Saturday, September 26, 2009

Working Class Heroes on Film

In an era where any old fool can film something and post it on YouTube, it's a real pleasure to discover this week two hidden pearls from a time when home movies weren't quite so ubiquitous and which, even better, show us glimpses of people from before they became world famous. The short bit of film below shows us Phil Lynott and Brian Downey, later the rhythm section of Thin Lizzy, wandering the streets of Crumlin in 1969, with their band of the time, The Black Eagles. The quality of the film isn't great and neither is the framing and, not surprisingly there's no audio (The Yardbirds' 'Heartful of Soul' provides the soundtrack) but the film is mesmerisingly candid for all the selfconscious posing of the budding rock stars. There's a thrill to seeing any footage of the past in which you recognise things and the old 1940s council houses that flicker into view in the background are familiar to people all over Ireland, we can still see their likes in Limerick, Cork, Sligo, Athlone, Dundalk today, many of them now gentrified out of the price range of the working class that originally inhabited them. But most of all this is about Lynott and his stardom that was to come, the youngster who was to become Dublin's first ever rock star and the first black Irishman of world renown; as Conor McCabe put it in a fine post on Lizzy on Dublin Opinion last year, Lynott

is Dublin. The city seeped from him, from everything he did, from the way he moved and talked and looked. It’s hard to think of Phil Lynott coming from anywhere else but Dublin, and even at that, from anywhere else but a Dublin corporation estate. The city was such a part of him, and him of it.

And this gem of a clip is a great counterpart to the video for 'Old Town' that Philo recorded later in life, before his tragically early death in January 1986. Both remind me of the eerie thrill that befalls the sailor in Kipling's great short story 'Mrs. Bathurst' on his first encounter with the new-fangled thing called the cinematograph.

And the YouTube user MsRiposte, who it seems was a family friend of Phil, has also provided us with footage of Philo playing with Skid Row, including Brush Shiels and Gary Moore, the same year.

A huge thank you to Ms Riposte for sharing these with the world. They are absolute gold. And thanks to Philo's fellow Crumlin man and another great musician, Richie Egan of Jape for spreading word of them on his Twitter feed.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Chapeau #2

Another good break for friends of mine this week. My friends Chris, Alex and Dave opened the doors of their bar/restaurant Chair de Poule* in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. It's a small but charming place that intends to serve food at the bistro end of nouvelle cuisine (food's still a few weeks off) and knowing Chris' pedigree as a farm-to-plate type of chef, having worked in several countries, the food will be nothing short of top class. The place is located on the corner of rue St-Maur and rue des Trois Bornes, in an area with no shortage of lively bars, cafés and restaurants for a good night all round. There's a website too under construction. You'll be hearing more of this in the months to come.

Chair de Poule, 141, rue St-Maur, 75011 Paris. Métro Parmentier/Goncourt Tel:

View Larger Map

*The name means literally 'chicken flesh' in French, but idiomatically, it's closer to 'goose flesh'.

Chapeau #1

Enormous news from New York Monday night where my friend of many years (and former colleague in more than one job) Tim Grucza received the Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in the field of Documentary. The award was for his work on the PBS Frontline film The War Briefing, which was made last year. I've known Tim for almost as long as I've been in France and he has spent that time and longer enduring discomfort and sometimes danger covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but also working in other parts of the world such as Chad, Nigeria and Georgia. His work has always been top class and the Emmy is the result of years of trevelyan work and sacrifice. It's not the first award Tim has received for his efforts but it's certainly the most prestigious, and it will not be the last either. Tim has another, self-directed, film on Afghanistan in the pipeline, due to be released in the New Year. Below is an excerpt from The War Briefing and the entire film can be watched online on the PBS website. Bravo Tim. Now it's time to update that Wikipedia page.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Rehabilitation of Raymond Domenech, by Catherine Ringer

Raymond Domenech is once again an embattled man forced to put on a brave face as the players under his command mutiny and succeed in undoing the damage he has inflicted on the French national team over the past five years. It happened once before in the 2006 World Cup when Zinedine Zidane, Fabien Barthez and Claude Makelele generated a team spirit and fluidity previously absent under Domenech. And now Thierry Henry has decided to take matters into his own hands and the approach has produced two good performances in recent qualifiers against Romania and Serbia. It will probably allow France to progress to South Africa via the playoffs as they enjoy a resurgence of form and confidence.

Raymond is not the most popular of sports personalities in France, and his penchant for astrology, though not uncommon among the French, hardly serves to boost his credibility. But he now has an admirer from an unlikely quarter, Catherine Ringer, former lead singer of classic 80s band Les Rita Mitsouko. She has just released, free to download on her website, a track entitled 'Je kiffe Raymond' ('I love Raymond' in the slang of the era). It goes as follows: "Je kiffe Raymond !/ Trop beau ce mec/ Ouais, son style, son nom/ Il est impec ce Domenech/ J’aime son image, sa stature de vieux crampon/ De son ramage, ouais je monte à l’action.." (Rather ungainily translated: "I love Raymond!/What a looker/Yeah, his style, his name/He's the tops this Domenenech/I love his image, his clinginess [an untranslatable pun on 'crampon', meaning both football boots and leech]/At his command, I leap into action.")

The mind boggles like never before. One wonders who's going to benefit most from this strange project. But maybe Catherine, who started off as an actress in films that one might diplomatically call 'exotic', detects in Domenech a certain outré raciness from another era. Certainly the moustache he sported during Strasbourg's championship-winning season in 1979 wouldn't be out of place in some of Ms Ringer's early work.

Catherine Ringer - Je kiffe Raymond

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"They are just writers, no matter how great."

A quote, unsourced alas, from the great Liam O'Flaherty I read last night:

There are some writers whom one immediately recognises, bookish fellows whose drawing-room civilisation obtrudes unpleasantly on the senses. They are just writers, no matter how great. But there are others who are great men, because they are men and who write because chance turns their energies towards writing as a means of creation. These are the men I love. Out of their speech, out of their eyes, out of the movements of their bodies, joyousness and exuberance flow and they make you feel it is good to be alive.

