have a mandate, then no Democrat President in the 20th and 21st centuries has ever had a mandate except Franklin D Roosevelt, Lyndon B Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama.

By contrast every Republican President from William McKinley’s 51% in 1896 onward has had a mandate, except Richard Nixon, George W Bush, and Donald Trump; and Nixon and Bush both achieved over 50% of the vote on re-election.

 

LEGITIMACY

The electoral college system is silly, but it’s been silly for a long time now.

Andrew Jackson blew a gasket in 1824 when he was denied the Presidency.

But it wasn’t fixed then.

Rutherford B Hayes ended Reconstruction in 1876 to be let be President.

But it wasn’t fixed then.

Nor in 1888, nor in 2000, because, like AV in England, it is politically insoluble.

If you weep for Hilary Clinton’s near 3 million votes and no Presidency, did you also weep for Nigel Farage’s 5 million votes and only 1 (previously filched Tory) seat in 2015?

Hilary Clinton effectively built up massive and useless majorities in safe seats, while Donald Trump eked out tiny majorities in seats that could be flipped, and so won with equal legitimacy as David Cameron did in 2015.

 

SUITABILITY

Trump as an unsuitable character to be President…

More unsuitable than Johnson, who boasted that he’d had more women by accident than JFK had on purpose?

More unsuitable than JFK, who was so out of control new Secret Service agents were aghast at being assigned hooker detail?

More unsuitable than Nixon and Reagan, who both committed treason to win the Presidency?

Should the Republicans only be allowed to nominate candidates approved by the Democrats?

Would the Democrats then be happy to only nominate candidates approved by the Republicans?

Wasn’t that instinct what led to Watergate – Nixon trying to swing the nomination towards McGovern because he felt, and rightly so, that he could easily destroy him in the campaign proper?

 

BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER

Donald Trump is the President.

He has more of a mandate than Bill Clinton  in 1992, Richard Nixon in 1968, and Woodrow Wilson in 1912.

He has the same legitimacy as John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and George W Bush.

And he has fought fewer duels than fellow populist and all round short-fuse exponent Andrew Jackson.

 

All three strands are ahistoric rationalisations obscuring the raw howl  ‘I voted for the other candidate!’.

Well, in a two-party system, there is a 50/50 chance that the other candidate wins every 4 years.

And then you wait for the next roll of the dice in 4 years and place your money on your candidate again.

December 23, 2016

O Holy Night

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fergal Casey @ 5:00 pm

This is the way the year ends, not with a bang but a whimper…

Talking Movies will return in 2016.

October 29, 2016

Politik: Part IV

Lamentably a return to political matters, after thinking about art and propaganda vis a vis I, Daniel Blake and reading A Very British Coup.

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Lies, lies, and propaganda

Does a government have a right to use taxpayers’ money to fund propaganda campaigns designed to turn some citizens against others? That’s a thought that’s been nagging me a lot recently in cinemas as I’ve sat aghast and agog at a cutesy animation explaining why the nonsense ‘reforms’ of the Junior Cert could only be opposed by heartless monsters equally opposed to learning and out of touch with the real world. It’s hard to find the animation on YouTube for some reason… Possibly because it is targeted at a captive youth audience who for once can’t escape the ads. It takes seconds to articulate an argument against Ruari Quinn’s pet project. If you and your teacher are engaged in a profoundly active balance of terror do you really want that person marking all your work for three years, or would you prefer that your work be in the final analysis independently judged by somebody else, anonymously, and far away from the grudges of your school? Quinn’s folly was based on the syllogism that the Junior Cert needed reform, this was a reform, therefore it needed this reform; without ever articulating why the Junior Cert needed reform. Surely now that Quinn and his party have deservedly been removed from office and almost from existence by an electorate with an unusually good memory of the pig in a poke they were sold in 2011 it is time for his nonsense to be dropped before a system of blind meritocracy is replaced by a system obviously open to abuse. And for God’s sake stop wasting public money on an advertising campaign that would embarrass a communist regime in its substitution of marketing asininity for mental acuity.

God, Lana, read a book!

