Valvevacuity

It’s been there for a while. Since last year at a very least. Nothing drastic, nothing urgent, not even troublesome. But still there. Gaping:Image

I stepped over it, around it, across it everyday. Mostly I passed over it oblivious. Until one day it registered; I think it was one rare sunny day when the hiatus in rain, wind and cold let the senses wander without risk of drowning or frostbite, and focus on something else.

And this was the something else. Once I noticed it, I couldn’t unnotice it. Gradually it started to bug me that it was still there. And still there. And…….

Whatever ‘it’ is. In days of old, it might have been time for a trip to the library, or maybe a bat-shaped silhouette beamed onto the night sky. Though I doubt Batman ever concerned himself with missing valve covers. For it turns out that that is what ‘It’ is. A valve cover. Dozens of them – unobtrusive, ignored – on every street. Only noticed when gone. Never missed, just gone.

And what to do? Or to do anything? Does it even matter, really? It’s just a little thing in a little place. But little things in little places can have big effects.

And then a vague recollection of something read online came to mind. Fix my something? The interweb to the rescue again: FixMyStreet.ie. Not an Irish innovation – copied from something similar England, where small problems could be reported to local authorities. But a good idea is a good idea – until the originators (step forward Fine Gael) lost the domain name. Oops.

And then the good folks of the non-profit MyGov.ie relaunched the site. It’s still at FixMyStreet.ie

Today I eventually posted the missing valve cover on the list. Will anything happen? Will it be fixed? Will the vicious valve vacuity be vanquished? The tension is….well, entirely absent to be honest but it will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens.

Watch this space….

 

UPDATE 18 March 2013

Glad to be able to report that FixMyStreet has produced a positive result, and Dublin Corporation has replaced the missing cover. Sometimes the system works!

Fixed Valve Cover

Politics Past, Politics Present

‘The appointment of a multiplicity of officials at local and national levels exacerbated the problem, so it hardly surprising that before long some […]began to voice criticisms of a ravenous bureaucracy which   devoured a major proportion of available resources.’

Any guesses for the context and date of the quote above? How’s about hazarding a guess at the Croke Park Agreement and Irish public service wages being the topic under discussion and Ireland of 2012 the time? Seems reasonable and relevant?

Actually the words do relate to Ireland and a new government trying to manage an unprecedented crisis in a world gone slightly mad.

But the year was 1642. An uneasy coalition was trying to steer Ireland through political turmoil and a plethora of demands and threats from outside parties. Familiar enough ground in spite of the four hundred year gap.

Reassuring to see some things don’t change very much at all – despite the upheaval and catastrophic conditions generous rates of pay (for some at least) were deemed vital then and are deemed vital now.

The 1640s policy ended with the arrival of Oliver Cromwell. Here’s hoping the latter day strategy has a happier conclusion.

[The quote is from Micheal O Siochru’s excellent Confederate Ireland 1642-1649 – a political and constitutional analysis (Dublin, 1999), p. 54.]

The Br!t!$h Isles?! Or, how to upset and annoy (some) Irish people without really trying

What’s in a name? Quite a lot and far more than we might suppose. A veritable frenzy arose from a fairly routine shout out from performers at a music gig in Dublin last night.

Pop group The Scissors Sisters‘ banter with the crowd hit a rocky note when lead singer Ana (Lynch) Matronic welcomed people from all over the ‘British Isles‘ to the concert. Cue a chorus of boos.

Today, a report of the incident, and responses to it on Twitter, on The Journal.ie website sparked a long stream of comments. Over 800 people read, wrote or rated contributions on whether Ireland is or isn’t, was or wasn’t, part of the British Isles. Obviously a sensitive subject and of interest to many people.

History, or at least what people believe to be history, was deployed in the arguments – closely bound up with politics past and present. Tempers frayed in some cases, passions rose in others while a few cool heads maintained an even keel.

That an off the cuff and innocuous remark by a singer on tour, who herself is of Irish extraction and bears a Celtic Cross tattoo in recognition of her heritage, should provoke such an instant and energetic response is interesting in itself. The number and variety of comments online, even more so.

Despite the many posts emphasising Ireland’s very definite separate identity from Britain, the volume and vociferousness of the reaction suggests not conviction but insecurity. A slip of the tongue by a busy singer in the middle of the constantly moving ‘bubblesphere’ of a world tour should be readily seen and easily understood for it was – an unfortunate turn of phrase by someone who has rather a lot on her mind trying to entertain 10,000 people in whatever city it is today. It might rankle a bit that we got mixed up with our neighbours but these things happen.

