Category: Archive

A View North: Old Anglo-Irish tensions absent from Celtic Tiger

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland

I suppose "Celtic Tiger (Me Arse)" — the brilliant satire now showing at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan — offers the perfect opportunity to quote W.B. Yeats’s sonorous line about "Romantic" Ireland:

"Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,

It’s with O’Leary in the grave."

And Don Creedon, the author of this provocatively funny rendering of modern Ireland, seizes the opportunity by changing the second line to "It was swallied by the Celtic Tiger." What follows is a hilarious but pointed study of this new zoological specimen.

No doubt Joe, the Dublin exile returning from New York with his American wife, Maria, stuck in his dreary council housing estate home where his boyhood mates now trade in stolen pentium chips and spend their ample spare time at the pub watching soccer on television, must feel as if Romantic Ireland could never possibly have existed. Of course, all returning exiles experience a culture shock. But "Celtic Tiger (Me Arse)" makes it scathingly plain that the culture shock that awaits anyone who even vaguely remembers Ireland as it was is now of seismic proportions.

Follow us on social media

Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo

The series of sketches are all set in Dublin, where the housewives pass the afternoon trading shares in DOW. But Dublin represents in a concentrated form the sort of economic and social changes that are happening to the whole country — North and South.

As I left the theater, I tried a little exercise in memory — trying to recall my first impressions of Dublin in an attempt to reestablish my bearings, as it were.

I first visited the nation’s capital in the late 1940s, not long after the invention of the computer but long before the pentium chip came on the market. If I close my eyes and conjure up an image from that far off time it is of thousands of bicyclists going over O’Connell Street Bridge. I found this rather quaint, a sort of tourist image of a city in those days considerably less developed, technologically speaking, than my own home, Belfast, where cars were more common. Or so it seemed to my eyes. How we got from that to the Dublin of the Celtic Tiger is, in effect, the story of modern Ireland.

Later in the late 1960s, when I moved to Dublin to live, the disparity between it and Belfast — which because it was more industrialized seemed more "modern" — was no longer as great, at least at the level of transport. Nevertheless, Dublin still seemed somewhat "old-fashioned," in the superficial sense that is conveyed by the presence of crumbling Georgian tenements. Maybe it was because the first place I lived in Dublin was in Lower Gardiner Street, but I felt at times as if I was on the stage in a Sean O’Casey drama.

Places (especially cities) are always in transition. I was fortunate to be in Dublin when it was still bathed in the afterglow of the 1940s and 1950s literary renaissance, when writers such as Flann O’Brien, Patrick Kavanagh and Brendan Behan (to mention only the three most prominent), though dead were still very much a presence. The moral, cultural and political revolutions of the 1960s were affecting the city, moving it in another direction, and certain aspects of its past — and Ireland’s — were being put under scrutiny as never before. But that past was still close enough and all around you to be vividly felt.

I lived in Lower Mount Street, before the developers had destroyed most of its Georgian houses. The Grand Canal was at the corner, and we had a view of Boland’s Mill and the Dublin gasworks from out of our kitchen window. The bath (if you could call it that) was in the basement, down about three flights of stairs. A curious arrangement, as if the landlord were deliberately trying to deter his tenants from keeping clean. Had it not been for the fact that as a student I had access to Trinity College’s bathhouse (with its huge bath tubs), he might well have succeeded.

In those days, Dublin was still very much an Anglo-Irish capital, a mixture of two cultures, a city of merchants and small shopkeepers. There was always a tension between the "Anglo" and the "Irish" elements of the mix. It was not long since Lord Nelson had been toppled from his pillar by a bomb. Trinity, where I was a student, was a sort of outpost of upper-class English and Anglo-Irish, with a sprinkling of middle-class Ulster Protestants. There were probably as many Americans as they were working-class Catholics enrolled.

If there is one signal of the transformation that has come over Dublin — and Ireland — in the years since then it is that it is now possible to write a play, such as "Celtic Tiger (Me Arse)" without it containing any significant reference to England or the English. It is one measure of the psychological and political shift that has occurred in the last 30 years. Ireland’s relationship with England, which for so long has been the key factor in shaping so much of Irish identity, has now faded into the background. Joe and his mates, Dommo and Liamo, spend their time following soccer matches between Ireland and nations which did not exist in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Uzbekistan and Kazhikstan. Hostility to England, whether on the football field or elsewhere, simply never enters into the drama or the lives of the characters that are in it.

The Ireland of the Celtic Tiger is increasingly more of a European nation than one defined by the history of its relationship to England.

However, certain things have not changed, as the play makes plain. The Dubliners’ capacity for scathing wit remains undiminished, as does the city’s entrepreneurial spirit. It is a testimony to the skill of the playwright and the ability of the director, Neal Jones, that they have been able, it seems, so effortlessly to capture that aspect of the "Georgian capital of a Gaelic nation" as the poet Louis MacNiece put it.

At any rate, "The Celtic Tiger (Me Arse)" is a warning to the Irish Tourist Board that the time may have come for it to start rethinking its promotional imagery of Ireland. If there are to be any more wiseacre Irish farmers pictured in colorful brochures leaning over gates dispensing with native wisdom, then in future they will have to be equipped with mobile phones — because they are probably on the blower to their stockbroker.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese