By Ray O’Hanlon
So many bodies so little time. "IF" is probably not alone in having a hard time keeping pace with the whirlwind of political jobs, bodies, committees, institutions and councils spawned by the recent breakthrough in the North. One of the latest jamborees was the first meeting in London of the British-Irish Council, a grouping that will twice yearly bring together political representatives from Belfast, Dublin, London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, the "Bailiwicks" of Jersey and Guernsey, and the Isle of Man, a landmass in the Irish Sea made famous recently as the setting for the movie "Waking Ned Devine." The encounter between pols from David Trimble’s Ulster and the smaller islands must been something else — like Martians meeting Venusians on a moon of Jupiter. But of course they were all British, so a level of mutual understanding was probably not long in bursting forth. "Hello, I’m from Ulster?" "Where?
Needless to say, the meeting, in Lancaster House, London, was probably more to Trimble’s liking than the recent cross-border affair in Armagh. Trimble is determined to keep Britain together even if the Scots, Welsh and even English are thinking more in local nationalist terms as the empire fades into an expired century. Trimble sees the "Council of the Isles" as a mechanism for pulling the Republic deeper into the British fold. This, of course, flies in the face of the recent Gerry Adams prediction of Irish unity in 15 years. The tug-of-war will be interesting. The Isle of Man and the rest of them will have ringside seats.
The debate over the political future of Britain, meanwhile, will only gather steam in the immediate years ahead. The London Times has been dealing with it in a recent series. Here’s a few lines from the final part, entitled "Breaking up: how long can Britain last?" written by Norman Davies: "Northern Ireland was an artificial creature from the start. Its leaders must surely see that the benefits of being tied to a fading Britain are sinking fast. It pays a heavy fine every day for keeping its distance from a prospering Republic. In the long run, its destiny can only lie in a united Ireland, as perhaps an autonomous province." Food for thought indeed.
An Post, the Irish Post Office, recently released a set of commemorative stamps depicting some of Ireland’s extinct animals. The set consists of stamps featuring the giant deer, the mammoth, the wolf and the brown bear, or grizzly as it is usually known in North America.
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Seems that Ireland was once a very dangerous piece of turf for native and visitors alike, what with all the teeth, claws and horns running wild about the place. In recent days, the animal stamps have been landing in North American mailboxes as folks in the wee sod send Christmas greetings to family and friends in the U.S. and Canada. Now unless you are a stamp enthusiast and are aware of the context, you might be forgiven for thinking that Ireland is depicting some of its present-day fauna.
The Brown Bear stamp shows a snarling grizzly walking on green grass beside a body of blue water. The stamp simply names the beast in both English and Latin and has the price (45P) and the usual "Éire" appellation. Most people will probably realize that giant deer and mammoths are long gone but "IF" did speak to a sane individual the other day who asked if there were indeed grizzly bears roaming the hills and bogs of the old sod.
Did An Post consult with Bord Fáilte before releasing its wild Ireland series? Probably not. Will some people avoid Ireland this summer for fear of getting munched? You never know. Will others give out stink because they expected to see bears and didn’t? You bet.
Old Gray Lady’s Lavery
More news from the New York Times. James Clarity, who was the paper’s man in Dublin for most of the 1990s, has packed his bags for semi-retirement in Paris. Clarity will continue to write obituaries for the old gray dame from the City of Light. Somebody, perhaps Clarity himself, has a quare sense of humor.
Back in Dublin, meanwhile, Brian Lavery will be taking up the quill for the Times in the new year, century, millennium, whatever. "IF" is, of course, pleased to see that the NYT has not forgotten the old sod just because all the news from the Celtic Moggy is wonderful.
The Times, meanwhile, adjusted its editorial stance on current developments in the North in the wake of the recent missive from the Irish Consulate regarding an earlier editorial that spoke of a new arrangement made up of "majority rule and minority rights." In the wake of the cannonade unleashed by Consulate press office Eamonn McKee, the Times elevated the new political arrangement to one in which "political authority in the province is equitably apportioned between its Protestant and Roman Catholic communities." That will about do.
Te Absolvo Deo
Frank McCourt has nine lives — at least. Didn’t he slag the living bejasus out of the church in "Angela’s Ashes" and there ’tis in the latest issue of Catholic New York: A full-page ad for the movie version. Ah, business is business. Meanwhile, McCourt himself was in Washington last week presiding over the premiere of the movie at the Irish Embassy. "Would you be quiet back there, the ambassador is speaking?" McCourt roared at jabbering dignitaries as Ambassador Sean hUiginn was introducing the Alan Parker-directed flick.
This at least is how the embassy scene played out, according to a report in the Washington Post. Some of the chattering came from Hollywood heavies such as Sumner Redstone and Jack Valenti. But our Frank was a schoolteacher, don’t forget. Perhaps Valenti will get him to co-host the Oscars. You read it here first.
"Well at least the government was in listening mode — it’s reassuring to know that at least they are listening to what I’m saying." Gerry Adams to the Guardian newspaper about the bug in his car.
€ "IRA apologists will continue to plead that decommissioning arms is somehow unfair, or at least irrelevant; Sinn Fein ministers like Bairbre de Brun will still declare that their long-term aim is unity. But it is a fair bet that those who want to pursue it by force will be ruthlessly pursued by their erstwhile comrades." Oxford University Irish historian Roy Foster in The Wall Street Journal.