I'm sure O'Flaherty, a progressive fellow, would have intended women writers to be included in that equation too. That oversight aside, it's as good an observation on the whole writing thing as one could wish.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Distorting the Anti-Israel Protests in Toronto

John Greyson's entirely reasonable decision to protest the Toronto International Film Festival's City-to-City spotlight on Tel-Aviv (and the supporting letter from a group of activists, artists and intellectuals such as Naomi Klein, Jane Fonda and Slavoj Zizek) has been predictably distorted and misrepresented by Israel's backers. Greyson cites the war in Gaza (for which both Hamas and Israel were criticised for human rights abuses by the UN this week), the continuation of a long-established apartheid-style policy in the Occupied Territories as reason for his reluctance to allow his film 'Covered' to be shown at a festival which turns a blind eye to the reality of Israel's outrageous flouting of decency and international law:

To my mind, this isn't the right year to celebrate Brand Israel, or to demonstrate an ostrich-like
indifference to the realities (cinematic and otherwise) of the region, or to pointedly ignore the international
economic boycott campaign against Israel. Launched by Palestinian NGO's in 2005, and since joined by
thousands inside and outside Israel, the campaign is seen as the last hope for forcing Israel to comply with
international law. By ignoring this boycott, TIFF has emphatically taken sides -- and in the process, forced
every filmmaker and audience member who opposes the occupation to cross a type of picket line.

The follow-up collective letter to the TIFF protests the spotlight also, correctly pointing out the uncomfortable fissure between a city such as Tel Aviv, that admittedly has its admirable qualities, and the grim reality of Israeli state policy:

The emphasis on 'diversity' in City to City is empty given the absence of Palestinian filmmakers in the program. Furthermore, what this description does not say is that Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages, and that the city of Jaffa, Palestine’s main cultural hub until 1948, was annexed to Tel Aviv after the mass exiling of the Palestinian population. This program ignores the suffering of thousands of former residents and descendants of the Tel Aviv/Jaffa area who currently live in refugee camps in the Occupied Territories or who have been dispersed to other countries, including Canada. Looking at modern, sophisticated Tel Aviv without also considering the city’s past and the realities of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, would be like rhapsodizing about the beauty and elegant lifestyles in white-only Cape Town or Johannesburg during apartheid without acknowledging the corresponding black townships of Khayelitsha and Soweto.

Israel's supporters haven't been long making their voices heard: Marvin Hier of the Simon Wisenthal Center told a press conference that "Tel Aviv is one of the freest cities in the world, warts and all: a model city of diversity, freedom of expression and tolerance, for Arabs and Jews." He added: "It is the height of hypocrisy to single out Tel Aviv. These protesters cannot masquerade their hatred toward Israel." One need only point out the fact that the Tel Aviv distict population is comprised of only 2% Palestinian Arabs, a shockingly low number for a city built on razed Arab villages, to show Hier's model of diversity to be the nonsense it is.

Then a number of Hollywood Jews (their words, not mine) have signed a letter of counter-protest, employing some breathtaking hyperbole to denounce the anti-Israel protest as 'a blacklist', saying that "Blacklisting them [Israeli films] only stifles the exchange of cultural knowledge that artists should be the first to defend and protect. Those who refuse to see these films for themselves or prevent them from being seen by others are violating a cherished right shared by Canada and all democratic countries."

Let's go back to what Greyson said in his letter (my emphasis):

Let's be clear: my protest isn't against the films or filmmakers you've chosen. I've seen brilliant
works of Israeli and Palestinian cinema at past TIFFs, and will again in coming years
. My protest is against
the Spotlight itself, and the smug business-as-usual aura it promotes of a "vibrant metropolis [and] dynamic
young city... commemorating its centennial", seemingly untroubled by other anniversaries, such as the 42nd
anniversary of the occupation. Isn't such an uncritical celebration of Tel Aviv right now akin to celebrating
Montgomery buses in 1963, California grapes in 1969, Chilean wines in 1973, Nestles infant formula in
1984, or South African fruit in 1991?

and the collective letter of support (my emphasis once again):

We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City, nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF. However, especially in the wake of this year’s brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann have all characterized as an apartheid regime.
Now, call me old-fashioned, but a diligent close reading of those two statements reveals to me no hatred of Israel or its film-makers but rather points out the iniquity of doing what is in effect propaganda work for the Israeli state. I don't blame the likes of David Cronenberg, Jerry Seinfeld or Minnie Driver for standing up for Israeli filmmakers and it's quite possible that their knowledge of the controversy was at best flimsy or distorted by the pre-drafted letter of protest they were asked to sign. One must also bear in mind that the majority of the signatories are American, and in much of the US, on the left as well as the right, criticism of Israel is routinely tarred as anti-semitism. But all those signatories should at the very least read the two letters as they were actually published. There is no hatred of Israel nor is there any overly-emotive chest-beating.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm a great admirer of recent Israeli cinema, particularly the films of Avi Mograbi, Ari Folman, Shlomi and Ronit Elkabetz, Eran Riklis, Raphaël Nedjari, Keren Yedaya and Eytan Fox. Films by some of them were screened in the TIFF. Israeli films deserve to be seen, not least because they sometimes offer an honest, objective account of Israeli society that is at odds with some of the brow-beating nationalism of right-wing Israelis and their Zionist supporters (Fox's The Bubble is, ironically, a clear-eyed account of Tel Aviv's shortcomings as a 'diverse city'). But Israel, or Tel Aviv, cannot be treated the same as other countries as long as its government continues to flout international law, proceed with policies that border on ethnic cleansing, while at the same time having the gall to accuse those who oppose illegal West Bank settlements of supporting the same. It is likewise disingenuous of an Israeli filmmaker such as Samuel Maoz to claim he might not have won the Golden Lion at Venice, as he did for his war film Lebanon, had Jane Fonda or any other signatories been on the jury. Israeli films get a fair crack of the whip in international film festivals and I know nobody who suggests that they should be boycotted or shunned. Ken Loach was accused of censoring Tali Shalom Ezer's Surrogate at the Edinburgh Film Festival last year when he called for a boycott. But his target was not Shalom Ezer or his film, but rather the fact that the organizers had accepted money from the Israeli government to pay for Shalom-Ezer’s travel costs.

It's true that boycotts of Israel, be they academic or cultural, should be applied with care and discretion (I have no qualms whatsoever about applying economic boycotts) and though they are supported by some on the Israeli left, such as Ilan Pappe and Neve Gordon, they are opposed by others such as Uri Avnery. It is also true that some of those who take a pro-Palestinian stance are motivated more by hatred of Israel than a sense of justice for Palestinians. But the calls of protest against the Toronto International Film Festival were nothing but measured and reasonable.


All credit to Roger Ebert, who, having initially condemned the protest, revised his position when presented with more facts. He said

I'm writing this the day after first posting this entry. I now regret it. The point I make about artists is perfectly valid but I realize I wasn't prepared with enough facts about the events leading up to the Festival's decision to showcase Tel Aviv in the City-to-City section. I thought of it as an innocent goodwill gesture, but now realize it was part of a deliberate plan to "re-brand" Israel in Toronto, as a pilot for a larger such program. The Festival should never have agreed to be used like this.