Instead, a storm of protest about Ana Matronic‘s intelligence, cluelessness and general all-round unfitness to be a celebrity. I look forward to X Factor, America’s Got Talent, The Voice and maybe even Jersey Shore and the tabloids adding a general knowledge test before anointing the Next Big Thing to grace our screens.

Until then maybe we could just not get so het up over an understandable and very minor mistake.

If it was a mistake, and the jury’s still out on how ‘legitimate’ the term British Isles is as a geographic term. Whether we as citizens of the Republic of Ireland like it or not, it is a long-standing and well known term. All of the islands in the region have a British presence and/or involvement,at least politically, by right or default, and again whether we and our Manx and Channel Islander neighbours like it or not. These things can be changed but it takes time – which is still more familiar to many of us, Bombay or Mumbai? East Timor or Timor Leste?

Blame history for that, not Ana Matronic. Better still leave aside blame altogether – let history and common sense shed some light on why things are the way they are. That won’t be possible by depending only on history taught in primary school, or secondary; or by reading one book, or even a handful of books. The more research done, the more books read, the more confused, complicated and uncertain will things be.
Britain turns out to have been named after the oldest Celtic-speaking inhabitants of the island – the Britons: their closest descendants are probably the Welsh and Cornish. And also closely related linguistically and culturally, the Bretons in Brittany – or little Britain, which might get confusing with other (bit of) Britain to the north, so that for clarity and because it was larger and more populated became great(er) Britain. The Romans were the people responsible for this attempt at making things crystal clear.

By this original meaning, British technically might not include English people, many of whose ancestors were (or at least are seen and widely believed to be) Anglo-Saxon. But ironically it could be expanded with accuracy to include the majority of Irish, Scots and Manx, who linguistically and culturally share a close connection with the Welsh, Cornish and Bretons.

Then again, ‘Britain’ as a modern geographic or political idea meant very little once the Romans had left, at least until much later. When King James VI of Scotland also became King of England in 1603, enthusiasm moved him to call himself King of Britain and design a new flag to mark the occasion. Both ideas were roundly disliked and swiftly ignored by English and Scots, who found sharing a king was quite enough, thank you very much.

Oddly though, it is in Ireland that ‘British’ pops up as a descriptive term next. A separate lordship (from 1171) and then kingdom (from 1541), the island was dominated, if not completely controlled, from London – where policies were decided and key decisions made. Not always with great success – by the late 1500s religious divisions had been added to ethnic, linguistic, cultural and economic differences to make government and administration difficult and constantly demanding of time, money and attention in London.
Settling new English and Scottish colonists (those present already, the Old English were almost as problematic as the Gaelic Irish when seen from London) might be a way to make the island more manageable – and from 1607 a policy of plantation brought thousands of people from England and Scotland to assume ownership of confiscated lands. Often isolated, and frequently a small minority the newcomers came to think of themselves as part of the same enterprise and identify with each other as broadly ‘British’. So, irony of ironies, ‘British’ as an accepted label gains currency in Ireland in the 1630s and 1640s.

Britain as a state and political entity though is an even later creation – only dating from 1707 and the Union of Scotland and England to create Britain. This was the first time the entire island had been ever united – and the name for the new country was a problem, especially in French. An old problem returned: the French department of Brittany in French was called Bretagne.  The island of Britain and thus the new state was also known as Bretagne. What to do? Grand Bretagne, Great Britain, solved the problem. With the France of Louis XIV being the dominant cultural and political superpower of Europe the solution, Great Britain became the recognised and accepted term. Ireland being ruled from London, though not formally and legally yet a part of the Union, came to be included within the reference as an easy shorthand that acknowledged reality. Reality joined with technicality in 1801 when Ireland was united with Great Britain to form the United Kingdom; few people outside Ireland knew or cared about the alteration. Britain remained the term most often used, the most familiar and the handiest – as it does today.

No separate name to describe someone from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland ever came into use. Ireland had little or no influence or impact upon the structure of the Union initially, and the change in status was little known and seldom mentioned in the wider world. Britain, British and British Isles came to be the easiest way to describe everyone within the United Kingdom in collective terms. And the easiest way for a European to pick out a British subject? Someone speaking English.

By 1922 such habits were hard to break, despite independence for the Irish Free State. Not surprisingly in the midst of rebuilding lives and countries after the horror of World War I while simultaneously trying to survive the Great Depression, many people failed to register events in Ireland in great detail. Ireland’s place and importance in the wider world since then and in global consciousness today tends to wildly overstated and overestimated by many Irish people. Perhaps at heart we recognise this, and this accounts for the knee-jerk reaction to any confusion, mix-up or misunderstanding, no matter how accidental or unintended. Or maybe a people of whom 99.9% speak English, very many watch English TV, read English newspapers and magazines, shop in English stores, and even support English football teams might have deeper fears about their identity……………