Writer and Author

Tag: Off the Point (Page 3 of 4)

A Cuckoo In the Nest

Common Cuckoo
Image via Wikipedia

Writing a book is hard work.  When it goes from being a hobby, something you can take as long as you like over because the only deadlines you have are your own easily breakable ones, to something that might just might have a future, things change.

I’ve written most of my life.  When I was a child I wrote stories about my toys.  As an adult I became a journalist so that I could earn my living through words.  I’ve written books because I had a story to tell and a dream to follow and I’ve written one as a seemingly impossible feat as publication loomed mere weeks after my story was over.  Each stage has been different and each stage has taught me new things about writing.

Over the last couple of years that learning curve has been particularly steep as the words became more than something I did and became part of how I paid my rent.  I’ve learnt that I can hit a deadline with a book just as I can with an article.  I’ve learnt that when the whistle sounds writers block is a luxury there just isn’t time for.

I’ve also learnt that several of the things I had indulged in when I only dreamed of being a writer are actually necessary to getting the whole ball rolling.  I’ve read interviews with authors over the years who talk about their obsessions with a certain kind of ink or a certain kind of paper and thought, nice work if you can get it.  Those of us who hack away for a living can’t afford the luxury of being picky.  Any pen and any paper will do as long as the moment isn’t missed.

Now I realise that some touchstones, some rituals are actually part and parcel of the job in hand.  Writing a book isn’t like writing an article.  There’s a lot more of it for a start.  You have to sustain the pace and the concentration to get to the end.  That’s a lot of concentration.

When I obsess about working at my desk or drinking the same kind of tea or coffee for the duration of the project in hand it’s not because I’m being pretentious, it’s because it’s one less thing to worry about.

For the past six weeks all the order, all the usual, comfortable things were displaced and I learnt another thing about writing.  Writing, at least to deadline, makes you antisocial.  House guests should be accepted with caution.  House guests who intend to stay for six weeks and who expect life to revolve around them should be avoided at all costs.

I freely admit that I’m territorial.  Who doesn’t care about their home?  I grew up as an only child and like my space.  Writing hasn’t caused this territoriality but it has definitely exacerbated it.  But hold on a minute.  When it’s my space anyway, why should I worry about getting cranky when it’s invaded?  When I have a big task ahead and am at a stage where I’m a step closer to the goals I’ve had for as long as I can remember, why shouldn’t I resent someone who disregards that, who should know better.

The common cuckoo, cuculus canorus, has a rather unattractive trait.  It’s a bad mother, a dirty stop out who doesn’t see the point of raising the offspring once the egg has been laid. So it finds someone else to do the job for them.  The poor unsuspecting foster mother raises the cuckoo chick as her own, unaware that her own chicks have been booted out of the nest leaving a hungry, demanding monster in their place.  That’s what the last six weeks have been like.  Paying court to someone who took advantage of hospitality and patience while my own chicks, the book, the husband (I make no apologies other than this one for that order – there’s no deadlines with the husband!) have been pushed very firmly out of the nest.

It should have been a no brainer but this was one writing lesson I obviously still needed to learn.  For that matter it was also a life lesson that had passed me by.  It’s not a mistake that will be repeated.

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Not in Praise of Bloomsday…

Today, June 16th, was Bloomsday.  If you’re not familiar with the concept, June 16th 1904 is the day when all the action in James Joyce’s opus, Ulysses is set.  Every year on that day the great and good and literary and arty gather in Dublin to retrace the route taken by Leopold Bloom on a Sunday morning at the turn of the last century.

Joyce’s book has been heralded as a classic, a work of English unparalleled in the English language.  That’s why he gets his own day.

Now this is probably the point where I should come clean.  I hate Bloomsday.  I’ve lived in Dublin too long not to get profoundly irritated by the marauding crowds of arty types and tourists that clutter up the thoroughfares with glasses of Guinness and dressed up to the nines in approximations of Edwardian dress.  If you wander through the centre of Dublin on June 16th you will find a selection of middle aged idiots acting like undergraduates and giving the book that is on more peoples “haven’t quite got round to reading” list than most others I can think of, the Rocky Horror treatment.

Bloomsday Photo by Michael Stamp all rights reserved

Let me get this straight.  Bloomsday is not just a bit of harmless playacting, it’s irritating, embarrassing and teeth clenchingly awful!  It’s the one day of the year when you get to see people who really should have more self respect, dressing up like complete idiots and hitting the bars like a back of feckless 20 somethings.

