29 mars – Conférence sur Cumann na mBan à Dublin


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2 commentaires pour 29 mars – Conférence sur Cumann na mBan à Dublin

  1. Liam dit :

    A tous les amoureux de l’ile verte: cet excellent texte que je ressors chaque St Patrick

    Why I am not proud to be Irish

    It’s St Patrick’s Day on 17 March. And from pubs to poets, Irishness is in fashion. But unlike the Murphy’s/Caffrey’s/Kilkenny, Mark Ryan is bitter
    Some months ago, walking through Les Halles in central Paris I came across a beggar with a sign saying ‘Aidez-moi pour manger et vivre’–help me eat and live. I had almost passed when I noticed that at the bottom he had written ‘Je suis Irlandais’–I am Irish. My first response was one of disgust that Paddywackery had reached such a global level of intensity that even the beggars in Paris were now claiming to be Irish. I have since been reliably informed of sightings of other beggars in Paris carrying the same message.
    At first those three words–’I am Irish’–had a doleful ring about them. But as I reflected on the incident, the dolefulness was augmented by a tone of haughtiness and pride bordering on superiority. ‘It is because I am Irish that I can take the liberty of scrounging from the rest of you’, could be at least one interpretation of the beggar’s cryptic message.

    I was reminded of this incident some time later when reading of the Albert Reynolds libel trial at the High Court in London. Reynolds was the Irish Prime Minister credited with helping bring about an IRA ceasefire in August 1994. He had brought a case against the Sunday Times over a piece written at the time of his downfall in November 1994, which described him as a ‘gombeen man’ (an Irish petty usurer). One particular exchange between Reynolds and counsel for the defence stood out. Questioned over subsidies to the beef industry, with which he had some murky connections, Reynolds proudly replied that of the £100m Irish beef trade with Iraq, the European Union had contributed £90m in subsidies. It was hard to know which was the more astounding, the figures themselves or the pride with which Reynolds revealed these figures to the court. It is the same sense of pride or lack of shame that the beggar displayed, though of course on a vaster scale.

    This is the first reason I feel no pride in being Irish. Of the seven deadly sins pride is the one which has lost all its transgressive power as a result of overuse. We have gay pride, black pride and disabled pride, and now we have Irish pride. To claim pride in any of these you need not have done anything at all, in fact you could spend your whole life in bed, or like the beggar, do something which most people would consider shameful and still feel proud of yourself. The fact * that simply being Irish is sufficient cause for pride makes it utterly worthless.

    However there is something peculiarly odious about Irish pride which demands more than just abstention. The Irish have become something special in the eyes of the world. Go to a city almost anywhere in the world and you will find an Irish pub. Tell the citizen of San Francisco, Tokyo or Timbuktu that you are Irish and you will be immediately told how wonderful you are. There is no nation on the face of the Earth so flattered and fawned upon as the Irish. This is why the beggar in Paris could carry that sign, because Irish pride is indulged in a way that black pride is not.

    In one way the Irish today are like the new Uncle Toms whom everybody loves because we are so harmless, endearing and ready to entertain. However Uncle Tom was a figure of contempt, which the Irish are certainly not. If anything we are envied and looked up to with genuine reverence and respect. This is actually worse because it is such a delusion. It is certainly no cause for pride.

    It grieves me that we have become this nation of amusing buffoons. For most of my life I have supported the cause of Irish nationhood and independence from Britain, not because I thought that the Irish were in some way special and more deserving of freedom than others, but for precisely the opposite reason, because I wanted Ireland to be normal, to have what other countries have and for the Irish to be treated as equals. For Ireland to have achieved full independence would have been like the individual reaching full adulthood–once reached there is no more talk of the pains and stresses of growing up.

    Instead of gaining independence, however, Ireland seems to have had a state of perpetual childhood ordained for it, so that the mere declaration ‘I am Irish’ allows for a special zone of indulgence to be created around the subject, a zone in which the normal rigours of the world are suspended. And rather than confront its oppressions, ‘and by opposing end them’, Ireland has now taken to marketing its unfortunate history as something to be proud of. The Famine, the diaspora, ’800 years of oppression’, and the rest of it are now a cherished part of ‘Irish identity’ as it is called. One of the more memorable lines from Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments is that one about the Irish being ‘the blacks of Europe’. It is the pride contained in that statement which is so distasteful.

