Before the Deluge
Many elements of the Lemass/Whitaker approach were to inform nationalism as it was reconceptualised in the 1980s and 1990s: the need for co-operation and partnership; a recognition that ultimately only Irish people could solve their own problems and that Britain could not be a persuader for unity but could facilitate it if circumstances changed; an openness to flexibility on symbolic issues.
The Life of a Dog
Though François Fejtő throughout his long life kept his eye on central and eastern Europe, both in his largely anonymous professional work as a regional specialist for Agence France Presse and in his more pointed essays for various literary-political reviews, he fought his ideological battles in Paris, a city in which intellectuals have a certain importance, and a certain sense of their own importance.
One of the main reasons why both philosophy and literature have a much more significant relationship with their heritage than subjects like physics or maths is because their canonical texts – the works of Plato, or Descartes or Kant, or Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ or Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ ‑ are not rendered philosophically or imaginatively superfluous as a consequence of the passage of time.
Words from the People
There is plentiful detail on folk medical practices, healing charms and popular religious beliefs. The idea that games used to be played at wakes is one that contemporary students find odd, even scarcely believable. But such games were once commonplace, and there is actually a scholarly book written about the phenomenon. One entry in John Creedon’s selection, collected by Betty Gillespie of Easky, Co Sligo, mentions that mock weddings would be performed at wakes: ‘One fellow acts as a priest and he would marry another boy and girl, and they would have great fun at the sermon.’
A New World Order?
While Russia’s hostility to Ukraine was no secret, the extent of China’s support for its action, beyond the rhetorical, is not clear. But if Russia’s ambition is to recover great power status in the Eurasian region, that fails to take into account a significantly changed situation. The Chinese economy is now six times the size of the Russian and much more sophisticated and competitive. China sees itself as overcoming a century of humiliation, in which Russia played a major role.
Erasing or opposing?
Social media in the democratic West can be shrill, judgmental, tribal and siloed. Despite having rights to free speech, many people seem imprisoned by the conventions and orthodoxies of the online communities they belong to. They may be afraid to like or share posts that come their way which express views that would not go down well with their own tribe. Self-censorship is perhaps at least as commonplace as it ever was.
Englands, My Englands
I absorbed a heroic view of the Irish struggle, in which of course the main enemy was English. At the same time, I was working my way through a variety of English worlds. I read every William book I could lay my hands on: this England, with its vicars, cricket and fetes, was like nothing I knew and entirely unconnected with that of the history books. The Billy Bunter books, too, were a kind of fantasy: not just the boarding-school setting, but the honour code, the class background and the range of unfamiliar character types.
And in the End
O’Mahony is right to point out that traditional communal responses to death have been replaced by a kind of anthropocentric narcissism that fails to see the wider picture beyond individual suffering. The problem is that these older customs were tied to larger religious belief systems and therefore cannot easily be replaced by some secular version of hollowed-out rituals.
The Fashion for Fascism
The far-right renaissance is built on forgetting, or selective remembering. ‘Mussolini was not so bad,’ they say, ‘when one considers Hitler or even Franco.’ ‘Mussolini did many good things,’ as the new president of the Italian senate once argued. That ‘Italian fascism was an essentially benign form of dictatorship’ is another common trope. None of these statements is actually true.
Sayer structures his material with reference to surrealist methods of composition: a chance encounter during a stroll, an unexpected juxtaposition of incongruent objects such as happens through collage, montage and bricolage, or a symbolic crossover from present to past. It is a method that is not conducive to concision, conceptual clarity or in-depth analysis.
The Grit and the Glitter
George Best said he represented the future and Bobby Charlton the past. A subsidiary theme of ‘Two Brothers’ is the rancid antipathy between these two, which worsened as Manchester United declined from its pinnacle of 1968. It was not merely that Best carried his own toiletries; Charlton exuded modesty, prudence and respectability, the virtues a working class man of the 1950s needed to make something of himself. Best, more than eight years his junior, typified for Charlton a new generation characterised by disrespect for their elders.
Guns, Blood and Popcorn
Tarantino has always been a joyous appreciator of movies, and his writing has an infectious fanaticism that is there on every page. In ‘Cinema Speculation’ we are invited into the warmth of someone else’s lifelong love affair. Granted, his enthusiasm is so instinctively anti-hierarchical that it sometimes feels as if he has no capacity for critical discernment at all, but rather than serving as a fatal mark against him, this has quite the opposite effect.
Cormac McCarthy’s vision has been grim from the start. His first novel, published in 1965, is full of macabre gloom: a savage killing, a hidden corpse, friendship between a boy and a bootlegger who, unbeknownst to the boy, is his father’s killer. The debt to Faulkner is obvious, not just in the Southern gothic ambience but in nonlinear plot and rhetorical mix of low and high styles.
The State of Us
The late twentieth century saw the fall of both ‘Homo Sovieticus’ in Russia and, a little less noticed in the wider world, ‘Homo Catholicus’ in Ireland. Autocratic nationalism replaced the former, and forms of liberalism the latter. Neither has generated a new era of stability. The future looks difficult for Russian nationalism, while in Ireland social cohesion has been melting steadily into a sea of unprecedented prosperity and discontent.
My book, United Nation, is based on detailed research and interviews with dozens of people who have the insight and experience to envisage an all-island economy, education and health systems, constitutional change and future political structures, policing and security, international relations, identities and culture. Emmet O’Connor does not name or quote any of them.
A Restless Imagination
Frank McGuinness is a writer of openness and adventure. Openness to form: while best known as a playwright, while highly regarded as a poet since the 1990s, he has made forays into other genres, writing short fiction in the early 1980s and publishing two novels in the last decade; openness to varying manner and textures, which can range from tightly focused social realism to fantasy. The list of his stage and film adaptations suggests a keen literary appetite, eager to try anything and at ease with classics from Ibsen to Molière
Idols and Good Old Gods
Donnchadh Ó Corráin’s Key to What the Irish Wrote appeared in three volumes in 2017. The Irish wrote a very great deal during Ó Corráin’s chosen period. The surviving materials are vast. Making his way through the mass of writings, Ó Corráin first of all gives the bare details of the particular work and its editions, offers some brief description, and lists the secondary literature. He needs close on 2,000 pages to do this.
Changing the Question
So seriously did Britain take international law a century ago that when Germany failed to comply with an ultimatum issued in response to the invasion by the deadline of 11.00 pm on the 4th (midnight Berlin time), Britain sent a junior foreign office official, Harold Nicolson, around to the German embassy at 11.05 pm in the foreign secretary’s Rolls Royce in order to deliver a written declaration of war and also to retrieve a hastily written declaration of war that had been delivered by mistake about an hour earlier.
Percy at the Wake
We’ve all heard of Percy French haven’t we? An accomplished songwriter, painter, author, and entertainer, we have all come across him somewhere – for many it is his songs, from the nostalgic Mountains of Mourne to the humorous Are ye right there, Michael? about the West Clare Railway. For me it was his understated presence in Eugene McCabe’s Death and Nightingales, and my mother owned a watercolour painted by him.
“Rotten Prods” were defined so by their unionist opponents, who accused a spectrum of dissidents from Presbyterian tenant farmer radicals to, in the case of James Baird, a trade union militant with syndicalist views, of being part of a traitorous fifth column undermining the communal unity which was the bedrock of Ulster Protestant resistance to Home Rule and later to Sinn Féin. As Emmet O’Connor points out, there were hundreds of such working class radicals in the heartlands of Belfast’s engineering and shipbuilding industries in its glory days from the 1890s to the end of the First World War.
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