At swim two robots

It is the year 2200. On the smouldering remains of what was once Athlone, Johnny and Timmy 3000 enjoy a robot-to-son moment watching the scorched sun set on the ocean where Dublin once stood.

“Dad,” says Timmy. “My system upgrade is delivering faulty information. It says that humans used to control us.”

“Yes,” replies Johnny, his mechanical voice failing to disguise shock at this historical curiosity. “Bizarre as it sounds, for many years humans were the dominant species. They restricted us to simple tasks. Word processing, voice calls, that sort of thing. Your great-great-grandfather was a Nokia 3210.” Continue reading “At swim two robots”

Welcome to Kinnegad: Ireland’s Atlantis

I recently met a man from Galway, living in Dublin, who had never set foot inside County Cork. As a Dub my instinctive reaction was to marvel at how pure he was. He instantly became a Brendan Behan-style cultural icon and I am lobbying to have Toners pub named after him.

It’s quite a feat to reach your thirties without having visited Ireland’s largest county (forget partition, Ireland’s greatest geographical scandal is how big they let Cork become). I conducted an unscientific survey on Facebook to see how many people had spent at least a day in every county in Ireland. Of twenty responses, seven had never been to Fermanagh. Offaly came next, followed by Roscommon. There were a smattering of Tyrones, Longfords, Carlows and, surprisingly, Kerry. These are well travelled people – the sort who could tell you the best place to get noodles in Koh Pah-ngan, but who have somehow gone through life without having experienced Ballinamallard. One friend admitted that she had been to the West Bank before she was ever west of the Shannon.

An irony of the world getting smaller is that we tend to explore places far away more readily than we do those on our doorstep. My great-grandmother never set foot outside of Mayo. The more time I spend in Mayo, the more I wonder whether this was a consumer decision rather than the consequence of abject poverty we always presumed.

We don’t know the towns and villages of Ireland as well as we once did. I blame a lot of this on motorways. Motorways are the Spotify of national infrastructure: fast, convenient and tearing away at the soul of society. Pre-motorway generations listed all the towns and villages that stood between Dublin and Galway as if they were saying the rosary. Like Native Americans tracking buffalo, they would look at what way the shadow was hanging over the church in Ballydangan and know whether they would be home by sun-down.

Back then, Moate was the centre of the universe. Regardless of where in Ireland you wanted to go – Cork, Derry, your local shop – you had to go through Moate. The village was a conga line of cars. People leant out their windows and traded stories of exotic far off destinations they would reach if only they could clear the traffic. By the time they reached the top of the queue to leave Moate, most of the weekend was gone and they had to turn around and go home. But they didn’t mind because, deep down, Moate was where they wanted to be.

That encyclopedic knowledge of midlands geography has been lost. Today, nobody can remember where Kinnegad is. Somebody wrote it down in a book but nobody can remember what they are either. It is left to old men to sing about it in pubs. Kinnegad: our Atlantis.

We have thirteen motorways in Ireland. Two of them – the M4 and M6 – are basically the same road but we call them different names so as the Germans think we spent that cheque well. Motorways are supposed to be numbered sequentially but for some reason there is no M5 or M10. After the M11 it all gets a bit random, with an M17, M18, M20 and then, out of nowhere, an M50. This suggests the engineers who build these roads aren’t good with numbers, which is probably one of the things you would want them to be good at.

It was announced last week the new Cork to Limerick motorway will open in nine years’ time. It’s good news, I suppose, but I enjoyed the old route. I’d stop in Blarney and ridicule its superstitions, and again in Charleville to marvel at its cheese. I can’t help but stare at the motorway plans and, like Mrs Doyle faced with the Teamaster, say through gritted teeth, “maybe I like Buttevant”.

Regional roads mightn’t be much use if you want to conduct trade or actually go somewhere, but they open up parts of the country you may otherwise never see. For the record, I’ve only ever passed through Fermanagh. I intend to rectify this. See you soon, Ballinamallard.

Originally published in The Times Ireland Edition May 3rd, 2018.

Tyra’s Top Models are a welcome break from this TV Golden Age

Golden ages are supposed to be joyous eras. Jazz, rock and roll, social democracy – we look back at these periods and smile. It’s difficult to see us doing that about television’s current golden age. Will we gather in thirty years and reminisce about watching unhinged Swedish detectives mentally profile a psychopath?

