National Drug Problem Festival

Guinnessmap
Well it’s certainly one view of the country

How many people would drink Guinness if it were not for its association with Ireland?

It might still be a known product, sure. Its following in Africa for example probably has little to do with its Irish origins. But for most people, the images of beverage and country are almost indistinguishable – despite it being owned by British-based Diageo. If you strip away the associations with Irish culture – or what people suppose to be Irish culture – what are you left with? No tradition, no fun-loving attitude, no music and mystery. Just a black drink with a bitter taste and weird texture.

Diageo should ruminate on this. Without the Irish market, there would be little enough market for Guinness.

Ironically these thoughts are prompted by an effort to regain market share in Ireland. I say share; I doubt that Guinness has declined much in total sales, but it remains associated with the more relaxed, conversational drinker. The biggest growth sector – the young, excessive drinker – prefers cider, lagers, alcopops, Buckfast. Any old shit in fact, as long as they can drink a lot of it quickly. It’s hard to drink Guinness quickly. The “Arthur’s Day” programme of concerts by fashionable and/or obscure bands is clearly aimed at attracting the younger crowd. But it threatens instead to kill the goose.

The debate continues elsewhere about what restrictions should be placed on the promotion of alcohol, whether it’s right to aim it at the young through sport or art or even entertainment. That’s not really the problem here though, so much as the sheer scale of Diageo’s vision. The original “Arthur’s Day” was a one-off celebration of the company’s product and history. No one objected to that. Where they overstepped the mark was in turning it into an annual event, virtually a national holiday. That is going a bit far now. Already they push the identification of brand and country to extremes, even to the point of using the national symbol for their company logo. But declaring a new feast day, that’s acting like they own the place.

It’s not a national holiday of course. It’s an enormous alcoholic drink promotion in a country that has an enormous alcoholic drink problem. Such a big event inevitably brings the issue to a head. (I’m sorry, it was unavoidable.) Guinness wants to project an image of Ireland as a land of happy drinkers, where the worst social consequences of alcohol use are perhaps a comical hangover, perhaps a jaw that aches from too much talk and laughter. And not, say, spousal abuse and suicide.

If you feel like registering your disapproval, you could visit the Boycott Arthur’s Day Facebook page.

Westport – Best Place In Ireland?

On Saturday I drove to Westport, a pretty little town in the north-west corner of the country dating mostly from the 19th and late 18th Centuries. I was here last year to walk up a mountain, but this time was a lot more leisured.

Westport recently won a competition for the best place to live in Ireland. That means we have to hate it now. But you can see why.

In the 18th Century redesign the town was constructed around the river, with pleasant tree-lined walks along either side, humpback stone bridges, and weirs.

Matt Molly is one of the most respected flautists in Irish traditional music, and the pub he owns in Westport is an absolute classic example of the Irish pub genre.

If boots are your thing, they have boots in Westport. Moran’s shop in fact has boots literally hanging off it.

Westport’s layout is surprisingly complex. It has two junctions that you might take for the centre, both attractive enough to grace a town of twice its size or more. One is octagonal. This one has a peculiar clock.

You don’t see phone boxes like this anymore. And even if you did (which you don’t), you certainly don’t see them in green. Contrary to the mental images of some, phone boxes in Ireland where not painted green for many decades, certainly not in my memory. I expected an Irish Doctor Who to step out of this thing.

OK, letter boxes are green.

A sweet little back alley.

A handy graphical overlay guides tourists around the town and its environs. Shown here, the route to the scenic coastal resort of Loading Bay.

Mná Mná

Niceol Blue seems to get mentioned on this blog more than any other person. That’s what comes I guess of having a wonderful voice and a computer almost permanently in need of repair – two things I have a weakness for. But she also organizes Mná Mná – Women in Music, a monthly showcase gig for musicians and particularly singers who are female. I’m worried overseas readers won’t get the title. Suffice to say, Mná is the Irish for Women, and is pronounced – more or less – “Mnah”.

