A singular country, p.12
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       A Singular Country, p.12

           J. P. Donleavy
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  “Holy gee Mabel there’s a god almighty live snail with two periscope eyes swimming across my soup.”

  No need for panic here. All forms of Irish domiciled molluscs and crustaceans are of the very purest, best and highest quality and deservedly desired by your best gourmets from Paris to Timbuktu. And of course any of your normal Irishmen in the purlieus would be only too delighted to snatch up, raise high and drop into his mouth this fresh live snail paddling in his soup. However old Harry from Dayton, Ohio, hysterically all over the place hollering, has hit this upmarket hotel restaurant a real hard if not low blow in the old haggis. And due to the mouth to mouth communication system across the country this is not a place where you can shout out or for long talk behind somebody’s back without them soon having wind of it. And never mind your telephone, telegraph, morse code and facsimile systems. They’re not needed. For in a land where everyone wants to get something for nothing and where begrudgement lurks supreme and vilification is the highest of all arts, the Irish are, like Harry, wont to say anything they can constructively destructive. And here by god does the language more than occasionally mean something in communication. Especially if it is maliciously libellous and defamatory and someone is suing the living bejesus out of you for having brought them into ridicule and contempt and hoping to reduce you down to your broken shoelaces in bankruptcy. And Dayton Harry might soon find writs instead of snails in his soup. So in your innocent excursions in and about this island you’d always want to have a mind to please and be flattering in the conduct of your social intercourse with your hail fellow well met Irishman. And in the case such as Harry’s he’d have better been advised to aver.

  “Hey gee Mabel look at this little live bonus they give you here to garnish your soup.”

  For let me tell not only you this, but Harry and Mabel as well. That by joining this time honoured conspiracy among the natives and giving out the blarney and bathing your words in complimentary overtones, such will bade you better than well. And there’s even a Gaelic word for it, plamás. Which, in its English language definition is the laying on thick of flattery. With maybe an overtone of soft soaping and wheedling thrown in. And this would get you peacefully and pleasurably from Ballinamuck to Ballybofey and back in no disagreeable time at all.

  Now as you’d not too innocently imagine there’s a bloody good reason lurking in this velvety benign behaviour. For libel cases frequently threaten and often finally rage in this land where ridicule and contempt have long been honed into a fine art and have been a recognised method of getting even with them as you have no use for and who in fact you’d like to see dead and as indecently buried as possible. And this kind of rancorous litigation has no resemblance to the previous popular type mentioned involved in falling off trams, trains, buses or tripping over paving stones. Or the near miss in a motor car brushing past someone’s limb which, after you stop out of courtesy, then by god produces an army of fifty accomplice witnesses shouting that you’ve cracked two and bruised four of your man’s best ribs, dislocated his spinal cord, put the cartilage in both knees on the blink and twisted his coccyx back to front. And don’t worry, although your man will then be hobbling on crutches into court, his ears held up by balloons, having conferred with his solicitor, it won’t be long following the collected award for the damage and maim that he isn’t back the next day from Lourdes miraculously cured and tap dancing all over the place. And it would have your fair minded honest Protestant Catholic protesting.

  “Shame. Shame. Shame.”

  Ah but we were talking instead about defamation and injury to the reputation and the monetary awards of indemnification arriving therefrom. And if you or your lawyer have enough shekels to afford the first day in court, by god if this isn’t a great old game going on. And never mind the use of language here, the protagonists in this courtroom battle will be killing each other with looks. And with the intensity of enmity blazing down these laser beams, in a few glances there’d be no one alive within miles. Nor would it take you long to be quickly wondering what to do to avoid this kind of prolonged implacable human consternation. And it would be no surprise to anybody if you from now on, instead of complaint, settled for plamás. And in the restaurant, viewing your dreadful cold sodden greasy overcooked meal, and an earwig running at you out of the cabbage and even trying to get up your sleeve, to confound the head waiter into making it sound as if you were delighted by the sign of living nature under your very nose which amply demonstrated the healthy condition of Irish earwigs. For the proprietor now would be summoned fulminating from the back and beyond of the kitchens, in order that he might be ferreting around in every syllable you utter to make sure he’s got the nuance of the maliciousness that could mean the very worst defamation or slander that could give vent for revenge suggested in the law books. Ah, but the earwig has now rushed into the dark safety under the edge of your plate and you’re ready as your man bends to ask,

  “Is everything to your satisfaction sir?”

