It has been noticeably difficult in Dublin to find a place serving hot food between about 4pm and 7pm on a Sunday but that was once a week only (though awkward enough if you were entertaining visitors from abroad). But now it’s difficult to find a decent café in Dublin after 3.30pm all week — and more so if you’d like to sit outside or next to a window, watching life’s “rank and rich array” passing by.
Yesterday I was looking for a cup of coffee before I set off to visit someone in hospital. I found Anne’s Bakery in Moore Street closed at 3.30pm and, after a brief conversation with some people working nearby, headed off for its sister café in Henry Street but realised that if open, it would be closing very soon anyway (I think it closes at 4pm). So I set off for the hospital.
Coming back into the city centre around 5.15pm and still hankering for a coffee and thought-flow, I realised my chances were even worse now because Simon’s Corner in South Great George’s Street would be closed or closing. What about Cornucopia, in Wicklow Street? I cycled there, spotted empty tables outside, locked up my bike across the road just by Dingle company Murphy’s Ice-Cream (where you get 10% discount through ordering in Irish) and entered Cornucopia by left-hand door for the coffee-station. But …. no-one serving there. No sign saying “closed” so … maybe … might just have gone to the toilet?
After waiting awhile without any staff appearing, I made enquiries in the other part, the food-serving section and was told the coffee-station was closed. I looked at the lonnnnng queue, muttered “Fuck it”, went back outside, unlocked the bike and, careful of the big cars coming down that narrow street, pulled out to ride towards Grafton Street and from there northwards and home.
And …. Glory Alleluia! Empty tables outside Mary’s Bar & Hardware Shop! And illuminated by the sunlight slanting from the westering sun. Did they serve coffee, I wondered (I know they don’t sell hardware). Most Irish bars serve tea and coffee but the coffee quality can be questionable … or even instant and …. relief! Spotted the machine at the bar’s end with the roasted beans in the cylinder on top, ordered a cup and went back out to lock the bike.
A little later, sitting outside in the sun, sipping reasonable coffee, watching passers-by …. people finishing work, shoppers, tourists, beggars, cops …. and then an interesting chat with one of “Mary’s” customers out for a smoke.
Then home, caffeinated and happy.
PS: If you ever pop in to Mary’s for a drink, do make sure you visit the toilet. You will pass through what looks like an older section of the bar with surprising partitioned parts, past some hardware (but not for sale), then through a door, up some stairs …. On the way back, like as not, you’ll take a wrong turn (as I did) and enter …. a brightly-lit US-style diner with customers seated at red formica-top tables! A dislocating experience like something out of a sci-fi novel.
As you find the correct way back, depending on how much alcohol you’ve imbibed, you might wonder if that other place really exists. In this dimension, anyway.
Michelle (Angeline Ball) runs a hairdressing salon in Piglinstown, a fictional Dublin city suburb that looks like Finglas3 and the area is suffering the attention of a local gang of thugs led by Deano (Ian Lloyd Anderson). The Gardaí4, represented by one individual played by Dermot Ward, are ineffectual in dealing with local crime and seem also well-disposed to a local politician, a Dublin City councillor, whose solution to the area is demolition of a parade of shops, including the hairdressing salon, followed by redevelopment. Michelle’s staff are Stacey (Ericka Roe), Chantelle (Shauna Higgins) and Gemma (Lauren Larkin).
Playing smaller roles are the local butcher Jonner (Aaron Edo), along with owners of the fish and chip shop, the local pub, pub entertainment organiser and three elderly ladies in particular.
Darren Flynn (Aidan McArdle) is the local politician, a Dublin City Councillor, who lets slip later in the film that he has a lot of property speculators waiting to get their hands on the area. Of course, in real life, nothing like that would happen in Dublin City Council, among the Councillors or the City Managers, would it? Quite apart from that, one must feel some sympathy for a certain Dublin City councillor who must surely wince every time he hears “Councillor Flynn” mentioned in the film’s dialogue.
If you know Dublin working and lower-middle class suburbs then some of the visual scenes will be familiar, the streets of housing, the green area, short strips of shops, including the chipper, the cheeky kids on bikes, the pub as a social centre. But for women the hairdressing salon plays a social role too as one can see from the varied ages and requirements of the customers. There was a time in some areas when the local barber shop played the same role for men, the waiting customers, the customer in the chair and the barber all taking part in the same conversation.
You’ll know too that unemployment tends to be higher in such areas and that there are social problems in particular with bored and disengaged youth, drug-taking and selling …. but not necessarily more of the taking than occurs in middle-class areas, particularly when the young people start clubbing.
Areas that could do with regeneration around the local community are not unusual in and around Irish cities but when that regeneration takes place it’s usually for another class – the gentrification project. That’s what’s in store for Piglinstown, if Mr. Flynn and his invisible property speculators have their way. This film is making its debut at a time when property speculators are visibly running wild over Dublin, building hotels, residential apartment and student accommodation blocks (of which most students can’t afford the rents), meanwhile destroying communities, cultural amenities and historical sites. And Dublin City Managers are giving the go-ahead for these planning applications while An Bord Pleanála regularly turns down appeals or moderates the application somewhat but rarely in essence.
The highpoint of the film both in tension and in flash and showbiz buzz is the Ahh Hair competition, which the Piglinstown hair dressing salon wants to win in order to boost their profile and avoid demolition by the speculators. Here Pippa (Victoria Smurfit) plays the vicious upper-class nasty with abandon, aided by her three familiars, the snooty Eimear (Sorcha Fahey) chief among them, many hands in the film’s audience surely itching to slap. Nor is the nastiness only verbal.
But it is also high satire, from Thommas Kane-Byrne as Kevin, the camp announcer and poseur judges with ridiculous hyperbole, including the star hairdresser D’Logan Doyle (Louis Lovett), to the cheering hooray henry and henrietta types in the audience. Even the finalist hairdressing creations would be to most people ridiculous, as are some of the creations and installations that win the annual Turner prize. Are the real hairdressing competitions anything like this?
Among the actors, it’s good to see Angeline Ball who charmed us in The Commitments (1991), 30 years ago and still looking good as the salon owner Michelle and Pauline McLynn who insisted in the eponymous series that Father Ted would have a cup of tea, “Ah, you will, you will, you will”. Comedienne Enya Martin, from Giz a Laugh sketches plays the staff’s somewhat sluttish friend.
As I noted earlier, most reviewers have given the film high marks for entertainment value – not so Peter Bradshaw, who dealt it savage cuts in the Guardian and gave it only two stars out of five. “With violent gangsters, a gentrification storyline and a hairdressing competition, this movie can’t figure out what it wants to be.” Really, Peter? It seems to me that the film is all those things and manages them well within an overall comedic form, something like Dario Fo and the problem is that you just don’t get it.
The incidental music is a series of lively hip hop by clips from different artists, including the mixed English-Irish language group Kneecap. These should have your foot tapping and body swaying as you follow the plot and the dialogue, smoothly edited from scene to scene, laughing and occasionally shocked.
The resolution of the Piglinstown community’s problems in the film is as drastic as unlikely, (however much some viewers may agree with it). But the film is a very enjoyable and if you haven’t seen it already, I strongly recommend you do so.
1“Deadly” was a common Dublin slang expression which has fallen out of use but would still be recognised by many; in the way that much counter-culture slang uses the opposite from an accepted term, “deadly” meant “excellent” and is being employed here in that sense.
2Notably at the moment threats of demolition to the street market and historical site of Moore Street, part of the traditional music pub the Cobblestone and to the laneway at the Merchant’s Arch.
3In fact, Finglas’ in one of the communities acknowledged in the credits, the other being Loughlinstown.
DRHE threaten to clamp down on food tables feeding the homeless
Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais
(Reading time: mins.)
Rebel Breeze editorial introduction: Through its agency Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, Dublin City Council recently threatened to close down the charity services delivering food and bottled water to homeless and hungry people. On the back of scandal about the alleged sexual predation of the deceased founder of the Inner City Homeless organisation, the Council issued a press statement which implied the threat, supported also by indications of Garda cooperation. Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais, founder and organiser of the Éire Nua Food Initiative, one of the many charity services engaged in the work, has responded in a detailed article, reprinted here with the author’s permission.
