Danny Moran: there’s more to Ireland…

On the balls of the eyes the road from Dublin to Galway exacts almost no pressure at all. If only Flann O Brien were here, or the author’s fictional font-of-all-knowledge, de Selby. The great man could doubtless itemize the towns of Ireland according to their barometric burden on the human eye-globe. Yet even in his absence it is still obvious that to traverse the nation by way of its M6 motorway provokes far less aggravation for the retina than a comparative journey back home. Crossing the Shannon, headed for that re-branded stretch of coastline now known as the Wild Atlantic Way, there is still a sense of open road to be had…grey, perhaps, but yielding to a sense of possibility my inner knee-jerk reactionary can’t fuck with.
Galway Bay
What there isn’t, as we trundle on into the heart of dampness, is a depthless forest of signs, bollards, road works, instructions, commands, warnings, forfeits and pictogrammatical edicts backed up by a never-ending theme park of traffic detection equipment – cameras, sensors, recognition software – each seemingly in competition with each other to fit up the motorist for some automated transgression. Scarcely twenty-minutes out of Dublin are we, in fact, when my becalmed mind finds itself wistfully bestirred by those small nations who buy up all the torture equipment we build and wondering if there isn’t some kind of reciprocal arrangement whereby the British government imports traffic detection kit. Like…maybe the reason for the traffic detection thing is similar to the reason Afghanistan is swimming in shoulder-borne rocket launchers. Two men shook hands on something, somewhere.
Whether driving is the right idea for a holiday at this point in human history is another question…I get that. And as a tourist, I think to myself, fingers drumming the steering wheel, I can’t know to what extent my happy experience of the highway reflects the shitshow I bring with me internally, the stroke of providence which may, for all I know, have gifted us a charmed run this particular day, or to what extent a couple of hours’ quiet sanity, navigating the breadth of the island of Ireland, naturally begets an acid dispatch on the brass neck of the British State.
So near so Spar
In the village of Kinvara the season may be over but for the dogged traveler that spells no end to the wonderment which awaits – it being miraculous, to take a random example, how lavishly-stocked the Irish manifestation of Spar is. For all I know about Brexit, the ‘Leave’ storyline may have been an overdue black eye for the elites still technically awaiting its reward from the arc of history – but right now it’s difficult to ignore the sight of a Spar that looks better stocked than a British Tesco.
Expensive, mind, but plentiful in the kinds of products which have been disappearing from British shelves in recent times.
Matt Molloy’s pub, Westport
I’m loading niche foodstuffs into my car when an old man stops. “Ah, I see you’ve bought some logs there!” he says. “Yes, having a fire,” I reply, referencing the wood-burning stove which is the centre-piece of our rented accommodation. “Grand! Are you on holiday, then?” “Yes, we’re in an AirBnb just up the road.” This man speaks English, I note, but his friendliness is incomprehensibly foreign. “Where have you come from?” he asks. “Manchester.” “Really? I lived in Wiltshire for thirteen years, right by Stonehenge!” “No way!” “Listen, do you know a fellow called…” “Look I’m awfully sorry but I really have to get back…”  “Oh, don’t mind me…well, enjoy your stay in Ireland!”
As a tourist, of course, I can’t know to what extent this visitation of a friendly Irishman is an insight into national character slash indictment of how comparatively pent up the British have become as a race. But you go in the pubs where traditional music is played –  Tigh Chóilí in Galway, Matt Molloy’s in Westport – and you think about the drinking culture, the pursuit of the craic, and how it seems a bit more a quest for “us” rather than “us and them.”
Week within a week
The Ireland experience, then, with its nipple tweaked by Brexit. I haven’t been here for twenty-five years and can read little between the lines. In the copy of the Irish Times I pick up, diarist Frank McNally – tasked with teasing wry observation from the raw material of the week – picks apart the American appropriation of Halloween. Which to be fair, the locals seem to celebrate as we would Christmas, were it to be announced this was to be the last Christmas ever.
Elsewhere, columnist Fintan O’Toole feels nervous about Britain’s new Prime Minister. “A soft target for British resentment,” he writes of Rishi Sunak, the first true Brexiteer PM, but a man he sees pinned by that cause’s central, self-defeating contradiction. “Global Britain is the elite idea of Brexit. But that carriage was yoked to a much more nativist workhorse: the anger of those for whom globalization has been a false promise.”
Bad optics for the hedge fund Brahmin. “Watch for the rise of that other use of “globalist” against Sunak,” writes O’Toole. “He is – because of his ethnicity, his ostentatious wealth and his detachment from ordinary English life – a soft target for the resentments that Brexit channelled but could not satisfy.”
Irish interest in Anglotoxicity relates in large part to what the hell is going to happen in the North, of course…and the view from across the water may weigh heavily in the eyeballs. What will those crazy Tories do next…or find themselves dragged into by the tide of their support?
Agreement on the Northern Ireland protocol would be one thing – but which way then the drift for nationalism and the Union?



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