Thursday, 21 October 2010

Back from...

...Gort, which is not too far from Galway, where I was reading in the library that had been a church, the chapel of Lord Gort, in fact. I flew to Dublin rather than Galway because the flights to and from Galway are either very early or very late - in fact so very early or late, you'd really have to spend the night at Stansted.

Dublin Heuston station looks a little desolate and empty, not quite sure of itself. Not much to do there except sit on a bench and eat unspectacular lunch. The rail journey across Ireland is equally unspectacular though sunlit and the train is clean, comfortable and cheap. FJ meets me at Galway station which is even less spectacular than Dublin Heuston and considerably more desolate since it is currently undergoing reconstruction work and so has only one working platform, with no waiting room, no ticket office and no enquiries, but that I only find out next morning.

Fred is there waiting for me at 5pm. He has his little terrier, Tristan, with him. The enthusiastic friendliness of little dogs is cheering, even though Tristan clearly wants to spend the car journey in Fred's lap. Not allowed.

Along the way we stop at Coole Park, Lady Gregory's house, or rather grounds, since the house was destroyed in the Civil War. The woods are magnificent. Fred takes me to the autograph tree where the great and good of Ireland, including Yeats and Shaw, have engraved their names. He takes a photo of me standing by it. Meanwhile Tristan is belting round the park in absolute delight.

It is dusk when we arrive in Gort. We sit in a lovely cafe whose interior is covered in posters that demonstrate that Gort is not short of events that need posters. It's friendly and warm in there. The rain has just begun to fall. Fred tells me the Brazilian population of Gort did at one time, rather recently, exceed the native population. If Newcastle is Peru, than Gort is Brazil.

At the reading - well attended considering the size of the town - there is music then a young poet, younger at least than I am, sing and reads. His work is passionate proof that he believes - along with, possibly, a lot of other Irishmen and women - that I have just arrived from Evilland, the source of all darkness. I feel I should rise and declare that I have risen from the grave in which the wicked Englanders have tried to inter me but merely mention, when it comes to my turn, that though Churchill did in fact have Dresden bombed, he also saved a great number of European Jews from Hitler. I don't add that I personally have reason to be grateful to him for that. Indeed I wouldn't be here otherwise. Nor am I sure that the three greatest villains in the history of the world are Spenser, Cromwell and Churchill and that all three outrank Hitler in that department, but I suppose it all depends on where you are standing and the view from there: one's enemy's enemy being one's friend and so forth. Hitler stood against England. Good fellow there.

I do half an hour which goes well. People buy the few books I have brought and I exchange books with Fred, for his novel Atalanta (that I start reading on the journey home, and very good it is too). Before that we go to a bar in the main square, Fred, two friends and I, and sit around drinking coffee (and Jameson's in my case), discussing politics, as one does - politics and history and cities we have known. The friends are good people who put on Yeats's plays at home. By the time we're through talking it's getting on to 11 and it's half an hour to Galway. Midnight and bed. The hotel room is a bit chill.

I enjoy my visits to Ireland. Much intelligence and kindness. I always wonder how long they have to keep the demon England burning in the imagination. Small island at the back of the big island, on the far side of which lies Europe with her wars and terrors and mobile borders. But you can't see that from the small island because the big island is in the way. The big island is all the evil you know. It has to be all of the evil everywhere. So the only thing to remember about Churchill is Dresden. Concentrate on that alone and you're all right. It is important to keep our demons alive and burning, ideally grimacing at the same time. They are there for our comfort.

It's a long way to go for one reading but I'm a poet. It is my business to read when invited and I am glad to be invited.

Something on the great Wayne soon...


puthwuth said...

Since I remember you mentioning coming across a rabid Brit-hating Sinn Feiner in Dublin, I think it was, once, can I just say that as an Irishman that while of course there will always remain an undertow of that kind of thing in my country you should very much not place overmuch importance on encountering someone who believes that Churchill was worse than Hitler. This is absolutely not representative of Ireland today, or for a long time now. And half the time when you do encounter some rabid Sinn Feiner you will find they are wearing a Man Utd or Liverpool replica shirt. These attitudes, in other words, though unpleasant, are in the main not serious. They are pubtalk, posturing, shadowboxing. Ireland has a tangled politics and a tangled historical legacy. But there are serious politics and there is through-the-looking-glass politics, and what you are describing falls into the second category.

puthwuth said...

