I know it sounds callow to admit it but I’ve just spent my very first holiday in west Cork and Kerry. In spite of the monsoon conditions, I was mightily impressed. Brian Friel type memories of Donegal in the 40s and 50s can be laid to rest. There was no sign whatever of bungalow blight. This is a country that has reinvented its environment with new buildings in the vernacular and fresh coats of paint and decent roofing on traditional buildings absolutely everywhere – as if the whole place had been dressed overall for a big movie shoot. Recycling is the norm, with not a sign of whispy plastic bag trailing round the fuschia by the roadside or the odd rusty Morris minor slumped deep in the hedgerow. Is Ireland becoming France?
The country ‘n western – burger image has been abandoned for crab claws and sauvignon accompanied by the refinement of classical or the austerities of traditional music. The William Trevor image of genteel decay is restricted to the derelict cemeteries of an abandoned order. Yet the accents of new English locals ring out as loudly and confidently as ever heard in the days of Somerville and Ross. Church of Ireland churches have enterprisingly become atmospheric venues for concerts while remaining places of worship. And – as I’ve remembered to add later – every tiny village has a spanking. thriving post office at a time when the UK is closing ours at a rate of knots. Like nothing else, the post office phenomenon shows up the different priorities in the two States over how they treat local identities and rural communities.
Presentations of the national heritage is fair and balanced. Skibbereen museum presents its harrowing tale of Famine without overdoing the grudge against the English establishment. Kerry Museum in Tralee stirred mild controversy with its full-floor exhibition of the life and work of William Melville, a Sneem boy whose life in the London Special Branch and the fledgling MI5 was dedicated to thwarting the life’s work of other more typical Kerrymen, the forerunners of the IRA. But the protest has faded and the Melville exhibition is presented without a hint of embarrassment or even irony, only local pride.
You can tell the weather drove us inside quite a bit. There was time too for the Irish Times. Three pieces in particular grabbed my attention.
The Irish Government is “certain to lose” if it maintains its absolutist stance on banning abortion, as a result of a Polish case before the European Human Rights court..
Fionnuala O’Connor’s piece on Belfast’s Gay Pride festival described tellingly how toleration of the gay nature has now become too embedded to be undermined by the histrionics of the likes of Iris Robinson.
And Political editor Stephen Collins’ analysis of the political position of Brian Cowen bears an uncanny resemblance to similar jeremiads against Gordon Brown.
Not a bad little line-up for the first two weeks of the silly season.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London