A singular country, p.11
A Singular Country, p.11J. P. Donleavy
For simplicity’s sake it is best to bring into focus these separate tones of racial pigmentation and put names on both which in turn displays the clear existence of your Orange Man on one side and your Green Man on the other. And ne’er shall the twain meet. And not only that but some of them would do more than just bust each other’s heads. Now dedicated observers who do be commenting on the matter would say that the root of the problem was tribal and then some would attest to its being religious and more would aver it was economic. And your Solomons among the bunch would say it was more than a little of all three of these things. Now there’s already enough intellectual cats let loose among the scholarly pigeons to make the feathers fly with doctrines, theories and explanations without creating more heat than you’d find in your nuclear fission. But one or two things let me tell you are for certain. Primary among them is that this would be a real battle. And not some of your push and shove that some of your opposed factions in the backward nations get up to in the rest of the world. Which must at least mean one thing. Whoever is in the struggle waging it, seriously means it. And no matter what anyone suggests or says as a solution, seems able to simmer it down, at least up until yesterday. But luckily it has for the longest time now been less than a total blood bath. And some of your more pragmatic folk might say, isn’t that the trouble. Especially as an Irishman will always see both sides of an argument provided it can result in a fight.
Ah but there are other aspects to enmity as there are to love. And you’d nearly think sometimes that your Green Man is in cahoots with your Orange Man. Both blowing pipes and fifes and beating drums marching through the streets. Throwing stones at each other and shouting you dirty Green or Orange bastard. And be that as it may. But by god what are you finding as you look deeper into matters. You are finding that your Orange Man, your lambeg drum beater and loyal to the British Crown is travelling on your Green Man’s passport, the same that has got the harp stamped on it and has not got a single trace of adornment connected with the United Kingdom. And your Orange Man, taxed with the anomaly, would say he’s only doing it for the convenience of the friendly international reputation such passport accords. But then you might take that as a complementary reason as to why you have your Green Man, in his droves, travelling to Britain itself, looking for jobs, not to mention abortions, and helping themselves generously to medical treatment and welfare. And indeed not a few of them even becoming your high and mighty celebrities and putting on the dog and acting your tender loving and comic talking Irishman and charming plenty all over the kingdom. And why not. And more publicity to them.
But, ah god, now is it any wonder that you’d be forgiven for thinking as one might have been previously suggesting that the conflict, hostility and hatred is all symbiotic acrimony. And that there be instead more of your aforementioned conspiracy among the populations to foster furore for the sake of an interested but befuddled world watching. While they are busy as they are in motor cars and lorries roaring back and forth across all divides and happy as can be getting whatever it was on either side that was better for them to get. And they’d both, Orange Man and Green Man alike, smile a pleased smile and shake a hearty handshake with each other over the bargain. And some to do this would even go by train which despite the tearing up of many a mile of track still remains one of the greatest things, aesthetically, emotionally and spiritually in the country. Now in speaking of the railroad you’d be wondering what this subject has got to do with religion or politics or with the price of war. Well the answer is plenty. For, in the form of a railway track, there is existing a singularity of connection between the two areas separating your majority of your Orange Man in the North from your Green Man in the South.
Now it should be no surprise to you that there would be somebody blowing the ruddy poor thing up. But the interesting situation here is you wouldn’t be puzzling very long over who it might be. And you’d conclude right away it would be the Orange Man blasting it to kingdom come. In order to keep the association of North and South to a maximum minimum. And you’d be wrong. And in the right answer might set the greatest example yet in the list of evidence of the conspiracy among this entire island population. It is your Green Man doing this frequent and now traditional job. Stuffing the explosive under railway bridges or between the ties on the track and waiting for the big locomotive pulling its fairly attractive train. Now the question must be still bedevilling you. As to why your Green Man is causing this impassibility and doing it maybe not always as regular as on every Wednesday, but nearly. And you’d get to the bottom of it by realizing that in more historic times this train was called the “Contraceptive Express” named after the then purpose of many of your Green Man travellers carrying these pregnancy-preventing artefacts from an area where they be legally available to one where they weren’t. Now even in your less permissive times when this train was blown up, your Green Man did a great job of it. Not only did the detonation contort the rails of the track but it also sent your condoms flying, not as balloons but as a bunch of ragged shattered rubber bands. But if you were sitting innocent as your steady peaceful traveller on such a train, such explosions would exasperate you and you wouldn’t exactly be concerned as to whether it was all for a good cause or not. But now here at last one knows why there is no contradiction in your Orange Man not doing the blowing up. For it is your Green Man who, in intercepting the traffic in your birth preventatives, would be aiding and abetting the increase in the population of the likes of himself. Making sure that he doesn’t, as the Orange Man has done in the Green Man’s part of the isle, disappear from sight.