THE 26-County State released figures on September 24 showing that there are currently 8,212 people accessing emergency accommodation in the State, a total of 6,023 adults and 2,189 children who are homeless.
These figures of homelessness have long been disputed by many others who work within the homeless sector as the State refuses to count those who are couch-surfing, or otherwise sharing accommodation with friends/family. The vast majority of the nation’s homeless are in the capital with 4,220 people accessing accommodation. 953 families are homeless in Ireland, according to the report.
Homelessness charities have warned that more families face losing their homes in the coming months due to private rental market constricts and evictions rise. This has already been borne out with reports of new faces showing up at the many soup runs/food tables that are in the city centre. Pat Doyle, CEO of Peter McVerry Trust, said “Any increase is disappointing because it means more people impacted by homelessness. However, we are now at the busiest time of year for social housing delivery and we would hope that the number of people getting access to housing will significantly increase in the coming months.”
Dublin Simon CEO Sam McGuiness cited the toll on the physical and mental health of people trapped in long-term homelessness. He said: “This population is desperate to exit homelessness and yet they are spending longer than ever before in emergency accommodation. This group deserves far better lives than the ones they are currently living. We see first-hand the toll this is taking in the increased demands for our treatment services, counselling services and the increase in crisis counselling interventions. Outcomes for people in emergency accommodation will not improve until they have a secure home of their own. Until this happens there is scant hope of a better future for this vulnerable group.”
“MANY CHILDREN NOW SPEND THEIR FORMATIVE YEARS IN HOMELESSNESS”
Éire Nua food initiative founder Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais pointed out at a homelessness protest that many children now spend their formative years in homelessness and have no real idea of what it is like to have a traditional “Sunday dinner” or their own bedroom/play area. This will severely impact their personalities far into the future.
A report published on September 14 by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that lone parents and their children account for 53% of all homeless families. The report said that lone parents and their children are much more likely to experience poor housing than other household types. The report also highlights the disadvantages experienced by young people, migrants, people with disabilities and Travellers in the Irish housing system. Researchers looked at six dimensions of housing adequacy – accessibility, affordability, security of tenure, cultural adequacy, quality, and location. They found that less than 25% of lone parents reported home-ownership, compared with 70% of the total population. Lone parents had higher rates of affordability issues (19%) when compared to the general population (5%) and were particularly vulnerable to housing quality problems such as damp and lack of central heating (32% compared to 22%).
Ethnic minority groups had a significantly higher risk of over-crowding, the research found. Over 35% of Asian/Asian Irish people, 39% of Travellers and over 40% of Black/Black Irish people live in over-crowded accommodation, compared to 6% of the total population. Almost half of all migrants in Ireland live in the private rental sector, compared to 9% of those born in Ireland. Migrants, specifically those from Eastern Europe (28%) and non-EU countries (27%), are more likely to live in over-crowded conditions.
The research found that almost one third of persons living with a disability experience housing quality issues, compared to 21% of those without a disability. Researchers said there remains a real risk that levels of homelessness will worsen after the pandemic restrictions are lifted and they raised concern about rents increasing faster than mean earnings in Dublin and elsewhere. In 2020, mean monthly rent in Ireland was estimated to be 31% of mean monthly earnings. “Adequate housing allows people to not only survive but thrive and achieve their full potential, whilst leading to a more just, inclusive and sustainable society.”
Meanwhile, the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) said on September 28 that it is to seek greater regulation of organisations providing services for homeless people in the capital as soon as possible in the wake of the Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) controversy. Dublin City Council’s deputy chief executive Brendan Kenny, who has responsibility for the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) in his role, said that due to the high number of informal homeless organisations set up in recent years there is “currently no vetting, no controls, on many people who are actually interacting directly with homeless people”. Kenny said he doesn’t want “over-regulation” to lead to certain groups disbanding but added: “At the moment there’s nothing and that’s not good enough.”
In a statement, the DRHE said it is “strongly of the view that greater regulation, vetting, and scrutiny is required for organisations/charities that set themselves up as service providers for homeless persons, including the provision of on-street food services”. “Several such organisations not funded by the DRHE have come into existence in recent years and the DRHE and our partner agencies will be endeavouring in the coming months to bring the necessary expanded scrutiny and regulation to all such organisations.”
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said there will be a review of Garda vetting procedures for the homelessness sector. Kenny said a report commissioned by Dublin City Council into the impact of unvetted charities is near completion and will provide further insight on the matter. It has been pointed out several times over the past four months that the DRHE, DCC and others have long tried to close the soup runs/food tables in the city centre and many now fear that what has been revealed through the ICHH debacle will be used to close many of these down. The DRHE are ignoring the fact that it is their rules and the oversight bodies recognised by them that has let the homeless down, not the food tables. Much of the work done by the food tables is done in the open and in full public view.
The issues highlighted through the ongoing ICHH investigation show it is what went on behind closed doors that is the problem. Those in oversight positions didn’t do their jobs; people were put in positions of authority without relevant qualifications. The DRHE, DCC and the police should look to how they can improve safety within their “regulated” organisations before seeking to regulate the volunteers who serve a need without any remuneration.
Many of the volunteers at food tables would have difficulty meeting the requirements of police vetting as some would be former addicts, and many others have no desire to become registered charities.
Again, it was pointed out by Diarmuid that many of these “regulated” charities will have high overheads such as transport insurance, maintenance and fuel costs. Some will have CEO wages and petty cash expenses to cover before any donations can be spent on the service user, whereas the Éire Nua food initiative and some others do not seek cash donations. All is done voluntarily and any costs are borne by the volunteers themselves. He cited that many registered charities are little more than businesses operating within the homelessness sector.
Diarmuid has been quoted in the past citing that “there are now many businesses making huge money out of those who are in homelessness” and “that the volunteer ethos that surround many food tables is not to be found within some charities”.
“IMPROVE THE STANDARD OF REGISTERED ACCOMMODATION, NOT SHUT DOWN THE VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS”
Kenny said the large number of pop-up soup runs mean some people are less likely to engage with the larger charities funded by the DRHE and in turn, less likely to engage with their support services. The DRHE views sleeping in a homeless hostel, rather than on the street, as a “much safer” option. However, he acknowledged that some homeless people don’t want to stay in a hostel, for a variety of reasons.
“We fully understand that but we’re strongly of the view that a hostel bed is absolutely safer and more hygienic than sleeping in a sleeping bag on the side or a street or in a tent. We know there are some people that just won’t go to a hostel – it may be that they have mental health issues. “We are also aware that some people would prefer to stay in a tent in order to stay involved in drugs and be taking drugs because they may not be able to do it in the hostel.” Kenny added that while hostels provide shelter and food, they “wouldn’t be the nicest place to sleep” but are still “far safer” than being on the street.
He totally ignores the many testimonies from residents, former residents and former workers within these hostels of the theft of personal property, the numerous assaults on residents by other residents, the bullying of residents by some staff members, low hygiene standards, open drug and alcohol abuse and the arbitrary nature operating within some hostels where a resident can be denied access on the whim of staff.
It is incumbent of the State, DRHE and the various councils to bring the standard of these types of accommodation up to a better standard and NOT try to shut those organisations who look after the many who fear staying within State accommodation.
Kenny also noted that sometimes tourists or those who are not homeless queue up to get food from the soup runs. He said fights also break out sometimes. “We’ve come across situations of tourists maybe going up to a food van and getting food, and maybe other people that are not in need of services. And the reality is that anybody that’s sleeping in a hostel, food is provided for them so there is not a shortage of food in the hostel services.
“[Soup runs] do attract a lot of people. I know there are times when large numbers of vulnerable people congregate and you end up with disputes and fights as well.”
On the issue of tourists queuing for food, he may well be right, but as the Éire Nua group has pointed out, “we feed the homeless AND hungry, we will not discriminate or question anyone who stands waiting for some food”.
