Posted on Leave a comment

For what died the sons ….

Luke Kelly :

“For What Died the Sons of Róisín, was it greed?
For What Died the Sons of Róisín, was it greed?
Was it greed that drove Wolfe Tone to a paupers death in a cell of cold wet stone?
Will German, French or Dutch inscribe the epitaph of Emmet?
When we have sold enough of Ireland to be but strangers in it.
For What Died the Sons of Róisín, was it greed?

To whom do we owe our allegiance today?
To whom do we owe our allegiance today?
To those brave men who fought and died that Róisín live again with pride?
Her sons at home to work and sing,
Her youth to dance and make her valleys ring,
Or the faceless men who for Mark and Dollar,
Betray her to the highest bidder,
To whom do we owe our allegiance today?”

Posted on Leave a comment

Artists and Entrepreneurs

Enjoyed this lecture by David McWilliams, which began the Points of View lecture series hosted by Cork City Council’s arts office.

The lecture covered the role of culture in society, the comparisons between artists and entrepreneurs and challenged the arts world to collaborate more with business. McWilliams is ubiquitous, and can be populist, but his comments on the priorities of a society that allows over 400,000 to sit on the unemployment register, another 60,000 or so to emigrate, but will not allow a bank to fail, were right on the money.

Posted on Leave a comment

The truth of the matter

I enjoyed Pat Collins’ enigmatic documentary on Gabriel Byrne, shown on RTE 1 the other night. Byrne was in meditative mode, reflecting on life, love and acting. He talked about the ‘in between, grey days’, rather than the bad times, being the ones that test your mettle. He reflected on his struggle with depression, talking about the times when he is ‘afraid inside’. Byrne doesn’t drink anymore either, his being a classic Irish relationship with the bottle, and his life experiences – including those of being a father and a divorcee – have turned him into a sympathetic character, alive to the fragility of the human condition, and while his perceptions are not necessarily original or especially different, there is an integrity to the man that makes him  worth listening to.  I found particularly interesting his observation that acting, or indeed literature or comedy, should be about trying to tell some sort of truth. This is something I discuss regularly with my students as we attempt to parse the distinctions between work that is worthy of being termed literature and work that is not.  I teach a memoir class and although none of the books chosen could be termed an ‘about’ book, eg about my attempt to climb a mountain, some of the work has greater intent or integrity than others. When we feel the truth of that intent, we determine the work is worthy of the label literature.

Posted on Leave a comment

A better way to work

Love this article from the New Yorker on the subject of ‘honest’ work. The article is focused around Matthew B. Crawford’s  “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work”, written because Crawford has had enough of watching  the ‘soul-destroying consequences in our new work habits—endless hours spent at flexible jobs, performing abstract tasks on computer screens, and believes there must be a better way. According to the New Yorker, ‘Crawford means his book to be a philosophical manifesto for a dawning age: an ode to old-fashioned hard work, and an argument that localism can help cure our spiritual and economic woes’. Enough, therefore, of abstract activities, that give rise to destructive and incomprehensible financial products and a return, in Crawford’s case at least, to fixing motorbikes. Crawford is both a PhD and Fellowship student, and has worked at a Washington think tank. But he quit to open his own motorbike repair shop, something he says, has given him “a place in society,” as well as an “economically viable” job that won’t evaporate or get moved overseas. He believes that ‘cultural prejudices have steered many potential tradesmen into college, and then toward stultifying office jobs, which provide less satisfaction and less security than skilled manual labor, and sometimes less money’.

The book is timely, given that there is at least some small debate (not enough) now taking place about the kind of society we have created, the kind of lives we lead, as well as why so many of us feel we have to tread the soulless corridors of corporate workspaces in order to be valued and valuable. According to the New Yorker, Crawford’s solution to big business is small business; ‘he pits the work ethic and scrappy spirit of “small commercial enterprise” against the “softly despotic tendencies” of “outsized corporations.”

As the New Yorker says, Crawford wants his readers to become better, happier, more productive workers. I think we  all could agree with that.

Posted on Leave a comment

Mankind still has a delicate ear

A reminder of why the arts matter, and never more than in these difficult times. The Gigli Concert, produced by Druid, written by Tom Murphy, just recently at Cork’s Everyman Palace, now onto Galway.

Once, during an interview, Tom Murphy was asked what his plays were about. He responded that they were all, in a sense, about his life. And, in a sense, they are about all of our lives. This is why they have meaning for people.

The Gigli Concert is a multi-layered, epic piece of work, and not necessarily an easy play. But it is an exhilarating experience, primarily because of the humanity at its core. Like Beckett, Murphy has seen the dark side of life. Like Beckett he has grappled with its fundamental meaninglessness. And, like Beckett, he has come to the conclusion that one of the few things we can do to counter this is to be kind to one another, to take care of each other.

The Gigli Concert is, among many things, about the connection made between two lost, vulnerable souls: the Irish builder unable to look himself in the mirror after years of cheating and backhanding his way to materialistic success and the hapless English dynamatologist (the man who believes anything is possible) adrift in a foreign land, yearning hopelessly after unrequited love. That these imperfect beings, who remain as flawed at the end as at the beginning, are nonetheless allowed to attain a kind of grace – something that the crudely-spoken but heroic Mona (the play’s third character) also has within her – is testament to Murphy’s warmth and sympathy for ordinary human beings. Murphy urges us to care about these people, or at least to wish them well. This is important, particularly in an age when popular television, and the commercial media, so often encourages us to mock and slight others, with Mr Nastys such as Simon Cowell elevated because of their ability to cut strips off people.

Of all the wonderful lines in Gigli – and there are many – my favourite is the last. Preparing to step out into the unknown, dynamatologist Jimmy proclaims to the now absent Irishman: “Do not mind the pigsty Benimillo, mankind still has a delicate ear…that’s it…that’s it…sing on forever….that’s it.”