It's a brave, honest retraction, and one which aims to please neither side of the debate. It also confirms my suspicions mentioned above that some of the Hollywood figures that signed the condemnation of the protest might not themselves have been fully aware of the situation. It all underlines the importance of getting information out to combat the hasbara lies. Even staunch supporters of Israel can view things clearly when they are provided with the truth.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Disco Infernal

This is a film that has been and gone most places but I'll give it a mention because I wasn't on blog duty when it came out a few months back. Tony Manero is the tale of Raúl, a 52-year-old ne'er-do-well obsessed with Saturday Night Fever in the dark days of the military dictatorship in Chile in the late 70s. His dream is to appear in a TV talent contest as a John Travolta clone. So far, so-Full Monty. But Tony Manero is a far more scabrous, unobliging work, an ill-mannered riposte to the idea that popular culture (especially American pop culture) can provide redemption in the face of political repression. In this film, pop music is, at best a malign distraction from the evil within, at worst a vector for the rotten state of a country whose ruling élite has placed its consumer concerns above human ones. It reminds me of the lines parrotted by Pinochet supporters as the old bastard was held under house arrest in London ten years ago: "Before the General came to power, you couldn't even get blue jeans in Chile. He saved our country."

Apparently at its Cannes screening 18 months ago, several Hollywood studio executives left violently angry, incredulous anyone could envisage their product used for dark ends. Job well done, Pablo Larraín, whose second film this is. One of the films of 2009 so far.

Apologies for the lack of subtitles in the clip:

Joe Stiglitz on Sport and Bankers

Joseph Stiglitz, writing as guest editor of Libération yesterday, on high-earning sports stars:

The salaries of sports stars, soccer in particular, don't bother me near as much as traders' bonuses do. A soccer player is like a singer. The best singer sells the most records, it's public demand that decides that. And for sport too, the public digs into its pockets to go see the best. It's not the same in the world of finance: traders' salaried are fixed by bankers who, to a certain extent, steal from the shareholders, who are the effective owners of the company. In finance, everyone thinks they're smarter than everyone else - it's completely irrational. And if you know you're not the very best, why measure yourself against the very best? In finance, the deal is: "If you only give a million, you only get one-third of my attention; if you want more than that, you pay me more." In sport, the stars are paid according to their competitiveness. What's more, they pay taxes. A trader, on the other hand, if he thinks himself underpaid, will take risks, and if things go bad, it's the taxpayer that pays.

I have a sneaky feeling Stiglitz isn't too bothered by sport and thus didn't give more than a cursory analysis. But none other than Simon Kuper expressed a similar opinion in his FT column a few months back. The truth about the public wanting to watch better quality is undeniable but I don't think a salary cap would be any harm in that it might take the pressure off small and medium clubs and make the game more competitive and prevent badly-run bigger clubs like Valencia going to the wall.

Michel Platini's laudable plans to give the champions of all European countries a fair chance to reach the Champion's League group stages have produced a number of minnows in this years opening round. Poor starts by FC Zurich, hammered 5-2 at home by Real Madrid, and Maccabi Haifa, beaten by Bayern Munich. But hats off to Cypriots Apoel Nicosia who came away from the Vicente Calderón with a priceless 0-0 draw against Atlético Madrid.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Benefits of Sleep

I fell asleep at the cinema last night. It may have been for ten or fifteen minutes, or maybe even for less but it was enough to disorient me and make me lose track of Christophe Honoré's new film Non, ma fille tu n'iras pas danser. I watched it till the end anyway and, to be fair, the plotting of the film is largely unremarkable and not a great deal happens in its 1 hour 45 minute running time. The film is essentially the tale of a 30-something mother of two Chiara Matroianni, who is undergoing a painful divorce with Jean-Marc Barr while negotiating the rest of her Breton family, most of whom seem unwecomely serence in this context.

I found the film at turns boring, watchable, enjoyable and funny. And it also made me slightly depressed (as I imagine it will do to quite a few thirtysomethings). While watching it I didn't think it amounted to much. Now, 18 hours later, every frame (except those in the lost quarter of an hour) is indelibly imprinted on my mind. It's a similar sensation to Proust or António Lobo Antunes, the force and the images of whose books rarely sink in while reading them but which insiduously take up camp in your mind and stay there for eternity.

It's Honoré's fourth film in as many years and there is a refreshing touch of the Nouvelle Vague about his freewheeling attitude to filmmaking and storytelling. It's also a further sign that French cinema at the moment, is very good indeed, probably at its strongest since the late 1970s. Honoré also deserves the respect of all for being a prominent opponent of Nicolas Sarkozy's Hadopi law, which aims to criminalise downloading, all in the name of 'protecting artists'. Honoré and his colleagues have disputed this blanket ventriloquism. Ever since day one of the downloading debate, the artists and musicians that have lined up on either side of the debate have mostly been distinguishable in terms of quality and talent. Once again, the genuinely talented do not want to punish their fans for being curious and spreading the word about their work.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Colonel's Protection Racket

Fred Halliday has a fine piece at Open Democracy about Libya on the 4th anniversary of Colonel Gaddafi's 'revolution' which led to the establishment of the Jamahiriya. Halliday's article is thorough and based on first-hand experience and a wide knowledge of the country. There's also an abundance of links and references that will inform most about this most secretive of Arab countries. Interesting asides tell us of Gaddafi's fondness for bestowing and removing names - he has Arabised the names of Western products from 7-Up to Johnny Walker (which brings us back to this).

Halliday is no admirer of Gadaffi nor an equivocator on his regime and its anti-imperialist rhetoric. His conclusion is apt, particularly so, in light of the probable innocence of Abdlebaset al-Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing:

Libya is far from the most brutal regime in the world, or even the region: it has less blood on its hands than (for example) Sudan, Iraq, and Syria. But al-Jamahiriyah remains a grotesque entity. In its way it resembles a protection-racket run by a family group and its associates who wrested control of a state and its people by force and then ruled for forty years with no attempt to secure popular legitimation.

Libya’s regime at 40: a state of kleptocracy | open Democracy News Analysis

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UMP's 'Macaca Moment' Still Some Way Off

Brice Hortefeux, Nicolas Sarkozy's former chief Immigrant Hunter, and the current Minister for the Interior, is the centre of a row surrounding a 'bit of slagging' he indulged in at the UMP université de l'été (a party-political version of the Irish 'summer school'). A young French-Arab party member, Amine Benalia-Brouch, is on the end of some ribbing by Hortefeux, who remarks approvingly that he 'eats pork and drinks beer' and doesn't 'correspond to the prototype.' At the end Hortefeux says "Il en faut toujours un. Quand il y en a un, ça va. C'est quand il y en a beaucoup qu'il y a des problèmes." ("You always need one. When there's one, it's fine. It's when there's a lot of them that there are problems.")

