Monday, September 28, 2015

A Few Thoughts on Burton and Murphy

I've spent a long time getting my head around the incident involving Joan Burton in Jobstown last year. She and her staff were accosted by a large group of people who were protesting against the introduction of water charges. This culminated in her being trapped in her car for a considerable amount of time. One of the protesters was Paul Murphy TD. Charges have now been brought against Murphy and several other protestors. 

Full disclosure, I'm a member of Fine Gael. I support water charges and have paid mine. Also, I have little time for the far left. On the other hand, I hope my party loses at least twenty seats because of how the introduction of the water charges was handled. Spectacular incompetence merits a spectacular punishment.  Further, I have little respect for Burton herself, who seems to relish appeasing the right wing of my party more than her own voters. 

All that being said, my initial response to that incident was to name it an attack and hope the law would come down like a ton of bricks on those who attacked her. It was an emotional response and is revealing of who I am and what my values and prejudices are.

What are those values and prejudices? 

-I dislike Paul Murphy intensely, but it is an emotion I don't have for the far left in general. I have no illusions about my party being in the van of those tackling fascism if that disease ever infects this country. It'll be the far left, kicking ass and taking names. And the far left do have a habit of pointing out that capitalism is absurd. It is important for those of us who defend capitalism to hear that, because capitalism is indeed absurd and cruel and wasteful. It is incumbent upon us then, to ameliorate that intrinsic absurdity and have good arguments for why this awful thing is better than the utopia promised by the far left.

-I dislike and fear mobs, whatever their ideology. I have certain ideas about what constitutes an appropriate protest. It should not have to resort to violence to make the point that pure numbers should. Yes, that might contradict my previous point and it opens me up to accusations of conservatism. Both are true, but only to a degree.

-If Big Phil Hogan had been in the car, and not Joan Burton, would my emotional response have been different? Unfortunately I think it would have. I fear I am not as free from sexism as I'd assumed I was. That's something I have to own and work on. 

-Then there's my hypocrisy. Would I have cared as much if the person attacked was Gerry Adams or Nigel Farage. Almost certainly not. Well actually, no 'almost' about it. I would now be using the same euphemisms currently used by Murphy's supporters; disruption, inconvenienced, blockade, sit-down protest etc.  

-Fear and confusion. That attack scared me. I wasn't even there and it scared me. And it confused me because a citizen should not be impeded by a mob, but the last thing I want to see is the Gardai wading into a situation with jolly abandon. Yes, I'm a woolly-headed liberal as well. 

-And finally disgust at the government I voted for and support, being so incompetent and tone deaf regarding the introduction of water charges. I on the one hand, want this Fine Gael and Labour government reelected at the next election, but I want them also to pay a huge price for how poorly they've dealt with this issue. 

That is the emotional part. It doesn't even touch on my cynicism. I don't want the protesters jailed purely because it might hurt FG and Labour electorally.    

In the end, I fear this issue comes down to a clash of opinions. I can say what I like about what happened in Jobstown, but it won't influence a single person. Because I suspect I am not alone in reacting emotionally to it. And then convinced ourselves that our emotional response is both rational and correct. So I've gotten my head around it, but the rest of me still isn't sure. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Happy Tolkien Week

As it’s Tolkien Week, and inspired by my favourite Tolkien blogger, James Moffett and my friend Candi, I am completing this Tolkien questionnaire. I shall endeavour not to ramble. But I can't promise anything.

1. What draws you to Tolkien’s stories? (The characters, the quests, the themes, the worlds, etc.)

How to avoid an essay answer? First, it is the grandeur and breadth of Tolkien's creation.

Secondly, it is the layers. Anytime I read any of the Middle Earth books (and to Jackson's eternal credit, when I watch the films) I am struck by the gaps. I am aware of things missing. It reads as a history, but a necessarily incomplete history. It makes me sometimes wish that Tolkien would get out of the way so a team of archeologists, anthropologists and scientists with carbon dating equipment can take over. I want them to discover what parts of his tale are true, what parts are embellished and what parts are pure fiction.

