Is John Waters now our national “bean caoineadh”?

Fadó, fadó, ‘twas the tradition to have bean/mná caoineadh, or keeners (from the Irish for lamenting/weeping), at funerals. Their task was to extol the virtues of the dead and make a great show of grieving over the loss. Just in case there was any doubt. It was a paid occupation and mná caoineadh were expert at the task of wailing and ullagoning. Sadly, the tradition died out – until recently that is.

I first noticed Waters’s revival of this tradition at the time of Katy French’s controversial death.

“I am crying, writing this,” he began. Promising start! He continued in a display of hyperbole that revealed a Natural Born Keener: “Katy French was a personification of our fantasies, of our sense of what we were becoming, of how we might unfold ourselves. She was not the only one, but in the immediate past was perhaps the most spectacular light on the skyline, a meteorite of desire plummeting through the Irish zeitgeist… yadda, yadda, yadda…”.

He had ‘em bawling at the crossroads – job done, payment received from the grieving Irish Times.

Upon the controversial death of Gerry Ryan, Waters let a screech out of him, the like of which hadn’t been heard since the mná caoineadh of Ulster learned of the untimely demise of Cú Chulainn. However, keening for Ryan proved to be something of a crowded field and Waters’s contribution was lost in the national frenzy of mourning and weeping.

Like a true professional, Waters took this in his stride and honed his skills, abandoning this ol’ skool approach. The polished result was most recently evident in his keening for Brian Lenihan, firstly for the distraught “Irish” Heil on Sunday and the same piece re-cycled for the inconsolable RTE. (Two paydays! Now that’s what I call keening.) The lament on RTE’s News at One is quite a piece of work.

A set-up by Seán O’Rourke, calling Lenihan a “latter-day Braveheart” [that actually happened – on a news programme], followed by the punch-line of Waters’s keening: “…He stepped out of history from a line that included Pearse and Collins and Lemass… He had that air about him that now we encounter only in history books… yadda, yadda, yadda…”

Job done, not a dry seat in the house.

It’s a good niche this keening business, with a long list in need of Waters’s unique skill. Now, may Holy God and his Blessed and Holy Mother be between the likes of Fingleton, Fitzpatrick, Drumm, Ahern, Cowen, McCreevy, McAleese, and all harm. May they be kept safe until they’ve had the chance to make at least a dent in their pay-offs, bonuses, pensions and foreign bank accounts. But it’s nice to know that Waters is on standby to interpret what the loss, Holy God forbid, of any of them would mean.

He could point out how the sight of Fingleton with his hat at a jaunty angle was enough to give the entire nation a lift and may have inspired Philip Treacy. As for Fitzpatrick, the man was a visionary. Didn’t he say it was time to tackle the sacred cow of welfare? We are now in the process of slaughtering that cow, exporting the carcass and then re-importing the offal in the form of burgers to be served in the Dáil restaurant. Perhaps we could re-import the hide in the form of a stout pair of brogues to give the lazy Irish a good kick up the hole. The scroungers on welfare and the shirkers in jobs cribbing about taxes and levies – at least, that is doubtless how a self-made man like Fitzpatrick would envision it. There’s some good material there for bean caoineadh Waters.

As O’Rourke soberly pointed out on that News at One episode, “It was the Roman writer Plautus translating from the Greek who observed… he whom the gods love dies young”. We may be hearing from our new national treasure again soon. God forbid, obviously.

(Note: Purists may say that Waters is actually a fear caoineadh, but there’s a certain pantomime quality about his schtick that casts him as a bean caoineadh. A drag act, swathed in a shawl, his eyes gleaming with fundamentalist fervour.)

Justin Casey 25.6.2011

3 Responses

  1. If there is any writer that can bring me to tears it has to be John Waters – why it wasn’t so long ago that he wrote of how the perception of the people towards the then Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, had changed

    “” [Cowen] has found his mojo: his daddy mojo. We have waited and waited, and now our father has come home.”

    Reading that again the tears are streaming down my face – tears of mirth to be sure but tears nonetheless.

  2. He’s a fear grinn as well!

  3. wow…learning something every day! Fadó = Fado in portuguese as far as i can tell….great subject for a dinner party conversation…

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