Facing calls for his resignation, Hortefeux says it's all a misunderstanding, saying that he was joking about Mr Benalis-Brouch's Auvergnat origins rather than his Arab ones. I can buy that, but Hortefeux's off-colour banter is still more Ann Winterton than Larry David, playing to the heaving, bullying mentality of the crowd surrounding him. There's an ugly air of hazing about the incident, even if Mr Benalia-Brouch says he wasn't at all offended. I'm sure he's experienced far worse in his 22 years and upon joining the UMP, he had surely resolved to put up with at least some of it. Not that that excuses Hortefeux's comments, which had more than a touch of Michael Steele's recent inept efforts to draw Black Americans to the Republican Party. Hortefeux's remarks are more xenophobic than racist but they prove what most of us knew when Sarkozy was on the verge of getting elected: that the rise of a Sarkozy-UMP government would lead to the decomissioning and sidelining of Jean Marie Le Pen and the Front National, but not the defeat of the Frontiste credo. The central tenet of Front National thinking, that Arabs, Muslims and Africans have no place in France has its echo in the current government. Forget about Rama Yade, Rachida Dati, Fadela Amara and other cosmetic cabinet appointments: the UMP is still overwhelmingly the party of the white French bourgeoisie. And they don't intend to open up to anyone different any time soon.

I suspect Hortefeux will ride out the calls for his resignation but one wonders when the UMP finally undergoes its 'Macaca moment' and finds it might have to rethink its willful exclusion of those whom it has managed to get by well enough well enough until now. Of course, Sarkozy and Hortefeux's preferred way to stave off that evil day is to track down and expel 30,000 of the blighters every year.

Le dérapage de Brice Hortefeux à l'université d'été de l'UMP -

The Strange Politeness of the US Congress

'Faut-il cracher sur Joe Wilson?' as the French would say. The South Carolina Congressman has been the villain of the piece ever since his boorish two-word heckling of Barack Obama Wednesday during the President's healthcare address to Congress. Alex Massie thinks not. He mounts an amusing defence of Wilson, who is, in Graham Greene's expression, probably not 'man enough to be damned' in any case. But Massie is more concerned by the culture of deference that prevails in the chambers of the US congress, raising the President, whom Massie correctly points out, was in political, not executive mode, on Wednesday night, to the level of monarch. Heckling, as per Westminster, should be part of the game, and should not be subject to sniffy moralising on either side of the aisle. It would also, as Alex says, force the President to raise his game. It would be far better for US politics, and society in general, if this sterile environment in Congress were done away with and the focus of political debate shifted there from the poisonous surroundings of news TV and talk radio (and MSNBC, I'm talking about you as much as at Fox).

In Praise of Joe Wilson - Page 1 - The Daily Beast

Something to Be Said About Real Journalism

More on Twitter, Iran, old and new media. Roger Cohen has done some great reporting from Iran in the past year, and incurred the wrath of right-wing Zionists such as Jonah Goldberg for suggesting that the country, and perhaps even its government, is not awash with anti-semitism. Here he elaborates on a previous column, written shortly after he was forced to leave Iran during the post-election protests. In that piece, he noted the limitations of tweeting, blogging and citizen journalism, and stirred a wave of irrational indignation from the likes of Ariana Huffington. Cohen, like David Simon, is not contemptuous of the capabilities of new media nor the endeavour of those that use them. But he correctly points out that amateurs, no matter how diligent and knowledgeable can only do so much; to 'bear witness' as he says, takes, time, money and the ability to be on site. Huffington might be correct to say that it's possible to miss a lot whilst there, either willingly or otherwise. And I would agree with anyone that says 'Old Journalism' counts among its ranks tens of thousands of charlatans, hypocrites and armchair thugs who, in a well-run world would be flipping burgers. But this doesn't validate Huffington's point about the likes of her, me or anyone pontificating from their keyboards thousands of miles from the action. Real journalism, Cohen continues,

comes into being only through an organizing intelligence, an organizing sensibility. It depends on form, an unfashionable little word, without which significance is lost to chaos. As Aristotle suggested more than two millennia ago, form requires a beginning and middle and end. It demands unity of theme. Journalism cuts through the atwitter state to thematic coherence.

In the making of the choices I have described, presence is required. Because part of the choice lies in something ineffable — the air you breathe, the sounds you hear, the shadow light as a bird’s wing that falls across fearful eyes — something that cannot be seized or rendered at a distance.

Technology has enriched journalism by expanding the means to deliver it and the raw material on which it is based. But technology has also diminished the incentive — and the revenue — to get out of the office. Understanding without the trained “view from the ground” (Martha Gellhorn) remains impossible. Nature abhors a vacuum, journalism even more so, and so it fills absence with windiness.

It's enough to forgive Roger Cohen the snide, condescending attitude he took towards the French in endorsing Nicolas Sarkozy's candidature using a 'tough love' rationale in the 2007 Presidential election.

Op-Ed Columnist - New Tweets, Old Needs -

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Statistical Break

An Argentinian friend remarked to me a couple of months ago that European qualification for the World Cup is pretty damn easy. He didn't say this out of sour grapes at his country's current dismal run in qualifiers, which sees them at risk of missing the finals for the first time since 1950*. The albiceleste's absence from that tournament in Brazil was the doing of Juan Perón, who was afraid of the prospect of a failure troubling his populist regime's handling of football as a propaganda tool. And I can't say he's wrong. The strongest teams in the world might be largely concentrated in Europe but there are a fair few duffers in there. The South American qualifiers, which pitches every one against one another home and away in an 18-match league that lasts almost two years, are a stiffer challenge. Though South American teams are not always too hot when they compete in the World Cup finals, they do provide good competition among themselves with the gaps in class between some elided by hostile crowds and games at altitude (as Argentina's successive defeats in La Paz and Quito earlier this year show).

In Europe this time around, the lack of competition in most groups has been palpable. Three teams, Spain, the Netherlands and England have already qualified, with 100% records after eight games (no prizes for guessing which of those three will be reading far too much into those wins against mostly flimsy opposition). Even a modest but well-drilled side like Slovakia tops its group with six wins out of eight. Other teams such as Ireland are likely to reach the play-offs having played at most one or two games of decent football in qualifying so far.

