20 October 2007

To Be Frank

I don't want to get into a habit here of quoting people at length, especially when that length far exceeds the rule I set myself when I started this, but yesterday's Irishman's Diary in the Irish Times is worth making an exception for, especially considering how nicely it dovetails with my own thoughts on quotations yesterday:
Lonely Planet's choice of Ireland as the world's friendliest country will come as a surprise to many of us who live here, writes Frank McNally

[. . .]

But at least the LP's tribute to our "deliciously dark sense of humour" still rings true. Indeed, I was forcefully reminded of this treasure only recently when reading, of all things, the Lonely Planet Guide to Irish Language and Culture . Under the sub-heading of "pub etiquette", for example, the book warns visitors about our infamous "round system", viz: "To the outsider, the round system may appear very casual. You might not be told when it's your round and others may appear only too happy to stand in for you. But make no mistake, your failure to 'put your hand in your pocket' will be noticed.

"People will mention it the minute you leave the room. [The reputation] will follow you to the grave, [after] which it will attach to your children, and possibly theirs as well. In the worst cases it may become permanently enshrined in a family nickname."

At first I thought this was funny because it was true. Then I realised that, no, it was funny was because I wrote it myself: about 10 years ago, as part of a spoof visitors' guide in The Irish Times's St Patrick's Day magazine.

Now, here it was in Lonely Planet , without attribution, or even a set of inverted commas to hint at authorship. Of course I should have complained to the publishers. But I didn't. The damned Irish sense of humour wouldn't let me. Besides which, I'd rather talk about them behind their backs.

In fairness to LP, it was only a paragraph. And that St Patrick's Day guide is now scattered all over the Internet, on a wide range of Irish-themed sites, many with hideous green backdrops. It is reproduced in multiple forms, the only common factor of which is anonymity. Annoyingly, people have even taken to adding their own bits.

The spoof has become like a traditional fiddle tune now, constantly being adapted to local styles. Except that a fiddle tune would have a name - McNally's Lament , perhaps - that acknowledged its origins. But I used to comfort myself that at least the piece was fulfilling a need among the Irish diaspora, whose members must be under constant pressure to be funny, despite being exiled from the rich source of humorous material that we call Ireland.

[. . .]

I hope Lonely Planet doesn't think it petty of me to mention the purloined paragraph. I blame our history. As the Bluelist notes: "Centuries of turmoil, conquest and famine. . . have certainly taken their toll on the Irish." That's the problem. When even a stray sentence of ours goes unattributed, that old feeling of dispossession comes back to haunt us. It's as if planters have seized the family small-holding all over again.

Of course, as LP notes, this psychosis is also the well-spring of our sense of humour. And although I consider Ireland's Bluelist showing as reward enough for my small part in the effort, far be it from me to discourage the LP people should they wish to express their gratitude in a more, well, German way. I won't mention anything so vulgar as an amount. But a good guideline would be that, if we ever meet in one of Dublin's trendier pubs, my round of drinks is on them.

I tend to think that the Irish Times is rather tired nowadays, and that it's not a shadow of what it used to be, but one definite improvement of late has been Frank's supplanting of that blowhard Myers on the editorial page. That alone's often worth the entry price.

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