Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Lagan Love takes the traditional love story and ramps it up several notches . . .

Ireland has produced more than its fair share of talented authors and poets: James Joyce, Patrick Kavanaugh, Austin Clarke, Brendan Behan, William Butler Yeats, and many more. With his stunning debut novel, Lagan Love, Peter Murphy is well on his way to adding his name to that impressive list. Named after an Irish song, Lagan Love is an atmospheric tour de force set during the Celtic Twilight in mid-1980s Ireland. This romance with supernatural overtones evokes the pagan beliefs that still thrive in Ireland, despite the best efforts of the Vikings, the English, and the Catholic Church to drive them out like Saint Patrick did with the snakes.

Aidan Greeley is Ireland’s rising poet, and he leads Janice, a promising young painter from Toronto, through the veil of the Celtic Twilight into the world of Irish folktales and myths. What they find on the other side threatens to destroy them both. Fame comes at a very high price. Is Aidan willing to sacrifice his shot at fame and glory for his love of Janice, or will he end up sacrificing Janice? Will Janice’s friend Sinead be able to save her before it’s too late? And is Gwen Fitzwilliam, the wife of the wealthy Maurice, merely Aidan’s patron and lover or something much darker – a creature out of Ireland’s myth and lore, a leanan sidhe, or lenanshee, a fairy spirit who inspires lovers to ever-greater creative heights, but at a price. Will the price be Janice’s love and soul?

The main characters first meet at smoke-filled Grogan’s pub. One reviewer has compared it to the bar Cheers from the television show (“where everyone knows your name”), but that seems a rather simplistic analogy. The pub serves the town’s rough-hewn workers, farmers, and lost university students, a place where you can raise a pint to toast a friend or get roaring drunk to forget your problems, at least for a night. Here Aidan meets Sinead and begins an affair with her, and here he does the same with Janice, with whom he falls in love and starts to think may be his one true love.
Murphy draws on Ireland’s rich history, tangled web of politics, culture, literary giants, myths, and legends to weave a wondrous tapestry of a novel. Aidan’s insights, his teaching Janice about the struggles and hardships that Ireland has had to go through to make it the country it is when he meets her, and Murphy’s introspective and very quotable observations about the human psyche make Lagan Love much more than a run-of-the-mill love story.

The author tells the novel from the many and varied points of vies of its characters, even allowing us glimpses into the insatiable desires of Gwen. An impressive feat, that such a range of emotion and characterization could be achieved by a first-time novelist. The reader sees what is going on through the eyes of whichever character is on center stage at any given time. It’s sometimes difficult for a male author to write from a believable point of view of a female character like Sinead, Janice, and Gwen, but Murphy does a masterful job, making them come alive for his readers.

Lagan Love takes the traditional love story and ramps it up several notches, with a supernatural twist that makes it an instant classic. I would highly recommend Lagan Love to anyone who loves supernatural romances, urban fantasies, and great literature in general. I can’t wait to read what Peter Murphy writes next. If it’s anywhere near as good as Lagan Love, it will be well worth the wait.

This Book Review is provided by: Curled Up With A Good Book
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This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Lagan Love Reviews

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

What if this is the last Christmas?

"Both the Hopis and Mayans recognize that we are approaching the end of a World Age... In both cases, however, the Hopi and Mayan elders do not prophesy that everything will come to an end. Rather, this is a time of transition from one World Age into another. The message they give concerns our making a choice of how we enter the future ahead. Our moving through with either resistance or acceptance will determine whether the transition will happen with cataclysmic changes or gradual peace and tranquility. The same theme can be found reflected in the prophecies of many other Native American visionaries from Black Elk to Sun Bear."
— Joseph Robert Jochmans

(This was written last year but I thought I'd better stick it up again - just in case!)

And what might you ask has this got to do with Christmas?

Well, if the world were to end on 12-12-2012, this is the last one and that is not as bad as it sounds.

Think about it: you could go crazy and buy everything your heart desires on a no-money-down-pay-later scheme. As long as you time it properly – you’ll be fine. (However, I should caution you that I once believed that I would not live past 30. In fact everyone who knew me agreed. But I did and was totally unprepared.)

But even outside the commercial aspect – which you have to admit it would solve most of the world’s economic problems. And there is the matter of going out in a blaze of glory. You could make this the finest Christmas of your life.

You could be like old Ebenezer and soften your heart and let some joy in. You could be like Santa Claus and spread a little cheer into the lives of children everywhere or you could just be a nicer version of yourself.