Also pointed out by many residents of various hostels is the small proportions of meals given; while enough to sustain it is often not enough to keep that empty stomach feeling at bay. And for the five to six years that Diarmuid has volunteered alone, with the Éire Nua group or on another soup run, he or other volunteers have never had to call the police. On the few occasions where trouble has occurred, it is often rectified within seconds as the majority of people awaiting food know that: (1) the volunteers are their friends and out there to help them and (2) causing disruption to the smooth running of the tables can result in being denied food. The final word to Kenny from the Éire Nua food initiative: “Let the DRHE look to itself and those under its umbrella before looking to those outside their group; let them ensure the regulations in force within are enforced. Do not blame those who volunteer out of the goodness of their hearts for the sins of those who worked for them.”
It may be that the primary concerns of the Dublin municipal authorities and the Gardaí are to remove the visible signs of poverty and homelessness, rather than protection of the vulnerable among these. DCC Brendan Kenny’s comments in mid-August against the proliferation of homeless people living in tents may be seen as a concern that the charity food services constitute an unwelcome reflection on the performance of the Irish State and the municipal authorities of its capital city, visible not only to the city’s inhabitants — at all levels of society — but also to its visitors.
Born and raised on the New Jersey shore, Sean Tobin was influenced by Folk-song troubadours like Guy Clark, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, as well as high-energy rockers like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger and Tom Petty. Self-taught and trained by the New Jersey bar scene, Tobin owes much to his time spent busking on the streets of Galway, Ireland throughout 2015 and 2017. After graduating college in 2017 and uncertain of which direction to take he undertook the El Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trail through Spain, with his guitar tied to his pack. Upon completion, the future became obvious and on returning to New Jersey he worked hard to fund his music. He released his first album, This Midnight, in the summer of 2018, and in 2019 he played Frank Turner’s Lost Evenings III Festival at the House of Blues in Boston and soon after quit his day job.
In July 2019, Sean released ‘Dreams & Black Caffeine,’ a four-song EP recorded in Ocean, NJ with his band, The Boardwalk Fire. The group played several shows promoting the work, and had planned a tour for the summer of 2020, but were forced to cancel due to the Covid lockdown. The last year has seen the release of ‘East Coast Artifacts’, a compilation of his first EP, various tracks recorded through lockdown and three new songs.
“We’ve all played together as duos or trios in the past, but St. Patrick’s Day Forever really fortified us as a band,” said Tobin. “I just wish we could play live. That’s what we’re best at.”
Well he has a lot of catching up to do and on his new 4-track EP, accompanied by his band The Boardwalk Fire, he has made a pretty good start.
Released at the end of February, 2021 the EP features two originals and two covers and kicks off with the title track, a fast paced Irish trad influenced Celtic-Punk song about the lockdown and it’s first anniversary in New Jersey. It was after all the cancellations of St. Patrick’s Day events around the world that set the scene for what was going to follow. Lively, upbeat and catchy as hell Sean Tobin tells a great story with a brilliant accompanying video too!
It was winter 2020, we were playing on the roof, Jack was slapping stand-up to another song by Bruce. A mere twenty hours later, we heard it on the news: the Jersey Shore’s in lockdown, so stock up on your booze!*
Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house. There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*
Not long later it was Easter, I was sippin’ on some stout. I’d horded fifty cases out of fear that they’d run out, but I couldn’t taste a drop ’cause I gave it up for Lent. So come Easter, fifty cases, up the field they went!*
Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house. There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*
Murphy! Your laws are screwin’ me! But frankly, I don’t blame you. If it’s what we gotta do, to keep people from dyin’, then I’ll stay home for you. I just miss my friends…and the bar…*
So now it’s comin’ up on summer, and I’m still drinkin’ stout. I would be switchin’ to Corona, but I don’t think that’s allowed…So instead I’ve got a toucan on one can, three cans, five. If Guinness makes you stronger, I’m the strongest man alive!*
Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house.There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.
Now it’s one, two, three fuckin’ months inside this house.There’s not too much I need, but I need fuckin’ out. So I make my way down Main Street, the flag’s on every door–it’s St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore, St. Patrick’s Day forever on the Jersey Shore.*
The EP’s other original song is titled ‘Ode to Anna Liffey’s’ a bittersweet love song to the now closed Irish bar Anna Liffey’s in New Haven, Connecticut. As with all of Sean’s songs and in common with Irish music in general the songs tell intricate stories and at over six minutes the song gives him plenty of scope in telling his story of days spent propping up the bar there. A swirling gentle song with Sean’s strong voice backed by accordion and percussion that soon enough gets faster and faster with Sean’s guitar and Sean-David’s fiddle smoking! A real Irish tinged bluegrass/country floor filler that ends on a sad note (especially for us Irish!) with the last chorus going out to all the bars that are forced to close but “go down swinging”.
‘Today’, she said, ‘we will discuss the training of dogs’.
The class looked at her face to see whether she was joking. She looked back at them patiently.
‘But Teacher,’ ventured one braver student. ‘We are here to learn how to control humans.’
‘That is correct,’ replied the Teacher. ‘This is a sociology class. But there is much to learn from the training of dogs. In many ways, it is the same thing.’
So, to begin: Where do dogs come from to us? Where did they originate?’
‘Are they not descended from wolves, Teacher? I think I read that somewhere.’
‘Yes, I did too. And dogs and wolves can interbreed, so they would have to be closely related.’
‘That is correct, they are closely related,’ replied the Teacher approvingly. ‘There is only 0.1% of a DNA difference between them and they can interbreed quite easily. The wolf is classified as Canis lupus and the dog as Canis familiaris. It is not strange to find dogs that are part wolf. The assumption is therefore that the common dog is descended from the wolf. And in some parts of the world, for example in South Africa and in Australia, there are wild dogs, dogs that live like wolves. We presume these were domesticated wolves that became dogs, that later again returned to the ways of wolves. So our question for discussion today is: How did wolves become dogs in the first place?’
‘But Teacher, if this occurred it must have done so in prehistory, surely?’
‘I think I read that it was in the Paleolithic Era.’
‘Well, then surely nobody knows, Teacher? No-one would have written to describe it as humans did not develop writing until much later.’
‘You are all correct, yes. But we can speculate. We can extrapolate from what we know. Now, when we have a dog as a pet – or as a working animal – it is in a social relationship with us, right?’
‘Well, yes. Some people see their dog as part of the family – you even hear them say that. But working dogs?’
‘Working dogs too, I suppose. A shepherd would have a close relationship with his dog … and so would a hunter. Even if the bond was primarily between the one person and the dog, it would have to recognise those close to the owner as ok, as safe, not to be attacked or growled at.’
‘Good, yes, we are getting there. The guard dog needs to know its owner or owners and who is acceptable. Sled dogs the same, even though they are a group, like a hunting pack. The hunter, the shepherd, the truffle-searcher, the seeing-eye guide dog – they are all in a social relationship with humans. We could, in fact, describe a dog as “a wolf-descendant in social relationship with humans.” But what is the normal social group of the wolf?’
‘It is the pack, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, that’s what I have read too. A hunting pack.’
‘Yes but not just a hunting pack. They have to raise pups, don’t they?’
‘Oh, and don’t they have an accepted leader?’
‘Yes, very good. The social organisation of the wolf is the pack. And they have leadership – a male and a female. They are called Alphas, Alpha Male and Alpha Female. They lead the pack – the other wolves obey them. So, how is it decided, do you think?’
‘They must have elections, Teacher.’
‘Very amusing. It is a serious question however, part of our discussion today.’
‘Maybe …. they fight over it? The strongest wins?’
‘Yes, correct, that is part of it. The male fights other males and the female fights other females.’
‘How civilised of them!’
‘You all laugh but you don’t realise how true that comment is. Now, let’s tease the process of leadership selection out a bit. Let’s concentrate on the males, for simplicity. Male A wants to be leader, so does male B and they fight. Male A is successful and wins. But he will be wounded, right? Right?’
‘Well, yes he would be. Bite marks, bleeding ….’
‘So up comes Male C now and he is not wounded. He fights Male A and beats him, so now he is top dog, or wolf, the leader of the pack, right? Right?’
‘Yes, it must be like that.’
