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.