4

Anseo, Review

Dublin Inquirer

 

A good friend of mine attended a Gaelscoil on the north side of Dublin as a kid where he was fondly known to his teacher as The Préachán, or The Crow, for us non-fluent Irish speakers.

The nickname may in some small part be down to his quiet watchfulness or his quick intelligence, or even his hair, as black as the feathers of a wild bird. But more than likely it was down to his attempts to take flight from the school whenever he happened upon an open window.

His clós was the chatter of Irish-speaking children, tin whistles and fiddle-playing in the halla and carols as Gaelige in the local shopping centre at Christmas time. I loved to hear stories about this hub of Irish culture in the heart of Ballymun, a town that might seem so culturally different to most people’s idea of what Irishness is supposed to be.

My own school was similar to many others when it came to the Irish language. Old projector slides about blackberry picking. The monotonous repetition of tenses or an introduction of the odd “íocht” at the end of a word when stuck: “Sorry, Sir, Ní clue-íocht agam!”’

 

anseo

Perhaps if Úna-Minh Kavanagh had been around in my day things would have been different. Here is a woman who streams video-game commentaries in the Irish language and translates the kind of banter you’d most likely hear down the local.

Her book Anseo might be an autobiographical account of her adoption in Vietnam, her upbringing in Kerry and her move to Dublin to study in Dublin City University – “swapping wellies for boots and acquiring Penney’s finest … like prepping for Paisean Faisean” – but it’s also an authentic celebration of the Irish language.

Scattered phrases surprise on every page. We learn some differences in the various dialects. There’s plenty of useful advice on how a person might bring Irish into their daily life, as well as a brief history of Dinneen’s Irish-English Dictionary. To those who argue against the relevancy of Irish and particularly those who claim it is too difficult to learn, she makes the point that on average, primary school kids participate in the Irish language about 117 hours per year and most of that involves memorising.

In the grand scheme of things, learning a language with so little immersion probably equates to attempting to train as a doctor by reading posters in dentist waiting rooms and browsing the odd copy of The Lancet.

 

In the background to this story of modern Ireland, the gaming and online freelance work, streaming and blogging, is the memory of Úna-Minh’s grandfather Paddy Kavanagh, the “famous storyteller and retired Garda” who cycled a black bicycle for most of his life and was immensely proud of Kerry GAA and Munster Irish (Gaelainn na Mumhan). This was the man who would introduce and inspire Úna-Minh’s love for the Irish language.

No doubt, she inherited the gift of story-telling from her grandfather, and this is where the book so often shines; her description of people and places, the holiday in Baile an Fheirtéaraigh, the stay in a home that so many of us can relate to, a picture of US president John F. Kennedy on the wall, the Sacred Heart and a shower that sprays horizontally as opposed to vertically.

 

She tells us of the stretches of sand in Béal Bán where her great-grandad fished and where her grandfather raced his currach. Each and every story in the book is connected to family and Irish culture and of course, the Irish language.

Natural and funny, there’s often mischief in her voice and courage in her ambition, the same bravery she has needed in the past when standing up to racism in this country. We hear of one such event on Parnell Street when a group of teenagers verbally abused her before one spat in her face. The attack and the consequent disregard from others at the scene would encourage her to turn to social media to share the experience.

Her story trended both nationally and internationally and launched her into the world of social activism. Of course, she has faced backlash, trolls hiding in their caves, only too happy (are they ever happy?) to list the reasons they believe Úna-Minh Kavanagh is not Irish.

Who’s that clip-clopping over my bridge?

 

Perhaps these people believe there exists some barometer of Irishnicity – a list of credentials that make one person that bit more Irish than the next. Presumably there’s some fiery hair in the mix, freckles too, a claim to a relative who once kicked an English landlord up the arse at a time when serfdom was in vogue and a goat called Páidí was high king of Ireland.

Sitting on top of that list always seems to be skin colour, the sure belief that a person can’t be considered Irish unless they have white skin.

 

Maybe the people of this country have been cultivating this type of discrimination for eons. Are we not skilled at perpetuating the stereotype, boxing towns into shallow clichés and forcing the people from those towns into their little boxes – the north-sider and the south-sider, the culchie and the townie, the blow-ins and the foreigner, and of course, the Traveller, a community who have known deep racism and exclusion only too well for decades.