Those play-offs will feature only eight of the nine second-place teams and results against the bottom-place team in the six-team groups are discounted in ranking them, to bring them in line with group 9, which has only five. At the moment the rankings are:

  1. Russia Played 7 Points 18
  2. France Played 7 Points 12
  3. Greece Played 6 Points 11
  4. Slovenia Played 7 Points 11
  5. Croatia Played 7 Points 11
  6. Bosnia-Herzegovina Played 6 Points 10
  7. Norway Played 8 Played Points 10
  8. Ireland Played 6 Points 10
  9. Sweden Played 6 Points 9
That line-up is likely to change with Russia possibly qualifying automatically if they beat Germany in Moscow next month (meaning the Germans will take their place at the top of these rankings) and Sweden will have their work cut out to finish ahead of a Portugal side that has two very winnable home games remaining. Meanwhile the Czech Republic could edge out Slovenia. Ireland, should they win one of their remaining two home games are probably there too. Norway, who have no games left, are likely to be the odd one out.

According to L'Équipe today, FIFA will decide at its next meeting on the 29th of September in Rio if it will use the same seeding system based on FIFA rankings it used in qualifying for the 2006 World Cup.

A look at the rankings for those teams in the running for the play-offs:

4. Germany
6. Russia
9. Croatia
10. France
12. Greece
17. Portugal
18. Czech Republic
25. Ukraine
27. Turkey
38. Ireland
41. Sweden
45. Slovakia
46. Bosnia-Herzegovina
54. Slovenia
58. Latvia

That makes sobering reading for Irish football fans, as most permutations will put us in the bottom four of the play-off teams (only a combination of heroics from Sweden, Slovenia and Latvia will edge us into the top four). So we are left with the possibility of games against Germany or Russia, or the resurgent France and Portugal, or Croatia or Greece, whom we would be a great deal more the measure of. Who said those FIFA rankings are good for nothing?


How incorrect of me. They last failed to reach the finals in 1970, when South America was represented by Brazil, Peru and Uruguay. Argentina's failure to qualify back then was as unexpected as it would be today, as Argentine clubs had a total dominance of the Copa Libertadores at the time. They also declined to enter the 1954 World Cup.

Here's what happened last time we relied on an unlikely outcome elsewhere to help us on our way:

Upon Not Basquing in the Success of Others

A rare rugby post here. Biarritz and Bayonne play the big Basque derby in France's Top 14 on Saturday. Biarritz president, former French winger and consummate businessman Serge Blanco has decided to maximise the game's economic potential by moving it down the coast to Donostía-San Sebastián to play at the bigger Estadio Anoeta, as BO have done on a number of occasions in the past. Bayonne fans aren't having any of it, refusing to line the pockets of their bigger, more illustrious rival. The club has sent back two-thirds of its 1600 allocated tickets. It's amusing stuff and you have to admire the dogged bad faith shown by the Bayonne fans, a far cry from the bland bon enfant culture of most rugby supporters.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Twits for Peace

Something from last weekend. An opinion piece, written by a former US national security advisor, in the normally lucid and admirable Christian Science Monitor that calls for Twitter to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Yes, really. Iran is the main reason cited, given the widespread use of Twitter by pro-democracy activists in the post-election protests. The CSM even gets a bit emotive on it, indulging in foamy rhetoric last seen in Stanley Kramer's heyday:

Without Twitter, the world might have known little more than a losing candidate accusing the powers that be of alleged fraud. Without Twitter, the people of Iran would not have felt empowered and confident to stand up for freedom and democracy. They did so because they knew the world was watching. With Twitter, they now shout hope with a passion and dedication that resonates not just with those on their street, but with millions across the globe.

My word, what utter nonsense. Those that know me know I'm not behind the door when it comes to tweeting and I have no intention of joining the chorus of jobbing journos who see imminent social decay in people's micro-blogging. But let's keep things in perspective. Twitter was a useful tool for Iranian protestors to disseminate images to the world, not least images of the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan, though it is questionable how useful it was for organising protests given that Iran had a relatively small number of Twitter users and given how easily traceable users are on it. And there is of course the fact that many decoy feeds were set up by Iranian authorities. Evgeny Morozov is a great deal more sensible about this and internet activism and security are his domain, knowing a thing or two about repressive regimes (he's of Belarussian nationality). He cautions against a 'cyber-utopianism' which imagines that web applications such as Twitter can be used to bring down authoritarian regimes.

Iran's protests would have happened without Twitter; to suggest otherwise is to insult both the bravery and the sophistication of those that organised and participated in them. It's an absurdly solipsistic view of westerners to imagine that the mass protest against a thirty-year-old theocracy might be suddenly given fresh impetus by a tool that most of us use for diversion. If Twitter should get the Nobel peace prize, why not give it to the printing press, the telephone, the human voice? Has the world really run out of humans striving for peace and justice that we must reward a web application conceived with little other than instant messaging in mind?

There is also a disturbing vertically-integrated culture of heroes and villains in this 'Twitter revolution theory', it's all plucky secular Iranians against the Mullahs, plucky little Georgia against the big bad Russian bear, the plucky Venezuelan bourgeoisie against Hugo Chávez. And Morozov is guilty of this himself, in his analysis of the 'Moldovan Twitter revolution'. Moldova, earlier this year, was the first instance of Twitter being used to organise and publicise protests. But what few people mention is the fact that the protests were against an election victory in polls judged free and fair by observers. While I can understand the frustration of Moldovan youth who bristle at living under a democratically-elected communist government (I have liked few of the governments I myself have lived under) the moral force of the protests was not persuasive. And, among people in the west, there's a rather strange assumption that people who use Twitter for political ends must be on the side of the angels. A quick look at a few Twitter feeds will convince otherwise. A little bit of perspective on Twitter would be welcome. It's safe to say that many authoritarian regimes and protests against them will long outlast micro-blogging as we know it.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Sideline Cut

Yeah, a lot of you will feel cheated by that title, as this post is not about hurling. I would have liked to have seen the All-Ireland yesterday but a second trip to an Irish pub in eighteen hours didn't appeal to me. I believe it was a good match and unfortunately Tipp failed at the last in a valiant attempt to level the contemporary equivalent of Cullen's hound, the Kilkenny Cat.

Apologies but I'm sticking to the garrison game, for a brief look at some storied from the margins of Saturday's World Cup qualifiers. Ireland's main rivals for the top place in Group 7, Italy won in Tbilisi the other night, winning with two own-goals from Milan centre-half Kakha Kaladze, prompting a few cynical Irishmen to smell a rat. Kaladze has apologised to his fellow countrymen, but a series of Chinese whispers brings the news from a Georgian newspaper via an Italian press agency via L'Équipe that some in Georgia think that Kaladze 'has done to Georgia what Georgia did to him', a rather grisly and crass reference to the kidnapping and eventual murder of his brother Levan. It all sounds like a football narrative crafted by Edgar Allan Poe but the Georgians are missing the point here. It's the boys in green that were the real victims here.

