Archive for November, 2011

On the Wearing of the Poppy….or Not
November 16, 2011

The National school I attended way back in the 1960’s was an all male affair. Teachers, Priests, maintenance were all men and the pupils were exclusively boys. Now, with the benefit of almost half a century of hindsight I can see that that was the reason for our terrible rivalry with a particular, larger all boys school. Unhindered by the common-sense of woman kind the rivalry grew to ludicrous intensity before our annual league meetings on the hurling field.

Our teachers, fired by God knows what ancient grievance, would take time from teaching us our three R’s and catechism to instil in us kids a fervent hatred of the rival school and in particular their snooty superiority in hurling. Songs of support were composed and rehearsed, chants were practiced, and some years the alternative wording, far more blood curling than even our teachers would allow, were circulated in secret amongst the kids only to be launched on match day to surprise our teachers and shock everyone else within earshot.

Examples of our rival’s nastiness were helpfully highlighted by our teacher such as their practice of grouping together around their teachers and staring across the pitch, sometimes in silence, at our chanting supporters. This obvious attempt to intimate our lads never worked and howls of derision were directed back at them while some of our more talented mimics would show their bravery by making like primates up and down the touch line, racism was never an issue as we were all milk-bottle white. The disdain they showed for their jerseys, socks and even sometimes a boot (they never had the decency to leave two matching boots) leaving them carelessly behind seemed designed to show how richer they were than us, who had to cherish our gear. But the most galling aspect of this rivalry was that by the use of their superior skills they invariably defeated us. Superior skills or not, we still considered defeat at their hands a dreadful injustice.

One particular and typical match stands out in my memory. As defeat was looming ever nearer, and our hurling ever more reckless, and our teachers shouting ever louder and shriller, all against a background of chanting which would now be considered “threatening with menace” our star forward found himself without his hurley and in the path of a scorcher of a shot which was destined to go wide. Being a secret soccer player (the ban on “foreign” games being then still strictly enforced) our hero knew exactly what was required of him. He met the rocketing sliothar with his forehead as if it were a soccer ball, thus rendering himself unconscious and the score line less embarrassing for our team.

In those days helmets, gum shields, and using temporary unconsciousness, as an excuse for not finishing a grudge game were unheard of, and would have been frowned upon as unIrish had they been heard of. And so our dazed teammate was returned to the fray and our half forward line were directed to launch their shots not to him, but at him.
Boys “self esteem” had not yet been invented and anything with “self” and “steam” in its title would probably have been taken as a particularly vigorous form of masturbation, probably of Protestant origin, and so our teacher, while afterwards praising the star forward’s commitment, assured us that as he was a bright pupil no harm was done, if however the same knock had been taken by us dullards in the half-back line what meagre brains we had would surely have been irretrievably scrambled , they did have a wry sense of humour, those teachers.

It was many years later when I met the woman who would become my wife and all of whose brothers hurled for our nemesis that I learned the truth. Our mutual rivalry had all the mutuality of the hang man and the hanged man. The only effect of our one sided rivalry was to convince the other school that ours was a school comprised entirely, man and boy, of border-line imbeciles and way-beyond-the-border-line psychopaths. One Brother in law swears that his teacher used our hurling style to illustrate to his class the kind of demented fury which made the Vikings so feared.

Before they played us their teachers would warn the collected kids to stick together, don’t get isolated, safety in numbers. When the final whistle blew they were to change quickly and depart. Under no circumstances was anyone to go back for any boot, jersey or sock left behind. Anyway the uncouth savages would probably have the article torn to shreds and be gnawing on the remnants.
These memories of our one-sided rivalry so many years ago came flooding back as I read the recent discussion on the wearing of the poppy. I am not sure why they did, but did they did. The mind works in mysterious ways, or maybe it’s just my mind. Come to think of it, maybe that teacher was not joking about the half-back line.

Eamo. 12-11-2011

Towards a diagnosis of the Irish spirit; overt and clandestine
November 3, 2011

Following on from a thought prompted by my friend Trow who is an expert tracker through the symbols and signals that light up our culture I thought it might be interesting to put forward a thread for discussion of who we are and why we are as we are in the modern world.

I contend that this cannot be done by a mere accountancy as we have attempted to do in recent years. Nor can it be done by self-flattery through our history. Nor even by looking for a reflection of ourselves in the mirrors of our neighbours, or treaties, contracts with other nations and almost certainly not by reading the public statements of our leaders. Their concern is to homogenise us as the electorate at home and ‘the Irish people’ when they are abroad- both being pliable and biddable concepts for the politician.

They say Freud alleged that the Irish were the only people one could not analyse. I doubt he did say that but if he did it was probably because he relied so much upon sex for diagnosis and he died before sex began in Ireland with the advent of the Late, Late Show.

So what are we left with but the things that make us peculiar and distinctive in the eyes of other people. These things we might not notice so much as they are by definition familiar to us and too close in to us to be thought about often. Our warinesses and superstitions. The way we use language, our own and adopted. The symbols that survive and that we all recognise and end up having to explain to American tourists.

Some psychologists say that there is a duality in the Irish psychology which is striking.

‘we now turn our attention to the deep cultural importance of the underworld in Irish psychology. While stories of fairies, leprechauns and banshees may serve to instil fear in Irish children nowadays, they are vessels of a deeper culture.xi There is an intense dichotomy between the earth and the underworld.

The above-mentioned Book of Invasions tells of the Tuath De Danaan (the People of Danuxii), who were the occupiers of Ireland when the Milesians first came. According to the story, the Tuath De Danaan were driven underground where they continued to reside in ‘sidhe’ or fairy mounds and play an influential role in manipulating events in the world above.

This dualism with its attendant sense of dominant/recessive elements is reflected in many areas of Irish life. The Tuath de Dannan represent the magical, recessive component in the equation.

Jonathan Korowicz, Institute for Integrative Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding, Vienna, Austria

Mr Korowicz also points out;

‘What is interesting here is the idea that the concept of place and not people is emphasized in defining Irishness. The Irish citizen in mythic terms feels himself to be part of a process i.e. one of many races in the same land. However, each race tends to overcome, obscure or dominate the previous race. Irishness is thus an experience combining concepts of destiny, suffering, sacrifice and exile/separation. This final component is evident both in the Leabhair Gabhala where the invading tribes are themselves exiles from other lands as well as in the 19th and 20th Centuries where exile is perpetrated on the Irish race for reasons of survival (the Great Famine) and psychological reasons (as in the writings of James Joyce – ‘the quintessential exiled writer of the twentieth century, who obsessively relates to his past by distancing himself from it.’)

I found this paper on a google search and wished to use it to prompt a discussion of Irish psychology if possible and what symbols from our mythology and folklore might indicate. There is the above and the below- this world and the underworld and that is ancient in our culture.

I myself refer to ‘Tir Na N’og’ Ireland whenever I feel we are responding to the theory of things and not the reality – the assumed separation of powers in the pillars of the state, the notion that abortion does not occur in Ireland because it takes place in the ‘otherworld’ beyond the departure gates and not at home. Tir Na N’og never feels more real to me when I detect this reaching for the theoretical by Irish opinion-formers- the pretence around the Celtic Tiger and the false economy of the boom being a kind of migration into fantasy and a bridge into the never-never land.

I have questions I’d love to hear answers on or at least opinions from other Irish people.

Do we undervalue our folklore and mythology and not recognise them as symbols of a language between us to which many of us have lost the key?

Are psychologists and historians right to pay so much attention to cultural symbols in order to describe traits in the Irish psychology?

Captain Con 3.12.08

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