Two 'thats' in the first sentence. Aagh! Mea maxima cupla.

Mark Granier said...

George, I was going to quote that passage (re you being an arrival from Evilland) and offer a similar disclaimer to the one above. Your singing and shadow-boxing specimen is not at all representative: 'through-the- [smashed] looking-glass', as David says. Irish history/politics is indeed tangled and (at present) thoroughly depressing, but VERY few are sad enough to dwell in the glory-day fantasy fringes. Very sorry I couldn't get to the reading.

Totalfeckineejit said...

That penultimate paragraph may well apply to that particular poet, but really George it's really a bit much to apply it to the whole country! I'm sorry though that you had such a wretched time.

Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you mean.

When I first arrived there from Eviland, there were many occassions, on and off the Dublin poetry scene, when the 'british hmmph' crack (and often much worse) would be muttered or spoken in various degrees of volubility, in the general direction of my person, usually late on after a few drinks, with one Irish colleague in particular, who I could not avoid because they attended the same weekly poetry event - giving me a lot of jip about the various and many appalling crimes 'your country' had been responsible for and visited upon, poor old innocent Ireland of the 1000 welcomes.

This person was pleasant enough 99% of the time, but this aspect of their behaviour - unpredictable sweary outbursts and rants - was challenging to deal with, not only because I never knew when they would occur, but because there was also one aspect and manifestation of my britishness that I'd been unaware of and taken for granted when living in England, but when resident in Ireland, made one feel spiritually awkward and question who it is I really am.

This component of my English psyche, seemed not as culturally benign and intellectually harmless as one had previously thought - or rather, not thought of - because living in Britain, I'd never questioned it, as it is, de facto, part, parcel and at the heart (arguably) of what being an aspirational English person is all about.

In fact, it's fair to say, until shifting the focus of one's interest and concern to the Dublin poetry scene, I'd not apprehended, recognized or perceived the most obvious manifestation of this core, defining quality of Englishness that one need be outside of British society to cognize and fathom - uninfluenced by its source: the culturally encoded entightlement and certainty gene that I, being the child of Irish parents from the far West and South of that tragi-comic island adjacent to the heart of the last but one empire, had blithely assumed I did not possess, but which of course, we (English) (nearly) all do.

Coirí Filíochta said...

Reared with four sisters on a musical diet of Irish crooners, showbands and republican ballads from the Wolfetones, the only children of Irish immigrants in a fervently patriotic cul-de-sac of a minor, unknown market-town in the mid NW of England - two competing and confusing public-private selves to make sense of; an English-but-not-English, you're not English, you're Irish mantra drummed into us by mother - one found it comforting to believe I was not really English (in the higher sense) of wanting to uphold and advocate what Her Highness and Majesty Queen Elizabeth is and represents, as the majority of one's fellow English overwhelmingly do.

However, when I arrived in Dublin, trying to ingratiate myself with the natives, I became immediately aware and accutely felt, this fundamental cultural difference. They looked the same, talk the same language, follow and support the same soccer clubs, and yet a singularly most-important and defining aspect of their culture, manifesting around me there, was the fact that the most influential cultural force forming identity and engineering social mobility in England, that one had absorbed growing up - God Save the Queen, jolly tolerant fair play, the whole one-route only to (la dee da) enoblement shtick - there, on and off the Dublin poetry scene, was not only absent, but that absence of a monarchist 'god save the queen' ethos, that has defined and binds us as English people for as long as the Irish claim it served as their incubus, presented me as an English person, with a hitherto, unexperienced and demanding set of challenges that took over three years to resolve.