I’m aware that by saying this I sound (a) a total ignoramous and (b) rather unsure about where I fall in the whole cool young thing and old fogey scale.  For starters I have read Ulysses.  I read it years ago when I first moved up to Dublin while I was devouring anything that came from the writers that had helped to make the city famous.  I was fairly voracious in my reading in those days and didn’t always check the postal address of my chosen read.

In those days I read Sean O’Casey, Samuel Beckett, Flann O’Brien, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw…I’m not sure why I didn’t get round to Behan…I think I got side tracked by Lewis Carroll.  Anyway, at the time I was working on an antique stall in the George’s Street Arcade.

My boss at the time was working on a book of postcards all sent on June 16th 1904, that corresponded with the various locations in the book.  He’d written a synopsis of the book to go with the images and, knowing that 19-year-old me was keen on writing, he asked me to check it, casually throwing me a copy of Ulysses to make sure he hadn’t left anything out.

So I read Ulysses.  From cover to cover.  I quite liked Leopold Bloom but preferred his wife Molly and couldn’t stand Stephen Dedalus, who I thought and continued to think was a pretentious little git.  In terms of Joyce’s prose, while I get what he was doing from a technical point of view, it just completely leaves me cold.

I will freely admit that this could have to do with the never ending stream of postcards or my bosses synopsis but Ulysses would not appear anywhere on my list of books I would want with me if I was ever marooned on a desert island and I would be quite pissed off if it found it’s way there ahead of me.

I know that Ulysses is held up as a work of genius.  I just don’t like it.  I’m not denigrating Joyce as a writer in any way…The Dead is one of the best shorter pieces of writing I have ever read.  I just don’t like Ulysses.  I don’t like the fact that the men run the plot while the women are either leched over virgins, prostitutes or adulteresses.  I don’t like the fact that the book that is now synonymous with Dublin is arguably the least accessible.  I don’t like the fact that Bloomsday itself tends to be a rather snobby affair with pantomime overtones.

Dublin has produced many fine writers;  Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde, Sean O’Casey, Flann O’Brien, George Bernard Shaw.  Writers who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, writers who deserve to be celebrated each year but who only get a look in for centenaries or on whims.

So I say, let’s give Bloomsday a rest.  Next year let’s have At Swim Two Birds Day to celebrate Flann O’Brien’s lunatic masterpiece.  The day could start in Grogans Pub off Georges Street and there could be cowboys in Ringsend, someone sitting up a tree proclaiming that a “pint of plain’s yer only man”, come to thing of that could the the city’s clarion call.  We could have someone dressed up as the Pooka MacPhellimey and someone or something as Finn Mac Cool.

Instead of having a day where the middle classes dress up in straw boaters and give the day over to cataloguing the eating and drinking in Joyce’s novel, lets have one where the surreal and bizzarre takes over the city. Instead of a daytrip to Sandeymount and Grafton Street, lets see the cattle corralled in Ringsend.

It might actually work.  And it would be a lot less irritating that bloody Bloomsday.

Close Encounters of an Urban Kind?

I was expecting to be writing tonight about the first day of the trial of Thomas Barrett but it’s been put off to a later date so I’m left with a quandary about what to write.

I doubt if anyone out there would be interested in my quest to find the cat a suitable comb to get rid of the prodigious amounts of hair she’s leaving anywhere within a two mile radius at the moment (although I must admit I did tweet about that this afternoon – I’m not usually that inane honestly).

Normally when I check in on my blog the first thing I do is check my stats.  I’m endlessly fascinated by what brings people here and if and why they come back.  Surprisingly not everyone seems to be a true crime buff since that’s my main topic of conversation here.  The search results that have brought people to this blog can be bizarre at the best of times but are often illuminating.

Today for example they gave me an idea about what to write about.  I’d forgotten about the strange lights over Dublin one last night week…until I saw that several people had arrived looking for information into just that.

Now I can’t offer any information.  They were strange lights all right.  Both myself and the husband saw them and watched them for several minutes until they very suddenly disappeared.  At 12.50 a.m on June 12th I sent the first tweet below.