  “Ah god these do be great peas and potatoes served by a great waiter. And there not be a sign of any old cooked dead bugs, rottenness or blemish anywhere and the whole lot is delicious.”

  Now employing the English language in its Irish vernacular is another of your communicating helps the visitor is wise to adopt and to which Dayton Harry has caught on and is now finding is smoothing his path through Ireland. And indeed putting on the brogue has long been an art in conversation used by your ruling Anglo Irish ascendancy landlord in speaking and dealing with your native estate and household staff. With the pasha in the big house taking his ease reading the newspaper while toasting his toes before the library fire and having his pre dinner sherry.

  “Would you ever Paddy now be after getting in a few more sods of turf to be keeping the flames leaping and the heat hopping on the hearth?”

  “Sure your Honour and that’s something now sire that I’d only be too glad sir to be attending to this very moment.”

  One can think of a few rude ripostes, that might underlie these words from Paddy here, and be assured of course that he won’t be tiring himself getting any old turf until the fire has gone out. And the pasha has frozen his upper cruster balls off and had to smash back five more sherries to kill the chill. But all indeed is fully in keeping with the Country House tradition in which efficiency and dutifulness are instantly promised and inefficiency and insubordination are then leisurely perpetrated. As too, in the same way on the Shamrock Isle, friendship, although on the lips, is but a thin disguise of the betrayal lurking in the heart. And those you thought were cheerful acquaintances easily convert without warning into bitter enemies and adversaries. And so as the libel case unfolds in the courtroom you’ll be thanking your lucky stars you were smart enough not ever to have put pen to paper or tap a computer or typewriter key, or sign a guest book, because let me tell you that even the disapproving frown you were seen wearing on your face five years ago at two in the afternoon will be remembered and thoroughly used against you.

  “The expression on his face Your Honour, would kill a cat. And him black with nine lives.”

  But by god never mind court decisions, revolutions, or earthquakes. For in the world’s friendliest country, even worse than litigation befalls in the matter of a slight snub, the Irish memory for which is the longest in Christendom. Indeed this is why anyone walking a street in Erseland is, if he isn’t walking backwards or sidewards, forever nodding on all sides of him. And many a nut, taking pleasant acknowledgement of another to an extreme, sports clerical garb and sprinkles holy water in all directions. But of all disparagement and belittling, being ignored is the most heinous, and goes forever unforgotten and unforgiven down the generations and centuries. With the treasured moment for getting even always as much cherished as it is constantly visualised and faithfully awaited.

  Now you’d think from what’s been said there would be a bit of caution in your snubbing and the use of rumour and gossip. And that there would be utter fear and trembl
ing everywhere to in the least, or by any means, offend anyone. But not a bit of it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does bitter bad mouthing and smearing aspersion go criss crossing the country from lips to lips but poison pen letters not necessarily anonymous flood all over the kip through the post with no one hesitating to put pen to paper to spell out the scurrility, even to communicating to those abroad. Although it is admitted however, that when blatantly putting these maliciously defaming and libellous matters in writing such communications are always headed in capitals.


  Of course already eagerly handing it hand to hand, and often intoning the contents aloud nobody ever burns anything containing so much juicy heartfelt gossip. Even sexual positions and proclivities are carefully calculated to be as disgustingly disparaging as possible and are often briefly encapsulated so to brand their victim with a nickname forever. And these are especially vituperative in belittling or besmirching a lady’s reputation especially when referring to depraved and corrupt moral behaviour as might be involved in spinning like a top with your multi-orgasmic vicar’s daughter whose Ferrari the Irish female assemblage battered to an unsalvable wreck.