You could erase your naughty list and give everyone a clean slate.

You could try to see everyone else’s point of view – you know – like the soldiers in the WWI who came out of the trenches to play a little footie in no-man’s land.

Any of this will do becaue if any of what Mr. Jochmans says is true – this could lead to that better future.

And if he is wrong then at least we go out with some dignity and not as a snarling rabble of discontent.
I suppose it is a choice and what better time to make a good one than Christmas – whatever it means to you!

Nollaig Shona Duit.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Christmas – a time for family – whatever family means.

Christmas is a time of mixed emotions; a time of largesse and extravaganza but also a time tinged with sorrow of Christmases past. As a child I didn’t know this and could only look forward as the day drew near and the mountain of presents grew beneath the tree. “Can we not just open one now?”

“No, they won’t let us, we have to wait ‘til Christmas Eve.”

But as the Christmases piled up I noticed something else. After dinner my brothers would gather the dishes from the table to the kitchen. There, organized, we all pitched in. We would work together and pretend that we didn’t enjoy it. It was not for us to say how much we loved each other and how much we meant to each other. That type of talk was only acceptable with drink taken. So we told each other by the delight we took from doing things together even if we grumbled throughout.

“Get your arse in gear and get those dishes clean.”

“Would ever go and shite!”

“Shite! Is that how you talk at Christmas?”

“He talks shite all the whole year.”

“What are you little gob-shites laughing at?”

“Leave them alone, will ya? Let them have Christmas – the auld fella will spoil it soon enough.”

“Is he still sleeping?”

“Yes, thank Christ, let him sleep ‘til tomorrow and we can all enjoy the day.”

Being the smallest and the least useful I was given the simplest of tasks and received wondrous praise. I belonged to a family, even if only on days like these.

“Good man, Peter, you’re after doing the work of an army – an Irish Army.”

“He did fuck-all.”

“Shut your mouth you or I’ll . . .”

One year, while they were busy repairing the ties that bound them all together, I slipped away un-noticed. I went back into the living room. It was darkening but the firelight danced against the walls and the lights on the tree sparkled. My mother sat and stared into the memories that flickered among the glowing embers and dark caverns of the coal fire. She was smoking and crying and didn’t notice my small shadow as I flitted around the edge of the room.

Back then I couldn’t understand why anyone would cry at Christmas because I had neither regrets nor remorse. Christmas was the purity of love risen like a ghost to banish all sadness.

My mother turned to answer my question and smiled at me.

“My mother died on Christmas Eve”, she said in that voice she used to tell children to mind their own business. I never asked again and in the following years I stayed with my brothers and let her alone with her sadness. It was the last Christmas of innocence and I had started down the road away from childhood.

And there was the year when my father came home less drunk than he might have been and went into the attic to check on the chimney fire.

“Bartley! Be careful now, you’re not as young as you used to be.”

“Erra Christ, woman, do you not think that I can manage?”

“Bartley,” my grandfather cautioned, “we could ask one of the lads. Sean? Would you ever go up and have a look?”

“Erra Jasus, Am I not man enough to do a man’s job?”

All it took was one misplaced step and we had a new memory of Christmas. His booted foot broke through the plastered ceiling and dangled into one of the bedrooms.

“Oh! Look,” Dick said to the foot protruding from the ceiling, “it’s Santa Claus.”

Christmas became a continuum and over the years I measured myself by them. In the early ones I had a mountain of presents to build a wall between my happiness and what was going on around me. My family knew this, as their generosity was enough that it has stayed with me through all the years in between. Many of my early years were difficult times for my family but they always found a way to offer me some shelter until I was too big to hide.

Sometimes my father couldn’t work but most of the time his money never made it to our house. It was given to publicans. But in those years there were family concerts when those of us who could play instruments did and others sang and my mother would dance a jig. She was so light on her feet.

I doubt the music was good but to us, then, there was nothing better. For one evening we lived in such excess and in defiance of the world and all of the terrible things that happened in it. Despite dysfunction and disharmony we sang away the heartaches and the tears. We forgave each other every little thing that had happened in the year and were one in this communion of compassion. The coal fire blazed late into the night but we would not retire. We would wring every moment of pleasure from the day in the glorious unification of family and were more content than at any other time. And when we sang Silent Night we sanctified our cause with an affiliation with the godchild.

Silent night

Holy night

All is calm, all is bright.