Ah but an indisputably more important matter, and while we’re on the subject, is not ever to let the Irish railroad disappear from sight. For, not the least of this amenity is your marvellous workforce who faithfully administer on these click clacking rails which still cross over many a peaceful mile of this island. Conductors, station masters, porters, ticket sellers, who are all men of astonishing depths of sensitivity, philosophical awareness and each with a propensity for matters droll. Now you’re not for a second to deduce from this that they would be having a huge joke on the public and were broadcasting the wrong timetable or were sending trains in the wrong direction on the wrong rails or, worse, derailing them altogether. On the contrary where such confronts in their daily duties these dedicated men put everything right in what is commonly referred to as a jiffy. Humanity with a strange gentleness abounds everywhere among these gentlemen who will have seen in their time, a lot of punching of billets up and down the train. And although always with a wary eye out for fare evaders who might try hiding in the lavatory or proffering their out of date tickets, they are prepared to be lenient, understanding and kind. If the sound of your feet is approaching they will keep a train waiting till you safely board. Rarely do you find surliness where you have to pop someone on the kisser or slam someone a few kicks in the shins and anonymously rush away in the crowds. And not that this should make much of a desperate difference to you, but the width of the rail gauge is one of the widest if not the widest in existence. Which does at least guarantee to keep the train on the track and never mind the extreme occasion when a carriage or diesel locomotive is to be seen toppled on its side along the line. Unlike other busier railroads in the world, such an event hardly ever happens. And safely inside the carriage you’ll be reassured by the smile these conductors wear and which is never far from their lips. For they have a lifetime of experience of the human predicament and when you are searching for your ticket which you cannot find, even tugging about in your underwear, they know the true from the false impression that this can give and recognising the genuine case, will even insist that you be given time to go on searching and undressing in the lavatory even when you yourself are already totally convinced you’ve lost your billet. But the indulgent conductor knows by the cut of your jib that you haven’t. And that you’ve tucked it somewhere so that you would be sure not to lose it and sure enough when you’ve eventually calmed down f
“Ah now didn’t I tell you sir, to go on looking, recognising in your honest face, a careful kind of person not likely to lose your ticket and putting it into too safe a place to be found as it were.”
Now it is not strange that on this wonderful rail network they do not make announcements in Irish. Not because it is believed by those in authority that there is confusion enough, but because most travelling the trains in the Emerald Isle already understand the language, and you wouldn’t be telling them something they didn’t know. And this brings us to another form of rapidly becoming popular travel and that be in the sky. Where, on the native powered flight, they do be announcing in Gaelic prior to take off for an Irish destination. Now no wonder heart attacks are increasing as well as causing Orange Men to exhibit pained distaste. However, there is another action more extreme and resembling that of the scalded cat. And this is your opportunity to witness a searing example of this as an expression when it appears on some of your foreigners’ faces as they hear the first indecipherable syllables of the Erse language coming at them over the tannoy. With your less sophisticated Americans especially leaping half out of their seats at this sound, with husbands grabbing their wives’ hands.
“Hey gee Mabel, what the hell’s that? We gotta get off, honey. We’re on the damn wrong plane to Timbuktu or somewhere.”
Of course Irish speaking stewardesses on the national airline have long been trained to be able to calm such passengers who might be tempted to make a beeline for an emergency exit hatch waving their tickets and pulling down hand luggage on other passengers’ heads. And decipherable languages are now speedily made to follow the native tongue announcements before passengers erupt to do anything foolish. Even so, with some local menus printed in Irish, there are still your Americans who with too much, or not enough, drink have been known to panic at hotel dining room tables.
“Holy cow Mabel this isn’t even in French. How the hell are we going to know what we’re eating when we don’t know what we’re ordering.”
And so it is with this imaginative nation playing their little humoursome tricks on the visiting foreigner and tourist. And it would be in the form of a strange sublimation that has been stimulated over the centuries by your landlord domination and the steadfast belief in British tyranny. Plus given that every Irishman has a deep abiding faith in his own shrewdness sharpened over the year by the boggy if not rocky terrain. And now adding to the conspiracy of contradictions to be found everywhere in the land, your stranger and tourist would be in for some more of your shocks. And especially the one revealing the British and Irish secret love and admiration for one another which has been so long and carefully hidden from the outside world. Of course to your distanced alien watching his T.V. and reading his newspaper in faraway lands this is dreadfully confusing news to suddenly let out. Indeed if openly and widely admitted by these two, traditionally, supposedly opposed races who heretofore have been so discreet and secretive about the matter, it could suddenly produce boat and planeloads of your respective British and Irish spanning the divide of the Irish Sea. And arriving on each other’s shores stepping on each other’s toes as they throw arms around one another to embrace. While your Orange Man rushes to witness the unbelievable spectacle and to either stand by in fist shaking rage or else solemnly weep over such sacrilege. And your disbelieving American tourist, Harry is ready with his camera.
“Hey gee Mabel look at that. I gotta get a picture of this. These people really love each other.”
