First published in our paper magazine – upstart
Publisher: Gay Men’s Press (29 May 1996)
Mike Parker compiled the (English) Northern Scene in this series, which I praised in a previous upstart. Yes: I didn’t much like this book. MIke, who was so efficient shoving a quart (almost a gallon) quantity into a pint pot in his last outing seems to be one of those people who was lyrical when theyh come across the word “celtic” or even just “Irish”. He also decides that history loms large here, so he gives us some of it. “Daniel O’Connell, a brilliant young Kerry man…won the County Clare constituency in the 1828 election. As a Catholic, however, he was barred from taking his seat. British Prime Minister William Pitt… scrapped the ban”.
In 1828, O’Connell was in his fifties, PItt the Younger had been dead for a quarter of a century. The Elder Pitt (Lord Chatsworth) had snuffed it in the 1780s. Mike also appears to be saying the Irish Labour Party only just got into power recently. Labour has held Cabinet seats since the 1940s, and has been a constant in government for fifteen years (it is being described these days as “the-even the– Party of government”). There is also some very odd stuff abut the Celtic Twilight/Literary Renaissance (one would have thought that someone visiting Ireland, whether the political entity or the geographical expression, over the past twenty years might have noticed that we have become less provincial and embarrassed about our contribution to ‘art’ (painting and sculpture) and ‘classical’ music, there is a booming industry in art-books and a quite large discography of the latter). The ‘folk’ and pop/rock end of things hardly needs mentioning.
Mike Parker admits that he has spent his holidays in Ireland in a Guinness-induced haze, which is fair enough – so do I – in fact, I spend my non-hols in a Guinness-induced haze, if I can manage it. He also says that the outer rim of Ireland is more interesting that the centre, that’s his business, though I quite like the Irish midlands and south east, which he rather gives short drift. I think Wexford, town and country are very interesting, but I’m not the author.
The problem here, is that Mike has to write more ‘touristy’ stuff than in his English book, as the “scene”, as such, is not really very big (the whole population of the island is less than Greater Manchester, or Merseyside, or the West Midlands). He deals with the scene very well.
He compares Limerick with Derry (no ‘Londonderrys’ here – not even for the sake of a bit of alliteration), and rather approves of them, but he does not investigate what effect having a university has had on the town(s) and their scene(s). Mike appears to believe that Limerick is still brooding on KIng Billy’s government reneging on the Treaty of 1691 – I doubt it. Limerick was the Holy City of Irish Catholicism for over a century. This came to a climax during De Valera’s period (if the word “climax” is permissible in the same sentence as “De Valera”). Dev represented County Clare, just down the road from Limerick City, and his long supremacy is characterised in this book as ‘insular’.
The Pope’s Divisions
Catholic Ireland at that time quite often spoke of itself in the same breath as Communist Russia, and was not in the least fazed by the huge disparity in population and power. Ireland, (which had not been Catholic in the days of Gaeldom), became, not more Catholic than the Pope – but just as Catholic as the pope wanted. Missionaries spread out from Ireland through Latin America, the British Empire (and most of the other colonial empires) and the Orient, proselytising with a vigour the Bolshevik might have (and probably did) envy. All of this was cultural vandalism of the first ordr – but to give the Blackcoats their due, they destroyed pagan, Gaelic Ireland’s immemorial culture before they set out. Whtever this was – it was decidedly not smug insularity….
Part Two to follow