Tag Archives: Irish people

O, My Country

In the last week, in Ireland, there have been five violent deaths.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been seven violent deaths. That’s seven, in thirteen days.

Image: thejournal.ie

Image: thejournal.ie

Ireland is a small country. It’s a country in which a violent death – increasingly, death as a result of knife crime – still has the power to shock. It’s a country where watching the news and seeing an ordinary family, one just like yours, ripped to pieces by violence, still gives you pause. You wonder what on earth is wrong. Why people are getting into arguments and, instead of using words to sort it out, they’re resorting to knives, or fists, or guns.

The most recent murder in Ireland happened over the weekend in Dublin, in an affluent suburb – the kind of place where you’d love to live, if only you had the money. It’s not the sort of place you’d associate with violent crime, but then distinctions like that are starting to look shaky and irrelevant in our brand new, ultra-modern little country. At the time of writing this, it appears that the victim lost his life over a disputed move in a game of chess.

A disputed move in a game of chess.

And it has cost a man his life.

This morning, really early, our neighbours moved out. They – father, mother, three children under ten – have decided to emigrate to Australia in search of a better life. Neither of the parents were unemployed, but for so many reasons they felt things might be better for them on the other side of the world. ‘Things are going nowhere here,’ the mother remarked to me the other day. ‘It’s a dead end.’ Their decision to leave may have nothing to do with crime, per se, but I do know they were driven out of their old home by criminal and disruptive behaviour all around them, and they came to live beside my husband and me in an attempt to find a more peaceful existence. I hoped they found it, for the years they spent here, and I wish them well in their new life. I will miss them, particularly their beautiful children, very much.

Those left behind after emigration - a difficult burden to carry. Image: news.ie.msn.com

Those left behind after emigration – a difficult burden to carry.
Image: news.ie.msn.com

They’ll be joining a long queue of people leaving this country looking for something abroad that they cannot find here. Most people will return to Ireland in the years to come – because, despite it all, home exerts a huge draw – but that doesn’t help us in the short term. Every family in Ireland has been touched by emigration. We all know what it feels like to have someone we love – in most cases, someone young – living far away from home.

I love my country. In a lot of ways, it’s a wonderful place. Increasingly, though, we are struggling with things like mental health – a mental health helpline recorded a 29% increase in calls to its services last year, for example – and with violent disorder. There has always been a problem with alcohol in Ireland, which goes far beyond the ‘fun-loving party people’ image the rest of the world seems to have of us; we’re a lot more Nordic than that, I think, insofar as our relationship with drink can be dark, cold, inward-looking, and extremely isolated. I’m not a sociologist, and can only speak from my own experience, but it seems to me that Ireland is finding it hard to adjust to new realities – a complicated relationship with religion, increased exposure to immigration, economic difficulties, and a total lack of faith in the government, and indeed in all forms of authority – and, perhaps, many other things as well. The police force is probably the only public body (if, indeed, that’s the right term to describe it) in which the people of Ireland have any faith left. If we lose that, then I fear we might lose ourselves as well.

Irish people tend to be resilient. We just keep on going, getting on with our own lives, keeping the ‘best side out’, as the old saying goes, no matter what happens around us. Suffering is bred into us, some would say. This is all very well, but sometimes I wonder if it allows us the space we need to deal with what’s inside, as well as keeping up a good front. I also wonder, sometimes, how much we can put up with, or when we’ll reach the point where we can’t take any more. All I know is, I think my little country is in trouble – and has been for some time – and figuring out a solution to it is beyond me.

But surely, picking up a knife and destroying not only your victim’s life, but also your own, isn’t the way to deal with whatever might be wrong? There has to be a better way forward than this.

There has to be.

 

Meeting your Heroes

The husband and I had an interesting chat over the weekend. During this particular conversation we were talking about the wonder that is book signings, where an utterly calm and controlled reader (ahem) gets the chance to meet, shake hands (possibly) and say ‘hello’ to an author whose work they adore. I haven’t had a chance to do this for many a long year, but I do appreciate book signings as one of the high points of modern culture.

‘I met Neil Gaiman at a book signing once,’ mused The Husband, in the course of our discussion. ‘I thought he was creepy.’

Image: twitter.com

Image: twitter.com

‘Creepy?’ I responded, barely keeping the aghast in. ‘How on earth could you think he was creepy?’

‘Well, you know,’ responded my beloved. ‘He wears all that black. And he got up and read out stuff about death, and weirdness like that.’

(I suppose I should say at this point that my husband is more of a book collector than a book reader; he owns a lot of Neil Gaiman books, but I’m not sure he’s read very many. So, perhaps we can forgive him for not really knowing that death and weirdness and dark stuff are, quite possibly, the main building blocks of nearly all Neil Gaiman books.)