    I wince every time I read something about Ireland these days. Whether written by someone Irish or not, it is always the same sort of indulgent pap. Everything the Irish do is magnificent. They are so creative, so gifted in their use of the English language, and it is not even their own! The fact that the Irish have been speaking English as we know it for as long as the English themselves seems to have escaped many people. Then there is the remarkable levity of the Irish, that despite the terrible history, all they want is a ‘bit of craic’, which after a few pints of Guinness turns forlorn and wistful as they start to dream of ‘the oul sod’. I also sometimes wonder if there is a central committee of censors somewhere who vet every piece written to ensure that some reference is made to Irish maturity and self-confidence.

    Excessive praise is always stupefying and corrupting. It promotes narcissism and destroys any sense of discrimination, especially of the self. If we had achieved something that merited all the praise, there might be some cause for pride. But at a time when the country appears willing to trade anything for handouts from Washington and Brussels we are being treated to the most excessive flattery.

    All the Irish have to do in this trade-off is peddle their identity. Irishness is now big business. It is difficult to assess the scale of it, but it would seem that an increasingly large portion of economic life in Ireland is now devoted to the marketing of Irish identity, primarily through the booming entertainment industry. This is the narcissistic economy, in which the image of Ireland has become the motor of real activity and enterprise.

    The only problem in all this is that the image of Ireland which the Irish are so in love with is an image created by others, and must be constantly adapted to suit others’ tastes. Unlike the awkward and rebellious Ireland which once existed, the new Ireland has no independent reality of its own. Irish identity is a pure fake, and like all fakes it is fanatically committed to the proclamation of its authenticity. Let us take for example the Irish pub.

    The ersatz Irish pub has arrived at last in Britain, having conquered Europe and the rest of the world. The IRA ceasefire of 1994 seems to have opened the floodgates for this type of outfit. The O’Neill’s chain plans to open 50 pubs in London alone. What is less widely appreciated is that there were hundreds of real Irish pubs in London before any of these fake ones arrived. The real Irish pub, however, looked English: it had an English name, and sold the worst English beer. The clientele was made up almost entirely of Irish labourers of every age for whom a night’s hard drinking might be rounded off by a brawl at closing time. For decades the Irish were the principal incumbents of police cells and hospital casualty wards in English cities on a Saturday night. I remember my first ever visit to London in 1981, walking into what appeared to be a spacious, well-appointed traditional English pub on the Kilburn High Road (for reasons which I have not yet worked out I went straight to Kilburn from Euston station). I had only walked through the door when I was nearly bowled over by a mountainous barman dragging two good-for-nothings along by the scruff of the neck and flinging them into the street. It was in such places that ‘the fighting Irish’ built their reputation.

    Now whether you think the real Irish pub was perfect for a good night out, or the sort of dump you would not want to be seen dead in, is not really the point. The fact is it was real. The pub and all its clientele existed, not in order to conform to someone else’s image of what they should be, but to satisfy their own needs.

    The fake Irish pub, however, exists in another dimension altogether. While the real Irish pub is thoroughly indifferent to its own image, and appears on the surface not to be Irish at all, the fake Irish pub is never done with telling you how Irish it is. Every spare surface is crammed with Irish junk and memorabilia. And as with the real Irish pub, the more you look, the more Irish it is, so with the fake Irish pub, the closer you look the less Irish it is. The Irishness is so insistent that it becomes a parody of itself. In the fake Irish pub you are guaranteed ‘craic’ more-or-less on tap, like all the recently- invented ‘Irish’ ales. And it all goes down in a nice PC environment with mission statements declaring the pubs to be ‘safe, secure and women-friendly’.

    The narcissistic, spurious and childishly insistent nature of Irish identity is evident also in the growing numbers discovering their Irishness. Often this acquires quite ridiculous proportions with English people suddenly developing Irish accents or gaelicising their names. The increasing numbers claiming to speak Irish might appear at first sight to be a throwback to the Gaelic revival of the turn of the century. The difference is that the revival actually had the broader aim of building a spiritually independent Ireland. Whether this was a noble or a silly ideal is not the point. It was at least inspired by something more than a concern with self-image. Gaelicisation today, however, is no more than a private affectation, rather like body-piercing.

    Changing your name is a particularly clever piece of narcissism because it has the effect of drawing attention to even the most thoroughly uninteresting character. Let us take a fictional Englishman with Irish parents living in London and give him the real Irish name of Joe Snoddy. Now Joe feels that he does not get the attention he deserves, and so in order to preserve what he thinks is his threatened identity, he decides to change his name. Suddenly plain old Joe Snoddy becomes Seosamh O’Snodaigh and causes consternation everywhere he goes because nobody has the faintest idea how either to pronounce or spell his new name. All of a sudden familiar Joe seems about as familiar as an Uzbek herdsman.*

    Reactions to Joe’s new identity tend to take two forms. The more silly and indulgent English play up to Joe’s narcissism and ask him how he came by this beautiful name, want to know about his efforts to learn his ‘native tongue’, and sympathise wholeheartedly with his tales of how the scars left on the Irish mind by the loss of the language have never healed. Joe now finds to his delight that with his new identity he has become the centre of conversation.

    The other, more sensible reaction from the English is one of irritation at this ridiculous conceit which turns the simple act of giving your name into a major social ordeal. Joe is equally pleased with this reaction because it shows him just how ignorant and racist the English are and retrospectively confirms for him the wisdom of changing his name in the first place. Faced with the imperialist mentality of the English, he tells himself, he must assert his identity at all times. By now Joe is beginning to find himself so interesting that he decides to enrol on an Irish Studies course at the University of North London. There he will study his diasporised, hybridised, gendered, ambivalent and plural identity for three years. By the end of it he will be more convinced than ever that Irishness is perhaps the most fascinating and complicated state of being that he has ever found himself in as a woman.

    The obsession with Irish identity is a relatively recent development. A decade or so ago being Irish was a fairly straightforward thing to which nobody gave a second thought, most people rightly assuming that those who lived, or were born in Ireland, were Irish. Now, however, the question of who is Irish has become so complicated that nobody can make head nor tail of it.

    For some years Irish politicians and academics have talked about creating ‘an inclusive definition of Irishness’. This meant breaking from the traditional definition of nationalism, which was held to be ‘exclusivist’ and insufficiently accommodating of the rich plurality of Irish identities now being studied so furiously. Instead of a single, indivisible, phallocentric Ireland (as some feminists like to call it), the pluralists proposed ‘varieties of Irishness’, no single one of which would be superior to another. Thus Unionists, for example, who wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom, would be no less Irish than those who wanted a united Ireland. A word game originally aimed at dissolving a set of nationalist beliefs which had become an embarrassment to the Irish establishment ended up dissolving Ireland altogether.

    Until a few years ago Ireland had a population close to 5 million. It is now 70 million and rising. By the turn of the century Ireland may well rival China as the most populous nation on Earth. The acquisition of this vast population was achieved not by conquest or breeding, but by using different words. In creating an inclusive definition of Irishness, the ‘Irish diaspora’ seemed to acquire a reality of its own.

    The supposed existence of an Irish diaspora is based on the historic fact of Irish emigration. In passing, it is worth noting that historically, Irish governments were ashamed of emigration since it reminded everyone of the failure to build a dynamic economy in which people wanted to stay and work. As with almost everything else Irish these days, the country has done a complete U-turn and is now almost bursting with pride at the diaspora.

    The most important figure in the creation of the Irish diaspora is Ireland’s President Mary Robinson. Shortly after her election, in an act characteristic of her mawkish and hollow sentimentality, Robinson lit a permanent candle in the window of her residence in Dublin’s Phoenix Park to remind her subjects of the millions of diasporic Irish. Emigration, she says, was a form of exclusion. In order to create the inclusive definition of Irishness which everybody wants, all those who ever left the country must be re-included. Not only that, but the diasporic Irish must be recognised as just another variety of Irish, neither more nor less Irish than those back home (though as you can imagine, where home might be in this mess nobody can tell). It does not take too much to work out Robinson’s interest in the diaspora. All of a sudden instead of being president of a small island of five million people, she commands this great empire of the mind. What a burden of responsibility she must feel as she surveys her vast and ever-expanding dominions from the lonely grandeur of the Phoenix Park!

    The effect of the diaspora is to expand the meaning of what it is to be Irish and at the same time to turn Ireland into a figment of the imagination. The estimate of 70m diasporic Irish can only be the wildest surmise. Who in Britain, the USA, or indeed anywhere can honestly say that they have no Irish ancestors? And if there are a reputed 44m Irish in America alone, then is Ireland not in America as much as it is in Ireland? The diaspora turns Ireland from a clearly defined physical entity into a state of mind which as it turns out is not even restricted to those of Irish descent. More and more, all that it takes to acquire an Irish identity is a leap of the imagination, rather like the sort of leap a lunatic makes when he imagines himself to be Napoleon or Alexander the Great. Some believe that you can acquire an Irish identity by spending a few hours in a fake Irish pub. What started with the Irishing of Jack Charlton and his football team has now reached the point where anybody can do it if only they wish hard enough.

