BLOGPublished: The Journal, October 6 2016
WITH THIS SHORT film, director Paul Duane and I are hoping to accomplish the near impossible.That is, to start a conversation about the Irish language that is rational, unswayed by emotion, dogma or any political agenda, and informed by the facts as they are, rather than how we might wish them to be.
Like every Irish kid, I was required to study the language for thirteen years in school. I needed Irish to secure a place in university. So I spent a couple of summers in the Gaeltacht and learned it well enough to get an honour in my Leaving Cert. And there, pretty much, ended my engagement with the language. Read the rest of this entry »
Published: Dublin Review, Autumn 2015
“I’m standing there, half asleep, in my t-shirt and boxer shorts, relieving myself in the dirt when I spot three Middle Eastern guys… If they were initially walking towards the truck, they’ve changed course slightly now. They smile at having caught me in such an awkward position. I smile back at them and put my finger to my lips.” (Calais, August 2015.)
Read full piece To Calais and Back
Published: Irish Times, 9 March 2013
It’s 7.15am at the Dry Arch filling station in Letterkenny and a hard frost is down outside. A lorry driver bounds in from the darkness, rubs his hands together and orders a bowl of porridge at the hot food counter. In the corner, Sky News is reporting live from Los Angeles, where post-Oscar festivities are still in full swing.
But customers here don’t pay the TV much attention. It’s Monday morning, it’s -5°C and we’re a long way from Tinseltown. Read the rest of this entry »
Published: Irish Times, 9 July 2011
IN THE MUDDY SLUMS OF JUBA, the people are preparing for a party. By 11pm, tens of thousands of them have poured out onto the streets: cheering, honking car horns and waving the flag of their new country, as well as those of the US, Norway and Israel.
At the stroke of midnight, South Sudan becomes the world’s 192nd independent nation. In the new capital, joy is unconfined. In the mud huts that stretch for miles in every direction, residents can be heard singing and ululating well into the night.
By 7am, the BBC World Service reports a crowd of a hundred thousand already gathered at the Dr. John Garang Mausoleum. The speeches here will last late into the afternoon. But despite a complete lack of respite from the sun, the people never once cease to sing, sway and chant… Read the rest of this article here.
Published: Irish Times, 11 March 2016
“I feel like a clapped-out hatchback stalled on a level crossing with the Dublin-to-Westport train bearing down on me…”
On a brutally cold Saturday morning, we sign our lives away. There are 25 of us in all, mostly men in our 20s and 30s, fanned out in a semicircle on the clubhouse floor. We are wearing winter coats and our breath is visible in the freezing air.
We have been recruited to participate in a white-collar boxing event as a fundraiser for our local GAA club. I agreed to participate at Christmas, when inhibitions were low and goodwill was at an all time high.
The under-14 hurlers need new floodlights for their training pitch, I was told.
“Well, bless their cotton socks,” I cried. “New floodlights they shall have.”
Now it is January 2nd. The Christmas tree was turfed out the back door this morning, and with it the last of my festive cheer. I haven’t seen a more fearsome assemblage of bruisers, brawlers and scrappers since the third act of Blazing Saddles. And I am standing next to them in a tracksuit, wondering what the hell the under-14 hurlers have ever done for me. Read the rest of this entry »
I first met Conor Walsh when we were both students in the Gaeltacht, at Eachléim, in the glorious summer of 1994. We shared a youthful enthusiasm for Nirvana, ripped jeans, cigarettes and speaking English as much as was humanly possible. (I remember being so taken with the methodical way he’d shredded his trousers, I copied it exactly and was called out for this act of sartorial plagiarism by the very girl we were both secretly trying to impress.)
If I had to sum up Conor the Teenager in one word, it would be: cool. He was intelligent, good looking, well read and popular. We stayed in touch. A few months later, by chance, I found myself marking him in an underage Gaelic football match between Ballyhaunis and Swinford. We chatted amiably before the game. But that didn’t stop him roasting me once the ball was thrown in. At the time, we were both in contention for places on the Mayo U-16 panel. I remember thinking, Jesus Christ, is this bollocks bad at anything? Read the rest of this entry »
Published: Guts, Autumn 2015
It was the American moral philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson who first introduced me to the concept of thought experiments. Thomson would take real life moral dilemmas and transplant them, via some farfetched analogy, into absurd alternate realities, wherein the reader could engage with the essence of the original question, freed from the straitjackets of politics or personal prejudice.
Most famously, in 1971, Thomson made a case for legalised abortion by concocting a story in which readers were invited to imagine they’d been kidnapped and awoke connected, via intravenous drip, to the body of an ailing violinist who, they were told, would need a continual supply of the reader’s blood for the next nine months, if he was to have a chance of surviving.
As a younger man, this approach to thinking really fired my imagination. I would compose thought experiments all the time. Here’s one I came up with while arguing about East Germany with a girl I’d just met in a bar. I was insisting that life under the Honecker regime had been hellish and oppressive. She disagreed, saying things really weren’t all that bad.
It turned out this woman was born and raised in the GDR and had some fond memories of the place. Whereas my own expertise derived largely from having seen the film The Lives of Others earlier that evening. In the circumstances, I felt a game-changer was required… Read the rest of this entry »
Published: Irish Independent, 31 October 2015
It’s like a tickertape parade. The streets of Yangon, Myanmar are lined on either side with smiling citizens, cheering and waving in our direction. The line is as irregular as the route we follow: street vendors and Buddhist monks, school children and office drones.
Hell, even the city’s world-weary cops and dock workers are out in force, snapping pictures on their camera phones as we glide by.
For two middle aged English businessmen, Julian Hanson-Smith and Richard Cunningham, competing in the final stage of a 2,300km vintage car rally, this isn’t just the realisation of a long held dream. It’s also a homecoming of sorts. Read the rest of this entry »
Published: Dublin Review, Summer 2015
Published: Irish Times, 7 November 2015
In One Million Dubliners, Aoife Kelleher’s acclaimed documentary from last year, Glasnevin Cemetery’s resident historian, Shane Mac Thomáis, lays out his formula for conducting a successful tour of the place. Tell visitors something they already know, the late tour guide recommended. Tell them something they don’t know. Say something that will make them laugh and something that will make them cry.
If you ever fancied taking him up on that advice, now is the moment. With the centenaries of the 1916 Rising, the 1918 general election, the War of Independence and the Anglo-Irish Treaty all looming, the number of visitors to the cemetery is surging, and management are hiring four new full-time guides. Read the rest of this entry »