THAT ONE ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL THING….

By Vincent Hanleyimage

 I have many different passions but there’s a special one that rages in my middle-aged heart. Many people may think I am mad but it is the idealism of the majestic, elusive All Ireland Hurling Championship that makes my heart beat faster day after day.

Close your eyes …. Think of summer. What do you see? I see midges swooping and dancing through a languid sunset. I see heatdrenched Limerick jerseys shuffling through the streets of Thurles where bellows of banter waft along with the whiff of cider that floats from the open doors of packed pubs in Liberty Square. Inside D D Corbett’s a bitter alcoholic draws tears from the crowd with a soft, sweet rendition of ‘Slievenamon’. On a street corner a humming chipvan mumbles its invitation to giddy children as the June sun beats down. The Pecker Dunne sits, perched on a flat stone wall, plucking and strumming, twanging banjo chords as he winks at those who pass. A smile broadens his foggy beard as coins glint and twinkle from the bottom of his banjo case. Hoarse tinkers flog melted chocolate and paper hats on the brow of a humpbacked bridge as we move closer to the field of legends. The drone of kettle-drums and bagpipes rise from the Sean Treacy Pipe Band as they parade sweat-soaked warriors around the green hallowed sod. A whistle rings on high, ash smacks on ash and the sliothar arrows between the uprights. A crash of thunder and colour erupts from the terraces …… I see the Championship!!!

The championship is something special. What else has such a choking grasp on an Irishman’s heart? What else has the power to cram Knockaderry Church on a Saturday night and leave it sleeping on Sunday Championship mornings? What else draws the likes of Mike Quilty and Mike Wall and sits them among roaring, red-faced lunatics in the shadow of the crowded Old Stand? What else exists that plucks the cranky farmer from the milking parlour and flings him into a concrete cauldron sixty miles across the province? There are those who swear the apocalypse would not have the same effect….

Some of my earliest memories are of ‘The Championship’. I remember travelling with my father in Tom Howard’s black Morris Minor for the Munster semi-final in 1962 to see Ringy and the Rebels take on the might of Tom Cheasty, Ned Power and Frankie Walsh’s Waterford. Another day in Cork, saw me crammed like a sardine behind the city goal as I watched Cregan and Grimes emerge to mesmerise the Premier County. Another vivid memory is of Glenroe’s own ‘Banger’ O’Brien with blood streaming from his temple, raising a fist to the crowd, ‘Waterford are bate and Limerick are in the All Ireland!’ ….. But oh to be a hurler …. To sprint from the tunnel in Limerick like a greyhound from the traps. To hear the eruption from forty thousand sunburnt fans, to see the swish of flags among a sea of faces. It’s only something I can dream about but nonetheless it’s the greatest passion that rages in my heart.

The Championship is more precious than life for many. I’ve seen grey-haired men gazing into half empty glasses reeling off the names of the great ones, like prayers. I’m afraid I too follow suit. Ask me who’s the Minister for Finance and your question will be greeted with indifference. I simply couldn’t care less. But ask me where Carlow senior hurlers play and instantly I say, ‘Dr. Cullen Park’ … to the left at Church Street, up Clarke Street and half a mile out the Tower Road. Monaghan? Pairc Ui Tieghernan .. on the slope of George’s Hill, overlooking the County town. Where do Sligo play? Markievicz Park in the heart of Sligo town. ‘Bless me father, for I’m a fanatic!’ But oh to be a hurler…

If the truth be known I couldn’t hurl spuds to ducks. The boss of my hurley has seen the arse of a Friesian cow more often than it has the crisp leather stitching of an O’Neill’s sliothar! Okay, I’ve had my own All Irelands up against the gable end and in and around the mother’s flower beds but that’s as far as it went for me. My dad was the same but come June and the chirp of the sparrow, you can be guaranteed we’d be stuck in that long snake of traffic, as it slithered its way to Cork, Limerick, Thurles and other far flung fields. The terrace is where the real nectar of hurling comes to a head – when every Joe Soap in the country stands together on the same patch of cement with their eyes fixed on the same lush, green carpet…..

Open your eyes again…. The hazes of summer lie in distant days as the chilled weathergods spit and splutter their wintry flu over the land. And there’s that sodden Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, on the box waffling about stability, and growth, and austerity and ….Oh for God’s sake roll on the Championship!!

Because for me, and thousands like me, the ‘one absolutely beautiful thing’,

….. IS THE HURLING CHAMPIONSHIP!

