Mí: Iúil 2011

Binn Éadair – Lúghnasa, 2011

In celebration of the Féile Lúghnasa, a climb to the summit of Binn Éadair (Howth) ‘The Summit of Éadar’, and the Suí Finn ‘Seat of Fionn’, one of the elevated sites where Fionn mac Cumhaill and Na Fianna kept watch in days of yore (if you believe the Fiannaíocht and Dinnsheanchas). A ritual climb to a hill or mountain top has long formed part of the rituals around the festivities in honour of Lúgh so here’s hoping even an atheist can garner some good luck for the months ahead.

 

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Féile Lúghnasa

 

Well its that time of the year again and the important Celtic Irish holiday of Lúghnasa, the Feast of Lúgh, is upon us. Beginning from sunset today until sunset tomorrow it is the ancient harvest celebration in the native Irish calendar, and this year RTÉ is miraculously (!) marking it with a series of TV programmes, headlined by Lúghnasa Live:

‘RTÉ invites you to celebrate the ancient festival of Lúghnasa on Sunday July 31st with a live entertainment special broadcast for the from Craggaunowen in County Clare. The show will be a combination of live chat, music and food where well known celebrities will celebrate the ancient festival of Lughnasa and reconnect the audience with one of the, until recently, most important dates in the Irish calendar.

The live show will be informative and entertaining and broadcast from a very evocative location – an Iron Age fort – with an audience of 200. Craggaunowen is an award winning Pre-Historic Park owned and operated by Shannon Heritage, situated on 50 acres of wooded grounds.

Presented by Grainne Seioge the programme will see guests John Creedon, Mary McEvoy, Sinead Kennedy, Colm Hayes and Paul Flynn on a mission to find out more on a different aspect of Lughnas folklore. In addition there will be food from that period with Paul Flynn cooking for the audience of 200 and live music Moya Brennan and Sharon Corr.’

The people of Clare are rightly proclaiming this wonderful new development, as our national broadcaster actually celebrates a part of our national culture:

‘The live show will be broadcast from a very evocative location, Craggaunowen, an Iron Age fort, in front of an audience of 200. The award-winning pre-historic park is owned and operated by Shannon Heritage and is situated on 50 acres of wooded grounds in Quin.

“RTÉ is excited to be bringing our audience this lively show full of chat and fun in celebration of Lúghnasa, which marks an important new chapter in the recognition of our magnificent heritage. The location of Craggaunowen has huge historical significance and RTÉ are looking forward to bringing its viewers a night to remember,” Colm Crowley, head of production for RTÉ Cork said.

Meanwhile, John Ruddle CEO of Shannon Heritage, the Shannon Development subsidiary said, “We are delighted that RTÉ has chosen to make Craggaunowen the focus of their Lúghnasa celebrations. The Lúghnasa theme is a perfect fit with our visitor attraction, which gives viewers a unique glimpse into living conditions in Ireland during the pre-historic and early Christian eras, showing them the type of farmsteads, hunting sites and other features of everyday life. One of the major features of a visit to Craggaunowen is the crannóg, a reconstructed lake-dwelling, on which people built houses, kept animals and lived in relative security. Craggaunowen also features a ring fort, part of an Iron Age road or Togher, which was originally laid in 148AD and the Brendan Boat used by Tim Severin to re-enact the voyage of St Brendan the Navigator, reputed to have discovered America centuries before Columbus.”

Lúghnasa marks the beginning of autumn and is among the four major Celtic feast days, the others being Imbolc on February 1, which marks spring; Bealtaine on May 1 marking the start of summer and Samhain on November 1 marking winter.

The name for the festival of Lúghnasa comes from the name of the god Lúgh and is also sometimes referred to as the feast of Lúgh.
The celebration marks the ripening of grain, specifically corn and also the weaning of calves and lambs and later in history, the festival included the maturing of potatoes.

It is celebrated on August 1 or else the first Sunday of August or the last Sunday of July. Lúghnasa was significant in pre-Christian times as it was a Celtic festival and part of the festivities included the lighting of fires and communal feasting.’

Amazing. Some more from Eddie Stack’s blog:

‘One time it was held at around 200 sites, nearly always remote, inaccessible places that were on heights, or near water. The festival was dedicated to Lúgh, the young and most brilliant god of the Tuatha de Danann. Lúgh was the god of light, god of arts and crafts, father of inventions and the likes.