France's ramshackle team of potential world-beaters edged towards a play-off place (I can't see them beating Serbia on Wednesday), helped along only because they are blessed with a group of mediocre teams mercifully more incompetent than they themselves are. Raymond Domenech, the stargazer who has clearly got something compromising on record about the denizens of the French Football Federation, had a go at his team the eve of Saturday's draw against Saturday. A shocked Thierry Henry went on the counter-attack, saying 'I have been in the France team for 12 years and never have I been in this situation. We do not know how to play, where to go, there is no organisation. There is no style, no guidance and no identity," thereby coming to the same conclusion that any football fan with a pair of eyes has reached watching France over the past three years (and arguably longer - Domenech's star-crossed nemesis Robert Pires said France's reaching the 2006 World Cup final was an 'accident'). All this is according to the Parisian tabloid, Le Parisien, which is neither trashy enough, offensive enough nor dumb enough to really pass for a tabloid. No source was given and everyone's now rushing to deny it all. Well, they would, wouldn't they?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Cyprus 1 Ireland 2

Watching last night's game, a friend argued that Irish supporters have unrealistically high expectations for a bunch of players that aren't really that great. Mother Teresa himself, Niall Quinn expressed a similar sentiment a few years back, and the chasm between his Ireland-team-as-a-holiday-camp mentality and Roy Keane's was laid bare in that match in Amsterdam nine years ago where Ireland let a two-goal lead slip in the last twenty minutes. Niall was upbeat after, delighted with a result that many Irish would have been happy to take at kick-off. Keano was more damning, lambasting the lack of professionalism in failing to secure what would have been a famous win and also the culture surrounding the Irish team that always settled for second best. Two years later in Saipan, the Irish team and Keane parted ways (for two years) due to irreconcilable differences.

The holiday-camp culture nurtured under Jack Charlton and later Mick McCarthy faded away under Brian Kerr, only to enjoy a brief revival under Steven Staunton's inexplicable and indefensible stewardship of the national team. Under Giovanni Trapattoni, we imagine it has been banished entirely, not least as his sidelining of Andy Reid seems to stem from a late-night sing-song the tubby winger gave in Mainz last year ahead of the Georgia match. The set-up might be more professional now but we still have an annoying tendency to settle for second best.

That said, one is not going to refuse three points garnered away from home, which maintains our unbeaten record and leaves us with a great chance to secure at least a play-off place. Nor is one going to persist with the fantasy that whatever central midfield formation we cobble together from the troika of Glenn Whelan, Keith Andrews and Darron Gibson can provide the bedrock of a successful team. But is it really so outlandish that we expect our players to handle modest opposition like Cyprus with more capability than we did last night?

We got off to a great start, getting bodies forward and harrying the hosts and it paid off within minutes, with Kevin Doyle stabbing home his first international goal in a year. It was remarkably similar to Robbie Keane's early goal in the same stadium four years ago and my prediction yesterday that that match would loom far larger than the 2006 debacle proved correct. Within a minute, Ireland were on the back-foot, Shay Given rescuing us, as ever, with a fantastic save. The attacks continued, with Ioannis Okkas running Seán St-Ledger ragged. Both full-backs were in question when a break by Okkas caused havoc in the box and an unmarked Marios Elia pounced to equalise. By my count this now leaves us down three goals in this campaign - all conceded when in the lead - because of Kevin Kilbane's lapses in concentration. Like most Irish fans I have great admiration for this workaday player who has never shown anything but 100% commitment when wearing the green but we really should be looking for someone else to plug that gap at left-back.

After an unspeakably appalling first half, which saw us desperately short of even elementary ideas in midfield and up front, we were fortunate to be still level (one must repeat, it was Cyprus we were playing and not Spain or Brazil). The second half produced more industry if not much more initiative. Keith Andrews went close with a superb half-volley and Steven Hunt headed wide from an acute angle. Things looked increasingly desperate until Damien Duff landed an inch-perfect cross on Robbie Keane's head and we took a lead we barely deserved. As he often does with Ireland, Keane redeemed a dreadful performance with a vital goal; he now has five in this campaign and 41 in total for Ireland, which is a record unparalleled by more gifted Irish strikers of bygone days.

So the three points are there and we are still in with a shout for South Africa. But we have yet to run up a string of convincing performances. Away from home we have been efficient, turning in fine displays in all the matches bar last night's one. At Croke Park it's been a different matter, which leaves me apprehensive ahead of next month's double-header against Italy and Montenegro. Trapattoni is by no means stupid and he will be as disappointed as anyone else with the lack of organisation last night. But he is ultimately responsible for that. The lack of direction and urgency in the Irish midfield cannot be explained by the technical shortcomings of Andrews and Whelan alone. There's a strong sense that there's very little guidance coming from the highly-paid Italian staff above.

When one seeks guidance, Dunphy and Giles are always the ones to turn to in times like these, and last night, along with the dispassionate Graeme Souness, they formed a sage conclave, an uncharacteristically calm and resigned committee of elders. Dunphy, who was an early critic of Trapattoni, slammed Ireland's game as 'bankrupt football'. He also correctly noted that John O'Shea would not dare hoof the ball up the field like he did last night while playing in a Manchester United shirt. Dunphy and Giles, whom nobody can accuse of harbouring delusions as to Irish players' technical abilities, nonetheless realise that modest players, with good coaching and decent morale, can produce impressive results. One need only look at the superb performances of Northern Ireland for proof of this.

We really should be making light work of Cyprus, which we did often enough until only five years ago. The Cypriots deserve everyone's respect, they've made enormous strides in recent years, achieved some great results and, amazingly for a country of less than 2 million people, have got two different sides into the Champions' League group stages. Their players were also markedly more skillful than the Irish last night. But they are still a side that veers from punching above its weight to calamitous results against the likes of Albania and Slovakia. A well-drilled Ireland team would have taken a two-goal lead in at the break last night. But we let the Cypriots pin us down.

