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A different Side of the Irish

first published in The New York Times (Intelligence Column), December 2010

 

It may take the 21st Century Irish some time to get up out of their armchairs, but when they do, they have a strong sense of purpose and drama.
 
Despite one of the coldest November days on record in the Republic of Ireland, a massive crowd of demonstrators marched on November 27 across the River Liffey toward the city’s General Post Office building, carrying protest banners and demanding the ousting of the government.
 
The symbolism of their destination was unmistakable. The building was where, in 1916, revolutionaries who were fighting to free Ireland from colonial rule read the original Irish Proclamation of Independence.  This time, the nation was protesting an international economic bailout, seen by many of its people to be a modern blow to its sovereignty.
 
An Irish friend who is now working in Ethiopia for an aid organisation said that she understood how intently the world was watching the Irish crisis when a farmer in Somaliland casually asked her:  “How’s your bailout going?”
 
The international news media, which has been seen on every corner of Dublin over the last few weeks, saw a different side of the Irish that Saturday – the fighting side.  The roaring passion, size and diversity of the crowd (officially estimated to be 50,000 people, but thought by the news media to number up to 1,000) had not been seen on Dublin streets since the human rights marches of the early 1970s.
 
It took a lot to get the Irish en masse into the streets. We laughed at the first of the economic jokes (“What is the difference between Ireland and Iceland? One consonant and six months.”) We watched as the Greeks burned cars and destroyed shops on the streets of Athens.  We never really thought it could happen to us.
 
The depth of the current economic trauma is one that the ordinary Irish man or woman has found hard to accept, let alone fully comprehend. 
 
During the “Celtic Tiger” years, when everything turned to gold, and its citizens entered into a sexy spendfest of glamour and luxury, the country could do no wrong.  Today, the dizzy ramparts of success have crumbled, generating a spectacular fall from grace.
 
It is perhaps the scale of the descent – and the undeniable element of greed – that overwhelmed the country’s banks, businesses, developers and citizens during the boom, which, until now, has had the Irish living in a partial state of denial.
 
Small but significant voices of protest were heard regularly. In October 2008, senior citizens – some with walkers and wheelchairs – massed outside the government buildings to protest cuts in their medical benefits.
 
In September this year, the population made a popular hero of one Joe McNamara, a bankrupt builder who rammed his cement truck into the gates of the same government buildings to protest his plight.  He was seen as the voice of the “working man” against the powers that be.
 
Once the true extent of the crisis had sunk in, with its public spending cutbacks and its black hole of job losses and negative equity, the Irish people felt swamped by despair and confusion.
 
In the last couple of weeks, this metamorphosed into emotions running somewhere between terror and fury.
 
Anger goes beyond what the people perceive as a shameful request for a bailout. The inevitability of the draconian austerity measures needed to repay loans is seen as a betrayal by the Irish government to salvage the banks’ bondholders and the well-heeled developers, at the Irish people’s expense. 
 
The last twist of the knife came at the end of November, when officials from the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund arrived in Dublin, and, as one radio commentator put it, they were “not here to do their Christmas shopping … “
 
While not many people in Ireland are laughing these days, they have at least attempted to make a move towards change.  Traversing the freezing white ground of Dublin’s streets in protest, it was as if the collective Irish psyche had found its voice, and had begun to make it heard.
 
It remains to be seen, however, how much louder they will have to shout to make their government – or the broader eurozone – hear that the people are tired of those who led them into this quagmire and are demanding a fairer deal from their Christmas guests.
 
Helena Mulkerns is a writer and freelance journalist living in Ireland.

 

 

 

 

Christmas Reading 2016 at Collins Barracks

nmi-invite-with-header-webReally looking forward to the “Finding a Voice” special evening on Thurs, 8th December at 18:30, when author, poet and playwright Dermot Bolger hosts an evening of readings and music at The National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, Dublin. 

