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.
Recently someone objected to my use of the word “militant” to describe a movement with which I am in solidarity, saying that the word implied “violent”. My initial reaction was that I disagreed.
I understand “militant” to mean “determined, assertive, courageous, not awed by confrontation” and that one could even be a “militant pacifist”.
But I decided to look up some dictionary definitions online. The first two or three did indeed include violence as a possibility but not necessarily integral. Another two came closer to my way of thinking: “aggressively active (as in a cause) : COMBATIVE “(Miriam-Webster).
“You use militant to describe people who believe in something very strongly and are active in trying to bring about political or social change, often in extreme ways that other people find unacceptable. Militant mineworkers in the Ukraine have voted for a one-day stoppage next month. …one of the most active militant groups.“ Collins Dictionary.
The meaning of words shifts from language to language, culture to culture and across time. One of the most obvious and startling examples of this is the word “gay”, up to the 1970s probably understood in English by most people as meaning “happy, light-hearted” etc but now, the first interpretation in the English-speaking world would be “homosexual” (in a non-pejorative way).
“Tramp” was a verb in the 19th Century to the extent that a famous marching song of the Union Army in the American Civil War was known as “Tramp, tramp, tramp”1. By the 20th Century its use as a verb was in decline but it was becoming better known as a noun, the meaning of which was understood variously as “vagrant” or even “beggar”.
And one could fill volumes with similar examples, I am sure.
But returning to “militant”, was I the only one who understood its meaning in the way that I had? Well, apparently not, as Wikipedia showed, for example in descriptions of “militant trade unionists” and even a political organisation within the British Labour Party before its expulsion, calling its group “Militant Labour” and its newspaper “Militant”, probably drawing a parallel with those very same trade unionists2.
It would not take much pondering to guess that “militant” had some relation to “military” and apparently the word does indeed have such an origin, from Latin “miles”, ‘a soldier‘.3 But over the years, as with many other words, its meaning has changed.
But apparently, violence is again becoming associated with the word, more so than in the second half of the 20th Century. How did this happen? I am not sure but it appears to have been a spin-off from the more recent imperialist wars of, in particular, the United States. It seems that organisations resisting USA control or dominance in the Middle East, most of which were Muslim in religion, began to be termed “militant” in US and western reporting. Why this became so seems hard to fathom – it was not a word that these organisations applied to themselves — but it has had that spinoff effect on the word “militant”, so that “militant trade unionists” and “militant feminists”, for example, are now likely to be associated with violence, i.e the use of physical force.
How loaded and partisan usage of the word can become is well illustrated in the definition supplied by the Oxford living Dictionary: Favouring confrontational or violent methods in support of a political or social cause. ‘the army are in conflict with militant groups’.
The example given is very interesting. Conflict requires, one supposes, at least two parties and both sides are listed in that quoted phrase. But the impression given is one where “the army” is an authoritative, legitimate force which is being opposed by groups that are none of those things. One almost feels that the source of “the conflict” is the “militant groups” (especially with the current loading of ‘violence’ into definition of the word “militant”).
The ‘army’ is an armed organisation at the very least latently violent (training with deadly weapons) and in this context, almost certainly practicing violence by invasion. Yet it is portrayed as somehow neutral and the opposition as violent. This is further accentuated when the army and armed police are termed “security forces”. How could one be against security? Don’t we all want to be secure? Obviously quite a lot of people don’t want whatever ‘security‘ is being offered by these military and militarised forces and the question of “security for whom?” is hardly ever explored in such discourse, leaving us with the impression that the good guys are the army and police, deserving of our support, while whoever opposes them must be bad and we should line up against them.
As the meaning of words shifts, we have to decide whether to stick with the meaning we had and insist on its primacy, or to adapt and move with it. Up until the 1960s it was generally considered ill-mannered among white and black people to refer to people of noticeable African descent as “black” or as “negro” and Martin Luther King’s campaigning organisation was called the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. Back earlier, in the 18th and early 20th centuries, “negro” would have been acceptable to most. Nowadays, “coloured” or “negro” would generally be considered either offensive or ignorant and “black” is the word, unless one is to use the Africa-derived word, e.g Afro-American, Afro-Caribbean, etc.
And in a strange reversal, whether in self-mockery or appropriation, many Afro-Americans began in the 1970s and 80s describing themselves with the word “nigger”, a word long associated with racism4.