Thirdly, it is the story of Lord of the Rings. It is a relatively straightforward quest. Return the One Ring to where it had been forged and thus unmake it. These are the good guys and those are the bad guys. Here are the people we trust to carry the Ring. Well, this is the person who can carry it and these are his companions, who are mostly trustworthy. This is the current political situation. These are the personality, familial, racial, internal, external, dynastic and military tensions that have to be negotiated. Then there's the overwhelming numbers, the presence of magic, immortal beings and shedloads of geography. And what is the Ring exactly and what do you mean there are other Rings of Power. Gandalf is a what now? Simple.

And finally there are the characters. So many of them and so wonderfully realised.

2. What was the first Middle Earth book you read and/or movie you saw? What did you think of it?

I read Lord of the Rings, for the first time, in my mid-teens. I was blown away by it. I adored it. Have read fantasy ever since. I even write it now.

3. Name three of your favourite characters and tell us why you like them.

Galadriel - I like that she is so hauntingly majestic. I was always drawn to the elves and she represents the most complete Elf on Middle Earth.

Boromir - He stumbled. Badly. But he did his duty. What more can be asked of anyone?

Éoywn - A warrior who had to fight for the right to prove her valour. A true hero.

4. Are there any secondary characters you think deserve more attention?

Does King Theoden count as secondary? He probably doesn't but the previous question only allowed three favourites. Then there's Beren and Luthien. You just don’t get bigger or more epic romances than theirs. And I know Treebeard may be a controversial choice, but book Treebeard had a mournful quality and a majesty that I really liked.

5. What Middle Earth character do you relate to the most?

Faramir. Definitely Faramir.

6. If you could ask Professor Tolkien one Middle Earth-related question, what would you like to ask him?

Do you regret that your vision is now cast in stone? Your work is regarded as so sacrosanct that it is treated as if it is complete? Would you prefer the gaps to be filled in with new stories or with scholarly speculation? (That's one question in three parts. Honestly.)

7. Are there any pieces of Middle Earth merchandise you would particularly like to own, but don’t?

I would kill any number of friends and relations to have either Theoden's sword or helm.

8. What battle would you absolutely not want to be part of?

The Kinslaying at Alqualondë. 

9. Would you rather eat a meal at the Rivendell or Bag End?

Rivendell of course. There are elves there.

10. List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotes from the books or movies.

"I go to my fathers in whose mighty company I shall not now feel ashamed."

"My Brother, My Captain, My King."

"Death. Death. Death."

“I am old, Gandalf. I don't look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can't be right. I need a change, or something.”

"Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!" Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. "But no living man am I!”

"He will come to death an image of the splendour of the kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world. But you, my daughter, you will linger on in darkness and in doubt as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Here you will dwell bound to your grief under the fading trees until all the world is changed and the long years of your life are utterly spent."

Gimli: "I have taken my worst wound at this parting, having looked my last upon that which is fairest. Henceforth I will call nothing fair unless it be her gift to me."
Legolas: "What was it?"
Gimli: "I asked her for one hair from her golden head. She gave me three."

"We set out to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me."

“I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.”

Have some fun and answer the questions yourself and have a very Happy Tolkien Week everybody. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Kerryman Letter re Syrian Refugees

As appeared in Letters - The Kerryman - 9 September 2015 edition

I remember when I was in school, being taught about the horror that was The Great Famine. A million dead, millions more fleeing and a British government that simply stood by and let it happen. At the time I didn't have as much access to world news as children have today. So I didn't really know how bad things were for other people.

It makes me wonder if these tech savvy students look at their teachers and think: how is our government different to those terrible Brits back in 1847? What are we doing to help the Syrian refugees?

The population of Ireland halved. Half the population of Syria has been reduced to refugee status. A small portion of these people have sought haven in Europe. We sent our millions on Coffin Ships to the US. Now we bolt our doors against drowning children.

