There were moments last Monday when it almost felt like Ireland was a real country again, as if twenty plus years of recent history had been suddenly blown aside by Hurricane Ophelia. This is not meant to disrespect or detract in any way from the grief of those three families who lost loved ones to the storm. This is more about the rest of us.
For one storm tossed day we became as little children again, listening to the nursery rhyme of nationhood. We crowded around RTE radio and television, because suddenly its mission of speaking whatever the Government wants us to hear seemed important, like it actually meant something. Stay inside if you want to stay safe.
We huddled around our radio sets, made cups of tea and briefly became a people again. Even Varadkar took time off from gazing in the mirror to sound like a bluff Fine Gael Taoiseach of old, like the very recently departed Liam Cosgrave, ‘stay indoors or else.’ A good old traditional Fine Gael message delivered in traditional ‘we know what’s good for you’ style.
If there ever was such a thing as modern Ireland, its story is essentially one of television and radio, of the chief organ of the state – and biggest family business in the country – imparting its always heavily mediated message to the peasants. And for once the message was actually of some genuine use to actual, real people.
Yes, the prudent thing was to stay indoors, stay hanging on every gobbet to fall from the lips of Bryan Dobson or Sean O’ Rourke – not to mention the increasingly exhausted and incoherent sounding Met Eireann lady – while sandwiched in the middle was Joe Duffy, pretending to empathise with everything, offering state validated emotional colour to the nationwide tapestry of falling trees, ruined clothes lines, dodgily stitched together roofs and homicidal tides.
Oh stay inside yeh poor craythurs. You mind that wind now. I’ve heard what it can do to yah.
What matter that it’s all kind of been done before, and previous storm overkills from the national broadcaster led to some people quite logically figuring that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a big deal this time either.
Even Ray Darcy sounded engaged, concerned, instead of, well, somebody who’s being paid a fortune not to give a shite. Oh for a day we were fantastic again, not in the shrill, tongue in stranger hysteria of Italia ’90, but in a sober, more concerned old Irish way, a sort of ‘are you sure you’re ok there now?’ A kind of ‘how about a cup of tea’ sensibility, and don’t forget to check on all those old people and animals, but only, you know, once the wind has died down.
And it was all so terribly, terribly comforting, like a bedtime story or a jug of hot milk. In a way, I’ll almost miss it, and experiencing it reminded me of all the things I’d forgotten I missed about the place I used to think I lived in.
There hasn’t been any Irish state worth talking about since the early 1990’s – if indeed, such an entity can actually be said to have existed back then – when the senior Irish Civil Service realized that all the big action and money was in Europe and that their focus now was on being the best little boys and girls in the Euro class, the better to secure those lucrative sinecures in Brussels once their careers in Dublin had run their natural course.
Since then, any important Irish Government decision – such as the one to rape the citizenry in order to pay off the debts of bankers – has actually been taken in Brussels, or more precisely, Berlin. RTE, like all the rest of the Irish Government, is engaged in persuading its dwindling band of listeners that the stuff it talks about actually has some sort of meaning in the real world, wherever that may be.
But Fine Gael told us to stay indoors and not go to work. And as the denizens of Leo’s ‘Republic of Opportunity’ made their way back to work over the cracks and runnels left behind by the country sized scam that was Irish Water, it still felt kind of comforting, as if they in some way cared about us.
For those of us who had to go back, next day, to the reality of living inside a fiction, the memory – false as its precept was – still felt kind of nice.