I didn’t get any replies (well it was rather late) so I don’t know if anyone else saw them but I’m guessing from the search terms people used to find this blog we weren’t the only ones who did after all.  If anyone out there knows where the lights were some kind of weather balloon, military test, over-zealous night club lighting or anything with a rational explanation, please let me know.

Maybe there’s a reason, maybe it’s just one of those totally random things that occasionally happen in Dublin.  If you know what they were, or if I find out anything more, I’ll update this post and put everyone’s minds at rest that there is no alien invasion…unless…

Ireland Goes Left For Once…

Over the weekend Ireland bucked the trend throughout Europe and went to the left instead of the right when voting in the European elections.  Having got rather used to being permanently embarrassed and frustrated by the almost Thatcherite tendencies repeatedly shown by two successive Fianna Fail / PD coalitions and there having been bugger all in the way of change since the PDs imploded and Fianna Fail got into bed with a mixture of Greens and Independents, the results came as a pleasant surprise.

I remember being thoroughly depressed in France in 1998 (I was studying there at the time) when a news report called Ireland one of only three right wing states in the EU.  Of course a lot has changed in the last eleven years.  The Celtic Tiger has roared, scratched the furniture and finally slunk off taking a lot of what made Ireland a nice place to live with it.  We’re now pretty much where we started but at least this weekend we moved a step in the right direction.

While the rest of Europe stayed away from the polling stations, allowing the right and centre right to claim victories all over the place, here in Ireland we voted in higher numbers than usual and used the three votes at our disposal to show a resounding two fingers to the ruling parties.  Fianna Fail have been well and truly trounced and the Greens have been decimated.  After impressive gains in the local elections Fine Gael are the largest party in the State for the first time in 80 years (that’s pretty much the entire time the state has been in existence) and Labour are the biggest party in the capital.

In the small hours of this morning Joe Higgins, the Socialist Party activist and politician succeeded in shunting Fianna Fail’s Eoin Ryan out of his Euro seat and claiming it for himself.  It’s a marked contrast to the UK where this afternoon and evening there are demonstrations taking place across England in protest at the victory of two British National Party (far-right nationalists as the name suggests) Euro candidates.

I’ve watched the coverage of the last three general elections here in Ireland feeling increasingly frustrated at my fellow voters as again and again Fianna Fail sailed to victory even though the warning signs that what they were doing with the economy was not the best long term plan were there for all to see.  It might have taken over a decade and a global economic crash for the people to vote for an alternative but better late than never.

It remains to be seen whether a general election would get the same result but there’s a vote of no confidence in the government tomorrow so there’s a chance we’ll find out sooner rather than later.

Democracy in Action?

Today’s the day of the local and European elections, in Dublin there are two by elections as well.  It’s a day that Fianna Fail probably have reason to be very worried about…public opinion, according to the numerous polls that have appeared in the papers over the run of the campaigning, is decidedly against them.

Now at this point I should probably come clean.  I’m not a fan of Fianna Fail.  Anyone who’s read this blog on a fairly regular basis could probably have guessed that but in the interests of full disclosure there it is.  I would most definitely not be sorry to see them hurting come Monday morning even if our esteemed Taoiseach seems to be in deep denial about what a convincing arse whipping in these elections would mean to the credibility of his leadership.  But this post isn’t about party bashing.

I’ve been giving out on Twitter over the past few weeks about the constant knocks on the door from the various party candidates.  I know it’s an essential part of electioneering but once you’ve met them all once it wears a bit thin.  I’ve got particularly aerated about the failure of certain Fianna Fail reps to grasp that they are not going to convince me to vote for them under any circumstances.

But today is voting day.  The leaflets have been posted, the hands have been shaken and now it’s all done bar the counting.  I know that there’s still the matter of getting the voters out but one thing I like about going to vote is that once you near that voting station the desperate babble has to ease because the buggers aren’t allowed within 50 metres of the polling station.  It’s the first bit of quite we get after weeks of political chit chat on the doorstep and in my book, can’t come soon enough.

But obviously there are those who disagree with our need for a little peace and quiet to place our votes.  As the husband and I neared the voting station on Cowper St in the Dublin Central constituency this morning we were greeted by a barrage of Fianna Failers.  Tom Stafford and his minions had stationed themselves well within the safe zone, hidden round the corner so the garda standing outside the voting station wouldn’t call shenanigans.