Leaving those examples and dealing with Ireland, a number of organisations advocating Irish independence and unity and denying the legitimacy of the administrations of either side of the partition Border, would happily term themselves and one another “Irish Republicans”. That term came first to exclude the supporters of the Irish Free State, who waged a Civil War against those who would not accept the British terms, including Partition, of the 1921 Treaty. Not much over a decade later, it excluded also the Fianna Fáil party, which had split from Sinn Féin, got elected into government and at different times interned Republicans without trial, executed some and passed emergency-type legislation against them.
Subsequent splits in later years were still all described, along with various versions of the Sinn Féin party, as “Irish Republicans”. After the Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by what had been Provisional Sinn Féin and they subsequently became part of the administration of the British colony of the Six Counties, all those Irish Republicans who did not agree with them on that came to be called “dissidents” in the media and in much political discourse.
Those who are called “dissidents” however did not, for the most part, agree with the term. As far as they are concerned, they are sticking to the “official line” or at least the original one and it is the Provisional Sinn Féin (which now terms itself just ‘Sinn Féin‘) which has diverged from the line and furthermore, departed from the ranks of Irish Republicans.
Let’s do a trawl for definitions similar to what I did with “militant” but this time for “dissident”.
Wiktionary: “A person who formally opposes the current political structure, the political group in power, the policies of the political group in power, or current laws.
“(Christianity) One who disagrees or dissents; one who separates from the established religion.”
Mirriam-Webster: “disagreeing especially with an established religious or political system, organization, or belief
“dissident elements in the armed forces”.
Collins: “people who disagree with and criticize their government, especially because it is undemocratic.
“Dissident people disagree with or criticize their government or a powerful organization they belong to”
Oxford: “A person who opposes official policy, especially that of an authoritarian state.
“‘a dissident who had been jailed by a military regime’”.
And one I hadn’t used before, but which caught my eye, Vocabulary.com: “If you are a dissident, you are a person who is rebelling against a government. Dissidents can do their work peacefully or with violence.
“Dissidentis closely related to the word, dissent, which means objecting. People who are dissidents show their dissent5. Catholic priests who advocate allowing women into the priesthood could be called dissidents, as could the Puritans who left England to live in colonial America. As an adjective, a dissident member of a group is one who disagrees with the majority of members.”
Since it is not a religious movement, “one who separates from the established religion” would seem non-applicable (though when one sees how many Republicans cling to certain practices like non-recognition of the court trying them, or refusal to stand in elections, it is tempting to think of those prohibitions as religious dogma rather than tactics for particular times and place).
Most Irish Republicans would consider themselves as in opposition to the “established (political) order” of the country, i.e Ireland partitioned, with one part run by an anti-Republican Irish ruling class and the other by a colonial ruling class. They would consider the relevant governments as “authoritarian” and “undemocratic”, certainly in their treatment of Irish Republicans by harassment, intimidation, detention, subjecting them to special emergency-type legislation, non-jury courts and prison.
In that sense of “dissident”6, the Sinn Party in its various encarnations has until recentlyalways been a party of dissidents, first against a foreign monarchy subjecting Ireland without an Irish king (the party founded by Arthur Griffiths), then to a Republican party campaigning against British rule (the coalition that was the reformed post-Rising party 1918-1921), after that a party against the Irish Free State Government and the colonial administration of the Six Counties, subsequently a Republican socialist party opposing the same forces, then after a split, a Republican party with similar objectives but supporting an armed resistance to the the British occupation. To that can be added the existence of the Republican Sinn Féin party from a split and at least one other group of similar construction for a time but with more socialist emphasis.
Clearly (formerly Provisional) Sinn Féin can no longer legitimately describe itself as dissident, should it want to, as it is now party to that repressive colonial government to which it was previously vehemently opposed and also now straining to become part of a coalition in government of the Irish state.
Many people who left the SF party did so precisely because they opposed those policies and actions7 and on most terms could legitimately claim to be “dissidents” – if they wished to. Not just dissidents recently within the party but dissidents against the State and British colonialism.
Clearly then descriptions such as “rebelling against a government” and “disagree with and criticize their government, especially because it is undemocratic” are not going to be the problem and “formally opposes the current political structure, the political group in power, the policies of the political group in power, or current laws” seems just tailor-made for Irish Republicans.