On Christmas Night we could take a break from our wars. We could meet in the open spaces between our competing personalities and for a while, forget the pain we caused each other. We shared the bounty of Christmas and the largesse of the goodwill it inspired. And, when we felt the loneliness and separation that accompanies feelings of good, we clung to each other for comfort and assuredness that we would survive. Like snow, a peace would settle on all of our lives. For one evening we could share the humanity and love that often eluded us.

So if most of my earliest memories are of grey days and black and white photographs then Christmas was that splash of colour. The Red of Holy Berries; of Blood and Wine spilled in sacrifice and in carelessness; anger and rage; and the Green of Christmas Trees, the colour of the world outside in the cold damp rain.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Happy Holiday Season?

What the Hell are you supposed to call the damned thing now with people going around forcing the word ‘Holiday’ instead of our all of exclusive, term-laden, insensitive labels that we drag from the murky depths of our empiric, exclusive, bigoted, xenophobic Eurocentric traditions?

I’m okay with Christmas being called Christmas even though it might be more accurate to call it ‘Saturnalia’, or ‘Yule’ or whatever the ancient Celts called the Winter Solstice when the decline of the Sun was reversed – even though celebrating it in December is definitely exclusive to the Northern Hemisphere.

But I also have learned that those who are different to me have celebrations at this time of the year too.
There’s a very interesting list at

Perhaps in the Spirit of Christmas I might find the time to learn a little more about them (– and that’s the audience participation part. Let me know what you are celebrating.)

Because of my culture I know more about Christmas and I do like to stop and think how it all came about. The days of Saturnalia were days without fear of censor by law and courts were closed. I believe that it was a socially recognised as a time to blow off a little steam – like after losing a battle to the Carthaginians. And, like all good pagan festivals – it ended with human sacrifice to appease the Gods or to pay for sins – not unlike when the bills arrive in January! The same excess echoes in so many Christmases when over-indulgence cause tears, fears or worse.

The Nords had a Yule celebration and with it; snow tipped coniferous trees and a benevolent visitor from the North. Throw in a few Celtic touches like Mistletoe and Holly and we can all feel cosy by the fire! Though I am sure that the Celtic tradition of a laden table was humour that if the sun did finally vanish over the horizon – never to return – at least they could go out on a high note.

Christmas, as the Christians observe, was the result of negotiation between the Pagans of Rome and the recently established Hierarchy. With Saturnalia sanitized Christianity spread north and assimilated the other traditions. What resulted is one of those times when souls are etched with the deepest memories and some of those are amongst the happiest we get to have. And while it is also the time when disparity is most obvious, along with alienation and aloneness; the amalgamated spirit of all of the fore-mentioned traditions has often inspired acts of kindness that are normally beyond us.

That is what I am talking about when I wish someone a ‘Merry Christmas’ and I am not offended when they respond with ‘Happy Holidays’, ‘Happy Hanukkah’, ‘Happy Kwanzaa’ or any other celebration of humanity. I am okay with it all because I am sure that each festival is as sacred, or cursed, as the other and I am sure there is an element in each that would encourage us to reach out and, for just a little while, all play nice together.

So, please, have a very happy Holiday Season no matter which foot, or hand, you kick with!

Friday, 18 November 2011

What on Earth made you do it.

My mother, who is no longer with us, would often run her hands through her hair and ask with emphasised exaggeration: ‘What on earth made you do it?’

It was the standard response when she confronted each one of her 6 sons on their latest bout with stupidity. Sometimes it was forgetting some vital provision from the shop; or a school assignment; or getting caught in the neighbours orchard; or taking a mitch (unauthorised absence) from school ; or the prize winner – forgetting to tell her that there was a dead eel in the pockets of the pants she was hand washing.

As the youngest I learned to borrow from my brothers responses but my mother had the type of eyes that could see all the way down to the core of your soul so lying was useless.

She would have liked my novel LAGAN LOVE but she would have sniffed with disdain at the sexuality and the cruder language. ‘What on earth made you want to go and write something like that?’ she would ask if she could.

The reasons are very clear in my mind. I wanted to capture something I believed was about to become extinct – pre Celtic-Tiger Dublin. You see I grew up there and while many of us have strong affinities with our home towns, Dublin is a city like no other. It was never really an Irish city; founded by the Vikings and home to the Norman invaders before it became the Provincial Capital of British rule. But all of that just made it more interesting. Full of larger than life characters that have elbowed their way onto the pages of some of the great literary works of the pantheon of Irish writers, Dublin was the high protein diet for anybody who wanted to write about life as it really was. Sure you can set your historical romance there but you can set those anywhere. You see Dublin is where the human soul has been sculpted by the winds and tides of fate. Misshapen and deformed to where beauty and ugliness conjoin the soul of Dublin will always be like a siren’s song for me.