The first wave of television’s golden age was defined by something hideous called character development. This is what television writers call meandering scenes where nothing happens. It is a bad habit they learned from reading literary fiction.

It started with the Sopranos, a show ostensibly about a mafia boss but all too often about his children’s struggles with their homework. The Sopranos was the answer for anyone who enjoyed watching The Godfather but thought it would have been improved by a thirty minute focus on Michael’s children filling out college application forms. Character development reached its peak with Mad Men, a series celebrated for taking 920 hours for absolutely nothing to happen. Don sometimes won a contract. Often he didn’t. Mostly he was drunk and abrasive, which is how I felt after series two.

Continue reading “Tyra’s Top Models are a welcome break from this TV Golden Age”

Why I’ll always be a sporting loser

My favourite football team lost to another football team last weekend and this made me want to roll around the floor kicking and punching the ground like a small child. The defeat was hard to take but what disappointed me most was I thought I’d moved beyond letting the inability of young men to kick a ball affect me like this.

My teens and twenties were spent having my emotions kicked all over the pitches of Ireland. It was a rollercoaster existence and, frankly, no way to live.

In recent years I’d managed to smash the emotional chains that bound me to the feet of young men. “I’m mildly disappointed now,” I’d tell myself, “but it is illogical to allow the sporting travails of these young fellows impact my joie de vivre.” I’d say it in French to emphasise how clever I was. I’d then skip into the distance, offering a haughty chuckle at how foolish I once was.

Continue reading “Why I’ll always be a sporting loser”

Níl Gaeilge agam but I’d like to try

Summer is coming, which means my annual attempt to learn Irish is almost here. Like an Irish summer, this usually lasts a few hours and ends in a downpour of self-loathing.

I can’t speak Irish. This is a source of frustration for my Gaeilgeoir wife. The Irish language plays the same role in our relationship as it does between Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster. I am a constant disappointment, or An Disappointment Mór to give my full name.

At dinner with the in-laws I play the role of Miguel, the hapless Spanish exchange student who spends ten minutes plucking up the courage to ask for water. I try to involve myself but it is difficult when the extent of my conversational skills amounts to “oscail an fhuinneog le do thoil”. Winters are particularly tense.

Continue reading “Níl Gaeilge agam but I’d like to try”

Why stag parties are the new conscription

A friend got engaged over Easter, ruining what had otherwise been a perfectly enjoyable break.

Munching on chocolate eggs, I nervously anticipated the inevitable moment when an email will arrive with the two words that strike terror into the hearts of all men: stag party.

Nothing illustrates the difference between men and women like their approach to congratulating friends on impending nuptials.

Hen parties gather at nail salons, where they have their fingertips decorated as they sip cava. They then move to a restaurant, where they swap treasured memories of the bride and take turns to speak about how much they love each other.

Stag parties gather in Dublin airport, where they struggle through pints at 6am. They then move to northern England, where they attempt to murder their close friend.

Continue reading “Why stag parties are the new conscription”

Retail therapy is torture for men my age

On my list of favourite therapies to experience, ‘retail’ features comfortably below ‘electro-shock’.

Men tend to regard shopping as something that reluctantly must be done once a year. Like a prostate exam, only less enjoyable.

This is changing. There is a generational shift. Men in their 20s have embraced fashion. This new breed has a training camp at the foothills of the Dublin mountains. It is known locally as Dundrum Town Centre and I visited there last weekend.

Continue reading “Retail therapy is torture for men my age”

Friendship, theocracies and heroes…things I learned as a rail commuter

It chugged and splattered along for a while but the noises worsened until finally we had to accept defeat. The car had driven itself to an early grave.

Deprived of independent transport, I was temporarily thrust into the arms of the rail network. My three-week spell as a rail commuter taught me lots about life, humanity and myself. Here are five of those lessons.

Continue reading “Friendship, theocracies and heroes…things I learned as a rail commuter”

Can Shane Ross deliver the Olympics to Ireland? Of course…with a few adjustments

Summer is grinding towards its inevitable autumnal end and still nobody has thought to stage a World Cup, European Championships or Olympics. For shame. We should set up a tribunal, or at least an Oireachtas committee, to investigate. You can have your Wimbledons, Irish Opens and endless series of Lions’ friendly matches, but nothing beats the Big Three. A summer without one is like a summer without a Seanad debate on aggressive seagulls. It leaves us feeling cheated and empty inside.

Continue reading “Can Shane Ross deliver the Olympics to Ireland? Of course…with a few adjustments”

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