Thursday, 20 August 2015

Ramblings in and on Ireland

Hi everyone. After a couple of weeks in lovely County Kerry, I'm back at my desk and (obviously) raring to get back to work. Despite reading two newspapers a day, I've managed to avoid developing any new opinions or topics about which to get outraged while I was away - it's like all the bad stuff was happening behind a screen and I could observe it all without needing to express any kind of view.  So very restful.

Anyway, apart from reading newspapers, I read a lot of books and went to the famous Puck Fair, did some cycling (including a quick go on Gene Mangan's last competition bike, a wonderful Mercian), attended the Beaufort Threshing Fair and took a lot of photographs of birds, bees, farmers, cattle, mountains, goats and all sorts of delights, all of which are here. The ones below are my favourites - click on them to enlarge. I know I could be accused of perpetuating stereotypes about Ireland but the rural communities are still hanging on and fairs are one of the places where the hill farmers, travellers, hippie remnants and others come together and anyway, I'd rather wander round a horse fair than sip soy lattés with some trustafarian hipsters in Dublin.

OK, some hipsters are also blacksmiths. Some of my beard-loving friends will swoon for this chap

The classic 'get the ball through the hoops with the blower' game

Hay-tossing competition

Brother and sister Irish dancing

Yes, it's a game involving shopping trolleys mounted on a revolving platform. There was also a digger bucket challenge. Though no Tunnel of Goats

I just liked this bee and the lighting

Derek Ryan - Daniel O'Donnell's less-threatening successor. But I liked the shot.

Good to see the old cons are still alive

Their father actually asked me to take this shot

King Puck and his Queen

Father and Son at the Cattle Market

I spent ages trying to line up the cattle with the burger joint in the background

The winners of the Fancy Dress competition: Elsa and, er, her consort

Corny yes, but I couldn't resist. Very grainy because it was 2 a.m. and I prefer not to use flash

A good session in Francie's.

Sean O'Sé and photographers - chosen for the framing

Handheld shot of a fairground ride

Slightly intimidating

Watchful publican outside the Kingdom Bar

As to the books - the two Albert Campion novels were fun, The Soft Apocalypse was flawed but nicely textured (and I'm not sure that the pitfalls of the dating scene will be of prime concern in a dystopian America), Edgeworth's Belinda was sharp, witty, thoughtful and thrilling…for the first two volumes. She really needed an editor to stop her there. Vol. 3 is utterly tedious: an exercise in pulling all the strands together so that the goodies' errors are rectified and honour is satisfied in the most boring and contrived ways. A shame as the rest of the novel was so good (though the introduction's claim that the novel is an early piece of anti-racism and feminism is slightly exaggerated, I thought). Roy Foster's Vivid Faces, a cultural history of the pre-Revolutionary generation in Ireland was superb: some new people to me, and such a rounded and acute assessment of the undercurrents that led to 1916 and its disappointments – largely that the socialists, lesbians, secularists, homosexuals, vegetarians, freethinkers and Protestants who did so much to bring about Irish independence were so comprehensively frozen out by the bloodthirsty bigots who took over. The murder of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington moved me all over again. Finally I read Paul Murray's The Mark and the Void, a 400 page doorstopper that took me not much more than a day because it's so very, very good. Who knew you could ram together stories about the Crisis of Literature and the banking collapse, set it (very, very identifiably) amongst the Irish financial elite and make it moving and funny? I haven't laughed since 1987, but I sat on the train giggling out loud. It ends on a slightly conventional happy-ever-after note (not for the banks, obviously) but it's an absolute triumph.

And so back to work once more…

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