‘Then we have at last an accepted leader of the pack. But in what state are the males? And if the females went through the same process, what state are they in and what are the consequences?’
‘They’d be walking wounded.’
‘A wounded pack can’t hunt well.’
‘Some might die of their wounds. Some would die of hunger.’
‘It’s not like that, is it Teacher? There has to be another way.’
‘Another process, yes. They must have a system, right Teacher?’
‘Yes. Very good. Exactly. They do have another system. Firstly, they very rarely fight a full fight to the end. And if there is a challenger, it is usually only one. Not all wolves want to lead. Maybe not all wolves think they can. So if there is to be a leadership conflict, Male A and Male B, for example, they will fight but usually to the point where one recognises the other is tougher or wants to be leader more, or has more to lose — say Male A. Then Male B gives up. And if Male A has to remind him or any of the other males at any point, he only has to threaten and they give up. They lie on their back or show their submission in some other way. The pack stays healthy and the Alpha Male and the Alpha Female are in charge. The rest of the pack accept them. And if they are good at what they do, the pack does well. If not, well, maybe another leadership contest. Or the pack breaks up.’
‘Teacher? When pups are born, I presume they accept the hierarchy of the pack. But when the Alphas get old, or killed or injured in the hunt – or by hunters, humans – the process must start all over again?’
‘Yes and no, not completely. I didn’t tell you earlier but only the alpha females in the pack mate. The Alpha Female chases away other females if they come into heat and the Alpha Male may accept some males mating with her or may threaten other males so only he will mate with the Alpha Female, when she is in season. So the pups are all from the alpha female and from the alpha male or a few others. The next leaders will likely come from those pups – but not certainly. There are possible variations. They might all be killed or injured. An alpha descendant might take a different mate and that one will be alpha too. And so on. Now, let’s think about dogs. How did dogs come to be human-bonded?’
‘Hmmm. Maybe hunters killed the parents, took the cubs and raised them?’
‘Or found the cubs ….’
‘Yes, that is the common scenario. But after generations of the pack, how does a pup come to bond with humans? More to the point, how does it come to obey a human or a family?
‘Hmmm. Does it see the family as the pack, Teacher?’
‘Yes, and its master or mistress as the Alpha or Alphas?’
‘Very good. Yes, now you have it. I must be that way. But …. pups in a pack grow up and may want to become leaders themselves. We don’t hear of dogs deciding they want to run the human family, do we? What would we do if our dog decided it wanted to be boss and was prepared to fight?’
‘We’d have to shoot it.’
‘Yes, we couldn’t allow that.’
‘Wait a minute. Teacher, has that happened?’
‘Probably, in the early days. A domesticated wolf that would not accept the human as the Alpha was killed. Or ran away, maybe. Perhaps joined a wild pack, if it survived …. was accepted …. But in any case, the pups being raised by humans would not be descended from that disobedient wolf.’
‘So …. over generations, wolves …. were bred into dogs. Obedient individuals chosen …. disobedient ones killed …. or run off …. so only obedient dogs mate ….’
‘Yes … and every now and again you hear of a dog being “put down” because it attacked a human being …. especially a child …’
‘Wait! Are you saying humans have been bred to accept a hierarchy? And that the hierarchy is hereditary?’
‘Well, now – I hope I am not being accused of advocating monarchy … or feudalism?”
‘No, Miss …. of course not …. but …..’
‘Slow down, now. Don’t jump too far ahead to conclusions. Stay with the discussion a little longer, ok?’
‘Yes, Teacher. Sorry.’
‘That’s alright. Now, let’s unpick this a bit more. Is the non-Alpha wolf in the pack governed by fear alone? Does he or she have nothing to gain from its position in the pack?’
‘The pack hunts together, doesn’t it? So I suppose …. a pack can kill a bigger animal …. by working together?’
‘Yes, of course. A deer …. or antelope …. or bovine …. and then the whole pack will have enough to eat. Any other benefits?’
‘Defence? Lots of teeth, many individuals.’
‘Vigilance …. warning? Lots of eyes to keep lookout.’
‘Maybe warmth, huddling together against the cold?’
‘Yes, all those are true. And emotional warmth too, the solidarity of the group. The pack looks after the cubs also, as soon as they start to run around. This benefits the future of the whole pack as well as relieving the Alphas of their childcare from time to time. And the pack seems to get an emotional reward from looking after the cubs.’
‘Being a dog is quite a change then, Teacher. From being a wolf.’
‘Yes. But what are the advantages and disadvantages for the dog who is no longer a wolf? And there must be disadvantages, for some dogs have returned to the wild and the pack. As those I mentioned in South Africa and Australia. Advantages, first.’
‘The dog gets regular guaranteed food, doesn’t depend on the hunt for it.’
‘And the dog gets protection …. humans have weapons.’
‘And the dog gets …. gets …. medical care?’
‘Yes, all those things. But one very important thing dogs get that very few in the wolf pack get.’
‘They get to mate.’
‘Yes, exactly. No alpha telling them they can’t. Well, humans lock a bitch in heat up sometimes or we sterilise a male or female but otherwise, they mate. And a bitch gets to have her own cubs.’
‘Teacher …. are you implying that dogs chose not to be wolves?’
‘Well, it’s certainly an interesting question. If some dogs go feral, if some dogs form packs, and other dogs don’t, there would seem to be a choice involved, hmmm? And perhaps the ancestors of the dog did choose to leave the pack, rather than just being socialised and conditioned as captured pups. Some wolves may have hung around human encampments, getting scraps, warning humans of the approach of dangerous beasts …. other humans …. They may have been renegades from the pack …. dissidents …. The first domesticated wolf may have been an illicitly pregnant bitch, knowing that in the pack, her pups would get killed by the alpha female …. Her pups, socialised to humans as soon as they were born. Then, selection by the humans for non-aggression … obedience …. culling the ones that didn’t fit …”
‘So now we come to extrapolating what we can from managing wolves and dogs to managing humans. Postulate, please.’
‘The pack is a metaphor for our society.’
‘We generally accept our leaders, so long as they are effective.’
‘Sir, we train humans from childhood. Like pups in the pack’
‘And we give them some benefits so they choose to be in our pack’.
‘Yes, very good. And what about those who choose not to be in our pack?’
‘We eliminate them.’
‘Very good. For your written assignment, summarise in around a thousand words to be handed in next Monday.’
To wear a face-mask or not? This article seeks to clarify some of the issues of conflicting advice around the advisability or otherwise of people who are not healthcare frontline staff wearing face-masks.
There has been some discussion around this on social media and in my sphere some of it particularly tense and even illogical. I have observed at a number of times throughout my life that the reaction of some people to a stressful situation is to create more stress around it – as human behaviour one assumes it must have a function, though I find it difficult to see what it might be. However, the question, with possible repercussions to general safety from the Coronavirus-19 is a serious one.
It is worth remarking that some bad advice and information about the Coronavirus-19 has circulated on social media and even been given by Governments. I myself have seen advice on drinking hot drinks as an effective remedy and I am aware that the President of an East European country claimed that drinking vodka killed the virus or prevented one contracting it. Why anyone should wish to put out unscientific advice about such a serious matter is beyond me but it has happened a number of times from different sources.
FACT AND ARGUMENT
There is general agreement that the primary method of contamination by the virus, especially in the case of no physical contact with an infected person, is by droplets from a person who has the virus passing it on to us. The method of passing these droplets might be sneezing, coughing, spitting (for example unintentionally, during speech). The virus then lingers on our face until we convey it to our mouths by touch from the infected area, or by inhalation etc, from whence it proceeds to infect our lungs.
That being so, it is completely counter-intuitive and appears to contradict logic to say that masks would be of no preventive use whatsoever. However, intuition is sometime wrong and many times what has been promoted as “common sense” has turned out to be merely an expression of prejudice or ignorance – or belief in an individual or institution. So maybe a face-mask provides no protection, right? Well no, because frontline health practitioners are wearing them and in fact there is some agitation about their not being available in sufficient numbers for their use.
A SCIENTIFIC ARGUMENT AGAINST EFFICACY OF FACE-MASKS?
OK, so what is being said by the main group of face-mask-usefulness deniers, from my observation, is that the particular face masks used by those health professionals, with a filter, is a good defence against contracting the virus from direct contact with infected droplets to the face. But only those. OK, that might be so, in which case we’d expect to be given a rational scientific reason. However, no-one arguing with me has supplied such an explanation nor have I seen scientific argument justifying it. In fact, I have seen, quite apart from my “common sense”, scientific evidence that seems to show that other types of face-mask do indeed help to prevent direct droplet infection.
So why are some authorities arguing against it? A conspiracy theorist might suggest those who rule us don’t want the expense of supplying us with those masks but, considering the effect this pandemic is having on our economy, I would be inclined to dismiss that explanation. What I tend to believe instead is that the authorities fear that wearing such masks will give us a false sense of security, leading to incautious behaviour and a greater chance of contracting and spreading the virus.
If that were so, why don’t they give us the best advice all around about face-masks but still strongly advise us about the other precautions, such as wearing gloves, washing hands with soap, keeping a distance of six feet etc? I would assume they don’t do that because they don’t trust us, they think most of us are stupid. The behaviour of some during this pandemic would indeed seem to prove their point which in some ways might not be surprising; if you deprive people of responsibility for most things that regulate their lives, it’s somewhat contradictory to then expect them to act responsibly. But in fact, most people have been acting responsibly – and caringly. And neither the Government, the HSE or the capitalist concerns are in a great position to be lecturing us on our lack of responsibility – but I leave that for another day’s discussion.
I am not a scientist and I have not done a huge amount of research but I think I have done enough to convince me that wearing of most kinds of face-mask in public does indeed provide some protection against direct contaminated droplet contact. And in fact, even many of those who say it would not give the wearer any protection do admit that it would give other people some protection from an infected person. And since one can be carrying the virus for some days without exhibiting signs of it, surely everyone should be wearing a face-mask in public? EVERYONE!
When I was employed managing teams working with homeless people and/ or substance misusers, our health safety advice was to assume that anyone we worked with was HIV positive. Because you can never know for sure.
The advice being put out from the HSE is that in the case of this virus no face-masks except the special ones work. However, the World Health Organisation began in the early days by saying it would help but lately says only that it would only help to prevent its spread. Well, well …. only help to prevent its spread? ONLY?
COUNTRIES ENCOURAGING OR ENFORCING GENERAL FACE-MASK WEARING
A number of Asian countries insist that the level of transmission in their countries is much lower than in some European countries and they ascribe that to the universal wearing of face-masks. Czech Republic says the same. I have not seen statistics to confirm those claim but nor have I seen a statistical refutation. The US Centre for Disease Control recommends everyone wear face-masks.
I have seen reported an experiment which seems to prove that the droplets do not pass through a cotton-and-paper barrier (see the accompanying video for the experiment and also practical demonstration on how to construct such a reusable face-mask from a T-shirt). I have also read an article in the well-respected medical journal The Lancet, discussing the scientific merits of the arguments for and against.
I think the evidence tends to support the case that wearing most kinds of face-mask does help protect the wearer but the fact that they help in preventing the spread to others should be enough on its own to encourage us all to wear them.
There are some social issues with wearing the masks that have emerged in some parts of the world and I list the ones I have come across:
STIGMA: People may shun someone wearing a mask as they consider the wearers to be infected. So what, if they have an effective role? And isn’t countering this a job for the responsible authorities, community organisations etc?
EXCLUSION: Some facilities may refuse to permit entry to people not wearing face-masks, as is apparently the case in Hong Kong. But the exclusion has a fairly simple solution.
EXPENSE & RACKETEERING: Yes, we saw some examples of that here in Ireland with some suppliers of latex etc. gloves and hand sanitiser gel. If we learn how to make effective ones we can overcome this problem but, in any case, the benefits of wearing the mask outweigh the negative aspects involved in supply.
WHO SHOULD WEAR THE MOST EFFECTIVE FACE-MASKS?
Some people have put forward the argument that no-one but the front-line health professionals should wear the most effective models and I have even seen posters on the internet telling people not to wear one unless they are infected. Their reasoning is that there are not enough of these available to supply those who need them most. Well that seems to make sense except that their condemnation is often directed at the occasional non-healthworker person wearing such a mask rather than at the Government and HSE which have not laid in sufficient stocks.
Is it an issue that many people are wearing the special face-masks and that is the reason health-workers are not being supplied with them? Certainly there has been no evidence of this in Ireland.
Some concede that certain high-risk groups are entitled to wear the special face-masks also, which is very gracious of them.
On a personal note, my special mask was given to me as a gift, I did not seek it nor was I aware of its special nature when I received it. In addition, on a number of counts I do belong to a high-risk group; readers are free to believe or disbelieve me but I do not intend to explain that or to justify it.
On this and other general questions I would encourage people to concentrate on the overall issue and to be a part of the solution rather than add to the problem.
Feel free to comment on the scientific and practical points made in this article but please do not respond with purely personal opinions or those substantiated by restricted sources (e.g “HSE professionals have told me”) and without dealing with sources and points listed here.
From Workers’ Republic, 18 March 1916.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.
The question often arises: Why do Irishmen celebrate the festival of their national saint, in view of the recently re-discovered truth that he was by no means the first missionary to preach Christianity to the people of Ireland? It is known now beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Christian religion had been preached and practised in Ireland long before St. Patrick, that Christian churches had been established, and it is probable that the legend about the shamrock was invented in some later generation than that of the saint. Certainly the shamrock bears no place of any importance in early Celtic literature, and the first time we read of it as having any reference to or bearing on religion in Ireland occurs in the work of a foreigner – an English monk.
But all that notwithstanding there is good reason why Irish men and women should celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. They should celebrate it for the same reason as they should honour the green flag of Ireland, despite the fact that there is no historical proof that the Irish, in the days of Ireland’s freedom from foreign rule, ever had a green flag as a national standard, or indeed ever had a national flag at all
The claim of the 17th of March to be Ireland’s national festival, the claim of St. Patrick to be Ireland’s national saint, the claim of the shamrock to be Ireland’s national plant, the claim of the green flag to be Ireland’s national flag rests not on the musty pages of half-forgotten history but on the affections and will of the Irish people.
Sentiment it may be. But the man or woman who scoffs at sentiment is a fool. We on this paper respect facts, and have a holy hatred of all movements and causes not built upon truth. But sentiment is often greater than facts, because it is an idealised expression of fact – a mind picture of truth as it is seen by the soul, unhampered by the grosser dirt of the world and the flesh.
The Irish people, denied comfort in the present, seek solace in the past of their country; the Irish mind, unable because of the serfdom or bondage of the Irish race to give body and material existence to its noblest thoughts, creates an emblem to typify that spiritual conception for which the Irish race laboured in vain. If that spiritual conception of religion, of freedom, of nationality exists or existed nowhere save in the Irish mind, it is nevertheless as much a great historical reality as if it were embodied in a statute book, or had a material existence vouched for by all the pages of history.
It is not the will of the majority which ultimately prevails; that which ultimately prevails is the ideal of the noblest of each generation. Happy indeed that race and generation in which the ideal of the noblest and the will of the majority unite.
In this hour of her trial Ireland cannot afford to sacrifice any one of the things the world has accepted as peculiarly Irish. She must hold to her highest thoughts, and cleave to her noblest sentiments. Her sons and daughters must hold life itself as of little value when weighed against the preservation of even the least important work of her separate individuality as a nation.
Therefore we honour St. Patrick’s Day (and its allied legend of the shamrock) because in it we see the spiritual conception of the separate identity of the Irish race – an ideal of unity in diversity, of diversity not conflicting with unity.
Magnificent must have been the intellect that conceived such a thought; great must have been the genius of the people that received such a conception and made it their own.
On this Festival then our prayer is: Honour to St. Patrick the Irish Apostle, and Freedom to his people.
I seem to recall that Connolly wrote something else about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps when he was living and working in the USA but can’t find it now. For similar reasons to what he lays out here, I supported and indeed organised public celebration of the feast day in London.
