Until morale improves. Golf and the Wages of Sin. The Crying Room.

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I love this inscription on the Floraville path of memories: The beatings will continue until morale improves. It’s for your own good. Spare the rod etc. On Monday morning, after the childrens’ sodality, the schoolmaster beat the boys who had not attended church from three o’clock to four, the previous day. No excuse was accepted. ‘Where were you yesterday?’ ‘Sick, sir.’ ‘Not good enough. Sín amach do lámh.’ Think of the courage of a small boy stretching out his hand for the cane. ‘Caddying, sir.’  ‘Caddying! Caddying!’ This was a ‘reserved sin’. To endanger one’s immortal soul for a few pieces of silver from a good natured golfer on Sunday afternoon, smacked of the treachery of Judas. ‘ How much did you get? What did you do with it?’  ‘Gev it up, sir.’ ‘Not good enough. Sín amach do lámh’.  The child had contributed his few shillings to the household budget, no small consideration in the hungry Forties. One boy admitted that he had bought noranges. Nobody laughed. ‘Sín amach do lámh.’ Noranges, in the lean years after the war! Bloody luxury! The boy will be hung. ‘Now stand up the boys who were up in the gallery.’ This was , for some reason, a particularly offensive offence. I don’t know what depravity went on up in the gallery. There is an old music-hall song, ‘Miss Jenny Lind, With the Entire Company and This Time , Principally YOUR—SELVES’: The boy/girl (Delete as appropriate) I love is up in the gallery. Up in the gallery… The church is no place for that sort of thing. Down with that sort of thing etc.. Sín amach do lámh.

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Margaret and I  sat at the back of a crowded church yesterday. We were in the chidrens’ room, sometimes called The Crying Room. It was Mike’s First Communion Day. The children looked very smart in their new outfits. They were happy.They sang a song about thanking God ‘for making me me.’ Songs of Innocence.  There was another one that sounded a bit like: Ob-la-di Ob-la-dah life goes on brah, la la how life goes on.. Some small children in the room, broke off from their kick boxing, to dance together. The parents smiled indulgently. A granny with a walking -stick tried to restore order. Let’s hear it for grannies. My mind wandered. I remembered sodality. Sodales, dining companions, boon companions, members of a secret society. No we weren’t. There was no fine dining on Sunday afternoons in the church. There were hymns in Latin: Jenny Tory, Jenny Tokway, louse et jubilatio… I liked the sound of Latin, although I wondered who Jenny was and where the louse came into it.. Somebody up in the gallery, played the organ. My older brothers took me to my first sodality. ‘Then the priest comes out with some yoke and lights a fire in it. The church fills up with this lovely smell’. I loved the drifting smoke and the lovely smell. I imagined that my prayers rose up, like the smoke in the afternoon light, to wisp about the throne of God.

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Those windows haven’t been opened in years. No waft of fresh air has come in there for half a century. The spiders are secure in their tenancy. I thought of the countless numbers of good people who have given their time to the church. Their contributions built it. It was thronged every Sunday, as it was for yesterday’s Mass.  Nowadays it is mostly a church for children and old people. I went to an evening funeral. By the time the crowd had finished sympathising with the bereaved family, it was time for the visiting mission priest to address the mens’ retreat. I stayed on. A mind, just like a window, should be opened occasionally. He spoke about lust and the sins of the flesh. I looked around. I was the youngest in the church. The other customers were propped up on sticks. Down with all that carry-on, we agreed.

I felt sorry for Colin Powell when he was instructed to address the U.N. on the matter of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It was obvious that he didn’t believe his own words. Body language. He showed a spy camera video of a large truck manoeuvring in a circle. This was to put the fear of God into the members of the U.N. Be careful around large trucks. The invasion went ahead anyway. Iraq was destroyed. A more frightening enemy, Isis/Is/Isol came into being. To Isis, we are all infidels. A Christian church, filled with children on Holy Communion Day, would be a plum target. Very dark thoughts in the Crying Room on such a happy day. By the way, Tony Blair became the Peace Envoy to the Middle East.  For crying out loud! He resigned recently to concentrate on making a few bob for himself. I felt sorry also for decent churchmen who were obliged to repeat the ‘party line’ on the referendum on Marriage Equality for gay people. Body language again.

The light comes through the mottled glass and makes the alcove glow. It’s a granite building. The mica glitters in the sunlight. We came out to see the people laughing, taking photographs and greeting one another. I saw one or two grandaddies who were there on the day I made my First Communion. If only I could recapture some of that innocence.   The news was that the Yes had been carried in the referendum. Ireland had not disgraced itself yet again. I felt proud that a sense of fairness had lifted the dark and cruel shadows of the past from fellow citizens who had suffered too long.  We went to Mike’s birthday party. There was a bouncy castle, as decreed by the Third Vatican Council—-well, it will be. Things change. We were charmed to see our children and their children enjoying a family day together. The other news is that Mike made a few bob. I could well have gone caddying in the golf club and made a few for myself, on such a fine day, but I don’t know a niblick from a five iron. Tips would have been thin on the ground.