Democracy in action

They slapped backs and pumped hands and leered over little old ladies in a forced amiability that seriously smacked of desperation.  Passers by noticed them encroaching on the polling station and muttered about Fianna Fail being a “dirty word” in these parts.  Another, clocking the distance asked “is this an example of Fianna Fail using the letter of the law as opposed to the spirit of democracy?”

Stafford insisted that he wasn’t illegally campaigning but merely talking to friends.  Well he had a point.  I often chat to my mates clutching bundles of hundreds of Fianna Fail election leaflets…

It was just another sign that, whatever their leader thinks, the rank and file of Fianna Fail are worried and rightfully so (I hope…)  We shall all just have to wait until the votes are counted to see what the country has decided.

Rambling About Not Very Much At All

I’ve been sitting here for some time trying to decide what to blog about today.  The courts, as I’ve mentioned before, are on a two week break, so I’m focused on other things.  The problem is that these other things are rather removed from the day job so when I drift back into reality I’m left with not a lot to write about.

I had always meant this to be a blog about writing, but now I’m actually getting down to writing I’m beginning to see a distinct problem with that.

Writing fiction isn’t like following a story.  I’m not necessarily going to have daily updates of proceedings to share.  Or rather, if I did it wouldn’t mean anything much to anyone but me because I’m talking about characters and situations that no one else knows about for the moment.  It’s not a question of writing up snapshots of what’s going on at the end of every day.  The day to day process of editing just doesn’t really translate to daily updates.

So when I sit here my mind drifts in all kinds of directions – and I wouldn’t lumber the net with my distracted musings!  When I’m not in court I’m as likely to ramble on about the state of my (very small) back yard or the vagueries of baking than the latest murder.  When I’m writing intensively then even the garden and the kitchen get ignored so there’s not much left to write about or I get obsessed with something that feeds into what I’m writing in some way.  Last summer when I was writing Devil it was the fabrication methods of various toxins (purely theoretical I hasten to add!), this summer it’ll be the finer points of grammar (I should think).

Anyway, bear with me – it will all make sense eventually. I hope.

The Lure of Celluloid

I’ve always loved going to the cinema.  Since I was a kid and the expedition to the two screener in Wimbledon a treat for high days and summer days and whenever we had the money to go.  They still had a commissioner in those days (Ashes to Ashes territory), a short man with a lot of gold on his uniform and a hatred of kids.  I can remember my mum getting into a row with him because she was bringing me to see a 15 certificate and I was only 12 or 13.  He called her bluff but my mum was never a person to cross and he ended up backing down.  The film, if I remember right, was The Assam Garden, hardly a riot of violence and torture porn.

When I was in school in Sligo the trip to the flicks was the once monthly treat for boarders.  I went on my first proper date to the cinema.  It was hardly the most obvious date movie…a film called Skindeep most famous for the scene where you see light sabre-like duelling condoms.

Once I’d left school and moved away from home, cinema became a refuge from long days and a strange city.  The cinemas along Abbey Street here in Dublin were my favourites – the Adelphi for the Hollywood blockbusters and the tiny Lighthouse for foreign films and arthouse.  I can remember a friend and I going to see Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves dozens of times during the summer of 1991.  Both of us can still quote most of Alan Rickman’s Sherriff of Nottingham dialogue by heart.

The Lighthouse was a different experience.  Tiny and red carpeted the screens had an intimate atmosphere I’ve never encountered before or since.  Screen two in particular only sat around around 30 people.  I remember once, during a showing of Tous Les Matins du Monde staring the Depardieu father and son, someone started handing round Maltesers to the whole audience – there were only about six of us.

The Adelphi and the old Lighthouse are long gone, as is the Adelphi’s sister hotel the Carlton which used to be at the top of O’Connell Street opposite the Savoy.  By then the Irish Film Centre had opened up in Temple Bar, showing art house and independent films, retrospectives, foreign films but also providing a hub for a certain section of the cinema going public.  There was a restaurant there, a bar and a shop.  The big airy space in an old glassed over courtyard seemed fresh and modern.  I was working for a community radio station at the time, while I was in college.  I’d got involved with the movie show and used to love going to the IFC in the morning clutching paper cup of coffee and balancing a notebook on my knee in the dark.

I saw so many films in those morning showings, too many to detail here.  I’d always wanted to review movies and was finally living the dream.  I used to sit in the dark listening to the scratching of pens from all the other reviewers around me.  I enjoyed every film I saw, partially because they were free, even if I would sometimes find fault – just for the show of it!