It’s been on once a month for almost a year now, but to my shame last night was my first visit. I’ve been missing something good. A thing like this could so easily be what I might call… excessively supportive. But thanks to what I can only guess are hidden reserves of steely ruthlessness, the standards are excellent. Three acts last night, each worth the entrance.

Next month will be a special gig for their first anniversary – definitely one to watch out for. You can sign up for notifications here.

State Media Silent On Dana Allegations

Picture of RTÉ Studios in Donnybrook
Not Quite Perpendicular?

RTÉ, the Irish state broadcaster, seems to be refusing to report the substance of the allegations against Presidential candidate Dana Rosemary Scallon‘s brother.

This scared me half to death when I heard the news this morning. You see in Ireland we have some quite stunningly repressive libel legislation. How else could so many politicians have gotten away with so much? It did appear that this blog was the first here to relay what was being reported in the US, and when even the state-owned broadcaster didn’t dare repeat the answer to the question the whole country was asking, I had a horrible feeling that I must have overstepped the mark. Just how much would I be liable for? So it was with enormous relief that I saw the Irish Times today.

They at least followed suit after the IrishCentral scoop – so quickly and thoroughly in fact (Colm Keena’s background report is excellent) that I suspect they had the story prepared but didn’t want to be the ones to break it. The Irish Independent meanwhile, supposedly the leading quality broadsheet, coyly states only that there have been accusations of a sexual nature against a member of Dana’s family – nothing she hasn’t said herself. It all adds up to a picture of some pretty craven behaviour on the part of the Irish media.

RTÉ may at least have the excuse that as a national broadcaster they are bound by charter to be scrupulously fair to candidates. But when that reaches the point where they cannot report allegations which are now known publicly – as I write they are still saying only that she is upset by “media coverage about a family member” – it becomes pantomime. What’s more it now favours her unfairly, because their flagrant censorship lends weight to her apparent conviction that she is the victim of media persecution.

Which is ironic, to say the least.

Join The Irish Diaspora

Have you or any member of your family ever been a member of the Irish nation? Then you should join the great new social network, WorldIrish.com. This was launched to coincide with the Global Irish Economic Forum held this week, and its purpose is to… is to… Actually, I’m not quite sure. Why would Irish people need our own special social network. Were we not talking enough?

This Is Me

Well the site looks and works well. You can create an account there (I’m “Richard”, I came early), add a 600-character bio and a few links. And you pick your five ‘values’, which generates a kind of little avatar. It’s trickier than it sounds though, because you have to choose your five from a list of sixteen things that are all about equally good and wholesome:

  • Ambition
  • Community
  • Compassion
  • Courage
  • Creativity
  • Diversity
  • Equality
  • Freedom
  • Imagination
  • Individuality
  • Integrity
  • Knowledge
  • Openness
  • Practicality
  • Progress
  • Tradition

You think you can’t go wrong, just picking five sugar-and-spice items out of a list of sixteen? How little you know. If I check tradition but leave out progress, I could be taken for a die-hard republican. Vice versa, and I’m a property developer.What if I plump for community but leave out diversity? Big ‘ol racist. What use is compassion without courage, openness without knowledge? Do I choose between creativity and imagination, or pick both and sacrifice ambition?

Such is life. In the end, I left the final decision to what made the avatar come out prettiest.

I really have only one question about WorldIrish.com – how exactly is it a social network? You can browse people’s profiles and you can contact them, but there is no real space for open interaction. There are a couple of pages where you can upload a video, but you can hardly have real conversation through video clips, and though commentary is allowed it’s to the page as a whole rather than the individual video so there is little opportunity for dialogue there either. (What’s more, to make such comments you log in not with your account but with another social networking system such as Facebook.)

In feeling therefore it’s really much closer to a new-media magazine like TheJournal.ie, more about controlled presentation than spontaneous interaction, top-down instead of ground-up. How that turns into social networking eludes me. I’ve joined anyway – networks are what you do with them after all – but I can’t help feeling that this was one of those laudable efforts where someone went “Wouldn’t it be great if we…” and everyone agreed, but no one really knew what the point was.