The event celebrates Dermot’s 2016 writer’s residency, a collaborative project set up by the Museum’s 1916 Public Entertainment Programme and Poetry Ireland, which saw a series of events entitled “Finding A Voice” take place throughout the year. Combining workshop, panel discussion, lectures and readings, these afternoons were a pleasure for all – both the writers who read and spoke at them, and the participants – often first time writers – who benefitted from the series.   

Elsewhere at the museum, the centenary is celebrated by “Proclaiming a Republic – The 1916 Rising” – a splendid exhibition in the Riding School venue at Collins Barracks – a visit to which would be more than worthwhile on Thursday afternoon, before the reading in .  

With this aspect of the 1916-2016 centenary celebrations in mind, Dermot asked me to join in the final event, not only as a writer (I’ll read from my book, “Ferenji“), but also as the Granddaughter of the 1916 rebel Jimmy Mulkerns, who fought at the Four Courts during the Rising, and who then spent eight hard months incarcerated at Frongoch Prison Camp, along with almost 2,000 other Irish rebels.

the-rajah-portrait-500px-facing-leftMy grandfather, a fine actor and tenor who had his own touring theatre troupe, was part of the “Amusements Committee” that set up the weekly entertainment evenings in Frongoch camp, along with some of the other prisoners involved in the theatre or the entertainment field of the day, who fought in the rebellion.

At the time, there were at least three theatres in operation in Dublin – the posh new Abbey Theatre, founded by Yeats and Lady Gregory, the more popular Queens Theatre, and several other music hall style venues – including the old Empire Palace Theatre (now The Olympia). It wasn’t surprising that a number of the rebels were also entertainers and actors. To keep up the spirits of the men, they organised a little cabaret/seisúin each Friday evening.Their efforts included the presentation of music, original drama as well as skits and satire.  

dont-mind-if-i-doJimmy Mulkerns served in the role of Master of Ceremonies and satirical songster at these evenings, earning the nickname “The Rajah of Frongoch” in playful reference to the exotic costumes he would derive from curtains, rags or donations from women of the local Welsh community.  The Rajah was the inspiration for my own entertainment evening, The Cáca Milis Cabaret, at which Dermot Bolger has been a much appreciated participant on several occasions.

So this Thursday evening promises to be a lively and enjoyable event, with the participation of those who have attended Dermot’s excellent workshops through the year since March and from literary friends, as well as a few songs to remember those who might have fought in the area in or around what is now the National Museum, Collins Barracks, in 1916.  

For more fun stuff, click the links:  

www.DermotBolger.com
National Museum of Ireland 1916 Public Event Programme
The daughter of the Rajah of Frongoch Val Mulkerns, visits the location of the camp, 2016 (by Maev Kennedy)

With thanks to Matthew Lloyd for the links to his fascinating website on old music halls and theatres:
http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/

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MY WEEK: from The Sunday Times

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Here’s a piece from The Sunday Times newspaper, giving an account of “MY WEEK”.  Hard to capture – between the election of a clown as sad as Trump and the loss of a king as fine as Cohen – but here goes!

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 “The author enjoys ‘high mirth and low bitching’ over a US election
that makes her question if autumn is the only sign the clocks have turned back.” 

 

Never liked it, autumn. And never more so than the day the clocks go back. Mostly, I resist accepting it until the last moment possible. It finally has to be let in, with its crisp, chill mornings, afternoon-nights and grounded leaves. All supposedly natural signs of death before rebirth. I’m not usually such a pessimist, but, for me, this morning is a shady whisper of darkness on the way. (more…)

Leonard Cohen: He’s our man

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This is my contribution to a piece by Martin Doyle with tributes from John Kelly, Sara Baume, Peter Murphy, Evelyn Conlon and more.  For all writers’ contributions, please click this link.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-15-44-29It wasn’t until the mid-nineties, a decade into the study of Tibetan Buddhism, that I began to listen to the music of Leonard Cohen. A beautiful Chinese artist friend would have no other soundtrack as she painted.  She said he transported her to a richer place than the blank, cold studio she was working in.  I only began to hear Cohen with her, then after she moved away I heard him more clearly by myself on a Buddhist retreat in Vermont.  Along pathways between pinewood trees and incensed shrine rooms, I played him constantly – in defiance of the strict rules of the monastery (no “entertainment”).  The experience was intensified by my fascination at Cohen himself having just retreated from the craziness of the music business to a Zen monastery in California.