Yes I was emotionally bullied by a miniscule and unrepresentitive faction in Dublin poetry, for the 'crime' of being English, but as Dave says, the prosecutors of this argument are not to be taken seriously, because the majority of under 40's and certainly under 35's now in the Republic, the post ceasefire, celtic cub generation, have had a totally different relationship with Britain than their parents. The trope of Paddy with a shovel, by their time, had been consigned to the past, as it was your Dermot Desmonds and the jet-set that were buying up England, during the formative years of the generation whose responsibility it is to clear up after Biffo & Bertie.

George S said...

I'm not sure why anyone should think I had a wretched time. Intelligent, kind and warm are the words I use - indeed the word 'enjoy' appears there. I do very much enjoy my visits to Ireland. Why else should I go there without promise of a fee? Ireland is in deep recession now so some of the sense of desolation may be put down to that and to my exhaustion. Good friends, kind host, good conversation, a fine book as gift. I mention all these.

I was the first International Writer Fellow at TCD and had a very good and productive time. I don't believe there was a single writer from Britain in the series that followed who was of English parentage, though they all lived in Britain (in fact England, come to think of it.) I did in fact find a deal of anti-British sentiment in my time there, mostly in assumptions and hints that I found disorientating. I was exempt of course because I was 'Hungarian' - and was in fact billed as such this time, presumably because that is deemed a better and more publicly attractive place to come from - though I have never written in Hungarian.

I am perfectly aware why that should be and understand it. But I am still puzzled by the dwelling on the sufferings under Spenser and Cromwell. Nor, as I understand it, were the massacres in Cromwell's time carried out by one side only. The Famine, strangely, has rarely been mentioned in my presence though it is more recent.

My impression remains that the residual loathing is still something that can be plugged into and I try to explain it by the small island - big island - continent theory.

Frankly, I fear atavistic hatreds but having translated Nemes Nagy can see how they can be creative as well as destructive. My impression of it's persistence will fade as soon as I am described as an Anglo-Hungarian poet and people still come to hear me. I have suffered no wrong at the hands of the English.

In the meantime I can honestly say I love Ireland and her people, am glad to be invited and would go any time. As for the stuff above, I still feel it is there, that anything bad I can say about England would be welcomed. It will pass in time.

George S said...

Puthwuth - all those horrible 'in fact's in a clutter! That's my mea culpa. And an it's for an its! Trying to write on an iPhone in bed! Will correct later.

Poet in Residence said...

I really enjoyed my few days in Galway and found the folk extremely friendly, helpful and outgoing, but then I did say that I was from the down-trodden land of Wales and my companion was from, ahem, Austria.

Michael Farry said...

I was there at the reading in Gort and have blogged about it without mentioning the content of the Irish poet's reading which certainly didn't spoil the event for me. Nor was there any sign that it did so for George.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat and looked sideways at George as the stock targets - Churchill, Cromwell and, it being a poetry reading, Spenser, were dragged up.

The modern Irish stock targets were also attacked of course, builders, bankers, priests and politicians.

As a historian as well as a poet I wanted to jump up and protest but we Irish are a polite race.

George's brief, smiling mention of Churchill and eastern Europe was the perfect response and put everyone at their ease again.

Irish history and our relationship with England/Britain/UK/British Isles is a most complicated business and is not well served by a few simplistic anachronistic swipes at stock targets in a poem.

niamh said...

Little island/big island -
You describe it as if the big uk cushions small ireland from european strife...patronising?
If only that was all big island ever did ...keep its back to little island...wouldnt that be lovely?

George S said...

I hope not to be patronising, Niamh, and I don't think you can point to anything I say that suggests that Ireland has been protected by England. Good heavens! What a thought!

I merely note that as a Hungarian there seem to have been more enemies and more misfortunes from a variety of sources and that seems to have distilled the particular loathing for any one of them, except, in some people, for the last of them, the Russians. But that was only twenty years ago, in living memory.

It isn't a competition for who has suffered most. It is about the effect of having several enemies rather than one. And I consider Ireland a kindlier country than Hungary in many ways.

George S said...

How kind of you, Michael! You should have come and introduced yourself. I wish you had. It would have made an enjoyable evening even more enjoyable.