The objection to the appellation of “dissident” then must surely be based on either a misunderstanding of the meaning of the word or a concept of some kind of historical Irish Republican authority. If the latter, then the SF party can been seen as having gone against that authority and those Irish Republicans not following the SF path as being the true and loyal followers, faithful to that historical authority. This would be an entirely understandable attitude – but is it helpful? Aren’t the most important things theaims that Irish Republicans have and how they conduct themselves in working towards them, rather than whether they are called “dissidents” or not? After all, there is nothing fundamentally pejorative in the term.
There is no doubt that “dissidents” is a handy catch-all term to describe Republicans who belong to a number of political groups or who are independent activists (the latter of which Ireland and especially Dublin has a great many) but is it conferring some kind of implicit legitimacy on the collaborationist and now constitutionalist Sinn Féin party? And if so, legitimacy in the eyes of whom? Remember how one time there was an “Official Sinn Féin” (and IRA) and the “Provisional Sinn Féin (and IRA) who split from them? It was the latter that went on to gain dominance in the Republican movement while the “Official” organisation split again and shrank to a tiny remnant.
If I were to count myself among the ranks of Irish Republicans8, would I object to the term of “dissident”? I don’t think so.
1Coincidentally, the word “gay” is employed in its older sense in the lyrics of the song. A lot of interesting information is contained in the Wikipedia page on this song (see link in Sources and References).
2This was an organisation run by the entryist British Trotskyist organisation which later became the Socialist Party (like its great rival, the Socialist Workers Party, it too has an offshoot in Ireland).
3Through Latin into French and from there into English. However, the word may have been of an older root, possibly Celtic: “ ‘Míle’, word in Irish, meaning ‘a warrior, a champion, a hero’” given p.23 in How the Irish Invented Slang, Daniel Cassidy (2007).
4The term is not accepted equally among black people: I recall a black workmate of mine telling me that he had punched another black man who had referred to him as “nigger”.
5Actually, as Wiktionary tells us, it means more correctly “not in agreement” and comes from the Latin word for “to sit apart”
6Lest it be thought that I dissent from this opinion, let me put on record that this is one of the things about which I entirely agree with Irish Republicans. I suspect however that this definition is generally only used by media and mainstream commentators to describe regimes other than the ‘western democracies’.
7Some people had left that party already by that time, some because they perceived its direction and some because they objected to procedures within the party, especially those they considered undemocratic. Others left over time due to decisions to contest elections in the Irish state or to take their seats in the parliaments if elected, or because of rapprochement with the colonial police, over alleged harassment, party promotions or personal reasons.
8“Irish Republican” is a specific political designation and does not describe me, although I am Irish and I do aspire to a Republic of social equality. I am a revolutionary and a socialist as well as being anti-imperialism; I am many other things as well but that will do as a basic platform on which to seek others of like mind. In the course of struggles I do of course join in a front of one or the other of those tendencies but always with an eye to the full objective. Or so I try, at least.
Most modern criminal detectives have sex – I know this from reading, thankfully not from personal experience.
The older set, Holmes, Inspector Maigret, Nero Wolfe, Miss Marple – they didn’t. Holmes was into a barely-concealed opium habit and Wolfe had an obsession with orchids; Poirot was obsessive-compulsive and probably fetish-obsessed with his patent-leather shoes. Miss Marple, who first appeared in a novel published in 1930, reflected her times even when the times passed her (Nemesis was published as late as 1971) and as to a suggestion of sex: “Good God! What kind of a degenerate are you? A woman detective having sex? And a pensioner?”
In modern times we might reflect that “of course there was her live-in maid … and that succession of young women she trained as maids ….”
Not only did they not have sex on paper, they were all single except for Maigret, so there was an absence of potential sexual activity to distract one. Maigret of course was French so like many middle-class men of his time would have had not only a wife but a mistress too but …. we don’t talk about that.
Yet sex is one of the most basic driving instincts – it governs procreation of species and, working in tandem with natural selection, rules on evolution of all species. How come it was left out?
The characters reflect their times and their class, of course, as well as what was expected of their class, sometimes with a little added taste of the unexpected – but not in sex. Yes, we know that DH Lawrence’s sexually-explicity (and trans-class) Lady Chatterly’s Lover was published two years before Agatha Christie Miss Marple’s first appearance in a novel, in Murder at the Vicarage (1930) – but Lawrence was published in Italy. Sniff! — those Continentals! A year later Chatterly was published again in France and – interestingly – in Australia. But all that publishing was done privately. In 1960, when an unexpurgated edition was finally published in the “United Kingdom”1, Penguin, the publishers, were subjected to a famous obscenity trial but, when they won, sold three million copies. It was still banned in the Irish State, of course but we weren’t alone – the USA, Canada, Australia, India and Japan all banned it too.