I realised all of this years ago when I spent my evenings, and sometimes mornings, and afternoons, in Grogan’s of South William Street. You see it was where the remnants of Irish Literati gathered under the gentle and caring gaze of Paddy O’Brian – a publican of the finest order – and Tommy Smith who still runs the place. Conversation was the currency of the place that had no television nor live music though the on occasion a preferred customer might get a few bars out before the dish cloth came flying out from behind the bar. My good friend Emmanuel even got to play guitar there one quiet afternoon but the place was all about talking or sitting quietly – if that was what you preferred.

That was where the seeds were sown, fluttered down into my fertile mind from the lofty draughts of the banter of the brilliant. Politics, Mythology and Literary Classics were all blended with a generous dollop of good old personal gossip. It was the music of life and I was hooked.

As the Tiger approached, it seemed that all of that might be forgotten as everyone got ready to reinvent themselves in the New and Improved Ireland and I wanted to ensure that they, the voices of Grogan’s would never be forgotten. So if my mother was to ask I would have to say I was trying to capture a picture of a dying culture.

‘You could have done it without all the sex and scandal and bad language,’ she would argue with a flick of her head.

I could but that would not have done the place justice. That, you see, was why I had to write LAGAN LOVE.
This blog first appeared on:

Sunday, 6 November 2011

What is this thing called love?

Is there anything else in life that promises such joy and fulfillment as ‘love’?

We crave it even though it often delivers nothing but pain and anguish and we talk about it forever; trying to understand what it is or how to go about it. Is it an enigma for the heart or a prank of creation? ‘In-side’ knowledge is available but sometimes it is just fantasy, or too esoteric to emulate in real life.

In philosophical and religious terms it is deemed to be a ‘virtue.’ But we also know that it is an ‘emotion’ or a ‘feeling’ or a ‘desire’ that should be indulged or denied. Throughout history, cultures have espoused both views and various combinations of the two.

Small wonder that ‘love’ is used to describe a myriad of feelings towards things as varied as people, meals, drinks, movies, books, sport teams, gods, idols and countries. It is also used to describe sexual activity as ‘making love’ but it is the concept of being in ‘love’ with another person that is the most fascinating.

I have a friend who tries to avoid the demons of childhood by regularly ‘falling in love’ and being totally renewed and completed. When these relationships end in tears I am contacted for reaffirmation, reassurance, or comfort, but everything I say is met with a stream of ‘I know’ or ‘you’re right but . . .’

During the post-mortem, I search for the most delicate ways to suggest that the inability to control insecurities – in particular – jealousy, might be a factor but my friend is one of those people who believe that jealousy is an indication of how deep and passionate ‘love’ is! My friend believes in looking for the ‘right’ someone who knows how to love them.

We all know of people who are forever, after a few casual dates, falling totally and completely in love: assured as never before that this was the one. But, when the objects of their unsolicited affections break the bad news, they are crushed and complain that they gave their hearts only to have them thrown back, or crushed beneath a heel.

Then there are those who ‘fall in love’ to avoid living life alone and face the same odds of winning the happiness sweepstake as anybody else.

Does ‘love’ really exist behind the veils of all of our mythology? Is it replenished when men and women endure for each other and their children; and when people give of themselves without consideration for praise or reward? Is it intoxicated when passion rules and is it tempted when love is sold or bartered? Does ‘love’ forgive us for using and abusing it, for forgetting it, and for messing around with it so much?

The world, it would seem, is full of all kinds of ‘love’ – both real and imagined – and the spirit of ‘love’ might suggest that we shun being judgmental and embrace the world we live in; loved or unloved.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Wouldn’t it be nice . . .

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our prejudices were true; if those people we believed to be evil really were and those we believed to be good – our people – were always right.

It would save us from having to consider anything but that which suits and supports our way of thinking. Our failures would be the interference and conspiracy of enemies – agents of the Devil – and our successes would be further proof that our power and authority were appointed by our God.

Blame for our economic problems could be laid at the door of those who hated, and wanted to change, our perfect way of life. Praise for our success would belong to us for placing our trust in our political leaders and the brave Captains of industry who toiled, not for personal gain but for the betterment of all and the glorification of our highly evolved and sophisticated civilization.

History has a great many examples of this type of thinking. The great Empires of the past glorified all that they did and ignored the stories of the downtrodden who were but slaves and serfs in the grand scheme of things. Even when revolution changed the balance of power, the new orders had to seek legitimacy and rewrote history to support their claims to all that was listed above.