‘But,’ I spluttered in reply. ‘Didn’t you perhaps think that all that was an act, you know, like he was performing, in order to get the audience interested in the book?’

‘Maybe,’ sniffed my love. ‘But even so. Creepy.’

And he wouldn’t be convinced otherwise.

I, too, have had the pleasure of meeting Neil Gaiman at a book signing, many years ago. He was promoting the then newly-published ‘Graveyard Book’ at the time, and I – along with several hundred other fans – were crowded into the basement of a large Dublin bookshop, waiting impatiently for our hero to appear. When he did, a massive wave of excited applause greeted him, which he almost seemed embarrassed by.

Image: blogs.slj.com

Image: blogs.slj.com

He stood before us and read, at length, from his work. I had bought the book a few hours before, in preparation for having it signed, and already had it half-digested, so I was already familiar with the section its author chose to read, but that didn’t matter. It was like having an award-winning actor take to the stage – the huge room, filled to the brim with people, was silent as a tomb as Neil Gaiman read, and the book came to life before our eyes. Anyone who has ever been to a public event in Ireland will know how impressive it is to keep a huge crowd of Irish people quiet, by the way: we are the worst audiences in the world, in my humble opinion. I’ve been to hundreds of gigs and other events where the act performing can’t be heard over the clamour of conversation from the gathered crowd. I’ve lost count of the amount of musicians whose live act has been spoiled because some buffoon beside me can’t shut up talking about his weekend out on the tiles or his granny’s infected toe or the ‘eejit’ he has to sit beside at work – and yelling ‘Shut Up!’ just makes it worse. Believe me, I’ve tried it.

So, Mr Gaiman held the audience spellbound on this occasion. When the reading was complete he took questions – some inane, some rather good – and answered them with charm and wit, and not a little self-deprecation. He spoke for hours without any appearance of fatigue. Then, the signing began.

It was a bit like this. Image: blog.gnip.com

It was a bit like this.
Image: blog.gnip.com

Time was taken with every attendee; everyone was asked to write their name on a piece of paper to aid proceedings (always a necessity in Ireland, where people can have names that go on for a week or two, and are full of unlikely-seeming letters), and as I queued I saw people walking away from Neil Gaiman’s desk like they’d just been at a religious service, clutching their freshly signed copies of ‘The Graveyard Book’ to their chests with fervent glee. Gradually, slowly but inexorably, my place in the queue grew closer and closer to the Great Signing Table.

And then – like a dream – it was my turn.

I'm not saying I was *exactly* like this, but I wasn't far off. Image: kurotorro.tumblr.com

I’m not saying I was *exactly* like this, but I wasn’t far off.
Image: kurotorro.tumblr.com

‘Omigod Mr Gaiman I’ve been a fan for so long, like years and I’ve read everything you’ve ever written and you’re omigod amazing and I love you so much you’re just an absolute and utter genius,’ I may have said, in a voice like a hamster on helium.

‘My dear,’ purred Neil Gaiman, with a smile. ‘You’re too kind.’

And so, my book was signed. I was told what a lovely name I had. I was thanked for coming. I was thanked for being a fan, and for buying the books, and – in short – rewarded for my devotion. And all of that was fantastic.

But then, Neil Gaiman did an even more awesome thing.

I attended this particular book signing with a good friend of mine, a woman who has impaired vision, speech and mobility, and who is also hard of hearing. She is one of the cleverest and best-read people I know, and she is also a huge fan of Neil Gaiman. I introduced her to Neil, telling him her first name, and then I stepped back so as not to interfere with her moment with her hero – and he could not have been more kind. My friend’s difficulties were unmistakeable, and because of that he spoke to her slowly and clearly, looking her right in the eye, and he spent longer with her than he did with anyone else. He asked her about her favourite of his books, and which characters she liked and disliked, and then he did a special, unique doodle in her book along with his signature and a message designed just for her.

My friend – and me, I have to admit – came away from that experience walking on air.

So – sure. Neil Gaiman dresses in black. He talks about death a lot – but then, she’s one of his best-loved characters, right?

Image: comicsalliance.com

Image: comicsalliance.com

His books tend to be a little odd – but brilliant with it. I can sort of see what my husband meant by saying he came across as ‘creepy’ – but I think that’s a stage presence, something he does for effect.

All I know is, my experience of meeting Neil Gaiman showed me a kind, patient, caring person who took the time to talk to a devoted fan, a fan who came away from his signing table with a grin that didn’t fade for weeks. That’s the mark of a good human being, in my book.

Have you ever met any of your heroes? Did you have a good or bad experience? I’d love to hear all about it.