Lúgh was a good time god. His festival was a young peoples gig and it was party central. In the Irish calendar it was the biggest celebration, the harvest was safe and the population could go and boogie. Held at remote locations, only the young, the fit and the agile made their way there.

As was its practice, the Catholic Church cast their net wherever there was a crowd. They took over Lúghnasa and put a religious stamp on it. One of the most glaring examples of this hi-jacking is Reek Sunday on Croagh Patrick, an ancient Lúghnasa site. The Irish Church said that St. Patrick spent 40 days and nights on the mountaintop, fasting and praying for the salvation of Ireland. If he did, he failed. But it’s more likely a pr job and the nearest Paddy got to the mountain was Campbell’s pub in Murrisk or maybe Matt Molloys in Westport. Anyway, year in and year out, thousands of the hoodwinked faithful climb the mountain on Féile Lúghnasa, saying prayers to Patrick, Mary and Jesus. Some climb barefooted, others climb blindfolded. Lúgh is probably shaking his head at the pain, wondering why they no longer believe in a good time god.’

I agree with much of the above. Deserts produce crazy people, all that lack of water, too much sunshine and heat, it sends people nuts, and they have certainly produced three of the world’s nuttiest religions. Christianity, Islam and Judaism are desert religions and they belong in the desert not in these more civilized climes. Rock-solid atheist that I am if we have to have any religion at all then let it be our own native ones that evolved here in Europe (in the wet!) away from all that dry-mouthed, rasp-tongued desert insanity.

David Norris And A Series Of Unfortunate Events

Well it would seem that David Norris has more or less destroyed his own Presidential chances after a series of revelations over his private views, and private actions, have left supporters dropping away left, right and centre. As RTÉ reports:

‘Senator David Norris has said he will continue to seek a Presidential nomination, but has admitted his chances of getting a nomination are now ‘slim’.

Senator Sean Barrett has said the controversy surrounding a letter Mr Norris wrote to an Israeli court would make it extremely difficult for him to get on the ballot paper for the presidential election.

Mr Norris has secured 15 out of 20 Oireachtas member nominations, but speaking on Today FM, Senator Barrett said he did not know where the missing five people would come from.

However, he said it was still possible for Mr Norris to become a candidate for the contest on 27 October.

Dr Barrett said he did not think such a letter should have been written.

The letter, which was released to the Sunday Independent, was written on Seanad notepaper and in it Senator Norris pleads for clemency for his former partner Ezra Yizhak, who was awaiting sentence for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old Palestinian boy in Israel in 1992.

In it he described Mr Yizhak as a trustworthy, good and moral person for whom the present difficulty was quite uncharacteristic.

He said he had been lured into a carefully prepared trap, and had unwisely pleaded guilty to the charges.

A number of people on Mr Norris’s campaign team have resigned, including his directors of elections, communications as well as people working on his online campaign.

Mr Norris told the Sunday Independent he remains ‘absolutely committed’ to his campaign, which he said was now ‘in serious trouble’.’

Meanwhile rumours are floating of further possible revelations:

‘A journalist has claimed there are at least two other controversies to hit the Norris campaign, but declined to give details.

Speaking on This Week, Joe Jackson said he had contacted Senator Norris’s communications manager last week saying he was aware of three impending controversies that were about to break.

He said received no response from Jane Cregan who has since resigned.

Mr Jackson, who wrote ‘Trial by Media’, said while he was morally driven to write the book, he is morally torn today after reading the letters.

He said he found them deeply disturbing and was particularly disturbed by what seemed to be a lack of sensitivity to the rape victim.

He described Senator Norris as a ‘stupid romantic’ who was deeply in love with his former partner.’

Coming after previous controversies it is probably safe to say that Senator Norris will not be a candidate for the office of Uachtarán na hÉireann.

While I have mixed feelings about Norris, and I have found his views over the Easter Rising of 1916 somewhat historically redactive, his work on behalf of Ireland’s Gay community placed him head and shoulders above many of his political peers. It would be a dreadful shame if one result of all these controversies was that the advances in civil rights for Irish Gay men and women were somehow tainted with the perception that its chief proponent was ‘soft‘ on paedophilia. We’ve thankfully come a long way since the days when homosexuality and paedophilia were considered one and the same, and Norris really should have been much more careful, and thoughtful, in expressing the views he made in past interviews and utterances.

While standing by a former partner and friend accused of a criminal offence is a laudable act of loyalty and generosity, trying to persuade a court to grant leniency to a man who had sex with child is, at best, questionable. Indeed some of the personal statements in the documents submitted by the Senator to the Israeli court are rather odd, including the apparent implication that there is a difference in the sexual abuse of a minor by a homosexual or a heterosexual man (the paragraph titled ‘Fourthly’, here). That is dangerous ground to get into, and while it may be taken out of context, added to the previous views expressed by David Norris on homosexuality and pederasty (an intimate and usually sexual relationship between a man and an adolescent boy), he might do well to explain himself further.

Imre Makovecz And The Wonders of Organic Architecture

One of my favourite architects is also one of Europe’s least known, Hungary’s Imre Makovecz, a proponent of organic architecture who has created some of the most distinctive, beautiful and humanistic buildings to be found anywhere in the world. An article in the Guardian from 2004 gives an excellent summation:

‘Makovecz, born in 1935 and educated in Budapest, was himself imprisoned at the time of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, and had the death penalty hovering over his head for some years afterwards. One of the former Soviet satellite’s most creative dissidents, he developed and built his own form of organic architecture from the late 1960s onwards, in direct and timbered opposition to the communist love of four-square, pre-fabricated Soviet-style concrete blocks.

The Robin Hood of Hungarian architecture, Makovecz was banned from working in cities and teaching, and nurtured his highly personal and engagingly spiritual form of organic design in forest settlements and villages, themselves under threat of demolition. When the Soviet Union collapsed and Hungary became a democracy, Makovecz became a national hero. He represented his country with the design of the popular Hungarian pavilion – part barn, part cathedral – at the 1992 Seville Expo, while his firm, Makona, and his many disciples, who had taught illicitly in the compartments of cross-country trains, began to spread his brand of architecture across Hungary.

Makovecz is, moreover, much influenced by the anthroposophic theories of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the Austrian “spiritual scientist”, whose schools are well known worldwide today. Steiner held that our spiritual evolution is held back by being mired in the material world; in the leaning domes of Piliscsaba, it is possible, perhaps, to see the architecture that frames our spiritual education, struggling with the mire.

Makovecz’s rise to prominence has clearly owed as much to his skill in creating a folkloric architecture that conjures Hungary’s struggle for independence, while challenging the materialist values of both communist and capitalist ways of life, as to his artistic imagination and integrity.’

Makovecz’s combination of native Magyar architectural styles with an almost Celtic infusion is unforgettable and his buildings resemble images constructed from the distillation of medieval European legend, natural, instinctive and familiar. For some more reading on a man regarded by many as an architectural genius try visiting this photo gallery, or here. It is a crying shame that Makovecz has been rejected by some in his home country in Hungary’s rampant drive to become just another Anglo-American clone in Eastern Europe, with the embracing of a sham modernity that is a hollow and meaningless as a McDonald’s sign.

Scottish And British, Like Swedish And Scandinavian?

For some intellectualising on the SNP MP Pete Wishart and his what ‘Britishness’ could mean in an independent Scotland there’s none better than the Lallands Peat Worrier to supply it.

An Bhreatain Bheag – Little Britain

WalesHome carries an interesting article on language apartheid in the nation (which originally appeared here):

‘WE OFTEN hear that Wales is too divided as a country.

This could be said to be true – The Gogs, the Hwntws, the Cardis and the Valleys folk – but are we truly divided on language? Many often purposely enjoy stating that there are huge linguistic barriers and divisions in Wales among the Welsh speaking and the non-Welsh speaking, as if some newly-invented linguist apartheid has descended upon the nation following bilingualism. I highly condemn and doubt this ‘new idea’ and will list my reasons below.

We in Wales are far more fortunate than other states where there are obvious linguistic divisions – Belgium, South Africa, Canada to name but a few. The difference of course is the fact that our native language in Wales has been that the language of the whole of Wales, and there is no doubting this whatsoever; it was once the language of the whole of England and vast swathes of Scotland. The debate that often arises in other countries in which linguistic divisions are strong, is that somebody else’s language is either being imposed or forced on a group of people whom have no connection whatsoever with that language.