Do we require teachers to instil hypocrisy in our children? To tell them that what happened in 1847 was wrong but refusing to help the Syrians is different because, well just because.

Do we need to teach our children that ambition, sacrifice and solidarity only exist in books? That in the real world, we watch people suffer and die without offering aid, because it has nothing to do with us.

The centenary of The 1916 Rising is fast approaching. What are we teaching our children about what it means to be Irish, when we turn our back on our duty as humans?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Moving a Nation

The genius of oratory is that it uses mere words, to inspire. It uses words to bypass the intellectual and moral sensibilities of the audience, to tap directly into its emotions. It is an art because it recognises that where an audience's 'feelings' go, their minds and bodies must surely follow. It is a daunting power; the ability to move people to action, often against their better judgement.

Pearse, Churchill, O'Connell, King, Parnell, Lincoln, rare men. For they had that power, to hold the small enraptured, and once in thrall, set them to the task of being giants. 

I distrust these demagogues. Moulding the mob is not just the preserve of the great. From Caesar to Hitler, appealing to the petty prejudices of the populace, can see the small inspired to be monsters.   

Throughout Ireland's most recent economic and social malaise, I have been gratified by the failure of anyone to emerge, who might seek to galvanise the citizens. Rather we should muddle through and trust, to blind hope, that those we elevate, don't reflect our foibles too closely.  

Then a country, a continent away, implodes. A catastrophe measured in millions. A devastation depicted with drowned babies. Military might, discredited. Economic power, diminished. Moral courage, gone. Leadership, reflecting our foibles all too well.

How does one move a nation to shame, once shame has been too long forgotten? How does one preach responsibility, solidarity and charity, to those who wear the mask of victimhood with such surly enthusiasm?

Pictures of dead babies no longer work, even when the babies have pale skin. Remembering history does not work, as we have been taught only to blame. A call for humanity, presumes a humanity.

Who can move a nation that shrugs its shoulders at the sight of dead babies? Who now has the power to communicate with the better angels of our nature? 


Monday, August 31, 2015

Blue Eyeshadow free for Five Days

I'm on an 'on again-off again' Twitter sabbatical as I attempt to complete my second novel, Killaspicktarvin. Progress has been slow but satisfactory. I have been wrestling with structure and structure, to my relief, has won. I am now at a point where I know how things have to be revealed. It is proving to be invigorating, mind-numbingly boring, frustrating and informative. To my embarrassment, the biggest obstacles I've encountered are laziness and vanity. Annoyingly, the laziness is easier to deal with. My vanity remains a constant thorn in my side. I daydream of success and fame. I imagine critical acclaim and other such nonsense. And when my dreams end, I am left with the reality of a rather self indulgent story, not even half finished. This leads to a spiral of doubt, self recrimination and an unattended screen. Worse, I begin to think about my next novel and how it must be better than the one I'm writing now.

And when I'm not thinking of my next novel, I'm thinking of my last one, Blue Eyeshadow. Wondering if I should go back to it. Perhaps have a go at improving it or just look for mistakes. It's almost as if I don't want to write another 60 to 80 thousands words. It's a strange bloody hobby. Not that I'm complaining, more I am attempting to distract myself by focusing, for now, on an aspect of Blue Eyeshadow I think I can improve on.

When I published the novel, last February, I wasn't very familiar with some of the features that Amazon has for self-publishers. The one I should have gotten my head around then, but have only worked out recently, is the 'special offer' function. So, as a way to train myself, in anticipation of publishing Killaspicktarvin sometime in 2016, I'm running a special offer for Blue Eyeshadow.

From Monday, August 31, to Friday September 4, inclusive, my book will be free to download to Kindle or any device with a Kindle app. I hope you'll take the opportunity to download it. If you download it, I hope you'll take the time to read it and review it. Reviews are very important to self-publishers. As is word of mouth I suppose. It has had some reviews already. (And yes, one of them is by my mother) And I carelessly lost my previous Twitter account I am currently down about 600 followers so this promotion will very much depend on ReTweets. Sorry about that.