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We are living in a better Ireland today. I spotted this sign on the way home. A bank open on a Saturday! For mortgage appointments! A few bob available. No grovelling required. (I made that bit up.)

In a couple of years they have built a home sweet home/With a couple of kids running in the yard/Of Desmond and Molly Brown…./Ob-la-di ob-la-da life goes on…yeah..la-la-la-la life goes on…

Indeed it does. The beatings have been suspended. Let’s hear it for the Beatles.

Revisionism and Slow Learners.


 When their heroes made a triumphant return from conquering The New World, the populace flocked in their millions to greet them. Some fainted with excitement. Some collapsed from hysteria. There was some Olympic-standard jostling. Others emitted piercing, high-pitched cries of ecstasy, at being in close proximity to gods. The idols remained pretty cool throughout. “How did you find America?” enquired an interviewer with a microphone in his hand. “Tzehned left at Gzeenland,” replied Ringo. I think it was he who gave the obvious answer. That god-like wisdom has remained with me ever since. Sometimes the answer to the great questions is simple. It doesn’t have to come shrouded in blackboards full of complex equations. Even Stephen Hawking has admitted to the odd mistake, a misplaced decimal point, a momentary lapse of attention that could shorten eternity or warp time. Be careful there. Keep it simple. My good friend’s wife refused deep down, to believe that the Earth is really round. Maybe in theory and in mathematics…”but look at it. It’s flat.”  She knew her man. I think she was winding him up for years. They flew the Great Circle Route from London to San Francisco. They flew over the southern lobe of Gzeenland. The horizon, bathed in the last glow of the fugitive sun, was a graceful arc. Proof at last. Q.E.D. “Look at that. Just look at it. It’s round, for Christ’s sake!  Round, I tell you. Now do you believe it?” She shrugged. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. That bit maybe.” Ringo would have been proud of her.

I was dismayed during the week to hear the soccer guru, Eamonn Dunphy declare that Michel Platini was himself, a great player. This was in connection with playing The World Cup in Qatar, where temperatures soar to fifty degrees and there are no pubs to refresh the weary fans. For years I had repeated Dunphy’s dictum that Platini was a good player, but not a Great Player. It’s probably the only thing I knew for certain about the Beautiful Game. I buttonholed blokes in pubs, jabbed my finger into their chests and snorted derisively: “Don’t talk to me about Platini! He’s a good player, I grant you, but he’s not a Great Player. [Eh, no I didn’t.] Now all is changed. Let the word go out that Platini was a Great Player. Fat is good for you. Doctor Spock was wrong. The eminent critic and former lecturer, Denis Donoghue, who spell-bound many of us half a century ago with his eloquence, has changed his mind. “I am no longer entirely convinced that Eliot alone set the agenda for poetry in the twentieth century…”  Jab…don’t talk to me about Eliot…jab He was a good poet, all right, but not a Great Poet…jab.. . Our gallant allies in Europe in 1916, didn’t start two world wars and put civilization in peril. They are our friends and paymasters. There is such a thing as a free lunch. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

The last big controversy in Greece was in 2012 when the government suggested tentatively, that nightclubs should close at 3 a.m. so that people should be in a fit state to go to work in the morning. There was outrage. We gave the world democracy. An attack on the basic freedoms. People took to the streets. When the money ran out they took to the streets again, demanding more money. Paradoxically, they burned down banks, a strategy widely praised in Ireland by political ‘firebrands’. They elected Syriza, a party with loads of promises, but very little money. They found that they also had to turn, cap in hand, to ‘our gallant allies in Europe.’ They secured a fig-leaf extension of their bail-out, now revised as ‘an arrangement’. So their supporters have taken to the streets to protest. Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. (Some old Greek said that. They also gave the world the fig leaf.)


Those lads on the cliff know that theirs is a risky sport. They lament the fact that they have lost friends on the mountains. There is a connection, a cause and effect. They proceed cautiously, taking care not to pull others down, if they themselves fall. They exult in the triumph of concerted effort and cooperation when they reach the summit. Of course, they could have scrounged a lift in someone else’s helicopter.


Them’s dollar bills up there on the ceiling of The Iron Door Saloon in Yosemite. They advertise Free Drink Tomorrow. Promises. Promises. You would need a stiff drink to steady yourself before scaling them there heights, to get to the money, or indeed before you go clubbing. Two lads climbed El Capitan over New Year, unassisted and without elaborate ‘arrangements.’ The did carry ‘pooptubes’ and cleaned up their own mess. Fair play to them.


During the stumblebum years, when we were persuaded that we were rich, Joe Higgins, leader of and sole Dáil representative of, the Socialist Party, complained that The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahearn, had stolen his clothes. Now that his party has trebled and sundry ‘firebrands’ have bought into his brand of politics and stolen his clothes, Joe is in need of a figleaf. He emerges now and then to reclaim his leadership and utter ponderous, doom-laden maxims on behalf of ‘the ordinary working people..’ He has a mountain to climb, before we all emerge, under his guidance, onto that broad, fair upland enjoyed by much of Europe in the good old days of Socialism. Incidentally. Tsipiras used to be a Communist, before the new arrangement. Yeah.