Since we’ve already had a Famine farce, we might as well now have the satire…

Perhaps we care too much about profanities that don’t really matter, and care too little about the ones that really do. Prompted by the controversary over a sitcom that hasn’t even been written yet, Diarmuid Ferriter has this confession to make:

I did not feel any great shame, over 15 years ago, in laughing at a satirical song about the Irish Famine of the mid-19th century, and I was not alone. Under the title The Potatoes aren’t looking the best, it was sung, or more accurately spat out, late at night at a concert in Dublin city centre being performed by Ding Dong Denny O’Reilly and the Hairy Bowsies, or to strip Ding Dong of his stage name, Paul Woodfull. The repertoire featured other delights, including Spit on the Brits and The craic we had the day we died for Ireland.

What one person finds amusing in any satire of Irish history, another might find egregiously offensive. The rush to condemn a proposed comedy by the writer Hugh Travers – what he suggests will be “black humour” set in 19th century Ireland – has unleashed an avalanche of outrage and an accompanying petition to Channel 4 demanding the station abandon the idea. Of course, the words “famine” and “sitcom” appear at first glance to belong as far apart as possible, but there have been too many premature denunciations in the absence of concrete detail, the bare story providing an opportunity for indulgence in a new manifestation of the MOPE syndrome: the Irish as the Most Oppressed People Ever.

He continues…

In 1998, the year after the 150th anniversary of the height of the famine in 1847, a glossy brochure sought to solicit donations from corporate firms to support charities; in return, the company’s name would be “cast in bronze on one of the many flagstones along the docks of Dublin city”.

The companies were told they could “pay tribute to the Great Irish Famine . . . your company name will be forever remembered and immortalised on the docks . . . a place where many left during the famine era”. In reality, this was about corporate advertising to accompany the emaciated human frames depicted in the sculptures on Customs House Key, crafted by Rowan Gillespie and unveiled the previous year.

Remembering the famine at that time was about drumming up business; a best-selling “famine diary” turned out to have been fabricated by a novelist half a century after the event, but it was still marketed as history. There was also a party and concert in Cork in June 1997, known as The Great Irish Famine Event, partly funded by the government, which was billed as “a celebration of triumph over disaster”.

It included an “apology” from British prime minister Tony Blair for the failures of British government in the 1840s; Blair’s short statement was not delivered personally, but read out by actor Gabriel Byrne. Crassness and commodification abounded as remembrance of the Famine was overtaken by the supposed triumphs of a resilient, changing and economically prosperous Ireland.

Farce has already been apparent in relation to depicting the Irish Famine, and not of the Channel 4 fictional variety.

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  • Redstar

    Very interesting subject as to whats fair game for comedy.

    As a general rule I think all subjects should be fair game as humour is so subjective.

    Of course if we are going down that way of thinking all tragic events in this neck of the woods and further afield would be open to jokes/ comedy etc.

    Famine, Bloody Sunday, Enniskillen……….Paris???

    Isn’t it said the difference between comedy and tragedy is only the passing of time

  • chrisjones2

    Or Slavery…that would be cool wouldnt it?

    ….been done Up Pompei

  • Dan

    Going by the snippets they have shown so far. I predict there will be a bigger outcry after BBCNI air the first episode of its latest insult to the intelligence masquerading as edgy comedy tongiht,
    Number2s ….. Complete and utter sh*** more like.

  • Richard Gadsden

    Makes me think of the Lieutenant of Inishmore

  • kensei

    I don’t believe In setting any boundaries on satire, and I thought the various petitions misguided, but jeeeeesuuus screw it up even slightly and it’ll be terrifically offensive. a million people starving to death in appalling conditions and a million fleeing for their lives just hasn’t got a lot of humour to it.

    Then again, neither does WW1 on the face of it and Blackadder managed it. Mostly by staying at a small scale, picking its targets and being reasonably respectful under it all. Not sure if that formula can work here but if they want to give it a go, hopefully they won’t balls it up.

  • TruthToPower

    I thought satire was supposed to mock the powerful. However it is possible to set a comedy in a fictional oasis that sits inside a horrific societal architecture such as Allo Allo. Allo Allo didnt belittle the victims and I hope the C4 sitcom does the same. Who knows it may poke fun at those who caused the famine

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Depending on who and what bears the brunt of the jokes it could be interesting to see what exactly some people would get offended at e.g. the odd corrupt priest here, a corrupt & condescending official there.

    People might learn something too.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hey, chris, the entire world’s a comedy about slavery, but its the bankers (I tend to lisp the first letter as a sort of “w”) who own everyone (debts, morgages, our pay) and the jokes are on us!

  • chrisjones2

    …find a desert island that Branson doesn’t own and go for the Man Friday approach?

    My advice is to avoid the West Of Ireland though as its wet, freezing and the Natives are hostile and will roib you blind

  • chrisjones2

    it may poke fun at those who caused the famine

    Who? The blight spores?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Been there, Chris, done it, still recovering with Gaelic alternative medicines, and the natives don’t understand my Ulster/Irish in the Cork Gaeltacht.

    Thought of selling myself to a rich American as resident slave philosopher looking after their Marin waterside house and library on Tiburon, until I discovered that they were trying to put over the same deal over on me. My Anglo-Irish cut crystal accent had made them think I had even more money than them. Some hope!