What is Blue Eyeshadow about? Well it is a YA novel about bullying in a high school in America. It was inspired by an article I read a few years ago, about suicide clusters in some high schools in the U.S. It was homophobic bullying that was encouraged by religious bigotry. That didn't surprise me. What did surprise and appall me was the cowardice and connivance of the teachers who felt obliged to turn a blind eye in order to protect their jobs.

I wrote the novel as a way for me to try to understand something I find almost alien. By alien, I don't mean religious bigotry, I do live in Ireland after all. More, to try to understand the victims. As a straight, white man, I am privileged in having to imagine being bullied. I wanted to try and connect somehow with those who were destroyed by the actions of those who were charged with their protection. I don't know if I fully succeeded in that. But I do know I was reminded, again, how fortunate I am.

I won't say I hope you enjoy reading Blue Eyeshadow, but I do hope it proves a positive experience.

Available on and
The cover was designed by the inestimable @robyntmorton

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Kerryman Letter re The Angelus

As appeared in Letters - The Kerryman - 1 July 2015 edition

There has been talk about RTE changing or indeed replacing the Angelus. This has caused some upset and, surprisingly that upset is shared by those most attached to the Angelus and those most keen to see it changed.

It may seem a strange issue to be concerned by. The Angelus, on RTE, is a decades old tradition. It has become a part of the fabric of Irish culture. It harms no one and is dearly loved by many. What sort of joyless character would demand it ends? Those of us who are irked by RTE broadcasting, twice daily, a Roman Catholic call to prayer, must come across as arrogant barbarians.

Most atheists and secularists in my experience, however, do not give the Angelus a second thought. Any concerns we may have on the subject are simply resolved by switching the channel. Out of sight, out of mind.

Within the atheist and secularist communities, there are two ways of looking at this issue. There are those who see the Angelus as 'low hanging fruit' on the road to a more inclusive Ireland. Then there are those who see this as an unnecessary and potentially harmful distraction on the road to a more inclusive Ireland.

What does unite the atheist and secularist communities, is our segregated education system. A problem most keenly felt by those of us in rural counties like Kerry. That our children's access to education is hampered by religious segregation is something we will not stop highlighting and campaigning about.

Personally, I don't care about the Angelus. If it changes or stays the same, it will not impact on me. What I do care about is our Constitution, our education system and our health system, continuing to discriminate against anyone who isn't a Roman Catholic.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Kerryman Letter re Liberalism

As appeared in Letters - The Kerryman - 17 June 2015 edition

It was with some amusement that I read J. O'Donaghue's (June 3) attack on liberalism. 

Mr O’Donaghue appears to have missed the irony of his position. That he was allowed to write to a newspaper, with the expectation that his opinions would be published, is a gift of liberalism. That he (or any of us) is even able to write is again, another advancement that can be credited to liberalism.

Of course we could return to the pre-Enlightenment utopia of Judeo-Christian 'humanism.' Those were the days of burning uppity women at the stake, the Divine Right of Kings to rule, slavery and torture. Liberal progress towards universal health care, education and suffrage came later.

The passing of the Marriage Equality Referendum was not a victory for the LGBT Community or unsupported feelings. It was more a realisation that our enmity towards that community was based on ideas not backed by facts. It was an enmity that was illogical. It was nothing more than a prejudice, maintained by emotion and tradition.

Yes, liberalism is messy. It lacks a holy book of instruction. And it has a lot of blood on its hands. Some of that blood being members of the LGBT Community.

But it is an ideology that learns. Slowly, often painfully slowly, but it does, by freeing the individual, encourage and promote progress. Though the greatest strength of liberalism, is that beyond a firm belief in personal freedom, you can't get two liberals to agree on anything. That's probably why conservatives, Roman Catholics and Marxists hate it so much. It is a very human idealism.