The latest ad for Liberty Insurance had a young hipster smugly proclaim in voice-over “We’re the first generation in history to live life on our own terms.” … … … The level of historical obliviousness it takes to usher such a sentiment from brainstorming meeting in a hipster advertising agency, through copy-writing and presenting to the client, on into the recording booth, and finally into the editing suite; without anyone questioning whether this assertion might be coming it devilishly high; is truly jaw-dropping. One wonders what the Bright Young Things might have made of such a dismissal of their daring, or what Byron et al might have had to reply in doggerel to it, or the Young Hegelians disproving it in rigorous dialectics through which they now knew how (for the first time [sic] in history) to announce the end of history. It appears there may have been a derisive snort aimed at the right place, because the offending ad is now airing on TV – with a different voice-over, one that admits that we might not have much stuff but we love the stuff we have. A folksy sentiment to warm the cockles of Abraham Lincoln’s heart.

March 25, 2016

Reflect. Remember. Reimagine. … … Celebrate?

On New Year’s Eve I posted a lengthy piece on my misgivings about how 1916 was being handled, and now with a Luas strike timed to disrupt the commemoration things have turned out even worse than I feared.

gpoflag

The official tagline for marking the centenary of the Rising is ‘Reflect. Remember. Reimagine.’ It took me a while to figure out what sounded off about that. ‘Reflect’ seemed odd from the get-go, because it put me in mind of RTE’s Angelus visuals; the idea of people actually praying is verboten, so instead people stare off into the middle distance like so many Ingmar Bergman characters. The Irish Times and RTE do enough navel-gazing as it is, we don’t need as a nation to start ‘reflecting’ about 1916; indeed it encourages passivity, rather than activity – the endless refrain of ‘Oh, isn’t X awful, how can the Rising have be said to have fulfilled its promise?’ needs to be answered a bit more with a sharp ‘So, what do you plan to do about X, beyond using it as a rhetorical gambit?’ ‘Remember’ seemed odd, yet also oddly familiar. Then it hit me, ‘The Nation Remembers’, every year at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday. What on earth are we doing remembering? Do the French remember Bastille Day? Do the Americans remember the 4th of July? Or could they be more correctly characterised as celebrating? By all means if you lost millions of men to a war that was not quite the ‘great war for civilisation’ that the medal given to Robert Fisk’s father had it. But if you kickstarted an end to monarchy and colonialism then you celebrate; just ask the Americans if they feel the need to solemnly reflect on and somberly remember Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration. ‘Reimagine’ meanwhile sees RTE recast 1916, in a jaw-dropping cinema advert, as an event that jumps straight to its logical conclusions: Mary Robinson’s election, the Good Friday Agreement, and Panti winning a referendum. History, once its got that embarrassing patriotic glitch out of the way, literally starting in 1990 with the election of the first Labour President, the prelude to Labour’s signature referendum, is beyond a parody of the Labour party’s self-serving narrative of Irish progress. History qua history is to be glossed over to get to the glorious present, all of a piece with the downgrading of history in schools, and above all we must never actually place 1916 in the sort of context Ronan Fanning does in Fatal Path – actual history.

Celebrating the Rising is something that’s not acceptable, apparently. We must wring our hands, not set off fireworks. And so we come to a moment, where patriotism has been so deliberately discredited that the Luas drivers are prepared to destroy a once in a century event in a manner that would have been unthinkable for MTA workers in 1976 during the American bicentennial. SIPTU have been only too happy to cloak themselves in the garb of James Connolly of late, but it’s to be doubted that a man who gave his life for Ireland would endorse the galling obliviousness of their posturing: “The proposal itself contains a very, very regressive concept, which is the idea that the people who are recruited between now and when the Luas extension is ready to go, that they would be paid on a new entry lower rate – which is considerably lower than the lowest rate which applies to workers when they join the company at the moment and this is a concept which has been objected to strenuously.” It is to be applauded that Jack O’Connor has finally realised that this concept is regressive, not to say abhorrent. Perhaps now, instead of trying to traduce the 1916 centenary and the best public transport operation in the country, he might share his misgivings with his friends across the union movement who spent the last 5 years mercilessly pulling up the ladder on new entrants to protect their own privileges.

“Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, It’s with O’Leary in the grave”

March 21, 2016

Politik: Part IV

It has been, mercifully, nearly two years since this blog last strayed in the direction of politics; and yet now, very regrettably, it’s happening again.

sinn-fein-ard-fheis-10-630x422

“What’s his angle?”

JK Galbraith once memorably quipped that every time an Old Guard Republican leaned over to nudge a compadre and muttered “What’s his angle?” while they listened to some liberal do-gooder proposing something fiscally irresponsible if not downright treasonous, there, in the heart of McCarthyland, you could justifiably claim spoke a true red Marxist, rummaging through fine words for the base economic motive. Whenever I hear someone from Fine Gael’s caretaker Cabinet proclaiming “We will not cling to power at any price” I hear “We will not cling to ministerial salaries, ministerial pensions, ministerial cars and drivers, ministerial prestige, patronage to reward our friends, the apparatus of the state to harass our enemies, and free travel to far-flung destinations on St Patrick’s Day power at any price.” And it sort of changes how seriously I take their sentiment.

 

50+1+3+7+2+6+5+…

Hunter S Thompson once mischievously wrote that Ted Kennedy was not President because he never learned to drive properly. One might say we are still without a government because a deplorable number of TDs never learned to add properly. The magic number is 79. There is a party with 50 and a party with 44. This is not that hard. But instead the country is being cast in the role of an increasingly exasperated parent trying not to step in and solve the problem while its child tries to mash all the small numbers together first to come up with less than 79 over and over again before looking at the actual obvious solution of putting two big numbers together. But it gets worse.

 

Shunning S(h)inners

The magic number, 79, is actually quite easily reached. Fine Gael (50) + Labour (7) + Sinn Fein (22) = 79. Hey! How about that? Only Fine Gael have decided that Sinn Fein cannot be in government. But then across the aisle Fianna Fail are letting I dare not wait upon I would for the ‘end of Civil War grand coalition’ because they have decided that Sinn Fein cannot be in opposition. Surely this is approaching insanity. Are we seriously to have another election because Sinn Fein cannot be allowed in government or in opposition? Perhaps the simplest solution at this point is to simply proscribe Sinn Fein. If people will insist on voting for them then surely it’s moot whether it’s more anti-democratic to not allow them vote for Sinn Fein than to disregard their votes afterwards.

February 25, 2016

Austerity and the Arts

The Journal has compiled a handy guide to various political pledges on arts funding. But take all with the caveat of Pat Rabbitte’s infamous slip on farcically utopian bait-and-switches, “Sure isn’t that what you tend to do during an election?”

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Brian Eno’s John Peel lecture at the British Library last year excoriated politicians, especially the Tories, for wanting to bask in the reflected glamour of cultural icons, and boast about the money such activity makes for Britain, both in its own right and in attracting tourists via a sheen of national creativity, without ever wanting to invest in it. According to him these people believed artists magically appear, and start providing a return without requiring any initial capital outlay; an impressive economic conjuring trick to be sure. Whereas, he pointed out, Roxy Music would not have come about without a previous generation establishing a whole gamut of public investment in the future: the NHS, Arts Schools, libraries, galleries, museums, and the dole. According to the Social Democrats there has been a 55% cut in arts funding since 2008 in Ireland. Such cuts dramatically change the cultural current. Take Annabelle Comyn.

Annabelle Comyn was the founding artistic director of Hatch Theatre Company in 2004. She directed a number of contemporary British plays (by Martin Crimp, Dennis Kelly, David Greig, and Zinnie Harris) with regular collaborators including set designer Paul O’Mahony, sound designer Philip Stewart, and actor Peter Gaynor. Then in 2009 Hatch Theatre Company saw its grant slashed from €90,000 to €20,000. After that there was no funding for any projects submitted, and Comyn, who had also directed Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange and Caryl Churchill’s A Number for the Peacock in 2006 and 2007, took the hint. As she told the Irish Times in a 2014 interview “I remember thinking that the work I had done with Hatch – predominantly contemporary British plays – wouldn’t get funding.” So began two years in which one of Ireland’s best theatre directors didn’t work as a director.