ENLIGHTENED, Ciaran O’Sullivan’s new Art Exhibition, Red Door Gallery, Newcastle West.

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OPENING ADDRESS
By Vincent Hanley

I have known Ciaran since he came to teach Art in SMI nearly seven years ago now. As time has passed we have come to treasure him as a teacher and as the distinguished artist that he has become. He has that rare quality of being both an artist and a teacher who inspires his students. Not only can he talk the talk but, as we see here tonight, he can also walk the walk! I have also witnessed the quiet, serene way he uses Art as therapy – he has the ability to reach out to the most troubled and difficult student.

This is a red letter day for The Red Door Gallery. This exhibition, I’m sure you’ll agree, would grace any gallery with its depth and quality. This beautiful space is indeed a fitting addition to the cultural life of our town and is indeed a tribute to David and Clare Geary and their visionary project here at The Red Door.

The title of the exhibition is Enlightened and it is a fitting title for the weekend of celebrations here in NCW as we honour and celebrate the life and work of Michael Hartnett. The title was chosen for a number of reasons but chiefly as a compliment to Hartnett by his fellow artist, Ciaran. Both men fit the bill as enlightened artists – open minded, imaginative, questioning, insightful, philosophical.

Just a few words about Ciaran’s artistic process. It is ironic, in this day and age, when many say that photography will eventually replace painting as an art form, that many of these paintings are derived from photographs. From simple photographs taken in his back garden in Co. Louth or at other family occasions, these works of art have developed and taken on a life of their own.

Like Heaney, Ciaran adds layer after layer of emotion, of colour, tone and texture to create something unique and intimate and personal. He, like Heaney, “digs down and down for the good turf”. In another of Heaney’s poems, The Forge, he describes the creative process as “the unpredictable fantail of sparks”. It is obvious that in Ciaran’s lonely, artistic attic/forge the sparks have been flying in recent times!

This exhibition follows on seamlessly from Ciaran’s earlier work. I’m sure you have been amazed and mesmerised with the richness of colour, texture and tone in these paintings – and then we do a double take and we begin to notice the people, the images within. The paintings evoke a mood and here tonight the artist finally, nervously hands his work over to us the viewer.

Like Hartnett, Ciaran’s work immortalises ordinary people, people close to him, family members. Sometimes there is realism, sometimes we’re shown things as through a glass darkly. I’m reminded here again of Hartnett’s description of childhood in Maiden Street during the bad old days of the Fifties and despite the poverty he was still able to say of his childhood that – “We were such golden children never to be dust, singing in the street alive and loud…”

There have been two great seismic changes in Ciaran’s life since his last exhibition – marriage and fatherhood. Setting up home with Carol and the arrival of Paddy have taken precedence but now, as you can see, we are surrounded here this evening with the results of his labours – in particular, the beautiful family portrait behind you. His paintings, I feel, have been enriched and exhibit a new vibrancy because of these life changing events.

We need artists like Ciaran and Hartnett in our lives and we shouldn’t wait until they’re dead to celebrate their genius. Mark Patrick Hederman, Abbot of Glenstal and great friend to this Eigse Festival, uses a lovely analogy to describe artists – he says that artists are like the dove that Noah released from the Ark after 40 days to check if the waters were receding. Eventually the third dove brought back an olive branch – we need trailblazers and scouts like that to go before us, to take the risks, and help us explore our unchartered waters.

I hope that tonight and over the coming days hordes of people will come and in quietness and silence be uplifted by this exhibition. In his poem ‘Secular Prayers’, Hartnett longs to be able “to look at lovely things and not be dumb”.  It is the same with us this evening. Go from here and spread the word. The exhibition will remain open until the 26th of April here in The Red Door Gallery, Newcastle West.

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

imageReviewed by Vincent Hanley

This is a very slim apochraphal epistle-type novella from Colm Toibin. It is told from Mary’s perspective and, apart from Toibin, the only other Irish authors capable of such a consummate tour de force would, in my opinion, be Emma O’Donoghue, Edna O’Brien or even Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy herself.

The story begins with Mary under a kind of house arrest similar to a latter day Aung San Suu Kyi. She is catered for, spied on and continually interviewed and interrogated by unnamed men who seek to control her story. These men are responsible for spreading the message of her dead son, the turbulent priest, with his rag-tag group of misfit followers. Traditionally, of course, we associate this role with St. John the Evangelist, the Beloved Disciple and St. Paul, the convert who became the chief propagandist of the new religion. Here however, these ominous, shadowy men are faceless and nameless.

