Last orders on Craggy Island

Health fanaticism is doing as much as market capitalism to destroy the 'old' Ireland.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics

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  • Last orders on Craggy Island

Every time I come to Dublin, I find that the place has become more intolerable.

Granted, in my time it’s always been awash with nice, dull American tourists, vomiting Englishmen and hordes of very loud Spanish students. But add to this more litter, more traffic and O’Connell street’s latest feature, a giant protruding needle – unwitting testament to the capital’s heroin problem – and altogether the visitor is left with the desire to leave it immediately upon arriving.

With this in mind I have taken refuge in Westport, Co Mayo to see if some of the virtues of the old Ireland remain intact. Call this endeavour a nostalgic indulgence if you like; or romantic posturing; or even a case of neocolonial gazing over the exotic ‘other’. I call it a giant pub crawl.

Evidence suggests that much of the ‘real’ Ireland is still with us. There is not a McDonald’s, Tesco or Marks and Spencer to be seen. Westport remains very traditional and rustic, the air thick with the smell of burning peat. The pubs go by family names and inside they are decidedly sparse, with stone floors and old wooden bars.

Anyone who was taken to Irish pubs as a child will be familiar with the scene: an old codger mans the bar, behind him for sale are Tayto crisps, red lemonade and Dunhill cigarettes. On the counter are numerous collection boxes exhorting punters to donate spare change to Irish missionary societies. It’s like being on Craggy Island.

Yet all is not what it seems. Westport has recently been the focus of Ireland’s culture wars. Last summer, publicans in the town who banned Travellers from their premises found themselves hauled up by the government for contravening the Equal Status Act of 2000. This forbids all providers of goods and services to the public from discriminating against people on grounds on being a member of any minority.

It is alleged that members of the Traveller community were holding publicans to ransom – threatening to take them to court if they barred them, and behaving with extreme licence in the process.

A landlord I spoke to said he simply shuts his doors upon spotting these folk. This seems a bit unkind, but not unreasonable. Pubs should serve and not serve who they like. The same man was a little more candid when I asked him what he was going to do when the blanket ban on smoking in pubs comes into force in 11 months’ time. He just shrugged his shoulders.

Indeed, the new law is surprisingly little-discussed over here. The Vintners’ Association aside, there is a mood of acquiescence. Alarmingly, most newspapers here seem to be decidedly enthusiastic about ban. Judging by Hollywood, you would think that the Irish are a bunch of pugnacious, devil-may-care people, yet in reality there still remains a deep strain of conformity. There would be outrage if the British government tried to implement a similar ban.

Many older Irish people moan that capitalism has ruined their country. By embracing unfettered, free-market individualism, it is said, the Irish have reduced places like Dublin to rude, selfish, homogenous, litter-strewn places.

Yet what only a handful of commentators over here have grasped is that old-fashioned authoritarianism is doing equally its bit to destroy that which was good about the old Ireland. Through its bovine adherence to ‘multiculturalism’ and newly found health fanaticism, the Irish state, with the tacit connivance of the people, is trying to bully Irish pubs – the best in the world – out of business.

  • What is it good for?

According to the Dublin Evening Herald: ‘The problem of smaller countries like Ireland trying to stay aloof from the squabble of greater powers has been with us for centuries.’

These haughty sentiments are characteristic of a popular notion here: that wars are fought for imperialist or aggressive purposes. Ireland for this reason takes immense pride in its traditional neutrality status.

Yet as they should know, sometimes wars are fought for liberation or self-defence. No people should take pride in having relied on another country’s sacrifice to preserve them from totalitarianism. No country, either, should still neglect its citizens who actually made that sacrifice in the ranks of the British army.

This is not to single out the Irish. Although I sympathise with many of its reservations, much of the ‘anti-war’ brigade worldwide suffers from the delusion that ‘peace’ is the natural, given state of affairs – perhaps because they’ve known little else in their lifetimes. Yet liberty has always had to be fought for. Pacifism as a principle is both dangerous and immoral.

  • Celebrating diversity

Up north, the recent loyalist feud has solicited the usual accusatory inverted commas about ‘so-called loyalism’. But surely the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) is logically the kind of body so many mainland Brits think so desirable?

The leader of the Scottish UDA, for instance, is openly gay. His partner died from Aids two years ago, which surely qualifies him as a deserving victim of some sort. Elsewhere, Michael Stone alleges that Johnny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair once made a pass at him, saying: ‘It’s all right Mikey, the Spartans used to do it.’ Stone, the Milltown cemetery gunman, is himself now an artist and painter, which makes him ‘creative’, which makes him good.

The UDA respects other alternative gender lifestyles. Sammy Duddy, a veteran member, is also a veteran transvestite. So impressive were his impersonations in the 1970s that two British soldiers once fought for ‘his’ affections. To top it off, the current UDA North Belfast brigadier is an Egyptian called Andre Shoukri.

The UDA represents Britishness at its best: embracing diversity and respecting identities…unless you call yourself Irish, of course. Oh, and don’t mention the murdering people bit either.

What this really illustrates in these post-Macpherson days of ethnic and gender quotas is that just because an organisation respects diversity, it doesn’t necessarily make it a tolerant or sensitive one.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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