This can be said for countries such as South Africa. The people of Kwazulu Natal never really spoke Afrikaans as “n moeder taal” (a mother tongue) and thus imposing the language on them was indeed a silly thing to do. The same is true for Wallonia and the Flemish region of Belgium. But this isn’t a debate that can be used here in Wales, because the Welsh language is a perfect example of a true national language.’

Hmmm. Well, there are some contentious points up there, not least the claim that Welsh was the language of vast swathes of Scotland. That is simply, and demonstrably, untrue. It was the language of the border regions and some lowland areas, at best, but was most certainly not the native language of the region in the way the writer suggests. The historical situation is far more complex and in fact the ancestor of Welsh was a late linguistic innovation in the Celtic languages, a dialect of the Celtic tongue called P-Celtic that filtered westward and may well have originally evolved in Continental Europe or around the English Channel area. From this P-Celtic ancestor was derived the British Celtic language (that gave us Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish and Breton) as well as the mainland European languages of Gaulish, Leptonic, etc.

‘There is no denying that most people in Wales – Welsh or English speaking – support the Welsh language. Opinion polls and survey results continually show a figure greater than 70% who support bilingualism and the promotion of Welsh.  This is a very positive figure and it shows that there exists goodwill towards the language. But a language needs more than goodwill alone to survive, and we are somewhere in a transition phase where the language is regarded as normal and receives fair play, and where Welsh was once discouraged and there existed some pretty vocal voices opposing anything Welsh.

But the thing that in some senses consolidates the future of Welsh is seeing the pride that exists among those that don’t speak Welsh towards their national language. They often state that they feel ashamed, or not “fully Welsh” (not my opinion) that they cannot speak Welsh. It’s these people whom sing the anthem with fire in their bellies, even though many of them do not understand the true meaning of the words. The spirit that is shown towards the Welsh language – the pride in being different – is something that unites all of us from every part of Wales. So how can it be argued that Wales is divided over language?’

In Ireland poll after poll has shown 90%+ support for the Irish language but I don’t think that means that there is no linguistic divide in the country, and I doubt Wales is any different. Indeed if 70% of the population of Wales support the Welsh language then it must follow that some 30% do not. However there is no denying that of all the surviving Celtic nations Wales is the most successful in protecting and promoting its native language and culture, ensuring greater equality between native and non-native speakers in ways that the rest of us can only look on at with envy (in no small part thanks to Plaid Cymru).

The argument then gets into some very unsound, and patently untrue, areas:

‘Wales has been united under one language for centuries and Welsh was that language. This is not true of Scotland, of Northern Ireland, where numerous languages have co-existed for hundreds of years.’

Well firstly ‘Northern Ireland’ is not a country. It is a region of the nation of Ireland, a place where the native language is the Irish language and for thousands of years the only language. English as a majority language in Ireland has been in that position for less than 150 years (and even that position may be in a slow reversal). Likewise Scotland has its own native language, Scottish, which was also the dominant language of the nation for millennia. Talking about these nations as being places where ‘numerous languages have co-existed for hundreds of years’ is rather odd, and somewhat disappointing. Wales, in terms of its linguistic history and diversity, is no different from its fellow Celtic nations and arguments along the lines of the special nature of Wales are clearly nonsense. We all face the same challenges.

At least the end paragraph is upbeat and positive, with sentiments we can all echo.

‘We should therefore seek strength from our linguistic heritage, a power that nobody has managed to break, and the spirit of those in Wales that feel and live their Welshness. Let’s use the language as an symbol of pride and distinctiveness, as a foundation to define us as people. The Welsh language is something that can and will unite is and thus we ought not let it divide us.’

Gaelic Scotland And Anglo Ireland

Some good news from Scotland for our fellow Gaels as the Scottish government announces further funding for Scottish language film production:

‘First Minister Alex Salmond has announced funding of almost £40,000 to help train entrants to the 12-to-17-year-old category in this year’s FilmG competition.

FilmG is MG ALBA’s short film competition, which aims to uncover new talent for development on the Gaelic digital channel BBC ALBA and produce new Gaelic content for the web.  It was launched in 2008.

The money will consist of a £25,000 grant from Bòrd na Gàidhlig (BnG) and £14,100 direct Scottish Government support.

Speaking at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the Isle of Skye, Salmond said: “I’m pleased to visit Sabhal Mòr Ostaig again, to meet the Principal and senior management and to see firsthand the excellent work being undertaken at the college to enhance the place of Gaelic education and strengthen the status of the language across Scotland.

“It is also encouraging to hear about the positive impact which FilmG has had and the opportunities it has created in its first three years – inspiring many young people to consider careers in the screen industries.  I am delighted to be able to confirm today that the Scottish Government and Bòrd na Gàidhlig (BnG) will support the competition this year, by funding workshop sessions for 12-to-17 year olds.

“The workshops provide young people with many of the experiences and outcomes outlined in the Curriculum for Excellence, including enhanced skills in literacy, language, numeracy and the expressive arts. FilmG offers an opportunity to build confidence, social awareness and help realise individual talents.”’’

It is notable how the SNP has embraced the native Scottish language in recent years from what was for many decades a stance of indifference or even hostility. To paraphrase the famous axiom of Pádraig Mac Piarais, they have finally woken up to the fact that ‘a nation without a language is a nation without a soul’. Despite the strategic blurring of the edges around the SNP’s push for independence, many in the party realise that one of the greatest assets in separating Scottishness from Britishness, and furthering the cause of a free Scotland, is to be found in the area of language. By asserting Scotland’s national identity through its national language some in the independence movement are establishing a cultural nation in the minds of the Scottish people to match the political one they also wish to establish.

For a new generation of Scots a Gaelic identity is as much a part of who they are as any other component of Scottishness. For some the two concepts are one and the same. It could be the great irony of 20th and 21st century history that it is Scotland that emerges as the domestically and internationally recognised Gaelic nation, leaving Ireland as just another Anglo-American territory. Though not everyone would be saddened by that fact.

Bertie Ahern: Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre, Unprecedented

News from the Irish Independent on former An Taoiseach na Chófra, Bertie Ahern, and his flourishing new career out of office (and Ireland):

‘FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is charging American companies a fortune to present a new lecture — about how he transformed our economy in the Celtic Tiger boom.

The man targeted by many as the architect of our crippling recession, is charging more than $40,000 (€27,554) a time for speaking engagements with the elite Washington Speakers Bureau.

During the lecture, Mr Ahern offers tips to bosses of leading firms on how to be competitive.

His fee, which is listed as being more than US$40,000, is in the top bracket and shared by just 57 other mostly American speakers, including former US President George W Bush.

A gushing profile, listed on the website of the bureau, pays tribute to what many regard as Mr Ahern’s greatest achievement in office — his key role in forging the Good Friday Agreement.

But it is his speech on the economy which promises to reveal how Irish citizens accepted “short-term sacrifices to achieve long-term gain”, which has raised most eyebrows.

The outline of the speech reads: “Leading the turnaround of an entire country is akin to the constant evolution companies and organisations must undergo to remain competitive.

“Bertie Ahern dedicated his career to re-inventing his country’s economic and political stakes in global affairs. He persuaded his fellow politicians and citizens to accept short-term sacrifices to achieve long-term gain.

“His ability to persuade his constituents to follow his vision provides lessons for even the most seasoned executives.”‘

Jesus. If we thought Ahern couldn’t sink any lower he has certainly proved us wrong. To say that the man knows no shame must be the understatement of the century.

Meanwhile of course, thanks to Bertie ‘re-inventing’ our economy, we are on our way to a new 100 euro Poll Household Tax. Ah, life in Saor Éire. Or is it Daor Éire these days? It seems we can’t even take a leak without the permission of our EU/IMF overlords.

Meanwhile:

‘A SCHOOL that provides specialist teaching for children with autism will close tomorrow after the education minister rejected new funding proposals.

Until now, the parents of the eight pupils at the Achieve ABA school in Donaghmede, Dublin, have funded much of their children’s education themselves.

But because of mounting debts, they can no longer afford to do so. Parent Daniel O’Mahony, whose son Aidan (8) is a pupil, said that a funding shortfall has grown to €100,000 over recent years and they have been left with no choice but to close.

Mr O’Mahony, a chartered accountant, said he had costed proposals that showed their model of providing ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis) is more than 25pc cheaper than educating autistic children in special-needs schools.

He said the privately funded Achieve ABA in Donaghmede can educate a child, for one year, for €30,000. This compares to €38,000 in a special-needs school and around €36,000 in the Department of Education and Skills.’

Ireland, a nation once again.

Splintered Hari

Occasional, but always excellent, Irish blogger Splintered Sunrise (whose real identity is known to many) tackles the thorny subject of disgraced British journalist Johann Hari again, and in his usual inimitable style:

‘To summarise, what Johann Hari has admitted to, and apologised for, is that in a handful of his long-form interviews, he’s occasionally used a quote from the subject’s written work where this was more cogent than what the subject said in the interview; and that he failed to properly acknowledge the source. This is true, as far as it goes. But, as has been shown all over the intertubes, this is just the tip of the can of worms. To summarise, without going into excruciating detail, we’re talking about:

  • A somewhat unorthodox interviewing technique that includes not only unattributed lifting from the subjects’ own written work, but also the unattributed lifting of quotes from other journalists’ interviews with the subjects, explicitly framed as if these words were being spoken to Hari himself. It may be understandable that few interviewees complained when the end result showed them being fantastically articulate, but on the occasions when Hari has done hostile interviews he’s had no qualms about portraying his antagonist as inarticulate.
  • A strong suspicion, at the very least, that some of his vox-pop quotes (as opposed to those from named interviewees) have been made up.
  • A reportorial style that tends to be careless of the facts, straying easily into exaggeration and embellishment, sometimes into outright invention.
  • Strong circumstantial evidence, though it would be hard to prove or disprove definitively, that either Hari or someone very close to him was engaged in extensive Wikipedia sockpuppetry, including the posting of allegations about critics of Hari that were flagrantly libellous. (I don’t care what you think about Cristina Odone, she is not anti-Semitic by any stretch of the imagination.)’
Read it all, for it is a thorough examination not just of Hari but the general malaise in the ailing British newspaper industry. Talking of which here may be another one for the hangman’s noose, as Piers Morgan finds himself under some intense scrutiny. Oh dear.

Alan Moore And The League In 1969

The Guardian holds an excellent Q&A with comics’ writer Alan Moore, one of the modern doyens of the genre, focusing in particular on his series of comics and graphic novels beginning with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and how he views the third volume in the saga:

‘When we started the third volume of League, we got a vague idea of how the plot would progress and would enable us to use characters and situations from respective Leagues – 1910, 1969 and 2009. But as the book has actually progressed as it has been written, the prevailing thing about it seems to be a critique of culture. And the most noticeable thing is the decline if you like – diversification. It’s always the most healthy thing for a species and it’s probably the same for culture as well.

When we start out in 1910 we have a fairly rich background to draw from – we’ve got Brecht’s Threepenny Opera which was set around that time, we’ve got all of those wonderful occult characters that were being created around then. By the time we get to 1969 we’ve got some equally interesting characters but they’re a kind of different category. They’re more often drawn from popular culture, because of course popular culture has expanded incredibly in the 50 years since 1910 when culture was still largely the preserve of an educated elite. But changes in society over the first 50 years of the century meant that by the middle years culture had changed. Certainly by 1969 where pop culture was predominant and previous culture was perhaps in danger of becoming increasingly marginalised. And by the time we return to the League story in 2009, it’s a much bleaker cultural landscape still.

So I suppose inevitably you’re going to find in this book that there are contrasts that are going to arise between the different eras. And there’s also a marked sense that culture is possibly contracting in certain areas. There is the thing of the richness of the Victorian or the Edwardian era. That the range of characters and ideas to draw upon have nowhere near the same breadth that they seem to back in the day. This is something that has purely emerged from the story. Wasn’t anything that we necessarily set out to write. But it seems to be the case.’

He also talks about working with long time creative partner and acclaimed comics artist Kevin O’Neill:

‘It is an absolute pleasure to work with Kevin. He is one of the finest and most distinctive comic book artists this country has ever turned out. Also, he is the only one of my mainstream collaborators who is from a similar background to myself and who has ever taken my side in any of my bust-ups with the comic companies. This is why Kevin is the only person that I’m still working with. During the unpleasantness with DC, he was taking the brunt of it. Because I’d walked off and he still had to finish the book. They were very angry that we got sick of them and were taking it to another publisher. He is as good an individual as he is an artist.’