The great irony of Toibin’s narrative is that Mary, now living out her final days in Ephesus, is not a Christian and her devotion is to the Pagan goddess Artemis, goddess of fertility and bounty, childbirth and virginity and protector of young girls!

In my view Toibin displays an amazing insight into the psyche of motherhood in this revisionist epistle. Obviously as an Irishman he is very well placed to give us his revealing insights! Most of us familiar with the story of Mary and Church teaching focus largely on the Annunciation and the Immaculate Conception. This narrative ignores these momentous events and rather concentrates on three events in the life of her son; the story of Lazarus, the Wedding at Cana and, of course the very graphically described Crucifixion.

Mary treats her pregnancy as normal, everyday, she cherishes in her final days the memory of those blessed days. However, the men, her guardians, who have spirited her away to Ephesus, have a very different perspective, and our religion, our competing stories, reflect a situation where Mary’s pregnancy is one of a kind, otherworldly, out of the ordinary. Toibin’s ‘epistle’ gives us a much needed feminist outlook on those momentous events in those hysterical times as the Good News is managed and propagated from small town Galilee to a worldwide male dominated audience.

Mary’s ‘testament’ is sparse and succinct, uttered to her scribe – Toibin – in sotto voce until her guardians ask her to embellish her story and then her voice is more shrill and strident. Her motive seems to be to set the record straight – her account acts as memoir, witness statement extraordinaire, and it has the ring of truth to it – the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It moves between night and day, fact and dream and while some memories are graphic and detailed like her version of the Crucifixion or the aftermath of Lazarus’ coming forth, other major grey areas are skimmed over and there is a scarcity of detail, notably of course when dealing with the Resurrection – much to the annoyance and exasperation of her guardians.

These are examples of the subtleties of Toibin’s touch – he never pushes the bounds of our credulity, he doesn’t offend sensitive sensibilities in this area. However, there is evidence aplenty of subtle twenty first century nuances – finally a woman speaks!

Mary, as depicted by the author, is extremely suspicious of those with learning and those who can write. However, she correctly recognises and senses the power of the written word and she is lucky to have found a modern medium for her message in Colm Toibin in this one chapter and no verses gem of a read.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

 

 

 

image Donal Ryan doesn’t do rose tinted glasses and it is clear that the Irish Tourist Board aren’t going to be part funding the film version of this close to the bone realistic depiction of post Celtic Tiger Ireland. The novel has been long listed for the Mann Booker Prize and having read it the judges are unlikely to jump on a plane to explore the delights of Coolcappa, Moyross, Portroe, or the many uninviting ghost estates littering the Irish countryside.

The story of the novel unfolds and is presented to us via the inner monologues of twenty one characters living in a small rural community – twenty are alive while one character speaks from beyond the grave, still trapped in his squalid kitchen because ‘the Vatican done away with Purgatory’. This unique exposition reveals the incomplete story to the reader. Even at the end there are many loose ends, unanswered questions, unfinished plotlines. We are presented with numerous psychological profiles, each private self far different from the public personae on view. This disturbing epiphany is unsettling to say the least and is testimony to the searing perceptions and wry humour of this new shining star in the Irish literary firmament.

The events of the novel are ordinary and commonplace – apart maybe from the abduction of a young child from a crèche and the murder of an old bitter man. We are given insights into the lives of many affected by the economic crash, including a young Russian emigre stranded in a landscape where all dreams have died. Indeed, the characters in this novel have all gone three rounds with the Harvest Fair bucking bronco and they have all landed on their arse or their head. There are echoes and flashbacks to Synge’s masterpiece – Old Mahon, Christy and indeed Pegeen Mike are all here in this grubby modern Ireland. Themes of disappointment, regret, frustrated parental expectation, toxic shame, despair and depression are the new reality in this modern Littleton – or Ballybeg even!

The schitzophrenic, confessional nature of the novel lends to inevitable confusion in the reader. The characters struggle to cope in a world without moral compass or government. The priest and the Garda play bit parts but are rarely consulted or heeded. The author very cleverly sprinkles references to the present throughout the novel – we come across references to the whiners on Liveline, the State Pathologist, Dr. Marie Cassidy, the Abbeylara Incident and Donal Og Cusack ‘coming out of the closet below in Cork’!

Really, the more one thinks and reflects on the novel, the more one has to acknowledge the subtlety and genius of the author. He has managed to chronicle an era ‘warts and all’ and he has done so from a variety of perspectives with a weird and wonderful motley cast of distinctive voices.