And then Abbey artistic director Fiach Mac Conghail offered her the chance to direct Pygmalion at the Abbey’s main stage in 2011. So began a new phase of Comyn’s career. Her version of Shaw’s comedy emphasised that Henry Higgins really is stripping Eliza Doolittle not just of her accent, but her station in life; and even personality; and irresponsibly remaking her to his own whims. The coldness of Charlie Murphy’s Eliza to Higgins in their final scenes captured the accompanying intellectual transformation he had not counted on, and was an unexpected touch. 2012 saw her back on the Abbey main stage reviving Tom Murphy’s 2000 Abbey commission The House. This Chekhovian tale of social climbing and the frustrations of returned emigrants in the 1950s saw Comyn add new strings to her bow as she blocked 13 people for a chaotic drunken speech and fight. Comyn’s interpretation of Murphy’s melancholic character study with barbed commentary on societal failure saw her win Best Director at the Irish Times Theatre Awards. And yet…

DG declan conlon and Catherine Walker

A director who specialised in premiering contemporary British plays is now (with the exception of 2012’s The Talk of the Town) exclusively reviving classic texts. A cultural current in Irish theatre has been diverted, and you can be sure that nobody returned to Dail Eireann after tomorrow will have as a priority allowing it to resume its original course. Does it matter? Well, John McGahern, the Irish novelist par excellence, would not have become the writer he was had he not been exposed to the works of Flaubert, Camus, and Hemingway. It matters if our theatrical landscape suddenly has a Berlin wall of austerity erected cutting off consistent interaction with new British writing. In the grand scheme of things cutting a €90,000 grant has had a larger effect than the latter-day Gladstone who made that retrenchment could ever have imagined.

To quote the two voices at the end of GK Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill:

“What could have happened to the world if Notting Hill had never been?”

The other voice replied—

“The same that would have happened to the world and all the starry systems if an apple-tree grew six apples instead of seven; something would have been eternally lost.”

December 31, 2015

1916 without 1916

By now we’ve all seen the Government’s video about the 1916 Rising that somehow forgets the Rising. I’m not sure I’ve seen something so straight-facedly absurd since Brad Dourif preached “The Church of Christ … without Christ” in Wise Blood.

Enda-Kenny

From the suggestively chosen imagery it’s tempting to conclude (apropos of Interstellar) that we’re commemorating when David Cameron, Ian Paisley, and Queen Elizabeth II travelled back via a handily placed wormhole to Dublin 1916 in order to ensure a docklands fit for Google and Facebook to live in. Sadly the truth is less imaginative, and depressing; because this fiasco was entirely predictable. The Proclamation being rendered as Gaeilge via Google Translate was a perfect statement of intent. Nobody cared enough to flag that it ought to be double-checked before it went live. It is unthinkable that in 2004 a Polish text could have been given such haphazard treatment while our government was hosting the EU’s big expansion into Eastern Europe; Bertie Ahern cared deeply about that Farmleigh event. It is unthinkable that a German would text would not be excruciatingly parsed if Angela Merkel were to visit next week; because Enda Kenny would care deeply about such a visit. But for the literal genesis of our political consciousness as a modern state? To appropriate the current Rabobank ad’s stylings: “Any translation” “Any translation?” “Any translation…” That attitude expresses a political weltanschauung: Labour gives the distinct impression of being embarrassed by our Constitution; which Eamon Gilmore liked to dub outdated (ignore the awkward fact the Americans are still using their 1780s constitutional settlement); and Fine Gael, despite their self-definition (as Pat Leahy has put it) as the party of “Law and Order. Law’n’Order and the Foundation of the State!”, are ashamed of 1916 – which is to primarily be remembered, whereas they celebrated the 75th anniversary of winning the Civil War…