Romantic and gothic novels of the time didn’t have sex either, except in the mention of a child born out of wedlock, though the suggestion of or even history of rape was there at times. Sexual feelings of the heroine (and sometimes of the hero) were conveyed through descriptions of a blushing cheek, longing looks, palpitating heart and breast (but no mention of nipples!), feeling faint in the head …. all above-board and more importantly, all above the waist (though still allowing the reader’s imagination to eroticise, of course).
The most important point to grasp here I think is that something being published does not necessarily reflect the dominant social mores – it is its acceptance by society and its popularity that tells us most. There has always been material around that transgressed socially-dominant sexual standards but those standards were still dominant – and the material may even have worked as a pressure-release valve, as for example with the huge numbers of sex-workers, female and male, that walked the streets or entertained in special houses in sexually-repressed Victorian Britain, particularly in London.
The 1960s brought about a huge jump in tolerance of explicit sexuality, partly fueled by a decade of expanding consumerism and a push for more of the same and partly by the rise of the youth and student movement and its challenge to hierarchical values and control.
THE NEW DETECTIVES
But for decades already, the new criminal detectives had arrived – or at least their advance skirmishers. One of the most influential, beating the later pack of the 1960s by a good three decades, Dashiel Hammett was hugely influential with the creation of what became known as the “hard-boiled” genre of detective stories and also in the “talking detective” style, in which the central character is also the narrator.
Hammett, a left-wing activist who got blacklisted as well as a popular crime fiction writer, had been employed by the Pinkerton Detective Agency2 and wrote many published stories but only five novels, all between 1929 and 1934 (even though he lived to 1961): Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key and the The Thin Man3.
Raymond Chandler, who acknowledged his debt to Hammett, had The Big Sleep published in 1939, based on a couple of short stories (he’d been writing those for decades). He banged them out pretty regularly after that: Farewell My Lovely (1940), The High Window (1941), The Lady in the Lake (1942); then a break until The Little Sister (1949), another gap until The Long Goodbye (1953) and Playback in 1958, a year before he died.4 at the age of 71.
The gap in the 1940s is easily explained by the film scripts for Double Indemnity along with And Now Tomorrow (both 1944), The Unseen (1945), The Blue Dahlia (1946). Strangers On A Train was produced in 1951.
James M. Cain (1892-1977) published The Postman Always Rings Twice in 1934 and, as well as short stories, another fourteen novels during his lifetime. Among those was Double Indemnity which, like Postman etc, was made into a film.
Mickey Spillane published his first novel, I, the Jury in 1947 and went on to publish another twelve before he died in 20065.
The new private detectives novels between the 1920s and the 1960s introduced detectives who had or were tempted by hetero sex but, however graphically the allure might be described, the sex was never described in detail. These novels also featured the femme fatale, the attractive and sexy woman who was also dangerous – capable of murder and treacherous. The detective was more likely to have the sex-interest woman jailed or even killed, or walk out on her, than claim her as the prize. And yes, the detectives in this genre were all male.
These novels featured violence – not just the violence to the homicide victim but regular knockouts with a pistol butt across the head, graphic physical fights with fists and feet (and even teeth!), shootouts … the detective characters not only suffered violence but engaged in it too (particularly Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer).
During the 1940s and ’50s the novels were paperbacks, low-priced, produced on cheap paper to a size that could fit into a man’s jacket or coat pocket (and some handbags or, in the USA, “purses”). This form of private detective and some other kind of publishing came to be called “pulp fiction”, from cheap magazines of short stories, i.e destined to be turned back into paper pulp soon after reading).6
The covers (or “jackets”) of “pulp fiction” novels were often lurid, portraying violence and heterosexual sex. Women dressed in revealing deshabille, often with seductive expression and posture, tended to share the cover with a “hunky” type of man, with a gun visible in the hand of either. Sometimes a dead body, male or female, lay on the ground too.
This kind of writing was baptised “Noir”, i.e “black”, mainly reflecting the dark sides of the detective’s character and especially of his clients and of surrounding society, cynical, corrupt, characters often morally-flawed, doomed, dogged by ill-luck and bad choices.7 Production in film of that writing came to be called “film noir”, the content reflected in low-light shots in black & white filming, which later transferred (with some difficulty) even to colour film. But still, the sex was never graphic in the writing and was more pruriently hinted at than witnessed by the reader.