Such respite from the turbulence and uncertainty of daily living in today’s world is always ephemeral.  Even Cohen came back into the spotlight when he began to tour again in recent years.  But his music is, in a way, is like a retreat.  It takes you out of the fray and into aural balm and wit and darkness that even while dark, is calming and sensual. (more…)

HOT PRESS Profile by Anne Sexton

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A piece in Hot Press magazine by Anne Sexton, with photo by Paula Nolan and review by Olaf Tyaransen. Below see an extract from the interview – the rest in Hot Press magazine, available in all Irish newsagents right now!

LIFE DURING WARTIME – INTERVIEW BY ANNE SEXTON 

An arts journalist and performer, Helena Mulkerns lived and worked in Paris and New York before joining the UN as a press officer. 

It was her ten years with UN peacekeeping missions that inspired her collection, Ferenji and other stories. Ferenji means ‘foreigner’ in old Arabic and Persian.  As the name suggests, Mulkerns’ stories centre on the lives of foreign aid workers in various conflict and post-conflict zones. (more…)

President Trump: Irish Writers Have Their Say

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This is my contrbution to a piece by Martin Doyle with reactions from Kevin Barry, Mia Gallagher, Joseph O’Connor, Louise O’Neil, Roddy Doyle and more.  For all writers’ contributions, please click this link.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-15-22-26It’s a sort of grief, the process of coming to accept that a misogynistic, racist madman is about to take over the world’s most powerful country.  There are several stages. First, I had a session of black humour banter with a friend on Facebook (denial). Then I exchanged furious emails with a friend who had not voted for Hillary, because she is an “undeniable” crook. I argued that in this case, anybody with half a brain should know that not voting democrat was an undeniable vote for fascism (anger).  Then I got a call from a distraught Muslim friend awaiting a Greencard in the mid-West. Having escaped the horrors of a true police state, she fears she will be  sent home under some Trump deportation programme. I tried to calm her, suggesting his threats are all bluster (bargaining). Then I simply remembered the last time a country in the so-called developed world voted a misogynistic, racist madman into power: 1933. And I succumbed to the final stage, depression.

Because it is entirely possible that like the poet said, things may change utterly – that terrible will become a word abundantly used, but this time beauty will not be part of the brief.  –  Helena Mulkerns 

For more articles like this on IrishTimes online, see Martin Doyle at the Irish Times

Vintage Tourist Board promo, 1966!

Following an excellent launch on Saturday, 5 November to “Focus On Jim Mulkerns” – November’s Archive at Lunchtime programme at The Irish Film Institute this month, here’s  a novelty preview of one of the films on offer. This excerpt is from Ireland Invites You,  a 14 min promotional film made in 1966, commissioned by the Irish Tourist Board. They were keen to promote the attractions of the Ireland of the day, including golf courses and Bunratty Castle. Note, in this Dublin snippet, the lack of women in the pub. On the other hand, they are allowed grace the “well appointed, sophisticated” cocktail lounge! This tourist board short contrasts sharply with the film, Dublin Capital City 1974-75 made by Brendan Halligan and Jim Mulkerns some years later, which showed the reality of certain areas of Dublin’s capital.  Family and friends will recognise those enjoying cocktails in the lounge scene at .30 secs! Loving the music …

Dublin Nightlife 1966 from Cyberscribe on Vimeo.

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Irish Film Institute launch: “Dublin Capital City 1974-75

A special screening will be held today for the launch of “Dublin Capital City 1974-75′ at the Irish Film Institute, 12:45pm – with an introduction by Brendan Halligan. Please scroll down to read full press release, or click here.

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A new version of Capital City Dublin 1974-75, a film by Brendan Halligan and Jim Mulkerns, will be launched on 5 November next, and screened weekly as part of the Irish Film Institute’s “Focus on Jim Mulkerns” Archive at Lunchtime showings this November, 2016.   (more…)