    During the 1995 St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Washington DC, President Clinton, getting quite carried away with himself, punched the air and declared that he was ‘feeling more Irish every day’. It was a strange thing for a President of the USA to say. If Clinton had emerged from a Tokyo state banquet to declare triumphantly that he was now feeling more Japanese, questions would be asked as to his mental health and fitness to conduct negotiations. With Ireland, however, no such doubts could arise, because becoming Irish is an entirely harmless and universally recognised osmotic process. Many Hollywood stars are planning to become Irish. Marlon Brando and Sharon Stone are just two of the names mentioned. Daniel Day Lewis became Irish by acting in films with an Irish theme. Many more may be expected to follow in the years to come.

    The diaspora and the desire of prominent Americans to become Irish is symptomatic of a general dissolving of Ireland into America. The closer you look at anything Irish the more difficult it is to tell whether it is Irish or American. At times the two are quite separate but exist in a relation of mutual flattery. Bill Clinton quotes Seamus Heaney, while Heaney supplies poetic adornment for Clinton’s vapid prose. At other times what purports to be Irish is straightforwardly American. The so-called Irish peace process is an American peace process. As Gerry Adams keeps telling us, only the ‘international community’ (aka Bill Clinton) can ‘move the process forward’. Irish nationalism, a political tradition created and recreated by generations of Irish, has now come under the joint ownership of the White House and Hollywood. Even the Ulster Unionists, once so hostile to US involvement in Northern Ireland, are following John Hume and Dick Spring to Washington. Sometimes it becomes a little too obvious that Ireland is a front for America. Clinton’s clumsy attempt to install Mary Robinson as Secretary General of the UN (even though she had not finished her term as Irish President) backfired, as other members of the Security Council insisted that protocol should be maintained and Africa given a second term in the post.

    Ireland’s political vocabulary has gone completely American. Listening to Irish politicians speak I wonder if they are talking about Dublin or Downtown LA. Whether you care to look at Ireland in ethnic, religious or cultural terms, it is still one of the most homogeneous countries in the world. Yet its politicians never stop talking about its incredible diversity of traditions and cultures. If that’s diversity, I would hate to see sameness.

    Ireland’s factory of grievance is also being stocked in America. It is most unlikely that the world at large would have heard much in the last few years of the Irish famine of 1846-50 were it not for the fact that American politicians *

    and academics are so eager to talk about it. St Patrick’s Day parades in New York used to be mild and anaemic occasions which gave New Yorkers the opportunity otherwise denied them of dyeing everything green. This year the theme of the parade has the rather punchy title of ‘British genocide’, referring of course to the death of over a million Irish in the Famine. Teaching of the Famine is now obligatory in New York state schools as part of their human rights curriculum.

    Why does everybody love this fraudulent thing called Ireland? It is not enough that Ireland’s leaders are desperate to sell their emasculated product. If there were no buyers, Ireland would be getting as much attention from the world as Morocco does. What has happened is that ‘Irishness’, as an ephemeral set of values, encapsulates so much of what is thought of these days as virtuous.

    Some of these values I have already alluded to. One is the suffering of the Irish at the hands of the British, symbolised for many by the Famine. However what in the past would have been considered a dreadful experience, and a rightful cause of anger, is today charged with an altogether different significance. Suffering now seems the most profound experience any nation or individual can have, one which gives the sufferer access to a special wisdom and authority denied those who can only lay claim to mere achievement. What gives the Irish an added authority where the famine is concerned is that they are no longer ‘in denial’ over their suffering and instead want to talk about it all the time, just as the adult who was abused as a child, but who now wants to ‘speak out’ about it, is treated as a voice for the millions of nameless abused. The singer Sinead O’Connor, in a particularly unpleasant piece of self-publicity, has made explicit this connection between Irish history and her own abuse. In the same way, Ireland’s experience of Famine apparently qualifies it to speak for every country which has experienced starvation. Robinson, ever on the alert for signs of suffering, has used the Famine of 150 years ago to promote herself in Africa as the voice of the starving.