And I might have agreed with Connolly in the case of Ireland at the time he wrote it: the whole country under British occupation, in the middle of the First World War with thousands of Irish casualties in the British armed forces and coming up to the 1916 Rising.
But now? I don’t think so, neither with what it celebrates nor how it is celebrated, which always makes me want to get out of Dublin. Republic Day, which Connolly was party to creating but could perhaps not have anticipated being a national festival day, is what we should be focusing on now, I think.
I went shopping tonight. No, not a stock-up raid — actual shopping. Of course, I forgot the actual thing I went to get — toilet paper. No shit! (well, not until I buy some, anyway). So I got some other stuff I would need soon.
I was glad for once, especially for the safety of the staff, to see the self-checkout machines there and happy, for a change, to use them. Even though the machine could not understand why my bag was “too heavy” (a small-medium backpack!). So a member of staff had to keep approaching to tell the machine I was all right and to carry on, which kind of negated the whole safety aspect.
Of course safety has nothing to do with why these machines were installed, nor even customer satisfaction but to reduce the number of employed staff (who still have to keep attending to machines that misunderstand the shoppers or vice versa).
But NOT ONE OF THE STAFF WAS WEARING DISPOSABLE LATEX GLOVES OR FACE MASKS.
NOR DID I SEE A HAND SANITISER DISPENSER.
THEIR EMPLOYERS SHOULD BE OBLIGED TO PROVIDE THESE BY LAW IF THEY DO NOT DO SO VOLUNTARILY.
The Basques have a saying in their language which means “The first and last words in Euskera” (Basque language: “Lehen eta azken hitzak euskeraz”). The Irish would do well to adopt the slogan or dictum for their own: “Na céad focail agus na focail deiridh i nGaeilge”.
The Basques developed their slogan (the word is from the Irish, slua-ghairm: to call the crowd/ multitude/ troop) in their movement to conserve their native language and spread it among those who had lost it. The Basque homeland (certainly once larger than it is now) is today situated on the north-west of the Spanish state and the south-west of the French one. Their language is considered an older arrival than all other languages extant upon the continent, to be not of Indo-European origin and so not of the same family group as any of the nearby Romance languages: Galician, Asturian, Castillian, Languedoc (Occitan), French, Catalan.
Within the territories they control, Spanish and French state administrations have dominated and suppressed all the languages other than respectively Castillian and French; they have done so through official disregard, censure, shaming, even physical punishment and jail. But the Basques have struggled to keep their language alive and to spread it among those who have lost it. And they have been much more successful at doing so than we Irish have at doing the same thing with an Ghaeilge. The Catalans have done even better yet, certainly in Catalunya itself1.
So, why the slogan of “first and last words in Euskera” and what happens in-between? Is it intended like the “cúpla focal” (“couple of words”) of Irish politicians (and increasingly, not even that many), a kind of mini-lip-service? Not at all, its intention is restorative towards the language and is a practical measure which anyone can adopt — indeed we in Ireland should embrace it for our own language.
When we meet someone, we greet them and, in Ireland, the majority of us do so in English. Having done so, the rest of the conversation is likely to continue in English too. Taking our leave of them, naturally, we tend to do so in English also.
The impression on anyone within hearing of this exchange and so many like it is that Irish does not exist or, if it does, hardly anyone in Ireland knows it or, if they do, don’t use it in their daily life. Not far from the truth, one might comment. Indeed but the reality is that a lot more know the language (or some of it at least) than one might think.
Let’s return to that interaction touched upon earlier, when one person meets another. It could be a customer in a bar, restaurant or shop. One of them says “Hello”, the other replies likewise and from there onwards the verbal communication is all in English. Or another scenario, a friend or acquaintance of one, introduces another in English and both who are strangers proceed in English also.
Perhaps the customer and the shop assistant, waiter or bartender in the first example were fluent Irish-speakers or at least competent – none knows this about the other and they continue in the dominant language, English; each may return home later without having spoken a word of Irish that day. The strangers being introduced to one another by a mutual acquaintance, perhaps at work on in a social setting, may have a similar experience.
THE FIRST WORDS
Suppose that instead the customer or person being introduced had greeted in Irish? The recipient of the greeting now has the choice, assuming some knowledge of the language, to respond likewise. Should this occur, they can now proceed to the limits of their knowledge of the language or of the situation in which they find themselves. Other factors govern the choice being made but we can discuss those later.
What of the impression on those others within hearing? They might be surprised or even astonished, impressed or embarrassed; however everyone is reminded that Irish exists, that it is a medium of verbal communication and that some people in Ireland use it, even outside the shrinking Irish-language reserves.
Of course, that was perhaps only two people heard speaking it in a whole month or even a year. But what if more people did the same? Why, some of those who overhear might even adopt the same habit, na céad focail in nGaeilge! Gradually at first and then suddenly, everybody would seem to be greeting in Irish! Why, it might even be worth learning a little oneself! At least enough to reply and take the conversation a sentence or two forward ….
In addition, sometimes the experience flushes out other Irish speakers too. On the top deck of a bus heading into the city centre one day, I could hear some young lads at the back of the bus (where else!) speaking in Irish. I could tell that they were not fluent but one at least was doing reasonably well. As they passed me to get off in Sráid Uí Chonaill, I remarked in Irish to them that it was great to hear the language being spoken in public. While they stumbled over a reply to me, the man across the aisle from me addressed them also, in fluent Ulster Irish. What an experience that must have been for the young lads but certainly for us, two Irish speakers a few feet away from one another and totally unaware, until that moment, of the other’s existence.
On another occasion at a demonstration in Dublin, I and another holding a banner between us were conversing in Irish – loudly as of necessity. Ahead of us, another group began to call back in Irish too. Spreagann Gaeilge Gaeilge, commented the comrade on the other end of our banner (“Irish [language] inspires Irish”).
AND THE LAST WORDS
What about the last words being in Irish – just a courtesy or a whim of some kind? Well, imagine one greeted the stranger, shop assistant, waiter or bartender in Irish and the reply came in English (which at the moment would probably be the case)? Thereafter the conversation flows in English but, as the Irish speaker is leaving, she says “Slán”. By now, the other has recovered a little from being somewhat wrong-footed by being addressed in Irish and furthermore, since the customer is leaving, is not worried about exposing what he considers to be his shamefully little knowledge of the language, so he replies also in Irish, “Slán”.
Of course, that situation was not momentous for the survival of the language but neither was it totally negative. The Irish speaker draws a little comfort from it. The other feels perhaps a little pride, is maybe even encouraged to respond in Irish should he see that person again or if some other addresses him in Irish. How hard can that be? He’d do it in Greek in Crete, in Spanish in Torremolinos or in Cancun, even though all he has is a few phrases from the tourist guidebook.
Of course, it is not the same. In the first place, the linguistic environment in Greece is Greek, in Torremolinos and Cancun, Spanish. Even migrant workers there will have learned the language. Not everyone around one in Ireland is speaking Irish in public, in fact, in most places, almost no-one is.
Secondly, there is no expectation of the English-speaker to be fluent in Greek or in Spanish. No expectation that the Irish person can speak Irish either, one might think. But actually, there kind of is. Inside the head of every Irish person there is the knowledge that this is their language and a feeling, buried deeply or lightly, that perhaps they should be able to speak it.
This feeling or knowledge can manifest itself in a reluctance to expose one’s limited knowledge of Irish to the perverse but understandable extent of refusing to speak it at all. Or of responding aggressively. Those are possible outcomes but so are more positive ones.
A person who has very little Irish may think: “But if I reply ‘Dia’s Muire dhuit’ and she lets loose with a flood of Irish, I won’t know what she’s saying and I’ll be mortified! Better to say nothing at all and not be so ashamed.” Of course, that is one choice. But it is not the only possible one. He could, instead, after she spoke to him some sentences in Irish he did not understand, reply in a sentence learned off by heart: “Gabh mo leithscéil ach níl ach cúpla focal agam” (“Excuse me, I have but a few words”). She might in turn reply: “Go raibh maith agat, úsáid a bhfuil agat” (“Thanks, use what you have”).
And why should the initiative be only with the person fluent in Irish? The person who knows only a few words is just as capable of making greetings and farewells in Irish — in fact I would go further and say that the language needs them to do that, to make that the norm.