A thinking person might despair! So where is hope – that essential aspect of humanity?

Our lives are too short to fully appreciate the circular nature of things. If you are lucky you get to live most of your life in the positive arcs. Too bad if you are born into the end of one of these and are doomed to spend the rest of your days in decline. But any child who has sat alone in the center of a see-saw knows that even the slightest change can affect a tilt.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

What to write


Anybody who has sat down to a blank page has been confronted by the question: what to write?

From adolescence, writing essays in school, I learned that pandering to the teacher’s expectations was the more likely course to a better grade but I had difficulty with that.

Thankfully I was encouraged by those teachers that challenged me to do more – to try to voice my own point of view and to write something ‘outside of the box.’ These good and caring teachers responded to my interest by steering me towards the type of book you might not find in the narrower curriculums.

I soon learned that I preferred the type of writing that jolted, or coaxed, me out of the small existence I occupied and while it is comforting to read like-mindedness, it is often no more than fast-food for the emotions. I developed an appetite for the rich and varied diet of writings that made me reconsider myself and the world around me.

As a child I liked to be led by the hand to a happily-ever-after that proved that good triumphed over bad and that Fate was fair – it was reassuring when the life I was born into was turned on its head.

But after years of wondering why Good avoided me I began to realise that life was not like that. (Blame all of those ‘banned’ novels I consumed as a teenager! Demian, by Hesse, had a profound impact, as did Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World.)

From then on I was drawn to books that said: ‘here’s another point of view – try looking at the world this way.’

But that was back in the day when we asked questions and did not accept pre-packaged answers. That was back when people spoke openly of trying to make things better – not unlike today!

Writing Lagan Love gave me an opportunity to show a glimpse of a time and place that could be interpreted as a metaphor for far more than Dublin and the Irish. Too many of us were seduced by delusions and an image of life that we now know to be fantasy.

I, like so many others, do not have answers but I do have questions that I would like to discuss in a civilised and respectful manner. We all need to consider this and turn away from divisive and dismissive rhetoric and writing is as good a way of doing that as any.

The reactions to Lagan Love has been varied. Some embrace it and some reject it and I am okay with all of that. I would worry if everyone agreed! Good writing, is has been said, should not present the author but should offer the reader a chance to meet parts of themselves in the characters.

Some people have said that I have achieved that by their reactions – be they positive or negative – and I am encouraged by that.

This post was published on Jagged Edge Reviews

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Before the Deluge

While walking around the 'occupied' streets of Toronto today I had a song running through my head.

Some of them were dreamers
And some of them were fools
Who were making plans and thinking of the future
With the energy of the innocent
They were gathering the tools
They would need to make their journey back to nature
While the sand slipped through the opening
And their hands reached for the golden ring
With their hearts they turned to each other's heart for refuge
In the troubled years that came before the deluge

Some of them knew pleasure
And some of them knew pain
And for some of them it was only the moment that mattered
And on the brave and crazy wings of youth
They went flying around in the rain
And their feathers, once so fine, grew torn and tattered
And in the end they traded their tired wings
For the resignation that living brings
And exchanged love's bright and fragile glow
For the glitter and the rouge
And in the moment they were swept before the deluge

Now let the music keep our spirits high
And let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal it's secrets by and by
By and by--
When the light that's lost within us reaches the sky

Some of them were angry
At the way the earth was abused
By the men who learned how to forge her beauty into power
And they struggled to protect her from them
Only to be confused
By the magnitude of her fury in the final hour
And when the sand was gone and the time arrived
In the naked dawn only a few survived
And in attempts to understand a thing so simple and so huge
Believed that they were meant to live after the deluge

Now let the music keep our spirits high
And let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal it's secrets by and by
By and by--
When the light that's lost within us reaches the sky

[ Lyrics from: ]

Friday, 14 October 2011

The beginning is nigh!

Tomorrow, I am going downtown to take part in the public protests; ‘Occupy the Street’.

I haven’t done anything like this in years. There were a great many reasons; I was busy, apathetic, uninvolved, disinterested and disenchanted.

The reason I am breaking out of that emotional rust is simple. It is time.

I am going down to register my opposition to greed. Greed, despite all that you might have heard, is not good. Wiser people than I have spoken eloquently on the matter and you can find their words for yourself.