  Now is it any wonder that you have libel actions erupting at the drop of a hat all over the kip. And if you were ever stupid enough to say anything in your own handwriting anywhere, bejesus it could rear up any time now in volcanic conspicuousness. The writs flying with counter accusing solicitors’ letters questioning the parentage and slanging words back and forth alluding to the past bad character of the plaintiff and deserving of the present defamatory remarks. Ah but there is a world in Ireland where there is no litigation. But much fornication. And your Irish natives are wont to be even more flamboyant in their phrasing to describe your female of morals loose. And by god isn’t the province we refer to that of fox hunting.

  “Wasn’t she now mounted or dismounted a fuck laid on like hot water in the pipes and them tingling with the heat and couldn’t anyone come cantering along and turn on the tap.”

  And in these galloping hunting circles so bad has the general gossip got that you’d these recent years even have members of the clergy involved. Ah but more anon about matters of the horse, fox and hounds. But before we forget all this old slander and scandal stuff you’d wonder what was the worst that can be said about someone aside from his being branded an ignorant bollocks. Which latter, in an island proud of the education of its inhabitants, is usually the first loud aspersion cast. And be that as it may. But in a land where the people are generous to a fault the most demeaning comment is simply that your ignorant bollocks is not only an ignorant bollocks, but is mean and stingy as well. And wouldn’t buy a thirsty man a drink.

  And him

  Just awake

  From a dream

  Midway across the

  Sahara desert



  Ah but with all its asses and carts, greeny brown mountains and silver streams, golden thatched cottages and lonely bogs and plethora of pubs, here you are alive in Ireland ready to enjoy what this country offers more than anywhere else in the world, the opportunity for the mind to dream. Always provided of course such imaginings are of a pure and chaste nature. Then let us suppose as an unabstracted stranger and visitor plamásing all around you and libelling no one, that you’d have had no trouble, and been giving out the blarney as good as you’ve got and that on wheels without a horse you’re trying to only be doing the simple enough thing of heading where you want to go. Well you’d soon be in a dilemma and be warming up your brogue to utter a stream of your Irish vernacular profane expletives. For disorientation of the foreigner is the greatest game ever played by any of your indigenous natives anywhere. And you wouldn’t in a hurry be finding the way to Twomileborris or Ballyboggan especially if you had like poor old Harry from Dayton, Ohio, the unluckiness to accost one of your passing rural rustics to enquire the way.

  “Ah now you’re not that near that it could be said you’re not that far away. And again now you’re not that far away that I couldn’t tell you how to get there.”

  “Well gee, fella thanks, how do you get there?”

  “Now stay aboard your motorised vehicle and continue to roll on down this road till you meet the fork going right and left where you’ll see straight ahead of you a bush standing so high next to a tree. It would be a perennial of a type better known on the slopes of the Gulf of Genoa and brought back here to these parts of the world by the one time local lord of the manor from over there beyond who shot himself through the head in his library while reading the order for the burial of the dead from the book of common prayer according to the use of the United Church of England and Ireland. Wasn’t your man’s butler outside the door listening before the shot rang out. And his lordship had on great funeral. But let’s never mind that old bit of history. You’d be wanting I’m sure to be on your way. But back to that bush now, if it had been warm enough this past spring the bit of shrubbery planted by your lordship would have yellow flowers on it as big as the size of half a crown with a harp on one side and a stallion on the other and that no longer would these recent times be legal currency, having gone out of circulation these five or was it six years ago and a pity it was too. With your commissars in power having no regard for the historic nobility incarnate in the nation’s coinage. And sure it would be just like a lot of other things the powers that be have let go to the devil.”

  “Gee fella, sorry you sort of got a problem here. But that bush you mentioned a while ago.”

  “Ah of course. The bush. Wasn’t I just coming to that. Well now you can’t miss it and you’ll recognise it even with the flowers. But take no notice of it. It should have been pulled up out of the way years ago. A danger to road users it would be, who’d bechance know and be distracted by its rarity.”