Ah but do they, these people Orange and Green, really love each other. And perhaps no one will ever know. For again there is this constant mischievous intrigue among the population, which if you are foolish enough to bother to investigate, will produce all sorts of mistaken impressions. But let us take a rare example of what you would think couldn’t prevail. And that is the astonishing phenomenon of the existence of your neutral Orange Man. Ah I knew you wouldn’t believe it. But listen to this, here is a man who is as fair as you can get. Indeed, to whom even both sides of the difficulty would repair in order to mediate between the combatants. A gentleman of some elegance and verve, who is your moderate of no partisan leanings, a man independent, impartial, unprejudiced, unbiased, balanced. Who would see both sides of the question fairly and objectively and give Solomon’s opinion in any kind of Orange versus Green circumstance you could mention. Ah, but if you put him out of the Irish cauldron of contention and into what one can fairly term is the neutral territory of indifference. Say, in the marvellous surrounds of an old luxury London hotel, ah god, where he now sits in his well tailored suit and tasteful silk tie and stretched back on the sofa pillows, as he gently tastes his gently bubbling glass of champagne which has just been served by one of the gently smiling liveried waiters. And at precisely this solemnly seven p.m. of an evening, under the glinting chandeliers, the assembled Hungarian orchestra prime their instruments and strike up appropriately with the tune of “O Danny Boy”. When down from their suites above, the dowagers glittering in their diamonds, begin to gather as other ladies in their finery, and more recently of the world, waltz in. Taking their seats to study the menu over their drinks before dinner. And ah god, not far away, your neutral moderate non partisan Orange Man who is independent, impartial, unprejudiced, balanced and unbiased, and who would agree that it is only fair enough your Green Man would want to join your Orange Man in a oneness of a whole Irish nation, languishingly leans back in his chair and breathes in a great lungful of the luxurious British ethereal elixir. As he sighs in his ecstasy and is heard to intone.
“Ah. You know. The Empire and what we stand for and believe in must not be allowed to disappear.”
And by god, would you believe it. The waiters, overhearing and listening, are to a man all Green Men, and in their fine livery are direct from the old Gaelic country west across the Irish Sea. And now hearing your neutral Orange Man’s remark, you’d be sensibly ready to leap back like a scalded cat from the threatening imbroglio. But by god you’d be in for even a greater shock. Don’t your liveried Green Men waiters instead bend even deeper in their bows and smile even wider across their Celtic faces and rejoin your Orange Man with a rejoinder of the deepest abiding understanding.
“Ah now sire in regard to your recent acoustics expressing that sentiment, don’t we agree with you right down to the very last syllable.”
The chandelier glistens its rainbow of colours. The marble pillars of this great lounge gleam. The dowagers peruse amid the entrées. And doesn’t your Orange Man lean back a mite further in his sofa chair in sheer relishment at these words. And beams a smile back up at your two Green Men that would blind you by its very brilliance. And doesn’t he now take another great sigh of pleasure and give a tiny discreet tug at his long silk black socks as he tunes his vocal cords to reply.
“Ah Paddy and Micko good men yourselves thank you for your welcoming concurring diphthongs. We all know well, don’t we, that Britain is better for both of us.”
“Sir, you can bet all your consonants that we do.”
And with such understanding words spoken between your Orange and Green Man, why wouldn’t your obstinate fanatical bigotry reign supreme. Especially as what is said between Irishmen, which between Irishmen, is meant never to wound or offend until such time as wounding or offending is necessary. And is it any wonder that the Shamrock Isle is the only country in the world where language doesn’t mean anything. And if it did you’d only be repeating what you said yesterday, last week, last month, or last year or the year before that. And that’s why you see all over the place everywhere you go, a sign language expressed in nods, gestures, beckonings, wiggles, salutes, winks, eyebrow and shoulder raising and nudges.
BRAVING THE CHILL DISCOMFORT FOR THE SAKE OF GOOD HEALTH AND PLUNGING INTO THESE FREEZING WATERS FOR A RESTORATIVE SEA SWIM HAS BEEN A TRADITIONAL IRISH PURSUIT MOSTLY FOR GENTLEMEN AND OFTEN IN THE NUDE.
Ah you’re saying if there’s no meaning in the language and if spouting incomprehensible Gaelic to innocent persons as Irish motor birds take off for the Emerald Isle at airports is giving the likes of old Harry and Mabel circulatory fribulations and threatened heart attacks, then you’re saying what therefore does mean something in Erseland? Well I’ll tell you. And by god it is listened to and read with eagerly awaiting ears and eyes. Gossip means something. And rumour. Plots and conspiracy and speaking ill behind the back. Which when it is translated into libel and slander means even more. For only in Ireland is a lie regarded as the truth told for the time being. But the falsehood meanwhile is meant to do as much damage as it can while it lasts as the truth. So you’d soon grow dizzy and flop down with exhaustion looking for candour around the place. And it would be an isolated incident indeed that you’d ever encounter the sort of defamation of the character that would erupt concerning say a restaurant, where old Harry might jump up like a scalded cat shouting over his vichyssoise.
A Singular Country by J. P. Donleavy / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes