My Kingdom for a Postcode

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Looking back, it is hard to define what made it so compelling.

Was it simply that it stood there, picturesquely, amongst grass and hedges, framed by the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks? Or perhaps that there was little else of human creation to attract attention? Or maybe the explanation was more prosaic – that I needed to water its hinterlands, and confused my motivation with interest in this particular, byroad object?

Whatever the allure, forces demanded that I stop my bike. And so I did.

One cannot create divine images with an iPhone, even if the tool itself has acquired the lustre of divinity. Nonetheless, I sought deftly to compose the photograph which told the story my mind saw.

For this was not simply a postbox. It seemed to channel a certain verité about our convulsing, febrile country. This country that refuses to stand still, whose truth seems to be ever-obscured by the pace of its change.

Its vibrant green had already seen days of vibrant red; I could see the GR (George Rex) of the British postal system, erased palimpsestically, transmuted into its Irish cousin. But now, both symbols of government lay in splendid dereliction; out of service.

Its tilt to the right surely also told a story. I resisted a prosaic explanation: a reversing trailer; an errant teenage motorist… No. I fancied I was observing the tilt of time. This proud postbox had held and held, until slowly, it leaned. Tired of all of its duties. Tired of rejecting all of the those small packets. Of accepting Letters Only.

Today, the Irish government has announced that the nation will switch to a 7-character alpha-numeric postcode system by 2015.

The decision means that Ireland will move from being the only nation in the OECD without a postcode system for postal deliveries to being the first nation in the world with a unique identifier for every dwelling and premises.

Such is the grip of progress – we are suddenly leap-frogged into leader position.

It reminds me of the so called ‘third world’ rung of nations which, having failed to erect complicated and expensive fixed-line telephony, found themselves running much of their lives and economy through mobile phones just like that. Indeed, Africans today are more likely to have a Facebook accounts than they are email addresses, as mobile phones and smartphones have rendered expensive laptops redundant.

I am strangely non-plussed by our Irish dance into the leading edge of postcode-ery.

Something in me wants to hold back, to wallow in those ridiculous addresses down the country which demand local knowledge of a town-land, and a Masters degree in Private Investigation. Apparently 30% of the nation does not currently have a unique written address, thus forcing precision off the envelope and into the heads of much under-appreciated postal workers.

Nostalgia can be, I freely admit, a tool of social tyranny. Its cloak is usually desired for others, not for oneself.

I have on occasion met despondent Americans touring Ireland, dearly wishing those pesky motorways and clothing franchises away.

‘Why can’t it be like it used to be? I don’t want Ireland to be just another American mall!’

I myself felt despondent for a whole afternoon when I read that the county of Leitrim was to get its first set of traffic lights.

That was in 2003.

I must admit that I was not aware that Leitrim was bereft of red, orange and greenery. But once I knew, I was willing to go on a march to keep traffic lights out, out, out. Sure what would Leitrim be wanting with those?

So here we are, on the brink of Irish postcode efficiency. Apparently, the well-established Dublin codes will still be detectable in the new postcode system, signalled by the first three characters i.e. D01 XXXX, D02 XXXX, D03 XXXX, D04 XXXX… The Irish people – being human – have always sought to codify belonging – be it hailing from Cork, or the Northside, or D4. We are about to get 9,999,999 further possible ways to create new groupings to which we can belong, or un-belong.

It will be interesting to watch it creep in; micro-areas of cities and counties being given preferential rates on insurance, zones of town-lands being categorised as desirable or otherwise. There will likely be unintended consequences, as well as intended efficiencies.

I do not resent the postcode progress. On the contrary, it is, of course, the right thing to do.

And yet, emotionally, the introduction of seven-character brevity comes with cost attached.

Just like the crooked postbox standing amid the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, our bokety old postal address system stood for something.

A little of what we are is once again painted over, and we must ride further down the lane-way, in search of our living soul.

Ryanair: can a camp Irish bully really reform?

Once upon a time there was an airline like no other.

It was bedecked in white and blue and red, and launched its silken wings into skies at dawn, bringing messages of hope to a weary world.

In braids of golden splendour, it anointed those who chose to fly first class, swooning at their every desire.

For it was the keeper of dreams; the pied-piper of the flying age.

Ah yes, British Airways was the darling of the skies, even if it lorded its status above us all, deigning to introduce the rabble to the music of Lakmé.

Delibes? Delightful!

If only everything could be this perfect, this styled, this…well, go on, we’ll say it…this sophisticated.

That Saatchi slogan captured it all. ‘The World’s Favourite Airline’. It was all just fabulous, darling.

Until suddenly, it wasn’t.

British Airways’ moment of hubris was called out by a Lady with a sharp tongue and a weapon in her handbag.

In its quest to bring meaning to the World’s Favourite Airline slogan, the airline set about changing its famous Union Jack tailfin to multitudinous liveries depicting ethnic art from all over the world.

Swagger had arrived; the brand believed its own PR.

(I am of the view that most brand investment in PR dilutes brand strength, as it is so easily decoded as inauthentic boasting. Who cares about boasting? I can’t stand people who boast. I even hate myself when I catch myself boasting).

In 1997, Lady Thatcher covered a model tailfin of the new BA look with a hankie, declaring to the world’s media ‘We fly the British flag, not these awful things’.

Maggie, ever the pugilist, had delivered a right hook into the face of British Airways’ weakness.

Within three years the tailfin initiative was fully reversed.

British Airways entered seemingly
never-ending doldrums, gained a reputation for snobbery and poor service, and has spent 15 years trying to recover.

Michael O’ Leary is a piece of work.

A piece of work chiseled, rather unexpectedly, from the pallid brown bogs around his native Mullingar.

He has those shrewd smarts which I associate with depots.

O’Leary was good at identifying a deep strategic weakness in the ancien régime of airlines, and set about exploiting it. Incessantly. With gusto.

Ryanair is a highly successful business built, paradoxically, on a myopic vision: the customer will travel cheap at any cost.

With his characteristically crude strut, O’Leary has spent years explaining how he understands travellers best.

His discourse, notably, makes it abundantly clear that he deeply disrespects his own customers.

“The Germans will crawl bollock-naked over broken glass to get (lower fares).”

I am frequently surprised by the level of high camp to be found amongst the men of the Irish Midlands.

What exactly is in the water, down there yonder?

For let us be clear, O’Leary’s media performances are a practiced, camp affect – no less fine-tuned than Gaga or Mrs Brown.

And yet, affect effects. His tonality has permeated his organisation. The despot’s manners have become the airline’s manner.

Ryanair is now the most profitable airline in Europe and second in size only to Lufthansa, which has won its top position through acquisition.

Empires don’t gently expire. They collapse.

This week, it felt like a moment of hubris had arrived for O’Leary and his shrill yellow airline that Europeans love to hate.

Ryanair had its Lady Thatcher moment.

In a public shareholder meeting in Dublin, dominated by profit warnings, O’Leary accepted that his airline’s ‘abrupt culture’ should be addressed.

At the heart of this discussion, driven by shareholder belief that customers in tears at boarding gates must be wrong and must impede growth, is a challenge to the Ryanair vision.

Perhaps low cost is not, after all, desired at any cost? Perhaps it is value, not cheapness, which customers really desire?

Can a bullying leopard change his spots?

I am not convinced.

O’Leary’s pledge, among others, to create a team to handle email complaints is hardly inspiring. Indeed, it is faintly risible.

I also note his garrulous way of expressing a new dawn for customer service at Ryanair, over the next year:

“We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off”

That phrase.

“Piss people off”.

It is phrasing so at odds with common, decent discourse that leading news outlets excised it from their reporting.

The BBC replaced O’Leary’s term with ‘annoy’.

The New York Times reinterpreted it as ‘irritate’.

And yet, for me, that single phrase is the truth behind the news.

Whilst asserting that the days of poor Ryanair service and attitude are to an end, O’Leary simultaneously employs a garish, insulting tone.

In the British Airways-Thatcher débacle of 1997, it took a change of leader to reverse the tailfin fiasco, and several more to begin, slowly, to turn British Airways into an airline which loves its customers more than itself.

In his petulance and disrespect for common decency, Mister O’Leary may well be arriving at his own personal Waterloo.

I have done a quick Google search of Waterloo, Belgium.

Happily, it is a quick 46km bus ride to Charleroi Airport. Mullingar? A quick one-hour spin down the motorway.

Napoleon never had it so good.

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Brian McIntyre. September 2013.

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To lose a dog is to lose your heart

The last time we had bitten off more than we could chew, he was perhaps 12 weeks old. A pup.

With friends, and already his second leash – the first one fully chewed and useless – we had walked sprightly into the Wicklow hills.

All was bright and happy with our crew. He bounded, yelped and threw his body between our legs. It was a fresh, bright blue winter’s day which, despite the naked trees and sullen earth, made the world itself seem utterly expectant. Ready to be born.

On the return journey through the forest trail, he suddenly became halting. Lying low to the ground, pausing, bounding again; once again taking cover.

He and I were young in our days together. I was not sure what I was seeing.

‘He’s tired!’ cried Caitriona. ‘That’s all. The little pup is tired!’.

With that, I created a makeshift pouch within my anorak, by means of a built-in waistline string.

My tailor-made papoose was an instant success. We walked the final forty minutes with Rufus sleeping soundly, lying across my chest.

I can still feel the warmth of his little, heaving body as he slept, the sweet pup-smell that is like no other, and the unexpected pleasure that it was to care for another soul.

Rufus, my golden haired cocker spaniel, became part of how I lived my life.

This was not quite my original intent.

I had imagined an ‘outside dog’; a rodent-warrior, a security fiend, a sort of Cúchulainn of my north county Dublin garden.

During that first winter he spent a lot of time whimpering at the back door trying to get in. For a brief period I held firm.

‘No Rufie! You’re an ‘outside dog’. You live outside!’.

But Rufus lived inside.

He had me convinced he was perished with the cold.

The vet told me some months later that, in fact, he could endure cold and wet beyond all reckoning. His pleading at the back door was not a question of weather; he was lonely.

Learning to live with each other was a raggedy affair.

Rufus set about eating everything on ground level that was not metal.

My efforts to contain this became known to us both – in our secret language – as his ‘box’.

Rufus’ box was a physical cardboard enclosure at the outset, but over time became a conceptual space in any room: that corner where there was a warm place to lie, and to which Rufus should instantly repair.

Rufie! I would call out, in my makey-up masterly voice. Box!

In truth, his box became the whole house. Rufus would show up in the toilet, paws up licking my face as I took a bath, under my feet as I prepared food and, his final quest, in the bedroom.

There we reached a compromise. He could lie on the saddle of the door, half his body outside the room, half inside. This allowed both of us to believe what we needed to believe: me, that he was not in the bedroom; him, that indeed he was.

This was a nightly ritual that spanned years. That life of his that stretched from Halloween in 2001 to a sorry night in September of 2013.

Last night.

I am awake after four hours of sleep. Re-looking at the symptoms on some random website. Matching what I saw with what the vet finally told me, blood test results in hand. Wondering why I did not see it sooner. Renal. Nephrons. Failure. Words climb upon words. Yet I cannot explain why these signals did not compute. Too much noise. Too much noise.

I chose early on to bring Rufus wherever I was going. He was good in the car – aside from his penchant for chewing it up – and he made it very clear he wanted to come. He became an extension of myself, and a great master of my ways.

Rufus was a giant-pawed, spontaneous and raucous hit with my friends. His spirit was at one with the wind; he was a dog not for running, but for rushing. Gusting.

His element was the sand. In it, his object – a great, hairy, audacious object – was to catch those pesky Howth seagulls and make them his.

For years, the Burrow Strand and the Pier were his joint hunting grounds. He was not a dog given to barking – except in hot pursuit of those wretched, elusive birds.

In these moments he would become ungovernable – emitting a high pitched, sustained scream as he chased and chased.

To the untrained ear, this was the sound of a dog in distress. It was a sound which attracted the attention of strangers, a focus which quickly melted to a certain kind of wide-eyed joy.

Who is this crazy dog? their faces asked. Who is this bird-obsessed ball of golden brown with floppy ears and out-sized paws?

It is a bond beyond all telling, that between a man and his dog. We seem convinced, from our human perspective, of the existence of hierarchy. We hold that we are above, and that animals are lesser. Below.

This is not how I lived my life with Rufie. For me, he was a soul and I another.

I wanted him to feel free in his life, whilst recognising that, in the end, I ended up making the decisions. Despite my encouragement, he never seemed attracted to the making of independent plans.

A pure and simple love emerged between us, and I learned much from its daily demonstrations. He was not one to hold a grudge; he was always one to match a mood; he was ever-positive and willing; he walked in the world with a humble nobility.

His was a powerful soul, secure of purpose, loving to the very last, and god-like in its simplicity.

He did, however, get me into some scrapes.

A particular avian incident in Howth stays etched in memory.

We were walking the pier on a sunny afternoon. As usual, Rufie had gained instant fame and admiration from the Sunday walkers as he chased seagulls, screaming high-pitched glad tidings as he rushed about. He was a dog who knew what it was to assume the stage.

I was keeper of a humiliating truth when it came to his hunting prowess: when Rufus was actually within snapping distance of a bird, he would immediately go shy. There was no bite in him. He was all high-pitched bark.

Our stroll amongst the admiring throng took a sudden turn.

Rufus, some distance away, jumped into the water and swam, in hot pursuit of a mother duck and her five ducklings.

There was furious paddling on all sides and Rufus seemed to be gaining ground.

And oh how the crowd turned.

People who, thirty seconds earlier, were his keen admirers, stopped and stared in horror. Who is that damned dog? Where the hell is his owner? Those poor little ducklings!

I arrived into a scene which to me had comical proportions. With cartoon-like movements, it did, in fairness, seem that ducklings were about to become lunch.

Although presenting as though he was menu-planning, I knew differently. I was therefore incongruously relaxed, and fighting hard to contain my amusement.

I attracted immense pressure from the mob; the mob which couldn’t bear the thought of those little ducklings being injured. The mob which didn’t care one jot about seagulls. The mob which had loved Rufus to bits one minute previous.

With one whistle I distracted his attention, and the duckling psycho-drama was at a close.

I returned home with a sense of the constancy of a dog’s behaviour, and the volatility of our human instincts in return.

I did not see his illness arrive. It came cloaked in things unremarkable. A sluggishness here, a lack of appetite there, an uncharacteristic little accident now and then. Such is the creeping hand of dusk; darkness can fall fast, and the sky tumbles before one has a chance to look up.

Four days ago, his spirits began truly to fail him and even I had to acknowledge it. Getting up the stairs was a great effort; there was no gleeful rotating at the door in the hope of going for a walk.

His life, punctuated by negotiation -to get more food, more affection, more walks – began to fold without the slimmest resistance. Fold so fast that I was confused; convinced he would just pull through nonetheless, despite the evidence.

On Saturday, I decided to return to the Burrow Strand with him. There, amid sand and gulls, he might re-find his spirits.

He trundled behind me for a doleful kilometre. His was slow and unsteady progress. No bird chasing; no swimming. The only thing he could do, needed to do, was follow me.

Until suddenly, he couldn’t.

‘Come on Rufie!’ I beckoned, hunkering down, ten metres away. ‘Come on sweetheart’.

He stared back at me, listless in the sand.

That stare. I noticed that stare above all. A gentle pleading in our own secret language.

For a second time, I realised that we had bitten off more than we could chew.

With silent resignation, I went to his side, stooped and picked him up.

Then slowly, his weight slung around my chest, the warmth and humidity of his body penetrating the layers of clothing to my skin, I solemnly trudged the sands of Howth, and carried Rufus home.

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Finding Inniskeen

Perhaps, in the end, it was eminently suitable. I missed almost everything that was possible to miss, and meandered my way through the day.

Except for one detail. One detail I noticed that, in its own little way, drove the experience home.

The county of Monaghan is arresting in its simplicity. It is full of hills and lakes, turned earth and cows. Its winding lanes smell of manure, its tiny chapels and graveyards tell of a lifestyle that has not much changed these hundred years.

Monaghan is a biker’s haven as its roads are hilly without being burdensome, and they’re extremely quiet to boot. All of nature comes alive because, in Monaghan, nothing is happening at all.

Into this wonderland I rode with a mission to find Inniskeen.

Thus far in my journey, I have used only a driver’s road map of Ireland, supported by Google maps when things get iffy. The latter does not always rescue me; I often find myself without access to the Internet. And I have discovered that, for all its sophistication, Google Maps is ultimately dumb information; it does not show elevation, it does not distinguish between secondary and tertiary roads, it cannot apply common sense.

The printed map will survive because it complements our human intelligence, rather than trying to replace it.

The small rural community I was seeking has acted, for me, as a stand-in for a certain kind of gritty Irishness. It is a grit born, fully formed, in the lines of Patrick Kavanagh’s poetry. ‘Inniskeen Road on a July Evening’ was my introduction to him, and its words are etched on the rough slate of my memory, and consciousness:

The bicycles go by in twos and threes –
There’s a dance in Billy Brennan’s barn tonight,
And there’s the half-talk code of mysteries
And the wink-and-elbow language of delight.

By God, the stony grey soil of Inniskeen is hard to find, going the back roads! Monaghan has byroads spirited into existence without the boys at Ordinance Survey being briefed. It is likely that they are spirited away again, once one has them traversed.

And yet, because of its hills, there is a sense of being coddled – caressed in its undulations. At every stage in my wandering journey, cows looked down from their hilly heights, knowingly. They are the gods of this land. Only they can see and know.

At length, in any case, I zig-zagged my way into Kavanagh country.

The village itself is a humble spot, although it has much to crow about. Not only does it have Kavanagh, but also is the site of the first Gaelic football match ever played, and has a beautiful ancient tower full of 12th century stories.

It is a place that does not fuss. It is as if, in this month of August, Inniskeen was in deep slumber.

I arrived at the Kavanagh Centre (a converted church) only to discover it closed. Mondays. Drat.

Following very prominent signs, I plodded in cleated footwear to the poet’s grave.

Pacing up and down the indicated row, I could find nothing of him.

I called out to the caretaker, who, in the sunshine and with a Jack Russell pup biting at his heels, was languorously sorting the graveyard hedges.

‘Where’s Kavanagh?’ I called, tracing my arm along the appointed stretch of stones. ‘Where’s the grave?’

‘He’s there. Just look’, he said in treacly, bumpy accent. ‘You’re not the first one to miss him’. He smiled, waved, and continued about his task.

And there, in the row indicated, I finally found him. I stood, quietly, and stared.

It was a grave so fractured, small, unboasting, that my eye had not seen it at all.

Kavanagh was laid to rest as he had desired to live. Without fanfare. In all humility.

As I set to leaving the place, another gravestone caught my eye.

It was not that it was gaudy or attention-seeking. No. Not that.

It was that name. William Brennan. Died 1957.

I thought about it, racking the slate of memory. William Brennan?

‘Ah yes’, I said to myself, somehow content with the connection made.

‘That’s it’.

I took a photo, and the music of the birds and cows in Inniskeen gently filled the air.

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Brian McIntyre. August 2013

Follow this blog with one click below.

See my diary while cycling across the Continental USA at http://singsongcycle.wordpress.com

About Rothar Republic

My name is Brian McIntyre. During late July and August 2013 I am cycling the coast and borders of the Republic of Ireland, and using the opportunity to raise money for charity (The Peter McVerry Trust).

In the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of 1916, I’m interested to see how our little country is doing. Cycling its perimeter, observing and talking to its people, is my own way of taking the lie of the land.

I figure this is a 27 day-long expedition covering about 2,200km.

All monies go directly to the Peter McVerry Trust which supports young homeless people in Dublin to break the cycle of homelessness and move towards independent living.

http://www.mycharity.ie/event/rotharrepublic

If easier, consider sending me a pledge through private message.

Many thanks.

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I love you

Some stories are so excruciating that one assumes they must be urban myth. But this story, I assure you, actually did happen.

And although it was some time ago, and took place outside of Beijing, it has that unmistakable ring of veracity to it. In addition, it was my friend Leslie who related it to me. And with a name like Leslie he’s hardly a liar, even if he did extract some joy from his poor friend’s woegeous misery.

But I’m jumping ahead, as I want to account for why this Beijing tale should come to mind.

Its trigger lies in County Clare, during an inauspicious evening with grey skies outside. I had rented the last room in a Spanish Point hotel catering largely for Continental tourists with concerning coiffes.

The last room was a single one, containing one single bed.

There is something sorrowful in the sight of a single bed. It not only confirms that one is alone but also dashes every hope that the situation could change. No matter how good the chat at the bar may go, with a single room booked, it ain’t going nowhere.

My friend Tom, an inveterate traveller with work, once described how his employer attempted to reduce costs by requiring its staff to book single rooms for business travel. He opposed this move strenuously, and at a visceral level.

‘I haven’t slept in a single bed since I was seven’. If there’s no one to love as the night draws in, at least one can mark an absence with some extra space.

As it transpired, my county Clare hotel delivered some of the best trad Irish music of my trip. Three girls and a guy, none over 20 years old, playing really beautiful music in that way of wizened pros – intense, calm, fluid and disquietingly unemotional.

A booming German gentleman came up and requested ‘Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore’.

The female fiddlers listened to his request carefully – it was semi-shouted, but with heavy accent – and said sorry. They didn’t know that one.

He returned to his seat, only to reappear one minute later. He was not to be dissuaded.

‘Fuck you!’, he started.

The girls each looked at him, startled. I was all ears, wondering where this would go.

‘The Fuck-a-you?’

His request had now become a question.

It finally emerged that our German visitor wanted them to play The Foggy Dew. They smiled and agreed, of course, to play it, keeping their giggles until after he had gone.

Only then did those brilliant musicians fully become the teenagers they also were. Animated by a simple Fuck You.

Leslie’s friend, Conor, had been in China for almost a year. Long enough to know the city, its mood and especially its people. His relationship with Audrey (Chinese women often choose Western names nothing like their own in Mandarin) was ongoing for about five months. He was head over heels. Smitten. But he controlled himself, as somehow he knew pace was the right approach with Audrey. She was quite into control herself; no surprises. She was a woman to take the lead.

Along with friends, they took a mini-bus out to the Great Wall one weekend. It was an exciting and packed day, moving here and there in the bus. Audrey didn’t know everyone; some were his work colleagues whom she was meeting for the first time.

At one stage in the afternoon, Conor and Audrey were sitting on the bus alone. It was unclear whether his colleagues would rejoin the bus to return to Beijing, as they lived in a different part of town. Audrey seemed intent on figuring this out.

Then suddenly, a change of tone.

‘I love you’, she said.

It was so crisp and immediate it took Conor unawares. She looked at him, gently, but also clearly expecting a response. He looked back, into her deep black eyes.

‘I love you too. I’ve loved you for months’

There was silence. Audrey slightly cocked her head, computing what had just been said. Although her English was somewhat accented, her fluency was near perfect.

She repeated her statement.

‘Ah luv you’, she said. He heard the accent more clearly now, but was not dissuaded.

He relished the idea of talking about their love and where it might bring them. He simply smiled. Acknowledging.

This time more deliberately, Audrey spoke again.

‘All of you? Are all of you coming back to Beijing in the bus?’

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Brian McIntyre. August 2013

Follow this blog with one click below.

See my diary while cycling across the Continental USA at http://singsongcycle.wordpress.com

About Rothar Republic

My name is Brian McIntyre. During late July and August 2013 I am cycling the coast and borders of the Republic of Ireland, and using the opportunity to raise money for charity (The Peter McVerry Trust).

In the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of 1916, I’m interested to see how our little country is doing. Cycling its perimeter, observing and talking to its people, is my own way of taking the lie of the land.

I figure this is a 27 day-long expedition covering about 2,200km.

All monies go directly to the Peter McVerry Trust which supports young homeless people in Dublin to break the cycle of homelessness and move towards independent living.

http://www.mycharity.ie/event/rotharrepublic

If easier, consider sending me a pledge through private message.

Many thanks.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 16.59.07

Fairy Cakes and the Ritz

One does not expect to find the Ritz in rural Donegal, but it was the first establishment I encountered on entering Raphoe.

Neither its decor (garish) nor its aspect (facing a back lane) seemed to warrant a name so synonymous with elitist ways.

I am used to being made feel unworthy by this establishment. I once arranged to meet my sister and niece in London’s The Ritz (we figured Kiki would get a kick from the experience, even if it was only coffee) only to discover that my jeans were off the menu.

I was not allowed enter even though the girls were already both seated inside and awaiting my arrival.

In contrast, it seemed to me that even Lycra would be feted in The Raphoe Ritz.

I smiled at the thought. Because Raphoe is famous not for the pop of champagne, but for a semi-derelict Celtic monument just outside the town and for the hue and cry of a supposed murder investigation gone awry.

This little village found itself in the headlights of a Tribunal of Investigation in the mid 2000’s.

That was a time when Ireland took joy in getting the nation’s dirty washing out for inspection in a manner infused with pomp and diva drama.

Exhaustive Tribunals were signal of best-in-class behaviour of a first class, wealthy nation.

Only for us to discover, in 2008 and without much investigation necessary for its discovery, that the whole apparatus of government was stewing in greed and incompetence, and that the Tribunals were an elaborate tool to deflect our attention from a more insidious rot.

Indeed, our nation’s supposed wealth was merely a mirage.

It shocks me that so many still believe that the Celtic Tiger actually happened. It was, alas, a Ponzi bubble of our own making – goaded with relish and policy by those who purported to lead us.

We were never super-rich. We just thought we were. We thought we were Lord Grantham of Downton, only to discover we were O’Brien, on a transgendered vacation upstairs.

In Raphoe, Richie Baron’s death on a roadside was illegally framed by the Gardaí on Frank McBraerty. The whole might of our Security Forces was corruptly recruited to bring him, his family and his business down.

I showed up, on my bike, to investigate.

Only to get side-tracked by Ireland’s best fairy cakes, baked to perfection by a philosopher masquerading as a hardworking everyman, bearing tattoos.

Dear friends, gather your children and rush to the Raphoe Café and Bakery in County Donegal. If one or two of the kids fall out of the carriage on the way, let them be. Drive on and don’t spare the horses.

There you will find soda breads, buns and shortbread slices just like the mammy used to make.

As the wafts of currant buns infiltrated my sweaty cycling gear, the tattooed prince of fairy cakes spoke.

‘I love this country, but it’s gone wrong. People have lost their honesty’

He was a squat man with fiery eyes. He spoke with the intensity that experience gives to people in their fifties. Been through troubles. Able to get through troubles.

‘Happiness can blow up in your face any minute. Being content is what I’m about. I was in welding to make money, but two years ago I threw it in. Came back to baking. I started as a chef. It’s what I want to do. This place makes no money, but it would be more expensive to stay at home and do nothing’.

I reflected on this as I sat in his cafe with my bike parked beside me. He had seen my anxiety with it stationed outside and invited me to wheel it in. Thus, its metal, chains and panniers were now marinading in fairy cake-ness too.

‘The problem in Ireland is that we always want to look up to somebody. But when you look up to somebody, you’re also looking down on somebody’

His words were as rich and simple as his recipes. It was clear to me that he had neither read nor overheard nor regurgitated in any way what he was saying. He was speaking his own, authentic truth, authentically thought-through.

I tried to engage him in the Richie Baron affair. ‘Richie Baron?’, he said. ‘Oh yes. He died here’.

That was all. He was not a man for scandal.

Three kilometres outside the town stands a stone circle dating back to 800 BC. Massive rocks, 2 meters high, are arranged in a sweeping 360 degree arc on the top of a flat hill. They are a little helterskelter and confused now, due to some non-scientific excavation in the 1930s. Beltany Stone Circle is thought to have been centre of an elaborate system of Celtic ritual to pay homage to higher gods.

I stood there, among those ruins outside Raphoe, and took it all in, all that was about me.

All of this effort, all of this standing on ceremony, all in the service of some god-forsaken hierarchy – according, to some, power they do not deserve, and to others grief they do not merit.

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Brian McIntyre. August 2013

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About Rothar Republic

My name is Brian McIntyre. During late July and August 2013 I am cycling the coast and borders of the Republic of Ireland, and using the opportunity to raise money for charity (The Peter McVerry Trust).

In the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of 1916, I’m interested to see how our little country is doing. Cycling its perimeter, observing and talking to its people, is my own way of taking the lie of the land.

I figure this is a 27 day-long expedition covering about 2,200km.

All monies go directly to the Peter McVerry Trust which supports young homeless people in Dublin to break the cycle of homelessness and move towards independent living.

http://www.mycharity.ie/event/rotharrepublic

If easier, consider sending me a pledge through private message.

Many thanks.

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Talking to rainbows

Rufus, my trusted friend and spaniel companion these eleven years, follows me everywhere.

Around the house, up the stairs, out to the garden, into the bathroom.

I often encourage him to adopt a less derivative approach to his life; take up a hobby, make plans, go on a holiday.

Thus far, he does not seem to have taken my advice to heart. He still insists on following me around, as if his heartbeat were dependent on mine. B-beat. B-beat.

But somehow, sometime, I fully expect that this will change. I have confidence that Rufus will one day break free, and become the dog he was born to be.

One of the great contributions of Latin American culture to our world is the art-form known as ‘magical realism’.

It is a fresh way to record the human experience, evoking not just the physical and the possible, but integrating many other parts of our human reality – wishes, fears, hopes, expectations, imagination and desires. It is an art-form which fills in the blanks.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez famously created a town, within the pages of One Hundred Years of Solitude (note the unlikely title), where it rained for 4 years, 11 months and 2 days. Precision is just as important in the world of the marvellous as it is on the plains of pragmatism.

Juan Luis Guerra became a favourite singer of mine when I was learning Spanish in South America as he somehow always sang in the subjunctive. He lilted joyfully of his hope – amounting to expectation – that it would rain coffee from the sky and that the mountains would become bulbous receptacles of honey and watercress.

It is interesting that in Spanish the subjunctive is employed very often and describes real possibility. In our English language the subjunctive is mostly a polite form of negation: were coffee to rain from the sky, then and only then, might I love you.

Because words create worlds, I have a vested interest in his deep desire:
Ojala que llueva cafe!

Perhaps Mexican painter Frida Kahlo explains magical realism best when she asserts that, in her enigmatic wonderland trip through a strange and marvellous reality on canvass, she does not paint her dreams, but her reality.

The challenge of magical realism is not to be transported to a childlike fantasy of make-believe, but to discover layers of the inspirationally non-linear in our lives.

It is a source of enduring happiness once unearthed.

For example, and as strongly suggested heretofore, I talk to animals.

My chattiness has increased since I’m on the bike.

When I converse with animals, I find myself to be witty, not at all shy, and constantly willing to fill in little moments of silence. (Yes. Alas, they do occur)

‘Hi girls!’

This is my favourite way to engage cows in conversations. True, they sometimes simply chew away, but I also note that they slowly rotate their necks to catch my eloquent words. I expect the cud creates an enormous din in their ears.

Still, the result is ,for me, a quality conversation, as can be gleaned from the calmness in their eyes. Non verbal communication is so under-rated.

For sheep, I reserve one of my favourite little jokes which never fails to lift my spirits, and, one assumes, theirs as well (although I would be disappointed to discover that they were laughing behind my back).

‘Hey ewe!’

I will speak to sheep, warmly and invitingly, with just enough sense of intimacy of tone so as not to startle (Sheep are noted for being ‘followers’ in life, but this is an error psychologists term ‘proximate cause’. They may present as lemmings, but the ultimate cause of their behaviour is simply a nervous, jumpy disposition. I am quite sure sheep can think as independently as any other animal, given the chance, and there is much evidence in our human world to suggest this is so).

Just yesterday I had quite a protracted conversation with a torchbearer sheep who, it seemed, was stepping out with a new fashion statement.

It consisted of the back part of her coat being shorn away completely whilst the front-end had a whole season’s worth of wool still present and attached.

The effect was, let’s say, surprising.

Darling, I intoned, cycling slowly by. Do you really think that’s working?

The sound of my voice had her moving away. But I wasn’t giving up there.

What are the inspirations of your look?, I further inquired.

Paris? Milan? Darling, let’s talk provenance.

She clearly had PR training and was in ‘no comment’ mode. But I was glad to make sure she knew that those who choose to be at the vanguard must expect a little, good-natured flak.

It is impossible not to traverse the byroads of Ireland and see something more.

More than an economy half-broken; more than a people half-betrayed, half-exhausted; more than a series of towns which advertise their wares with bunting and garish, star-shaped price markers in windows.

Yes. There is more.

I have the full intention of talking to rainbows very soon.

I am unclear as to why they should be so gay and bright and precocious, given their very presence demands that I be drenched. My current view is that the conversation is best begun with Indigo. Of all of the colours, it seems the most approachable.

And I feel sure that it will tell me when our rains, already lasting over four years, eleven months and two days, may eventually, and quietly, ease.

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Brian McIntyre. August 2013

About Rothar Republic

My name is Brian McIntyre. During late July and August 2013 I am cycling the coast and borders of the Republic of Ireland, and using the opportunity to raise money for charity (The Peter McVerry Trust).

In the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of 1916, I’m interested to see how our little country is doing. Cycling its perimeter, observing and talking to its people, is my own way of taking the lie of the land.

I figure this is a 27 day-long expedition covering about 2,200km.

All monies go directly to the Peter McVerry Trust which supports young homeless people in Dublin to break the cycle of homelessness and move towards independent living.

http://www.mycharity.ie/event/rotharrepublic

If easier, consider sending me a pledge through private message.

Many thanks.

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