Labour’s Aodhán O’Ríordáin, while insisting that the video was a preview of what the entirety of 2016 would be like (apparently a never-ending bacchanalia of Macnas and BOD coming out of retirement to score tries), offered a non-apology apology: “If we got it wrong, we got it wrong and we should look at something else.” (If? If?? IF?! Yes, ye got it wrong. This has been made abundantly clear by now, so lose the “if”.) He went on to offer the official version of the mindset behind the video: “The point is that we’re trying not to present a very stiff and stale and unimaginative and cold depiction of what happened 100 years ago, which can almost turn some people off immediately.” Maybe he sincerely believes this, maybe not; to my mind this defeatist insistence that marking the events of 100 years ago is impossible because it’s all deathly dull so let’s just talk about the Queen’s visit in 2011 is a disingenuous cover for the fact that it is the government itself who are the people turned off immediately by the idea of celebrating 1916. The BBC spent 2014 producing radio and television documentaries and fictional serials about WWI. If you could watch 37 Days’ dramatisation of the failed diplomacy of July 1914 and find it very stiff, stale, unimaginative, and cold, then the problem lies not with history or its recreation but with you. If you could watch Niall Ferguson’s provocative arguing for WWI being a mistake and the hostile reaction of his academic audience and find it very stiff, stale, unimaginative, and cold then presumably you find newspapers insupportable because they’re about events from distant yesterday. It is telling that the video’s themes; Remember, Reconcile, Imagine, Present, Celebrate; visually remove ‘celebration’ from the revolutionary past…

The video’s visual cues for ‘remember’, ‘reconcile’, and ‘imagine’ taken together imply sorrow for having had the bad taste to rebel against Britain, and a desire to plot how to go forward together. As approaches to celebrating a country’s independence from its colonial masters go it’s got the merit of originality. But it cannot go uncontested. How does marking 1916 by mentioning Ian Paisley and not Padraig Pearse make sense? How is it even acceptable to prioritise, over a man who gave up his life as a blood sacrifice (of the type Rupert Brooke valorised) to start a fire whose flame would burn a hole in the map of the British Empire, a man who became a big avuncular bear once he’d made it to the top of the greasy pole having first done considerable damage in his life-long climb to the top in his capacity as venomous firebrand? (When Seamus Mallon dubbed the Good Friday Agreement ‘Sunningdale for slow learners’ who did he have in mind?) I have walked some of the battlefields and cemeteries of the Western Front, where Irish and British soldiers died together in 1914, and remembered them. It does not preclude me from celebrating 1916.

French historian Francois Furet rescued 1789 from the grasp of communists who wanted to make it a proto-1917, by instead inflecting 1917 as the culmination of 1793’s Terror; and the Terror as the betrayal of the Revolution. Terence Brown has argued that Kevin Whelan’s The Tree of Liberty was vital in allowing 1798 to be celebrated here as a good thing, instead of mumbling embarrassedly about it. We need something of the same now. It doesn’t matter that we’re an indebted country who’ve signed away our sovereignty to the Troika. America in 1976 was hardly in a wonderful state. Vietnam, Inflation, Watergate, Roe V Wade: if ever a country was having a crisis of confidence and identity it was America then. And they still pulled off a celebratory bicentennial instead of sitting around bemoaning lost opportunities and how the Brits would have given them parliamentary representation if they’d just waited longer…

The government’s video suggests that we celebrate the future, and take inspiration from … whatever. That’s completely wrong, but completely in character. We should celebrate the past, and be inspired by it. We should not look back at 1916 and be embarrassed by it, we should look back at 1916 and be embarrassed by ourselves. We need to mark 2016 as a combination of July the 4th and Gettysburg. It is both a cause for celebration, and a time for serious discussion. And if there’s anything in our national poet’s complicated canon that best sums up conflicted Irish identities in a triumphal way it’s this watchword for the coming centenary year:

“Sing the peasantry, and then

Hard-riding country gentlemen,

The holiness of monks, and after

Porter-drinkers’ randy laughter;

Sing the lords and ladies gay

That were beaten into the clay

Through seven heroic centuries;

Cast your mind on other days

That we in coming days may be

Still the indomitable Irishry.”

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