I loved the IFC, now the IFI, but I always missed the Lighthouse.  Even in the early morning press screenings, no one ever handed round Maltesers and there was never the same sense of camaraderie, that you knew you were in the company of like-minded people, or at least, one or two like minded people and quite a few homeless people and pensioners.

So I was delighted, ecstatic even, when I heard that, not only were we getting a local cinema in Smithfield but it was going to be the resurrected Lighthouse.  This time last year it opened and we’ve been going ever since.  In it’s new incarnation it’s a far cry from the tatty seats and cigarette stained red carpet of the old Abbey Street venue.  The new Lighthouse is quite simply the nicest cinema in Dublin and in the top three of cinemas I’ve ever been to.

I love the multicoloured seating in the largest screen and the fact that every screen is different.  I love the fact that it’s designed with lots of interesting spaces and places to sit when you’re not watching films…it cries out to be used for seminars and conferences and talks, and I gather it’s been pulled into service for that very purpose more than once.  But probably the thing I like most about it is that it’s so far underground, deep under Smithfield Square, that mobile phones just don’t work – and anyone who’s had a pivotal cinematic moment ruined by some gimps novelty ring tone will agree that no signal is a good thing in a cinema.

I’ve become positively evangelical about the Lighthouse.  It really is a world class place and worthy successor to it’s Abbey Street predecessor.  It deserves to do well and I really don’t think I could deal with losing the Lighthouse for a second time!

I’ve nothing against the multiplex experience.  There’s nothing wrong with a decent blockbuster when you’re in the mood and multiscreens are great for those.  My favourite in Dublin is Cineworld on Parnell Street…a good selection of films and it’s actually a big enough place that even marauding packs of kids don’t get underfoot while they’re waiting for the latest pre teen sensation to start.  But a small local cinema like the Lighthouse that shows interesting films and champions the titles that would never get a multiplex showing…that wins every time.

I love films and I will always love going to the cinema.  Being able to get lost in another world for a couple of hours knowing that around you there are other people lost in exactly the same world is like nothing else.  It’s a totally different form of storytelling than books, communal rather than solitary and there are times when that simply can’t be best.  Theatre is a local experience.  A play is done performed by a specific group of people in a specific venue and will only be that way with those people and that venue.  Cinema is universal, one vision suits all, the whole world can see the same thing.

The Lighthouse is a cinema for people who love film, run by people who love film.  That can’t be bettered!

Journalism Movies and Bus Shakeups

Weekends are a time to leave work alone if at all possible.  When you spend all day in court listening to the gruesome details of murder after murder switching off is even more important.  If you dwelt on everything you hear on a daily basis you simply wouldn’t sleep at night. And by “you” in this context I do, of course, mean “I”.  So while today might be off the point tomorrow it will be back to normal service and further coverage of the Ronald McManus trial for the murder of Melissa Mahon.

In the quest of a break myself and the husband headed to the cinema this morning.  I love early showings – a throwback to the days I used to get into press screenings while working for a local radio station in college.  This week we went to see State of Play with Russel Crowe and Helen Mirren.  I’m a big fan of the original BBC series written by Paul Abbot and was initially highly dubious of a Holywood remake.  If you haven’t seen the series I’d still highly recommend it but I’m pleased to say that the movie actually does live up to the hyoe it’s receiving and is a damn fine thriller.

I’ve always been a sucker for films that centre around aheroic hack.  I’ve a reasonably comprehensive collection of these journalism movies from 1961’s The Day the Earth Caught Fire to Good Night and Good Luck via Mel Gibson in Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously and of course All the Presidents Men.  State of Player is a worthy addition to the genre.

The original was one of the best drama series the BBC have produced in the past twenty years with a fantastic cast including John Simm, David Morrisey, Bill Nighy, James McAvoy and Kelly McDonald.  The movie also has a pretty impressive cast with Russell Crowe as journalist Cal McAffrey, Helen Mirren as his editor, Ben Affleck (well cast for once) as the beleagured congressman Stephen Colllins and Robin Wright Penn as Collin’s wife.  But the best thing about the movie is it’s not just a cracking thriller, it’s also the kind of film that makes you proud to be a journalist (and god knows, those films are few and far between!)