For some more on graphic novels and comics visit here.

 

The Defence Forces of Scotland

A good article over on Better Nation discussing the security (for which read, military) future of an independent Scotland:

‘One of the few strong attractions of independence for me is the chance to backpedal on our island’s collective delusions of grandeur and to better reflect Scottish thinking in our policies – that we don’t rule the world with either a carrot or a stick. I did a calculation in a recent blog post that if the UK reduced spending on defence to Scandinavian levels, putting confidence in the UN/Nato, then we would save £24.4bn a year. Scotland’s share of that saving would presumably be around £2.4bn each year.’

 

An IKEA Britain?

Interesting article in the Scotsman on the electoral troubles of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland (that I previously discussed here) and one possible solution from journalist Brian Monteith:

‘I wrote before the May election that the Liberal Democrats should launch their manifesto using the name Liberal Party so that they could call upon their fine tradition as a truly radical Scottish party, and to differentiate it from the party down south.

While the Liberal Democrat party operates in a federated manner this is not the perception that the public holds – for what it sees is Nick Clegg or even Vince Cable making the decisions and everyone north of the Border falling into line. Redefining the Scottish party as its own master with its own distinct name would help reposition perceptions.

It should then build upon this by working out a clear strategy to lead from the front on the independence referendum.

Leave big business to the Tories and leave the unions to Labour for now – the Liberals can give a voice to the articulate and moderate professional classes that is warm and reassuring to voters that are nervous about what independence might mean. They should not play on fear but argue the benefits are greater through partnership and widening opportunities and the downside less daunting through the sharing of risk.

They also need to do more with their own proposals for greater powers for Home Rule – a term they should also revive and define themselves through. Cunningly they should, on their commitment to federation, start to explore a workable idea for a single English Parliament drawn from existing English MPs sitting in Westminster and able to deal with English only matters. A solution that would not require extra politicians and devolved greater authority to local councils would surely appeal to Liberals north and south of the border?’

Interesting, and something I hinted at earlier, though in the long run I suspect an entirely separate Scottish Liberal Party may be the best hope for Lib Dem types north of the border.

Meanwhile some wondering aloud by the SNP’s Pete Wishart in an article on the Better Nation blog has further muddied the waters over the constitutional question, in what is beginning to look like something of a new SNP strategy in the lead up to a referendum on Scottish independence. According to STV:

‘Writing in internet blog Better Nation, Mr Wishart discusses what he thinks will happen to the concept of being British as Scotland moves towards independence.

He said: “Firstly, I suppose Britishness is as much about geography as it is about identity and history. Coming from Perth in the northern part of the island of Greater Britain, I am as much British as someone from Stockholm is Scandinavian.

“If Britishness is to work as a cultural idea, a shared story as well as a shared geography has to be constructed. And that’s the hard part: no one has ever come up with a convincing definition of Britishness because there probably isn’t one.

“But there is absolutely no doubt that people indeed do feel and identify themselves as British, even in Scotland. For me, Britishness is so much more than the usual confused descriptions. For me, cultural Britishness isn’t one thing but is the sum of the 300-years journey that we have enjoyed and endured on this island. It is what we have achieved and secured together in this partnership.”‘

The Scandinavian comparison is a clever one, pointing to a region of Europe comprised of several nations that share a common sense of history and identity while still being independent of each other (though not everyone agrees). As a way of reimagining the political future of the island of Britain and the nations that share it, the concept is one that might strike home with some wavering voters in Scotland come referendum day. After all, even in these tragic times, what could be more pleasing than emulating the seeming placidity and happiness of the Swedish, Danes and Norwegians? An IKEA-fit Britain?

My Review Of ‘The Fall Of Dublin’ By Liz Gillis, From The Mercier Press

My review of ‘The Fall of Dublin’ by Liz Gillis, a new edition in the Mercier Press series ‘Military History of the Irish Civil War’.

China Miéville: Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi!

In this 2002 article British Fantasy author China Miéville, l’enfant terrible of the so-called New Weird generation of writers, rallies against the orthodoxy of the field with an examination of the man who helped define its modern form: J.R.R. Tolkien.

