Social Distancing

Day 24

I called round to see Seamus Heaney this morning. He’s doing all right, since you ask, still in the same place I left him (have you got that pic, Mal?) but somewhat embarrassed now about his whole ‘there is no afterlife’ stance. But no doubt he’ll be forgiven for that, after an appropriately lengthy period in Purgatory (a place where there is no time by the way, as far as I understand eternity, which is pretty far, actually; to the Moon and back, maybe).

It being Easter and all (but not Easter Saturday, cf yesterday’s diatribe), for reasons best known to myself, I was also going to call in on two of our successful hunger strikers (ie they died) who are buried in the new annex to Bellaghy Cemetery. It needed an annex because it is a very popular cemetery: people are dying to get into it! (That ‘joke’ is copyright this guy, who has gone viral with his rendition of a song in Irish to celebrate his own birthday; I would accuse him of vanity, but look at his hair, for Christ’s sake! When I say he has gone viral, I do not mean he has boreohnovirus, by the way, but, again, look at his hair – maybe he does?) But there was a badly-written typed notice on both entrances to the cemetery informing me that, due to the Covid-19 regulations, it was closed to ‘visitors except for burials and funerals’. Are you with me? First, can you have a burial without a funeral attached? And, more egregiously, why would there be any visitors at either? Are people that stuck for something to do during lockdown? Badly-written, as I said, but beautifully typed all the same. Credit where it’s due.

So I cannot let you know how either Thomas McElwee or Francis Hughes are getting on in the afterlife as I am very strict about obeying rules that happen to suit my personal purposes (I was already late and could not really afford three trips to the afterlife when I had only gone out for milk). And so, as there was neither a burial nor a funeral going on at the time to which I could inveigle an invitation, I will have to arrange some other opportunity to fulfill my Easter republican Duties – the Easter religious Duties have already been thrown out the window by the very organisation which instituted them. Changed times, indeed. Before I get back to the Heaney topic … do you know, I was pausing there waiting for SquarebracketHead to stick in his usual sarky comment, but I forgot it is Saturday and so his day off. Personally, I get no days off, and neither do you, gentle readers. Please remember there will be a class test after the ‘holidays’, at a time of my own choosing and on a topic off the top of my head, which will carry 31.27% of the final credit for this on-line course. Approximately. But, yes, one more interesting fact concerning Bellaghy Cemetery (both wings); there is a dead person in there sporting the spectacular first name ‘Adolf’. The surname is not Hitler, by the way. Now obviously this is not a traditional moniker in the locale as he is the only one in the place. For extra credit, the swots in the class should upload a pic of his headstone in the comments section (worked it out now, Shirleen? there is not a limit of one comment per lifetime, by the way), and add a brief note pertaining to the date of his death and, by extension backwards, his baptism.

Yeah, famous Seamus. I called round to see him to get a few hints. Not about poetry, obviously: that was never the strongest card in his hand. I noted, in passing to be sure, that there was a freshly-ploughed field next door to him, and chuckled to myself on the way up to his grave that he would have dug that. (What I have done there is too complicated to explain, but those who appreciate the fusion of misdirection, literary reference and jazz jargon should go to the top of the class … and jump off – we don’t want your sort in here.) No, I was in fact looking for hints for how to deal with the Kerfuffle, because our Seamie is suddenly, and probably quite unexpectedly for him, one of the leading world experts on the matter. Leo, the Gayshock, quoted him twice(ly) in his latest address to the half-nation (‘Take it down from the mast, Irish traitors/it’s a flag we Republicans claim/it will never belong to Free Staters/for you brought on it nothing but shame.’), and there is barely a commentator worth his salt in this neck of the woods who has not dipped into the Heaney well. So, along with the phrases ‘loved ones’ and ‘existential crisis’, I am today proclaiming a total ban on quoting Heaney in relation to Covid-19. And the great man himself is in total agreement with this ban. He told me so himself this morning during our chat, and no one can prove that he didn’t. One other point, could whoever is doing it please stop leaving coins at the foot of the headstone? He is not some sort of a secular saint, the grave is very cheap to upkeep and needs no voluntary contributions from fans and, personally, I would find notes weighted down with a stone much easier to collect and carry off with me: coins make such an unsightly bulge in an Armani suit, don’t you find?