The film version of State of Play sticks pretty close to the plot of the original but the context is now totally up to date, dealing with media ownership, the threats to traditional media and the rise of the blog.  More than any of this though is the championing of good old fashioned journalism.  I remember watching the original series when and cheering at the television when Bill Nighy as the editor stood up for the story and rallied his troops.  Helen Mirren is equally inspiring at the relevent bit but it was Rachel McAdams as blogger Della Frye who was the best line “With a story as big as this, people should have newsprint on their fingers while they’re reading it.” (or words to that effect)

It’s nice to see journalists portrayed as something other than scurrilous muckrakers and unprincipled hacks.  That attitude is prevalent enough as it is.  It’s nice to feel proud of the job I do.

The second thing I wanted to write about today is a little bit of a rant.  Dublin Bus today introduced changes to their timetables in the first stage of their fleet reduction as a cost cutting measure.  Looking at the list of routes that have been affected one thing stands out.  The changes are extensive and affect a wide range of buses.  Some routes have been done away with entirely.  This would be fine if the cuts were made across the board but that’s not what’s happened here.  Looking at the list of bus routes it’s noticeable that the majority go to the north and the west of the city, areas where a large percentage of the population live in local authority housing and who do not have access to DART urban rail services of the LUAS trams.

One of the most frequent services that frequently trundles into town with empty buses at off peak times of day has not been touched.  The 46A goes through the more affluent parts of town, Donnybrook and Dundrum.  During the afternoon buses frequently go past empty, at a frequency of every five or ten minutes.  It’s one of the most over supplied bus routes in the city but because of it’s route I’d be surprised if Dublin Bus reduce the service.  It’s nothing new of course.  Here in Dublin the poor always pay when the powers that be decide to save a few bucks – the recent decision to cut the Christmas bonus for those on the dole is a case in point.  But I’m not here to bang any particular political drum.  There are others who do that far better than me.  Dublin Bus may yet produce sweeping cuts through the posher bits of town in their second volley in May but I’m just saying what I noticed this morning and throwing it out there.

Hmm, reading back over this post it occurs to me that anyone who has issues with the liberal meeja is probably going to have their worst fears confirmed.  Well you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  As I said before, tomorrow I’m back in court and this blog will return to it’s normal subject matter.  Happy Sunday!

Holy Orders…

Every year on Good Friday Ireland closes down.  It’s illegal to sell alcohol here today so houses up and down the land are full of people getting completely rat arsed at home with oceans of booze bought the day before.  One or two uncharitable souls might venture into town to laugh at all the tourists wandering dejectedly around Temple Bar because no one bothered to tell them about the law.

Off licences around the country enjoy their one Friday night off of the year and rebellious parties rock through the night, continuing the theme of getting rat arsed with previously bought alcohol.  This year the truly dedicated (along with hotel residents, people in airport departure lounges and one or two other refuges of the desperate and alcoholic) can actually get wined and dined totally legally, not quite in international waters but a definitely aquatic bending of the rules.

The standard line you hear trotted out today when people complain about the levels of drunkenness sparked by enforced prohibition is that it’s only one day a year.  Sure we’re not that desperate for a drink are we?  But it’s not really a question of the whole nation going cold turkey if they don’t have intravenous alcohol it’s simply a case of the Irish inclination to do the opposite of what they’ve been told to do (look at the Lisbon Treaty!)

But behind all the hilarity and festivity is an inescapable problem with the Good Friday licensing laws and similar rules that govern Christmas Day.  They are there solely because Good Friday is a holy day in one religion.  For two days a year the laws of Ireland seek to force everyone in the country, regardless of their belief or lack of it, to toe the line laid down by the Catholic church.  It’s not a question of whether people can stand being without alcohol for 24 hours, it’s a question of why they’re being told to abstain.

In my previous post I wrote about the ads taken out by the Humanist Association of Ireland which are currently running on DART commuter trains around the capital.  The ads point out that in order to take high office in this country you have to take an oath to the Christian god.  Not exactly a separation between Church and State!  The Good Friday licensing laws are part and parcel of the same thing.  A religious law imposed on a population.

Now I know that Ireland is still a predominantly Catholic country.  According to the 2006 census there are still more than 3.5 million people living in Ireland who would describe themselves as Catholic.  However, the same census also shows that there are more than 700,000 people who do not share that faith.  Granted, included in that 700,000 would also be all the other denominations of Christianity who would also celebrate the resurrection but who might have different customs when it comes to observing Good Friday.