    The Irish are also an indigenous people. Like the Australian aborigines or the Amazonian indians, the Irish are seen as a native people disturbed from their blissful and harmonious place in nature by colonialism. Indigenous people are terribly popular these days, championed by everybody from the Body Shop to the motor industry. Hostility to the tremendous achievements of modern society finds expression in the worship of those held to be its victims (though Amazonians and others always show a healthy desire to catch up with everyone else). Even though the Irish bear no resemblance to either aborigines or Amazonians, they still have the put-upon image projected onto indigenous peoples. I wonder when Anita Roddick will start using the Irish to advertise her wares. Perhaps an Orangeman in full regalia would make a nice change from the usual spectres of unfathomable wisdom which peer out from her window displays.

    However the Irish have something which other indigenes lack–they are a global tribe, and better still, one that anybody can join. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to become an indian or an aborigine. Many people feel a terrible sense of inferiority, believing that the spiritual wealth possessed by such people will be denied them. But as we have seen, anybody can become Irish. As a result, with the minimum of effort, the man or woman in search of an identity has one ready to hand, thus making possible the simple leap out of rootless cosmopolitanism into a state of natural being.

    In common with most indigenous peoples, the Irish are reputed to be exceptionally creative. Creative, that is, in the sense in which it is meant now, of creating images. People who create things are no longer deemed creative. Asians, who make most of the world’s products are not creative, whereas the Irish who now make very little, but who produce plenty of images, are extremely creative. Nowadays if you are Irish it is almost assumed that you must be in the middle of writing a novel, making a movie, or forming a band. Needless to say, many an Irish chancer has exploited this reputation to the full.

    The fact that the Irish have turned their self-obsession into the country’s main industry fits in well with the perverse priorities of the global New Age. People who are concerned with making things are judged to be overly materialistic, while those who devote their lives to the study of themselves are seen as deeply spiritual and superior beings. That the Irish now profess such indifference to the issue of borders, territory and national unity serves to heighten their reputation as a people dwelling on a higher and more rarefied plane of the imagination.

    It may not be too surprising that the Irish now view themselves as a nation far superior to their old masters, the British. While the British once sneered at the Irish for their lack of sophistication, their poverty and general backwardness, the Irish now sneer at Britain for much the same reasons. Not surprisingly, since the rest of the world appears to be backing the Irish in this beauty contest, the British occasionally get very upset about it.

    Garret Fitzgerald is a former Irish Prime Minister who negotiated the Anglo-Irish Agreement with Margaret Thatcher back in 1985. In an article in Prospect magazine in October last year Fitzgerald suggested that Ireland was perfectly suited to cure Britain of its national identity crisis over Europe and so help the old power come to terms with its diminished standing in the world. This is a favourite theme of the self-flattering classes in Dublin. It is Ireland which has a British problem, they cleverly suggest, not the other way around. This problem is not related in any way to the fact that Britain continues to occupy the north-eastern part of the island, an occupation which most of them are happy to support, but refers, instead, to the difficulty of living next door to a country which has some vestigial attachment to the idea of national sovereignty, and which tends, therefore, to obstruct Ireland’s triumphal and lucrative march into the heart of Europe.

    All this reminds me of the old surrealist map of the world in which everything is reversed, so that Mexico is a great bulbous backside which narrows into an anorexic United States, while Britain is no more than a tiny speck next to the great landmass of Ireland. We are now living in a surreal world in which self-emasculation, unburdening yourself of any awkward aspirations and principles, and making of yourself whatever others want you to be is considered one of the highest and most noble of aspirations. Ireland, which is nothing more than a set of desirable images produced for the rest of the world, somehow lords it over the neighbouring state which still holds a part of Ireland. To suggest that Ireland be the model for the treatment of crises of national identity is to take insanity as the standard of the normal.

    Which brings me back to my Parisian beggar. Only the most complete emasculation could so empty somebody of all dignity that not only would they no longer feel any sense of shame in prostrating themselves before the public, but they would proclaim their identity at the same time, as if the act of begging was all part of the country’s historic destiny. The poor man was probably so accustomed to people telling him how wonderful he was because he was Irish that when he fell on hard times, he thought he could make a few quid out of it. And the tragedy of it all is, he was probably right.
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  2. Liam dit :

    Benyat et son agence de voyage pour tourisme revolutionnaire (en castillan)


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