One last hint for the speech writers tripping over themselves for pertinent and insightful quotations to stuff into the mouths of illiterate public figures: there are other writers in the world. Just by way of example and not in any way as an exercise in practising a wind instrument that I own, I will leave you today with one of the freshly-minted triads I published some years ago, as it happens in a book in Irish with a title in Latin in order to put off all but the most esoteric of readers. By the way, the school of Irish triad writing I thus founded is closed for the foreseeable future due to restrictions on funerals (it never really opened, but I live in hope), as are my network of illegal hedge schools around the country. Here is the triad; good luck with google translate!

Trí rud a imeoidh:

an ghealach is an ghrian;

a dtáinig ariamh;

an chiotaí seo eadrainn.

Slán go Phil!


Social Distancing

Day 21

Despite my valiant efforts to keep it country, this site is on the up and up, it appears. Having cracked both the US of A and what is left of the USS of R in recent weeks, another milestone was reached yesterday when our first complaint flooded in. Not so much flooded in though as raked up the country lane at an illegal and, frankly, dangerous speed, pulled a noisy handbraker on the horizontal part of the manicured tarmac outside the tricky front door of the home place (remind me to tell you that one about the taxi driver and the opening night of the Heaney HomePlace some time) and burned its way, metaphorically, through the broken letterbox to land, smoking, on the hand-made wicker mat resting unevenly on the stone tiles of the front vestibule. For clarity’s sake, there is no back vestibule in the estate; one accesses the private wood and the semi-private lough directly through the door of the mutility room off the galley kitchen section of the country-kitchen style country kitchen. But I like to be precise in the location of my vestibules, so I prefer to give it its full title any time it is mentioned.

Yes, so while amassing a total of 12 followers to date (hi guys, and thanks, now please tell all your mate(s) about the blog too) and attracting a total of comments rapidly approaching double figures are, without doubt, achievements worth celebrating, it is only when you pass the complaint threshold that you really start to hit pay-dirt. So lashings of ginger pop and biscuits all round to the team behind the blog, and take the rest of the day off (after you have completed all your duties). And this was no ordinary complaint either. It whizzed its way through the information highway – albeit second-hand – from a member of the Irish language community. In other words, from a professional source. Heady days, indeed.

Of all the minority-hobby groups that I have come across on my evening walks, the Irish language community is head and shoulders above all others, including fresh-water salmon fishermen, in terms of whingeing and complaining. I should point out here that, although I speak Irish as well as the next man (and the next man happens to be Máirtín Ó Cadhain), I am not myself a member of the Irish language community; although I have been known to complain the odd time about various matters, it has been on a strictly amateur basis. I speak French as well as the next man too, but no one has ever presumed because of that fact that I am a member of any class of French language community. In fact, a Frenchman in a café (redundant – Ed.] one time expressed the opinion that I spoke better French than him and his mates. I explained to him – in simple French – that he was incorrect in that assertion: I spoke French that was more grammatically correct than his, but that was not the same thing as speaking better French than him. He accepted my back-handed compliment with a shrug, but he still did not sign me up to be part of any French language community, if there even is one.

That’s not the way it works with Irish, though, and people will tick all sorts of boxes for you if they hear you utter the cúpla míle focal. Before you know it, they will have you down as a lover of all sorts of diddly-dee music and endless, dirge-like songs designed, obviously, to pass the whole of the winter in deepest Donegal in one performance, as an aficionado (or preferably an actual, certifiable fanatic) of all known Gaelic sports, including rounders (could someone please ask the GAA where they came up with that one from in their rule book), as a fervent hater of all things English (but especially their very useful, and beautiful, language) and as a part-time IRA man, or at least a bar-stool Republican, faute de mieux. Ballacks to all that, is what I say. And, like Groucho Marx, I pointblank refuse to be a member of any organisation that would allow the likes of me into it.

As for the substance of the complaint, who knows? I did not have the time, the inclination or the interest to read it: the very fact of its existence is what counts, and may it prove to be one of many. Let the Games Begin!