What I object to is that we have become dominated by greed and the questionable premises that the pursuit of wealth is our greatest aspiration. We have burdened ourselves with a system that benefits the few at great cost to the rest. We have had to settle for the crumbs from the table – otherwise known as trickle-down economics. I don’t believe that it ever really worked but now that the trickle has been reduced or cut off, I am one with those who seek more equity in how the economic pie is distributed. I am not sure about radical economic change but most of us would have to agree that things could be more fair.

For a few decades real incomes have diminished and, to facilitate our vital role as consumers, we were given access to credit. Now that has become unfashionable and the question is – what’s a poor boy/girl to do?

I don’t have answers – who does? But I think it is time to force the questions to the top of the agenda. It is time to hear all considered opinion and have some serious debate rather the noisy clash of ideologies.

And for those who might claim that things cannot be changed – well!

History is the story of change. It is the story of how we find our way out of dead-ends. And while sometimes we leap from the frying pan into the fire, it is the way of evolution – a part of the real reality we are bound to. We are creatures of change and when things cease to work for us – we change them.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The real test is this.

"The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible?

If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils.

You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black.

Finally we shall insist on seeing everything—God and our friends and ourselves included—as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred."

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Waiting for a New Dawn.

For many years I smoldered in discontentment. The world, I decided, was in a Dark Age once again. I first voiced that sentiment after Ronald Reagan spoke of a limited nuclear war in Europe. Even though I was living in Canada I found the idea objectionable – to say the least.

This, on top of Thatcherism, was more than I could take. Much needed fiscal and social reform became an ideological war between the haves and the have-nots.

Under the guise of doing for the public good, years of social engineering to address the imbalances of wealth distribution were stripped away to enhance the offspring of the entitled and to place more barriers in the way of the less well off.

We were offered the ‘trickle-down’ economic model and that, as my wise friend, Jimmy Neil, once declared, was nothing more than crumbs from the table. If that was the case it illustrates our declining position as we were once offered cake by the declining French aristocracy!

‘Jobs and Prosperity for all,’ was the rallying call from political leaders but the reality was that real incomes declined and, to ensure we could fulfill our vital role in maintaining consumer demand – the corner stone of economic health – we were given access to easy credit!

And now that the shit has clogged the fan we have a chorus of Financial Institutions blaming inept Political Leadership.


That these same Politicos had to bail out those same Financials, after their years of gambling like addicts, is all but forgotten. Back in 2008 we ‘Socialised’ corporate debts because it was the right thing to do to avoid falling off the cliff. But here, three years later, Sovereign debt is the greatest curse since Original Sin.

Bah! It‘s all nonsense!

But history reminds us that this is pretty much the norm. The forces of greed and corruption have always been with us. Inept politicians far outnumber courageous leaders because we buy into political advertising and elect them. Yes! It is primarily our fault for putting up with it.

However, as history also shows, we do wake up every so often and bring some balance to the chaos.

For a few years now I have been watching the green shoots because, as has often been said, the darkest hour is just before the dawn. Many sources have foretold of a time when the world would be in such a mess that we would have to change it, or perish. This might just be that time.

The last great Dark Age ended when new ideas spread like wild fire. The conveyance of those ideas was enabled by a simple device – the printing press.

Writing, which had long been the privilege of the few, was now well and truly in the public domain. Pamphleteers roamed the world spreading the heresy of enlightenment to the consternation of the old order. People were burned at the stake but it couldn’t stop the challenge and soon the old order was in full retreat. It can and must happen again. And I think it will.

Books are key!

And now that the corporate grip on publishing has been loosened by technologies, books, and the infectious ideas they can contain, will flourish once again.

Who knows, we might even enjoy a period of enlightenment again. We are overdue.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Meet Tommy Smith, joint proprietor of Grogans!

Meet Tommy Smith, joint proprietor of Grogans since 1973. Who better to tell you a little about what you can expect when you walk through our doors!

For more on the greatest pub in Dublin visit :

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The ‘real’ in the flickering light

Back in the hungry 50’s, one of my brothers and his red-headed friend would ‘borrow’ a donkey and stand on the side of the road, just outside of Killarney. Before long the coaches would arrive, full of Irish-American tourists. The lads would stand in their best ‘John Hinde’ poses, the coaches would stop and the tourists would pour out with cameras ready to capture this moment of pure Irishism! The redhead would stand with the donkey while my brother charmed for loose change. They always did very well.

By the 1970’s, I could be found among the hoard of shaggy musicians who were more than happy to hang around the pubs of Dublin with instruments ready. As soon as the tourists came in an impromptu music sessions would break out – as if by magic. Free drinks were the oil that kept the craic flowing and, with the right crowd, the session could last all night.