The licensing laws don’t take any of this into account.  They assume a population that needs policing to follow the rules of their faith, not allowing for personal discipline or responsibility.  They are no different from rules under Muslim Sharia law that dictate what a woman must wear and restrict her movements. These rules assume that religion needs to be policed and takes it away from a matter of personal conscience.

It might seem like a little thing.  An archaic rule that harks back to a simpler time and might actually have positive health benefits.  We’re not talking about going to your local butcher here or buying organic.  This is a situation where the rules of one religion dictate the law of the land.  I have no problem with individuals following whatever faith they choose.  I do have a problem when they impose that belief onto me.

A Still Small Voice of Reason?

A few months ago the British Humanist Association launched bus advertising in London.  The ads which said “There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” caused quite a bit of controversy and sparked several retaliatory campaigns from religious groups.

At the time the Irish Humanist Association told the Irish Times that they would not be following suit because they thought the ads were too inflammatory.  In a predominantly Catholic country like Ireland you can see their point but I for one was rather disappointed.  After all, we see plenty of ads appearing from the Christian side of things, be it the “What think ye of Christ” ads that  pop up on buses at this time of year to the various campaigns by pro-life groups, most notably the Mother and Child campaign a few years ago.

The Mother and Child Campaign, and of course Youth Defence, are vociferous in their fight to protect Catholic morals.  I spent some months several years ago working for the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution when they were looking for submissions from members of the public on possible changes to the section of the Irish constitution that deals with the family.  We weren’t even dealing with the contentious Article 40.3.3 which is the one dealing with abortion (a somewhat volatile subject here).

What was under discussion though was a woman’s place in the home, the definition of a family and the rights of unmarried parents, adoptive parents and gay couples.  Not to mention the ratification of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the child.

There were thousands of submissions.  The bulk of them were printed red and white forms distributed by the Mother and Child Campaign in churches around the country.  We had people raging against the possibility of taking God out of the Constitution (not up for discussion at that time) and dozens railing against yet another attempt to “bring in abortion by the back door”.  People would phone up and hurl abuse.  There were even veiled threats at those working in the Committee if they tried to change the status quo.

Having experienced this much vitriol at an attempt to simply modernise the Constitution to take account of the changing make up of the Irish family, I was disappointed but not altogether surprised at the HAI’s response to such a confrontational bus campaign.  Religion is a highly inflammatory subject here.  Even careful reasoned arguments can get a violent backlash from a particularly vocal minority.

I remember the placard waving crowd that appeared outside the Four Courts every day during the High Court case around “Miss D” a teenager in state care who had been told her baby was suffering from an incurable condition and would not live long after birth.  It made going into work an uncomfortable experience and must have been highly traumatic for the pregnant teen who had to run the gamut every day while she tried to simply avail of the right to travel out of Ireland for an abortion available to every woman in the State.

So I was surprised to learn that the HAI have reconsidered and posted ads on the DART commuter trains that form one of the main transport systems in Dublin.

The information campaign from the Humanist Association of Ireland during Easter week 2009

The information campaign from the Humanist Association of Ireland during Easter week 2009

And here’s a close-up of the text of the ads.

Humanist Dart campaign close up

Humanist Dart campaign close up


They might not be quite as eye catching as the London ads but they do make a very good point.  There has been a campaign for the separation of Church and State here for years but it’s had only limited success.  While you can affirm without use of a religious text if you swear in for jury duty, that option isn’t available if you take high office here.  God is still firmly part of the constitution and will be for a considerable time to come.

However, it makes a refreshing change to see Humanist ads up where usually there would be “What think ye of Christ” ads promising a video presentation showing proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The “What Think Ye”s were up but they’ve been taken down again so the Humanists are out on their own.

I thought a lot about posting on this subject.  I had wanted to write about the initial London bus campaign but thought twice about it.  Even touching on the subject of religion can open the flood gates and the vitriol can be extreme.  There are some sections of society here that don’t like any viewpoint but there own seeing the light of day.  Even though there are almost 190,000 people according to the most recent census, who say they have “no religion” making this the second largest group after Catholicism it’s still a largely ignored group.

Hopefully the DART ads will get people thinking and start a debate.  I don’t hold out much hope though.  Reasoned debate is often drowned out by the shrieks of those trying to drown it out.

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