In those kinds of exchanges, there will be a positive outcome for each participant. Not a huge step forward for the language in general but for anyone overhearing, a reminder that the Irish language does exist and perhaps that in this case, a person who did not seem know it well, still chose to learn a few words and use them. All of that goes to the credit side of the ledger in the psychological struggle for the maintenance and restoration of Irish.
An issue that is often raised with regard to speaking in Irish in the company of non-speakers, is one of politeness. It is generally considered rude to speak in a language that other people in the company do not understand. Strangely enough, people tend to think that more about people speaking Irish in Ireland than they do about people speaking French, German or Spanish among themselves here.
The issue must be faced. Neither of those languages is in any danger but Irish is – and in serious danger. Despite the growth of nurseries, primary and some secondary schools teaching through Irish, the actual daily use of the language is in decline. And the Gaeltachtanna — those areas where the language of the home has always been Irish – are shrinking at an alarming rate.
We need to find social strategies for linguistically-mixed company, whether it be occasional translation for the non-Irish speakers, or the tolerance of the latter – or conversing parts in Irish and parts in English. For the sake of the language we cannot allow the rules of politeness to deprive us of every social occasion to speak in the language other than some tiny domains hidden away somewhere, small groups of us meeting like conspirators in places where we are unlikely to meet anyone we know.
Another issue often raised is related to foreigners, whether they be migrants or visitors. I would say that the same rules apply. Most of those have their own language as well and speak it among themselves, in public too. And they must surely wonder why we don’t speak our own. The children of migrants are learning Irish at school and many are competent, some fluent in it. Some of their parents know a few words too: a Nepalese in a bar serves me through Irish and a Pakistani in a shop thanks me or tells me I am welcome, in Irish also.
In the public library, you may wish to greet in Irish and hand the returned books towards them saying: “Isteach”; the likelihood of you being misunderstood is minimal. Then, with the books you are borrowing, “Amach”. In the Post Office, you can ask for “Stampa i gcóir Sasana, le do thoill” or “Stampa i gcóir na hEorpa”. To the question “Payment by cash or card?” when you present your utility bill, you may wish to show notes and reply “Le h-airgead” or, displaying your card, “Le cárta”. “Do you want a bag?” “Níl, go raibh maith agat”, with a shake of the head. Leaving the bus or the taxi, you could say: “Go raibh maith agat, slán”. Sometimes, you will hear a reply in Irish and it will probably lift your heart a little. And the world around you will hear a little too …. and wonder.
None of that on its own, of course, will save the Irish language. But I think it will help. And now, on the crest of a small wave, might be a good time to do it: when the number and percentage of students attending all-Irish language schools is at an all-time high; when a survey of third-level students, whatever their feelings about how it was taught, show a majority supporting the retention of Irish as a compulsory subject on the curriculum. However, studies in the 1980s revealed a pattern of fall-off in Irish competency outside the Gaeltachts as the years went by; they need an environment encouraging the regular use of the language – use it or lose it.
The pro-independence political parties in the southern Basque Country make their public speeches either totally in Euskera or bilingually, in Euskera and Castillian. It is the same with the majority Basque trade unions. Also with the feminist and environmental movements, those against repression, against animal abuse, etc. In their public discourse, all organisations and parties in Catalunya that are not specifically Spanish-unionist (and even some of those), use Catalan first in public and Castillian secondly, if at all.
None of Ireland’s political parties (mainstream or oppositional), trade unions or campaigns (other than those specifically for the language) does anything much to promote the Irish language and some are hostile to it. That means it is up to us as individuals – everything we do for it can help at least a little.
So, as the Basques say, the first and last words in the language.
Do ye likewise; go out and multiply.
1Catalan is spoken elsewhere than in Catalunya, for example in the Paisos Catalans (“Catalan Countries”) such as Valencia and the Balearic Islands, where it is not as strong as it is currently in Catalunya, also in part of Sardinia.
A mixed audience of anti-fascists were entertained on 23rd November by a range of artists from the Irish trad-folk scene and a Spanish band performing to commemorate on its 80th anniversary the return of the Irish survivors of the International Brigades to Ireland. The event, “The Return of the Connolly Column” was organised by the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland (FIBI) and the venue, the Workman’s Club on Wellington Quay of the Dublin City Centre, was packed.
The event began with Dougie Dalby introducing Harry Owens, a Spanish Civil War historian and founder member of the FIBI. Owens gave a speech, recalling how the social-democratic PSOE Government in the Spanish State in the 1980s had not wished to support the marking and conservation of graves of International Brigaders who had fallen in battle but had been convinced to do so by Edward Heath, British Prime Minister and by the leader of the Irish Labour Party at the time, Dick Spring. FIBI had become part of that commemoration effort in visiting some of the sites but also in erecting monuments and plaques in various parts of Ireland.
Colm Morgan from Co. Louth followed, with guitar and voice, with some of his own compositions, including one about Frank Ryan – excellent material in my opinion – to be followed by Mick Hanley (guitar and voice again) accompanied by Donal Lunny. Hanley and Lunny have history, of course, not least in that great band of the past, Moving Hearts; both belong to that honourable class of Irish musicians who have not been afraid to support progressive causes including some in their own country – and who have never performed for “any English King or Queen”.
Lunny accompanied various artists at different times during the evening, sometimes on keyboard and sometimes with guitar, as well as adding vocals once also. After his pairing with Hanley, he accompanied Tony Sweeney’s excellent lively accordion-playing which drew more than one whoop from the audience. All however quietened down for Justin McCarthy reading “The Tolerance of Crows” by Charlie Donnelly, Irish poet, member of Republican Congress and Field Commander of a unit of the International Brigades and who fell at the Battle of Jarama on 27th February 1937.
After the break excellent singer Muireann Ní Amhlaoibh sang (accompanied by Lunny) and her rendition of Sliabh Geal gCua na Féile, a song composed by an Irish emigrant working in a Welsh coalmine in the late 19th Century, was particularly beautiful. It is a lament for home and language by Pádraig Ó Míléadha, from the Déise (‘Deci’) area of Wateford.
John Faulkner, virtuoso composer and singer-songwriter, raised in London of Irish background and for many years a resident of Kinvara, Co. Galway (but almost Co.Clare) accompanied himself singing a number of songs, including Patrick Galvin’s great composition Where Oh Where Is Our James Connolly? He performed an anti-war song by Eric Bogle also, All the Fine Young Men, which he introduced saying that some wars need to be fought.
Andy Irvine took the stage second-to-last of the acts for the evening, another London import to Ireland for which Irish folk and traditional music is very grateful, a composer, singer-songwriter and player of a number of instruments, accompanied once again by Lunny, who shares a history with him in Moving Hearts and Planxty. Irvine performed a number of songs, including Woody Guthrie’s All You Fascists Bound to Lose which, though not very creative in lyrics has a chorus with which the audience joined enthusiastically.
Last on for the evening was Edinburgh-based Gallo Rojo1, anti-fascist musical collective, opening with a reading in the original Castillian of La Pasionara’s farewell speech to the International Brigaders at their demobilisation parade in Barcelona (see Links). It seemed to me that this would have worked better for an Irish audience with a simultaneous or interspersed reading in English but it received strong applause from the audience. This was followed by Ay Carmela!, then Lorca’s Anda Jaleo! I had to leave after that but I could hear the band starting on Bella Ciao, the song of Italian anti-fascist resistance of the 1940s but based on an older song of oppressed women agricultural workers.
It did occur to me at that point that among all the great material of the evening, I had heard no song to represent the International Brigaders of nations other than Ireland which is often the case at such events. More unusually, no reference I could recall was made to growing fascism in Europe and especially in the Spanish State (it never went away there), nor to antifascists facing trial arising out of mobilisation against the attempted Dublin launch of the fascist organisation Pegida in February 2012.
Immediately outside the concert hall, the bar area held a large number of people, perhaps as many as a quarter again of the audience inside. The performances inside were being conveyed by electronic speakers to them too but I am unsure how many were listening. There was a FIBI stall there too selling antifascist material.