It's not too much to expect that Ireland get results when it matters, and, even if we've done mostly well in that respect in this group (only the home draw against Bulgaria should reasonably have yielded more) there is still a frustrating culture of inferiority surrounding the team. Our gaping hole in the middle of the field is likely to be ruthlessly exposed by stronger teams but we have to learn to get on without the help of Steven Reid and Stephen Ireland. Our cause is helped by our facing a poor Italy team next month. The Italians dispatched a hapless Georgian side only with the help of two Kaka Kaladze own-goals and they are certainly beatable in Croker. But it remains to be seen if anyone in the Irish camp knows how to go about doing that.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Cyprus v Ireland

An hour to kick off in Nicosia. A lot has been said about Ireland's last trip to Cyprus, that notorious 5-2 defeat three years ago but that result is not going to be replicated tonight, it was, as Marco Tardelli said this week, a freak. The real frame of reference, and hardly any more reassuring is the match that took place twelve months earlier, where we went needing a win, went 1-0 up within five minutes and then proceeded to be pummeled by a Cyprus team we had torn apart a year earlier at Lansdowne. We came away with the requisite points but few people were convinced. The seams were already coming loose on Brian Kerr's management and the vital must-win match against Switzerland the following Wednesday already seemed insurmountable. And so it proved to be. The memory of that painful win was such that I avoided watching the match a year later, sensing something bad was going to happen, and so I watched Scotland beat France instead. Ireland should win tonight, Cyprus are missing some vital players including Michael Konstantinou, who bagged two goals three years ago, but the manner of their win in Croker last October was not too convincing either. The Cypriots were hammered 6-1 by Albania in their last international. Just before the match in October 2006 they suffered a similar reversal against Slovakia. I'll be happy with 1-0.

My Afternoon Viewing

I went to see Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl today, the latest film by the 100-year-old veteran Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira (and his third film in as many years). It's an adaptation of a short story by Eça de Queiroz, updated to the present day but Oliveira doesn't change much in the way of the social relations of 19th-century Lisbon. The etiquette of introductions, marriage requests and bourgeois townhouse gatherings are still there as is the unthinking cruelty of intransigent relations (in this case the uncle who sacks and disowns his accountant nephew because of his intention to marry the blonde of the title). It's ever so anachronistic but its ancient, retrograde elegance works, it even reminds one of Lisbon and its curious airs of the past, its creaking electricós and elevadors, its rent-controlled maze of small city-centre haberdashers, locksmiths and bookshops and its sleepy sense of dignified torpor. Though based on a story written by Quieroz its doomed clerk reminds one more of the work of Fernando Pessoa - both writers are referenced in the film - and there's one line uttered that is pure Pessoa: 'Businesses don't like sentimental accountants'. Manoel de Oliveira will be 101 in December and he's already got his next film, The Strange Case of Angelica in pre-production. There must be something in the water in Portugal.

Harry Ayres on Bill Douglas

Harry Ayres, whose column is one of the best reasons to buy the weekend FT, has a lovely account today of a four-hour discussion of the first 13 minutes of Bill Douglas' My Childhood at the National Film Theatre in London. I particularly liked this observation about the unjustly neglected Douglas:

You could certainly argue that Bill Douglas is hard on the audience; mind you, the lack of explanation at least in plot terms has become something of a cliché in contemporary action cinema. “You’re tough on the audience,” the filmmaker and exhibitor George Hoellering once complained to Douglas. Swiftly came back the answer: “They only have to put up with it for an hour or so. I had to endure it for a lifetime.” That sounds angry and aggressive, and there are those elements in his trilogy. But they are a defence against an extreme sensitivity and tenderness that shine out without the faintest trace of sentimentality.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

At Sink or Swim...

An indication of the parallel universe I inhabit is the fact that today's big news was the word from Venice of Brendan Gleeson's directorial debut. Old Ginger Chops is no shrinking violet given that his choice of material is going to be none other than At Swim-Two-Birds, a choice one would like to admire for its audacity but instead one imagines a car-crash of embarrassing extent. We are told that Gabriel Byrne, Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy are being lined up to star, which should pay for the posters at least (and it also reminds us that the Irish film-acting world is as curiously male-dominated as Flann O'Brien's novels themselves). The budget will be $11million, a fair whack for an Irish film, if not much by Hollywood standards.

Much as I admire Brendan Gleeson as an actor, I really can't get motivated about this one (and I won't pretend to be apprehensive - At Swim... is such a sturdy work of genius it will long outlast any film version, no matter how brilliant or inept). I've already seen one adaptation of the novel, over ten years ago, by the Austrian director Kurt Palm (as unknown internationally then as he is now but who surfed a brief wave of fame for long enough to stage a production of Die Flädermaus in Dublin shortly after the film's release). Palm's adaptation had the unique attribute of looking thoroughly Irish (and cheap) while everyone sounded lugubriously Germanic. It was a plodding trip through the novel's Russian-doll structure, reeling off the gags and situations in a cursory fashion devoid of any (non-Germanic) humour. I remember watching it on its brief run in the IFI and turning round to an over-enthusiastic Flannophile behind me who was polluting the half-empty cinema with his chortles at inconsequent jokes, I said to him 'it's not that funny'.

Well at least there's something for Gleeson to better. But the problem with the adaptation is not the towering influence of Flann - it's a select group indeed that have any real attachment to him - but the fact that the book is a thing of words, not of images. It's nigh impossible to render visually in a substantial way. While the meta-textual nature of the narrative - and the novel's surrealism - has been co-opted in a certain strand of cinema, such as Buñuel, Fellini, early Woody Allen, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman - none of these started from a base as ineffably literary as Flann's work was. Palm's film just looked like a cheap charting of the book's narrative and it will be a big challenge for Gleeson, as director and screenwriter to avoid this pitfall. A good start might be to update the novel's setting, and thus avoid the distraction of period details of the early Free State, and a similarly liberal approach to the sub-tales of Sweeney and the Pooka McPhellimy would be no harm either. Recovering Toasted Heretic Julian Gough put it best in his exceptionally active Twitter feed this afternoon:

Buying film rights to a Flann O'Brien must be like buying a sports car made of diamond-encrusted meringue. "OK! Now what?"

I can imagine Flann stirring momentarily from his stout-sodden slumber in the Palace to nod his appreciation at that.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Football Round-Up

The first international break of the season provides an opportunity to recap on the football so far. Chelsea under Carlo Ancellotti have been looking impressive so far, much to my chagrin, and it looks likely that it will be they, Manchester United and Arsenal that dictate the pace of the season. While it's rather silly to write off Liverpool after two defeats in four games, their failure to find an adequate replacement for Xabi Alonso and their general lack of morale is beginning to stack things up against them. Then there's Spurs, Villa and Man City, three clubs with a sense of entitlement and high hopes for the season to come. Nothing would thrill me more than to see the Lilywhites nail down a Champions' League place but I don't expect them to have the stamina - or the robustness - to make their early-season form last. City have been solid so far and like Villa, should be in the running for Europa League places (and will then, no doubt, fail to take any interest in the competition should they qualify).