It was contrived to be sure, but then again it was the ‘tourist trade’ which is always a reflection of what people want to see. I doubt there were many tourists who wanted to see beyond the veil where poverty and despair haunted the lives of so many of us.

Real Irish national identity has never been a simple thing to describe. Like all societies we have similar characteristics that can easily become stereo types but few of us actually wear green bowlers, carry shillelaghs and smoke cob pipes. Even less of us have actually seen leprechauns though, after a few drinks, many of us can tell you where you might find one!

Nor were we all the good pious Catholics the powers up in Maynooth tried to portray. Sure, we observed the bare minimum of required observance but at heart we were always pagans full of pishogueries – those rites and rituals to ward off the evil spirits.

That all changed when the Celtic Tiger arrived. I wasn’t there for that, having fled to Canada on a whim, but for years I watched with pride as my wee nation rose from the economic quagmire. The young no longer had to scatter across the world as good work could be found at home.

Before long I could see huge differences. Each time I went back I could sense a growth in confidence – the Irish were no longer putting on the poor mouth - ("an béal bocht a chur ort") and were proudly stepping forward to claim their place as a shining example of economic miracle.

At the height of the Tiger, we became aficionados of French Cuisine and fine wines. We took holidays on the continent, skiing in the Alps in the winter and escaping the rain in Portugal where our fistfuls of freshly minted Euros could buy large amounts of everything. In time we lost sight of ourselves and, as is always the case, got lost.

From the beginning, I feared that much that was of value might get lost along the way. Yes, I was glad to see us end our years of subservience but what about all of those things that made us distinct?

Once the economic pain has subsided, and all the dust of recrimination has settled, a New Ireland will emerge – a wiser Ireland that will be more balanced. We have had centuries of good and bad and we know that each one comes and goes, regardless. We indulge in the good and learn to laugh at the bad – what else can we do?

That is something that Ireland has rediscovered after a few decades of taking things far too seriously – the ability to laugh at the ways of the world. This is what Flann O’Brien was trying to tell us. Maybe now we can all go back to the wisdom of before, the poems of Austin Clarke and Paddy Kavanagh, the rapier wit of Oscar Wilde and the day-to-day sanguinity of Roddy Doyle because the world would be a much sadder place without the Irish for all their follies and foibles.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Putting the band back together?

“Play the Unicorn!” some drunken voice would call.

“I am not playing that shite!” Frank would mutter just loud enough.

“Come on Man, It’s a request.”

“I don’t give a shite if it is in your last fuckin’ will and testament – I am not playing that shite – besides,” he would whisper to one side, “I don’t know it”

Even when they sent us drinks, Frank would not accede – “There are far better songs.”

“Okay, let’s us hear them.”

As I was going over

The far famed Kerry Mountains

I met with Captain Farrell

And his money he was counting

“They love this shite,” he would shout across to me, loud enough for his voice to spread across the hall.

The band began as a tight little trio that could make the Irish bars rattle and hum but we had aspirations towards the more artistic sounds of Moving Hearts and set about approximating the same. And the musicians arrived as if called by the muse. It was around the time of ‘The Commitments’ and the similarities were many.

Ray played the Uillean Pipes and struggled to find his place in the melee of it all. To be a piper one has to be committed, like an apprentice. Behind him were the drums and bass – the artillery of the band – and he was often in the line of fire. Fiddles, guitars and mandolins traipsed around as we weaved and bopped to the tunes – they had the liberty and could wander from the melody. Singers and Frank were to the fore – the front men. I wandered where the music took me and often became tangled in cords and wires but on so many nights it was perfect. Steve gave us solidity and a groove that only the best bassists can. He was jazz at heart but could play anything. He worked with some fine drummers, the best of whom was Marty. With the two of them at the back of the stage everything was tight.

Jamie played fiddle and guitar and was as happy sawing out an east coast jig as he was whining through some time honoured guitar riff. But it was Bobby who topped it all off. He was a black fellow from North Carolina who played Sax in New Orleans but secretly wrote country and western songs for piano. Bobby slid into every tune with a feline grace and a big smile. He often introduced me to our female fans as his little brother and was always late for the show. Sometimes he told us of when he rode the buses in the old days when only the white guys could get off and go into the diner. The black guys had to stay on the bus. I am sure it was true but with Bobby you never could tell.

A drunken young man approached me during a break. He was bearded and sweaty looking and his eyes were glazed. “How’s it goin’?” he muttered in the old familiar accent.

