herald

Monday 5 December 2016

The big house, moving statues and an overly-aggressive message from above

The place of the Big House in the Irish psyche has mixed associations.

The sight of our Cabinet rocking up to Lissadell this week may have seemed like a cute PR initiative to some, but the sub-text that sank into the national subconscious is far from folksy.

If anyone was remotely bothered to think about the jaunt, they'd probably have asked, "What's that about?"

Why travel the road to Sligo unnecessarily when there are perfectly adequate meeting rooms in Leinster House? Think of the boost to tourism, the honouring of our great poet W.B. Yeats and the jolly pre-election photo-ops, say the handlers.

Tosh. Yeats penned a few memorable lines about the gaff. Despite what some reporters insisted on telling us, the poet wasn't born locally. Like Jimmy Keaveney and Kevin Heffernan, W.B. was a Dub.

For years, he viewed the Big House with awe, believing that, as a member of the merchant classes, he'd never get to be part of what he regarded as an aristocratic Ascendancy Ireland.

When, as a published author, he was welcomed to the grey limestone neo-classical Greek Revival pile, he spent the time moping about like a lovesick puppy. At the time, he had one thing on his mind. Leg over. The great poet was randy.

Before she took up with the Polish Count, Constance Gore-Booth liked to wear a live pet snake in her hair at parties. Willie wasn't as lucky in the trouser snake department. We all know what a sorry mess that was.

But there was Enda and the gang, with their cups of tea, and plans to keep us from sliding down the slippery slope like Greece while the rest of Ireland was trying to figure out how the new Eircode postcode system had cost €27 million or were worrying about all manner of stuff from childcare costs to healthcare, water charges and so on.

Not surprisingly, no one from Fine Gael or Labour quoted the Yeats lines:

"A beggar on horseback lashes a beggar on foot;

Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again,

The beggars have changed places but the lash goes on."

But, hey, it's summer. Honestly. And, in Ireland, it's traditional to go a bit daft during the summer months.

Once upon a time, and you mightn't believe this, Irish people got their jollies by convincing themselves that religious statues were moving. Like in an episode of Dr Who, wide-eyed punters drove up and down the country from one wild and wacky apparition to another.

On some statues, the heads swivelled around. Others took on the likeness of the Pope. Some appeared to grow beards. Some even levitated. Hundreds of thousands of people had their minds blown.

Members of the clergy warned against this kind of thing, but that didn't stop the statues ... or a huge section of the Irish public from going gaga.

Since then we've had Acid House, Jeremy Clarkson and the UFC to entertain us and we still haven't got a grip.

This summer, we've all gone seagull crazy. Admittedly, we're not the only ones convinced we're under threat from squadrons of killer sea birds. British prime minister David Cameron has joined in, saying there needs to be a "big conversation" about the gulls.

Here, Fianna Fail Senator Denis O'Donovan is campaigning against the menace from the skies that's "endangering society". He wants a cull of the feathery creatures. And will settle for nothing less than a debate about these vicious bowsies in the Dail.

Even TV star Bressie got stick off a seagull which, apparently, headbutted the Mullingar man.

Mind you, it's all a joke until someone gets poked in the eye.

But this being Ireland, it won't be long until someone interprets this seagull insolence and aggression as a message from heaven. Then we'll be on the pig's back. Coining it from spiritual tourism, as those deprived of the moving statues' buzz flock to seagull sanctuaries for indulgences.

Where there's muck there's brass.

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