‘In 1954 and 1955 a professor of English at Oxford University published a long, rambling fairy story in three hardbacks. And nothing much happened. This was the 1905 of fantastic literature – a dress rehearsal for the revolution. That revolution came in earnest ten years later, when the book, The Lord of the Rings, was published in the US in cheap, pirate paperbacks, along with rapid response authorised versions. And they sold. A generation of students, hippies and potheads found hidden meanings in legends of power, wisdom, magic and secret knowledge. They reconfigured the texts, and turned a quaint, portentous 1950s fable into a key counter-culture text of the 1960s – to the avuncular professor Tolkien’s bemused horror.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien belonged in the rarefied air of Oxbridge, from where he wrote scholarly works, smoked his pipe and constructed his imaginary world, Middle Earth. It would be hard to imagine a man less at home among his new readers, whom he called the ‘lunatic fringe’.

The influence of The Lord of the Rings on modern literature and culture has been enormous and controversial. Its iconography is everywhere, constantly stolen and ripped off. But when it topped a recent poll as ‘book of the century’, many highbrow types were appalled that such a ‘childish’ work of fantasy was so honoured. The literary establishment’s incoherent critique combines snobbish disdain for popular culture with an ahistorical philistinism. It sees the fantastic as pathological, as sub-literary, rather than as one mode of expression among many. Those of us who skulk by those garish shelves in the bookshop have all been told that we’ll grow out of it, or asked when we’re going to start reading real books. And there is a left variant of this dismissal, which follows the Marxist critic Lukács in seeing the fantastic as decadent or socially ‘irresponsible’. But if, as radical critics of both bourgeois respectability and Stalinist agitprop, we defend science fiction and fantasy, does that mean we should be rallying under the banner of ‘Socialists for Tolkien’? Hardly.’

Well worth reading.

British Unionists Target Irish And Immigrant Families In Portadown

It has been reported that at least 100 British Unionist rioters were involved in overnight clashes in the contested town of Portadown, as they attempted to attack the homes of the local Irish Nationalist community. Using the excuse of the removal of British flags by local families with the agreement of the PSNI (the paramilitary police force) in an effort to ease communal tensions, British militants gathered in the area, armed with petrol bombs and other improvised weapons, and proceeded to attack both the PSNI and Irish civilian families. According to UTV:

‘Officers came under sustained attack from paint bombs, petrol bombs and other missiles – sledge hammers were also used to damage armoured PSNI vehicles.

A total of 19 plastic baton rounds were fired during the trouble which continued into the early hours of the morning.

No police and no members of the public were injured.

It is believed social network sites and mobile phones were used to gather people from outside the area for what was originally planned to be a peaceful protest by residents over the removal of loyalist flags.

As the violence continued into the night, police advised motorists to avoid the Corcrain and Ballyoran areas, Obins Drive, Union Street and surrounding areas.

Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd said loyalists tried to attack nationalist homes during the disorder.

“What is known is that around 100 loyalists attacked police and attempted to attack nationalist homes in the Portadown area over several hours,” he said.

“I would appeal for calm to return to the streets of Portadown. I’m in no doubt that the vast majority of people, whether they are from the unionist or nationalist community want to see an end to this trouble. They want to see order restored and they want to be able to get on with their lives.”

Police have come under attack across parts of Northern Ireland in the past week.

Rioting already broke out in Portadown on Wednesday night, this time in the Garvaghy Road area.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning two police officers were injured after trouble also erupted in the Craigwell Avenue and Obin Street areas of the town.’

In something of an irony, the homes in the Irish Nationalist district of the town attacked by Unionists were in fact occupied by foreign nationals, as the Guardian notes:

‘Immigrant families from East Timor fled a Catholic area of Northern Ireland on Friday night when loyalist rioters tried to attack nationalist homes, a Sinn Fein councillor said today.

“Around 100 loyalists attacked police who prevented them attacking nationalist homes,” said John O’Dowd, who is a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The families from East Timor packed their bags and ran from their homes in Portadown, Co Armagh on Friday night, when the area was engulfed in violence, he said.

For several hours, police were attacked by people armed with petrol bombs, bricks, bottles, fireworks and other missiles in the latest violence surrounding the high point of the loyalist marching season.’

The recent trouble in the North of Ireland also witnessed similar attacks on migrants most of whom tend to live in ethnically mixed or Irish Nationalist communities.