The writing could be elegant in descriptions and it could also be tight; dialogue was very important, with the detective and his adversaries dueling in verbal repartee, which the detective usually won in the verbal category but for which he often paid physically.
Of course, some cities in the United States had seen a lot of violence in reality, in particular during the ill-fated years of alcohol Prohibition (1920-1933) and the attendant rise of crime syndicates seeded in the working class immigrant communities of Irish, Jews, Italians, Sicilians …. Reading about such events as arrests, trials and mobster shoot-outs in newspaper reports provided also an audience for the material in the form of short stories, novels and later films. That audience grew during the succeeding decades and is still a wide one today, with a diversification of sub-genres and detectives in countries other than the USA or Britain, usually also in translation from their native languages.
But … back to sex and the detective. As the years rolled on past the 1960s towards the end of that millennium, the sexual activity of the private detectives became not only implicit but often explicit (with the possible exception of the Nordic detective novels). And we now had some female protagonists too: police detectives, uniformed police officers, private detectives and forensic pathologists. And if none of the main characters were ever gay, lesbian, transgender or transvestite, such characters did appear, usually treated more gently than in the past and at times actual second-line “good guy” actors in the stories.
It appeared that all previous sexual taboos in the detective story – all legal ones at any rate – had been broken.
Well, not all. Not masturbation.
Not even modern private detectives masturbate. Which is truly remarkable, when one considers, according to all research, how common that activity is in the non-detective population.
REFERENCES & SOURCES:
For dates of authors’ birth and deaths, also of bibliography, Wikipedia entries on the authors.
1I somehow doubt it would have got far in the Six Counties (“Northern Ireland”)
2 See Rebel frontier [electronic resource (video)] : organized labor vs. the Anaconda Copper Company / Network Ireland Television. New York, N.Y. : Films Media Group, , c2004.1 streaming video file (66 min.) : Martin Sheen – impersonating the voice of author DashiellHammett – narrates this compelling docudrama on immigrant labor and anti-war politics in 1917. As a young employee of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Hammett spied for the Anaconda Copper Mining Company in Butte, Montana, during the height of labour struggles there. AU STREAMING MEDIA http://digital.films.com/PortalViewVideo.aspx?xtid=35494.
3 The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key and the The Thin Man were made into films.
4All based on earlier short stories, except the last, which was based on an unpublished screenplay.
5A number of others, based on previously-unpublished material or short stories, were published posthumously.
6Even after the pulp fiction heyday ended in the 1950s, paperback novels are still being produced in roughly the same size, albeit with somewhat better quality paper pages and covers.
7“Noir” also came to be a literary descriptive term and is often used to describe a certain kind of writing today.
Motorbike cops zoom up to junctions at noon in Dublin today, lights flashing and hold traffic up to clear the way for what is coming. But who or what is it that is coming? “Must be some nasty capitalist diplomatic representative from abroad”, we think. “Or maybe one of our own Gombeen Government politicians,” we add as an afterthought. And usually we’d be right — but not this time.
(All photos source: D.Breatnach).
It’s the annual Taxi-Drivers’ Day Out for Special Needs Children.
A quick search failed to find anything on Google about it other than a post from a Journal.ie report dated last year. From that I learned that this is an annual event, first organised in those far-off days of unfunded un-NGO-organised community events — 1960 to be precise.
The report from last year quoted a figure of 400 taxi-drivers signed up for the day but the organiser was appealing for more drivers still. The report stated that the previous year (2016), 1,000 children had been taken on the day out.
The following three paragraphs are from the Journal’s pre-event report last year.
‘On the day, children are picked up from hospitals, care homes or private homes by their own personal taxi driver for the day. From there, they are taken to Parnell Square where all taxis gather for a speech by the Lord Mayor and some music from the Garda Band and DJs.
‘The taxis are then escorted through the city by gardaí to the racecourse where they are treated to music, games, face-painting and finger food.
‘“Our aim is to treat the special needs children of the city to a fun day out and put smiles on faces. That’s exactly what you get when they arrive in Parnell Square and they’re meeting and greeting the mascots and characters,” Matthews (the organiser) said.
These photos were taken from outside Liberty Hall, where I was awaiting a group in order to start a history tour.
PS: Good to see the cops were not masked, wielding batons and pepper-spray canisters or carrying machine-guns and battering-ram.