  “Holy cow fella, what do you say we sort of skip the shrubbery a second. And maybe just tell us which way to go.”

  Now all this palaver by your local native with Harry and Mabel as a captive audience who are desperate to get the hell on their way, is for no other reason than to simply hold as lengthy as possible a conversation. The rustic himself doing all the talking. For it would only be with the passing alien stranger that your aboriginal could ever get the wee chance to spout out his timeworn brainful of clichés and platitudes that would be long familiar already with every member of your local populace who for miles around have over the years heard your man repeat ad nauseam his twice told tales a thousand times. But even so, Dayton Ohio Harry, in attempting to get himself faster to where he was going, would be entirely much wiser to straight off suggest repairing with your homegrown roadside rustic to the nearest pub and while repeatedly buying him foaming dark pints of stout, tune in his ears to your man for the night. For let me tell you where ever you’re headed and reading the road signs or listening to another colloquialist pointing the way, you’ll never get there. Since every destination put up printed to be bilingually read, if the understandable language is not torn in half, then what’s left of the sign will be twisted in the wrong direction. And why not, if one is in mind of the fact that the whole place is not that big an island and a quick walker could non stop cross it in two days and that you would come to the coastline and a cliff edge or beach before you would be totally lost. Plus you would of course, provided it’s still daylight, be getting a great old mystery tour, that would be revealing to you many a great sight that you would be sure to miss if you weren’t lost. So in fact it couldn’t matter less, not knowing where the bloody hell you’re going. But giving wrong bearings as the national pastime is for more heartfelt reasons than amusement alone. And that is because some of your sleek obtuse foreign tourist excursionists looking down their noses at the poor primitive roadside native, bloody well deserve it.

  Now f
or a decent moment if you will, picture how you would feel if you were the descended from the famine shambling old rustic himself standing there lonely and forlorn on this god forsaken road, holes in your every pocket as you reached fiddling to adjust your stale old goolies as they become misplaced for the hundredth time in your tattered uncomfortable mouldy underwear. With socks on unchanged for weeks that would stand up and walk by themselves. And you’d be itchy enough wherever there was a patch of hair growing on you and off which even if you took only the mildest sniff, nothing would come let me tell you, that would even remotely be as naturally perfumed as new mown hay. And now suddenly out of the greeny blue distance on this ghostly haunted, deserted road, appears a grand shiny new motor car driven by your talcum powdered, toilet lotioned leisurely dressed tourist. Cameras and assorted lenses slung gleaming around their necks. The wife sporting a wristload of gold bracelet charms plus glittering, gaudy assorted plumes, garlands and spangles galore that would, were your aboriginal able to get his hands on them and put them into pawn, buy him meals and drinks for months at a clip. Sure just to peek into the back seat of the automobile and feast your eye on the stack of the best of top grain, cowhide luggage, you’d know the pair of them had money to burn. As what else could be the situation with people with nothing better to do than to be wandering around one of the loneliest landscapes in Europe as strangers. And then by god here you are the genuine bogman himself, the still moist cow flop on your heels putting your best boot forward and forelock pulling to eagerly take any and all trouble to give them the best account you can of the local folklore liberally embellished with precious items of interest not to be found in any guidebook. And there they are, indifferent as you please, the smug sweet smelling impatient pair of them ungratefully on the verge of wanting to tell you to shut up, you old god damn boring tramp. All they care about is just simply the directions to get the hell away from you as fast and as far as possible. And by god is it any wonder that as they finally roar off in a blaze of exhaust and tyres scorching the road, that you, scratching to relieve the itching in your goolies, have sent them, as best as you know how, miles in the continuously circular wrong direction. And also with the fervent bon voyage wish that the pooka would have pissed aplenty upon the blackberries they might have served up for their evening’s dessert if ever by an absolute miracle they get to where they innocently think they’re going. Instead of to the endlessly elliptical place you’ve sent them. And if you don’t know who the pooka is, don’t worry, he’d only be here lurking in Ireland where if you come he’d be enlightening you soon.

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