Richard Williams, among others, says the balance of power is shifting away from England, back towards either Italy and Spain. It's possible, as one-country dominance in Europe over the past fifteen years has been determined by the richness of a domestic league. But a raft of close-season glamour signings at the Bernabeù and an impressive performance by Inter in the Milan derby are not evidence enough of this as yet. Expect English dominance to continue for another twelve months, with two Champions Leauge semi-final places, though ties in the knock-out stages are likely to be more competitive than in past seasons. Having said that Inter under Mourinho do look good. Though it's a sad reflection of  Italian football these days that it has taken three league titles in a row (four, if you count the default victory of 2006) to be taken seriously abroad.

France looks like having a good open league this year; I am ready to eat humble pie at my writing Lyon off; they made two of the best signings of the summer, the solid, formidable Brazilian midfielder Michel Bastos from Lille and the Argentine Lisandtro Lopez from Porto. Both have been excellent so far and pocketed some superb goals. Bordeaux and Marseille at the very least should provide stiff domestic competition but Europe should be a bridge too far for the two of them having both been landed with tough Champion's League draws. Here's a taste of how good Bastos is:

Spain looks like being another two-horse race between Real and Barça. While I don't think the new Galacticos are going to have a seismic effect on the merengues, a Championship is not beyond them. I expect Barça to continue in the same dazzling vein as last season but I'm not convinced Zlatan is a great replacement for Eto'o, even if he did get on the scoresheet fairly promptly, against Sporting Gijon at the weekend. In Europe, only Barça can seriously expect to lift old Big Ears.

As for my own teams, it's not been a great season so far. Sligo Rovers struggle in the League of Ireland and risk relegation, and were unfortunate to exit the Europa League at the first hurdle against the Albanians of Vllaznia Skodra. But they host Bohemians in the Cup quarter-final on the 13th of September, beating the Gypsies in a dress rehearsal last night. Celtic were thoroughly outclassed by Arsenal in the Champions League preliminary round, Eduardo's cheating notwithstanding, and must now be content with the Europa League where a tricky draw against  Hamburg, Rapid Vienna and Hapoel Tel-Aviv awaits them. St-Etienne got off to a disastrous start, losing their first three games and another season of struggle awaits them. Ireland continue to harbour hopes of playing in South Africa next year, despite some very uneven form and we're now all resigned to Steven Ireland not being there. More on that later in the week.

And hopefully Celtic fans will be a bit better behaved than the last time we played Rapid, throwing away a win and allowing the Austrians to march on to the Cup-Winners' Cup final, where they lost to Howard Kendall's fine Everton side:

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Family History Gleaned from the 1911 Census

Like many others, I've been having some fun searching the 1911 census, which the National Archives in Dublin have just put online. I've done a bit of detective work seeking out the Becketts of Foxrock (or Ballybrack, as the census has it - the four-year-old Sam, it seems, was as of yet unlettered); what remained of the Joyces living out an impecunious existence at 20 Gardiner's Place; Eamonn Ceannt, one of the more easily traceable of the signatories to the Proclamation, at that time living in the shadow of the prison where he would be executed five years later; a young Christy Ring; An Craoibhín Aoibheann, and future President Douglas Hyde, and an infant Francis Bacon. A lot more work is needed to dredge up some of the other luminaries of the day or the future, given the commonness of surnames and, especially, Christian names, not to mention the difficulty of determining people's movements on the night of the 2nd of April of that year.

But often the more interesting stories are closer to home, and I had little difficulty finding my paternal family, seeing as they remained in the same house for another half-century and the family name is not terribly common (finding my mother's family, Gallaghers from Donegal, was a good deal more onerous). There were nine people present in the house that night, six members of the family and three lodgers. The head of the family was Maggie Farry, widowed at the age of 45. She had five children, aged from 5 to 16, all but the youngest were literate. She held the family pub and shop, which my grandfather Bernard (Bertie) would later run until his death in 1956. Maggie managed to combine intense Catholic bigotry (her sons once played a trick on her by pretending a church they had stopped into on a journey home one day was a Protestant one, causing her no end of pain) with a loyalty to the British crown (the second son was named John Albert after the late Prince Consort). Though, according to my father, later in life she developed a hostility towards the crown, which allowed her to turn a blind eye when her sons Albert and Bertie joined the Irish Volunteers. Maggie was also a bit of a snob, naming her children Bernard Agustine, Leo Tynation and Thomas Alphonsas (though Alphonsas was not unknown in the devout Ireland of the day and my own uncle was later named Alphonso).

The family, like most Irish, went their separate ways - Alphonsas (Al) went to New York and later Chicago. Albert lingered in Ballymote for a couple of decades after losing his job at the local creamery for backing the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War (like the rest of the family). His vaguely leftwing views later mutated into admiration for the Nazis (my father claims Albert had official Nazi party literature in his bedroom during the war) though this was driven more by an intense Anglophobia than out of any real ideological persuasion. He was probably naive and ignorant due to his isolation in the inter-war period; he spent the last two decades of his life in England, of all places, dying just as the outbreak of the Troubles may have landed the ageing Republican in prison for recrudescent activity. My grandfather took on the family pub and shop and was a founder member of Fianna Fáil and was elected county councillor in 1944. In 1938 he went bankrupt as his toeing the party line forced him to extend ruinous credit to farmers and party supporters at the height of the Economic War.

I never met any of the nine people listed as being in the house that night. All family members (bar Al) were dead by the time I was born. I was struck by the name of one of the three lodgers. I knew that the family took on lodgers and many of them were RIC men, which provided convenient cover for the house to be used as a safe house during the War of Independence.* But one of the lodgers that night was a Jewish Russian emigré by the same of Solomon Malamed who had the vague profession of 'wholesale marine dealer'. I had never known the family housed a lodger of such exotic provenance, though there's really no reason why I should as he may have stayed as little as a week or two. I'm not sure if my great-grandmother's strident Catholicism allowed her to look kindly on a member of the tribe of Israel, especially given the anti-semitism of the Church at the time, though business was probably looked on as business. Mr Malamed, two years later welcomed into the world a daughter, Yetta, who would later grow up to be a thorn in the side of the Apartheid regime as a prominent South African Communist, being charged with treason in December 1956, the same week my grandfather, young as the century, died at the age of 56. Yetta Barenblatt lived to see the fall of apartheid and died ten years ago in Johannesberg. It would have been nice had she met Albert, whom she might have managed to make see reason.

*Or rather it served as a clearing house, to temporarily shelter Volunteers after guerrilla attacks in the village. The lodgers, including the RIC men, stayed in a smaller annexe next door, so people could pass through the house without much notice.

The Farry family declaration for the 1911 census

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