“Not too bad, and yerself?”

“You guys are fuckin’ brilliant.”

“Thank you.”

“No! I mean it, you guys are fuckin’ brilliant. I have been over here a few months and I am getting sick and tired of it. After hearing you guys I think I am gonna go back.”

“Oh! And why is that?”

“’Cause everyone here is tied down too tight.”


“Fuckin’ right, it’s like they’re all afraid that if they let go of their grip that they will blow away like bubbles.”

“And you don’t think like that?”

“Of course not, I think that when you let go that you get to go where you need to go – know what I mean?”

I think I did but it was time to get back on stage and we opened with a tune called McBride’s. The pipes lead us on the odyssey stopping and starting like gusts of wind and the fiddle joined like an echo. I spread my fat chords across the middle while Steve slapped the bass – a metallic anchor to the offbeat punctuation of the drums. It rose like a wedding cake until Bobby sprinkled the top with the swirl of the Sax.

The young man was there at the end of the show. He was drunk, but he was still talking. “The future is in front,” he said to no one in particular and he wandered off.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Lead by example?


In the fallout of the civil disturbances in England, David Cameron spoke of problems he felt contributed. He spoke of the lazy culture of youth that took what they wanted without regard. He was right in that but I don’t agree that the blame can just be laid at the doors of their parents.

I am a parent who has spent years trying to instil a sense of right and wrong in my children. In that, I have found myself working against the influences outside of the family. In the wider world, those who took what they wanted, without regard, are considered the winners and are celebrated as that.

How they achieved this was not that point as ‘winning is the only thing.’

We live in a world where we preach hypocrisy to our children. We tell them to be honest even as we are not. We teach them that compassion is important while we selfishly pursue our interests over others. We tell them to play nice together while we are in contention with everyone one around us. It is a classic case of do-as-I-say . . .

In England, like many other places, the allegations of phone tapping have striped the covers off what many have known for years. Politicians are far too cosy with large business interests, police forces can be bought and the media – the fifth estate – is now the mouth piece of corporate interest.

We cannot blame politicians because we, as voters, encourage and reward populism over integrity. We define our political taste through our emotions rather than a logic that would look at the longer term. We get the politicians we deserve.

We cannot blame the police because, just like the rest of us, they can be induced. They are, after all, public servants living on salaries that they feel do not compensate for the risks they take. Certainly when compared to professional athletes or corporate executives they could feel under paid.

So who can we blame?

I think we are all to blame! We are all so busy in our lives – putting bread on the table, big screen TV’s in the den, new cars on the driveway, new cell phones for the kids . . . The list is endless so it is no wonder we are all too busy minding our own business to have time to deal with the real business – our civilization is being eroded and soon there may be nothing left.

Riots of angry have-nots are not new and are usually a symptom of the disparity in society. Unattended, the underlying problems have led to revolutions and the overthrow of regimes. Sometimes that has improved the human condition and sometimes it has been disastrous.

England was in turmoil in the 1970’s and the solution to that was Thatcherism. Born out of a sense of solid work ethic, the concept was that effort and endeavour won reward. And even if the rewards went to those on the top of the pile the rest of us would benefit from a trickle down. It didn’t really work out that way and quickly morphed in a cheap money trick. For many years we were sated with convictions of our growing worth even though our real incomes were falling. We were all encouraged to get on the property ladder in that ‘all boats would rise on the same tide.’ It worked well until the crash! Then, it all felt like a worldwide pyramid scheme – which, when you think about it is a perfect explanation for Capitalism!

Back in the 1970’s, Socialism was not the dirty word it has since become. It has been ridiculed in favour of the free-market jobs and prosperity myth that has allowed Capitalism to flourish despite failure after failure. In 2008 we Socialised Corporate debt and now we criticise Governments for that, and other accumulated debt. We all went along with this because we had no other choice. We couldn’t let the whole thing collapse because that might have hurt our own interests. We are slaves in golden handcuffs.

So, maybe David Cameron, and all who agree with him, should stop and look at their own part in this. We all must because, actively or passively, we have created this mess. We are all to blame.

We cannot ignore the fact that we cannot have Civilization without civility – something that modern Capitalism discourages. We cannot spend all of our time competing against each other by means fair and foul and then complain when the marginalised stake their claim. Greed is good, we have been told and many of the champions of that have succeeded by questionable and shady methods. Should these not be decried too?

This is still our world and we make it the way we want it to be. If we want a better one we should lead by example because someone needs to lead us away from where we are going.