Overall, the audience appeared to be mostly Irish with some foreign nationals and from a broad range of political backgrounds: Communist Party of Ireland, Sinn Féin, Anarchists and independent supporters and activists of mainly socialist and/or Republican ideology.
I am informed that FIBI are currently finalising the editing of a video of the concert and this will be available as soon as possible.
1. THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES
The International Brigades were raised through Communist parties around the world to assist in the defence of the republican Popular Front Government of the Spanish State against a military coup with Spanish fascist (and Basque Carlist) support, aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The Brigades consisted of volunteers from at least 65 nations2 and included Jews from a number. Early Irish volunteers enlisted chiefly in units of British and USA organisation but were present in groups from Australia and Canada too but later some made their way directly from Ireland; later too some of the Irish came to be known as the Connolly Column. The English-speaking units and some others were formed3 into the 15th International Brigade (originally the Fifth, but when added to the ten indigenous brigades of the Spanish Republic – Spanish, Catalan and Basque – became the Fifteenth). Not all foreign anti-fascist volunteers enlisted through the International Brigades, some joined Anarchist or Trotkyist militias4 and at least one, an Irishman, joined a Basque unit.
The Republican Government of the Spanish state disbanded the International Brigades on 23rd September 1938 in an unsuccessful bid to have the non-fascist European powers5 pressure their German and Italian fascist counterparts to withdraw their logistics, soldiers and airforce support from the Spanish military-fascist forces. By that time many of the “Brigadistas” were dead or captured as they had borne some of the heaviest prolonged fighting at Madrid (1936); Jarama, Brunete and Belchite (all 1937); Fuentes del Ebro and the Ebro itself (1938).
Their formal demobilisation parade with their auxiliary recruits (including women) was held in Barcelona on 28th October, where they received the famous oration from the Basque Dolores Ibárruri, “La Pasionara”, prominent anti-fascist and activist of the Communist Party of Spain (see Links). It is notable that she addressed her oration to “communists, socialists, republicans, anarchists” as not only communists fought and died in the ranks of the Brigadistas.
2. A DIFFERENT IRELAND
The Irish Brigadistas returning to Ireland found a society very different from that of today. Anti-communist hysteria was prevalent, whipped up in particular by the Catholic Church and supported in particular – but not exclusively – by Fine Gael (which formed in part from Blueshirts6). The Fianna Fáil Government was not fascist but was of the Irish capitalist class relying heavily on Catholic Church support and so contributed to anti-communism; all of the main media was anti-communist and finally the IRA, as well as having forbidden any of its Volunteers to fight for any other cause than Ireland’s, had expelled communists from the IRA in 1934. As with the time of repression of Republicans by the Free State, the USA seemed a good option for some of the Irish Brigadistas (some had enlisted there anyway) but there too, many antifascist war veterans found themselves subject to anti-communist hysteria and even later, when the USA was fighting fascist powers, labelled as “premature antifascists”!
Today here in Ireland the general attitude is one of respect or even pride in that part of our history, when Irish Volunteers went abroad to fight in defence of democracy and socialism against fascism7. The best-known song to date about the Irish Brigadistas is undoubtedly Viva La Quinze Brigada8 by Ireland’s best-known folk singer-songwriter, Christy Moore. Published accounts by Irish participants include The Connolly Column byMichael O’Riordan (1979) and Brigadista (2006) by Bob Doyle. Moore’s song is very popular in Ireland (and among the Irish diaspora in Britain) and a plaque listing some of the Irish martyrs is fixed to the wall by the entrance to the Theatre building of the major Irish trade union, SIPTU.
Michael O’Riordan survived the War and was prominent in the Communist Party of Ireland, dying in Dublin in 1983. Bob Doyle was the last surviving known Brigadista from Ireland; on 22nd January 2009 he died in England, where he had been living and had raised a family. On February 14th that year his ashes were carried by relatives and admirers in a march from the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin city centre to Liberty Hall, where a reception was held. An optimistic photographer with the byline of “anarchaeologist” reported the following day in Indymedia: “…. in a display of left unity and solidarity we will doubtless see more of on the streets of Dublin over the coming months ….. Groups attending the celebration included the main unions, Éirigí, the WSM, the IRSP and Dublin Sinn Féin. Banners were also carried by the International Brigades Memorial Trust and the Inistiogue George Brown Memorial Committee. Supporters of the Dublin branch of the Irish Basque Solidarity Campaign demonstrating outside the GPO dipped their flags as a mark of respect as the crowd passed by”. The DIBSC actually wheeled in behind the march as the tail end passed, though the reporter seems not to have noticed that.9
FRIENDS OF THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADES IN IRELAND
“The aim of the concert was to honour the enduring legacy of the 15th International Brigade and its ongoing contribution in the war against fascism”, a spokesperson for FIBI said in a statement. “As such, it was both a commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the disbandment of the Brigade and the subsequent return of the survivors to Ireland but it was also a celebration of their spirit in choosing to sacrifice everything for working-class principles.”
FIBI is an entirely voluntary organisation but does incur costs in erecting memorials, research, promotion etc. “This concert was designed to raise a modest amount to ensure the continuation of this work without having to resort to piecemeal fundraising over the next year or two. We are delighted to say we met our twin objectives of hosting a fitting occasion to coincide with the 80th anniversary of what became known as The Connolly Column and raising funds to help us continue with our efforts to ensure those who went are never forgotten.”
With its work of commemoration ceremonies and erection of plaques and monuments around the country, a work which not only reminds us of the Irish contribution in general but also links it to specific individuals from specific areas, the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland has been deepening the wider attitude of respect for the International Brigades and pride in the Irish volunteers which has been growing steadily.
Hopefully all of this will combine with and inform any action necessary to halt the rise of fascism throughout the world and of course to prevent it taking hold in Ireland.
3 The Balkan Dimitrov Battalion and the Franco-Belgian Sixth February Battallion.
4George Orwell, who wrote Homage to Catalonia, probably the most famous English-language account of the war by a participant, enlisted in the militia of the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unifacción Marxista), a coalition of Trotskyis organisations (but whose alliance with the Right Opposition was renounced by Trotsky himself). The much larger anarcho-syndicalist trade union and movement Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), closely associated with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI), also had militias, of which the Durruti Collumn was the largest and is the best known today. Some foreigners also enlisted in those militias.
5These powers, such as France and the UK, were following an allegedly “non-interventionist” policy but effectively forming part of the blockade preventing the Republican Government from receiving aid. Later the governments of those two states in particular tried a policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy which was unsuccessful (except in encouraging further aggression) and they ended up going to war.
6Former IRA leader Eoin O’Duffy had, with Irish Catholic Church endorsement, recruited many more Irishmen to fight alongside the Spanish military-fascist forces but they acquired a reputation for ill-discipline and in one of their only two brief military engagement mistakenly fired on fascists; they went home in disgrace in late June 1937 (a year before the International Brigades were demobilised and the surviving, non-prisoner Irish were able to return home.
7Republicans and Communists had fought the fascist Blueshirts in Ireland too and the significant contribution of participants from the Irish diaspora to the famous antifascist victory of the Battle of Cable Street (and following guerrilla attacks on fascists at Hyde Park) in London has more recently been recognised (though not yet on the main relevant Wikipedia entry).
8Originally written as Viva La Quinta Brigada (i.e “the Fifth”); however that is the name of a song in Castillian contemporary with the War and later versions of Moore’s song include a line acclaiming “the Fifteenth International Brigade” which would be “la Decimiquinta” which has three syllables too many and so “Quinze”, i.e ‘Fifteen’.
9The DIBSC had already scheduled and advertised a picket to take place on the same day in Dublin’s main street, protesting against Spanish State repression of the Basque independence movement and treatment of prisoners. Upon learning of the planned march to honour Bob Doyle’s memory, I suggested holding our Basque solidarity event earlier, lowering the flags in respect when the march approached and then following it as the tail end passed us. I was unsure of what the reaction of Doyle’s relatives and supporters might be but as soon as those at the front saw what we were doing, a number of them raised clenched fists. It was an emotional moment for me, certainly.