 

Perhaps there’s a belief that, after a time, Ireland’s growing multiculturalism will naturally settle and racist ideas will wither away without effort. But look at our closest neighbour, with its arguably longer history of immigration, and the racism that continues to rear its ugly head there.

Over here, in an age when some media outlets are only to happy to carry the anti-Traveller rhetoric that some wannabe and sitting politicians spout, and where a family in an advertisement are inundated with hate messages just because of skin colour, it’s time to ask some serious questions about ourselves, where we are, and where we might be heading. And we had better find answers quickly.

 

If anything, Anseo pushes us all to interrogate and challenge what it means to be Irish. Is it accent or tradition or sense of humour? Is it history? The awareness of it. The unwillingness to let go. Was your idea of Irish formed in Hollywood California or Hollywood County Wicklow?

Is Irish something you embrace? Or is it something you are born into? Is it in the obtaining of an Irish passport or Irish citizenship? If an individual considers themselves to be Irish, should that not be enough? Or to turn it around, why should we demand that people be Irish to confer on them rights and dignity?

Around 12,000 years ago, a tiny birch seed was carried to Ireland on the breeze. How long did the roots have to be in Irish soil before it was considered to be a native?

Anseo is an account from one of the many voices of modern Ireland. As the title suggests, there’s no debating that Úna-Minh Kavanagh is here and accounted for. And this hardworking, proud Kerry woman is part of a growing landscape that is changing this country for the better.

2

Review of The Peeler’s Notebook

 

9781781177099

 

The Peeler’s Notebook by Barry Kennerk isn’t just a factual account of the Dublin Metropolitan Police in the Victorian era. It’s a tour of the foggy streets of the capital, those dangerous laneways and backstreets which the new recruits or “Johnny Raws” used to patrol – pig yards and mud houses, chickens at your feet, rabid dogs hoarse-barking in the shadows, opium dens on the Liffey, deserted tenements and underground cock-fighting, and Dublin’s booming sex trade with 25 brothels from Aungier Street to Stephen’s Green alone.

The Victorian era might well have been a time of sensible rules, the likes of kite flying and games prohibited, yet the streets were swollen with violence and the graveyards littered with sack’em-ups or grave robbers to the likes of you and me….

 

Read the full review in The Dublin Inquirer…

 

0

Irish Writers’ Centre

Takin the Mic with guest MC Daniel Seery & special guest Melatu Uche Okorie

FREE

Friday 31 August 2018

7–9pm

Suggested donation: €5

Tickets: Eventbrite

Welcoming all to the first Takin the Mic in our new bi-monthly slot. This August, after a long summer of drought, we’re asking writers, poets and other performers to respond to the theme of ‘Plenty’.

Our guest MC for the evening is Dublin writer Daniel Seery who will be joined by special guest Melatu Uche Okorie.

Melatu Uche Okorie is a writer and scholar, currently living in Sligo with her daughter. Born in Nigeria, Melatu moved to Ireland in 2006. It was during her eight and a half years living in the direct provision system that she began to write. She has an M. Phil. in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin, and has had works published in numerous anthologies. In 2009, she won the Metro Éireann Writing Award for her story ‘Gathering Thoughts’. Melatu has a strong interest in issues concerning the welfare of asylum seekers and migrant education in Ireland and is currently studying for a PhD in Education at Trinity College, Dublin. This Hostel Life (Skein Press, May 2018) is her first book.

House Rules:

– Five mins per performer
– BYOB
– Slots are on a first come, first served basis
– Performers should sign up in advance via Eventbrite (free!)

 

0

The Big Win

My latest piece on RTÉ Arena is about winning a few bob… have a listen or read on…

 

 

The Big Win

Most of us have been comforted with a winning tale or two. The uncle who scooped three hundred quid on a Quick Pick. The friend of a friend who was one number away from scooping the entire jackpot. The scratch card bonanza! Hard to believe, in the early twentieth century, lotteries were seen as a major moral dilemma throughout Europe. There was concern that gambling on pure luck might spread to the thrifty classes and more importantly, their trustee and post office savings accounts.

