Sunday, September 17, 2006

Where to begin?

I have to admit I find writing an absolute torture. It's literally every word torn screaming from the flesh for me. Which is a bit tough when one makes one's living from writing and teaching. So is this blog a refined form masochism on my part? It might be but I'm reaching and age now where the mind is going (the body went years ago!) so if I don't keep track in some material form I might forget who I am.

A little while ago, with the onset of yet another birthday, I thought I was entering what they call a midlife crisis. I thought this blog might be a useful way of externalising the inner turmoil and thus coping with it. But the birthday came and went and along with it came the realisation that most of my life has been spent in crisis of one sort or another, as are most people's, and that it wasn't worth making a fuss about. As Rod Stewart, before he lost the plot and went disco, once sang 'Make the best of a bad job and laugh it off. You didn't ask to come here anyway.'

However, one place I did ask to come was Ireland. I grew up the child of Irish migrants in England and lived in a household where everything Irish was great. Kerrygold butter on the table, a crackly Gay Byrne on the radio and pictures of the mountains of Mourne rolling down to the sea, or rather down to the fireplace in our house. Summers were spent in Ireland where everything was 'great' (including the quaint signs of poverty, donkeys, hand pumps and bare-foot beggars on the streets of Dublin). Only my English mates went on holiday. We went 'home'. When they came back from Butlins or the Costa del Sol with exotic souvenirs and a tan, we came home slightly rusty from the rain and tinged green from a rough crossing on the Irish Sea.

Like many children of migrants, for as long as I can remember it was always my ambition to complete my parents myth of return and re-settle in the land my mother in particular always felt she had been exiled from. After years of trying I was finally successful in securing an academic post on these emerald shores and in 1998 came to live in Dublin on a permanent basis. I remember stepping off the boat at Howth, buying an Irish Times and settling down to read it in a neaby pub. As soon as I saw a report of a small house in Irishtown for sale for IR£250,000 I knew that wherever I had landed it was not the place of childhood memories and quaint poverty anymore.

1998 was the year the Celtic tiger cub was weaned and started to prowl the streets looking for prey. A watershed year in the history the country when everything started to change and nothing was ever to be the same again. The old mythical sense of Ireland as a land of saints and scholars, of bogs and little people, of banshees, seanchais, cead mile failtes, come into the parlour and whatever you're having yourself started to fragment and would soon be lost forever.

Those warm myths have been replaced with other ones which are far more pernicious. And that is what this blog is all about really: Life in the new Ireland written from the perspective of a jaded Hiberno-romantic who loves and despises the object of his desire the way only a spurned lover can.

The country I now inhabit is not a place for ancestor worshippers or other Celtophiles. It is a place of corruption in high places that would make the dictators of a banana republic blush, of bureaucratic inefficiency that would not be out of place in the old Soviet Union, where the Health Service fosters neither health nor service and where pretty soon to afford a house here you'll have to take out a mortage on your grandchildren's income. It is a place were the gombeen men have finally pushed the priests out of the driving seat when it comes to issues of culture and morality.

In short, if you want to hear heartwarming stories from the ould sod, about plucky little Ireland and the cutesy, folksy things that we get up to, stop reading now. This blog is not for you.

To be continued......

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