 

While many were debating the misgivings of largescale raffles, Dubliner Joe McGrath was setting up the controversial Irish Sweepstakes, a lottery devised to finance under-resourced Irish hospitals. Each sweepstake draw swam in pageantry and theatre. There were parades of peacocks and magpies, grown men dressed as playing cards. One year saw a procession of old-fashioned policemen, nankeen trousers and swallow tail coats. A number of settings were designed by Harry Clarke Studios, a company founded by the famous stained glass designer a year before his death. 1933 saw the company create sixteen decorative panels on an equine theme, scenes of galloping horses, military shows, a fox and stag hunt in full rowdiness.

 

cat eye2At the Grand National of 1934, the theme was all about luck, the sweepstake authorities seeking out an ordinary black cat to act as model for the campaign. With £5 pound on offer for the chosen cat, the police struggled to control the queues of owners that turned up. Estimated to be several thousand, they carried the felines in every type of conceivable container, bags and boxes, baskets and tins, make-shift holes for the animals to breathe. One lucky cat was selected as winner and a giant effigy of the creature was created, as big as a house, it sat on the back of a lorry.

 

For almost a decade, Sweepstake fever gripped the West, only dampening with outbreak of war in 1939. But talk of the ‘big win’ has never really left these shores, In everyday conversation, it’s right up there with bad weather, traffic congestion and Conor McGregor’s accent. For some, it can even overshadow personal ambition, something which reminds me of a story I read once, about a penniless nobleman and a wealthy count in St Petersburg. The count wagered his companion that he wouldn’t be able to drink a gallon of liquor in one sitting. With the deeds to a valuable estate as a prize, the penniless man duly succeeded in working his way through the liquor. He had no more received the deeds into his hand, when he dropped to the floor, dead.  It’s a story that might speak of stubbornness, desperation, the futility in chasing easy money. But surely one piece of advice beats at the heart of it all.
Be very careful what you wish for.

 

 

0

Airports

Talking airports on RTÉ Arena this week
Have a listen here or read on…

 

airplane4Before the beard and mortgage, and inexplicable mistrust of modern music, in much the same way as normal people, I too was a child. It being the eighties, a time of homemade Evil Kneival ramps and power gats, pastimes for most kids could pretty much be summed up as a series of creative attempts to mortally wound themselves. While most parents steered youngsters toward sport or artistic endeavours, my father liked to bring us on daytrips to Dublin Airport. There was no end of planes to be looked at, the odd seasonal decoration, even an assortment of massive foreign flags. It was indeed a much simpler time.

airplane4

It’s true to say, there is more on offer for the modern airport wayfarer.  Many airports have transformed public spaces into art installations or exhibitions. In Dublin, painted trees sprawl walls of departure areas, deer watching from the shadows, foliage framing the words of Irish writers. W.B. Yeats, Katherine Tynan, James Joyce. But Dublin isn’t alone. Heathrow is home to a three dimensional neon taxi and has its own permanent art gallery, while Philadelphia airport houses volcanic landscapes. In Sacramento, a flock of cranes escape the baggage area. There are swarming ants in Atlanta and a giant weathervane-esque contraption in Helsinki. Amsterdam accommodates a rotating glass pavilion, displaying work from famous Dutch painters.

Airports have transformed massively over the years. Without doubt, the majority of the change in Dublin has been witnessed from the mounds that span a good half-mile beyond the fencing on the southern end of the runway. This is the home of the Airplane Spotter, gathered in bunches, watching the rhythm of the traffic, imagining themselves at the helm of each craft. But surely the sport is more than tracking flight numbers. I imagine these Spotters read ambition in the progress of engines, beauty in the sleek design. They must taste endless possibility in each take-off, a sense of assurance in each successful landing, Or perhaps, like, Ted Kooser and his piece Flying at Night, it is poetry they seek in the idea of flight…

 

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.

Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies

like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,

some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,

snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn

back into the little system of his care.

All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,

tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

 

by Ted Kooser
Published in “Flying at Night”