Thursday 24 August 2017

An immodest proposal to combat Dublin rent prices.

For a while now, renting in Dublin, along with cities like London, Paris and New York,  has been impossibly expensive. It seems there's no end in sight either, with glum projections of exploding rental prices on a near endless loop.

It seems late stage capitalism has evolved urban rental beyond being something affordable for the traditional family unit. Both members of a couple work now and, even with average salaries, affording a home in the capital proves a huge ask.

It's at times like these society digs deep and evolves to meet the challenge threatening its very existence. The traditional couple is dead. Killed by landlords. All hail the menage a trois.

Nowadays only three full salaries can provide the funds needed for city living. Bills would only be increased minimally as the family Bolognese can surely stretch to one more plate. Carpooling with 3 instead of 2 should help drastically with the city's traffic issues and create less pollution. And people are far more likely to find love if that special someone is open to sharing their lives with twice as many people. That's half the amount of time needed on Tinder.  Three salaries, one double bed. 

Arguments are now easier resolved given there's now a mediator on hand or at the very least a democratic vote now counts for something in a landscape where marriages break down and come apart faster than ever before.  Holidays are suddenly more affordable also.

Car and home insurance, those other two foes of the happy family unit are also suddenly tamed with a third income. Finally the middle class is resurrected from the ashes.

Now, initially there may prove some resistance from the traditionally short sighted institutions who actually legally bind relationships. But in time surely the powers that be can only grow more convinced how big an improvement just one more addition is to the ancient old world tradition.

Exhausted parents now have a baby sitter and an invaluable extra pair of hands. Childcare is made more affordable as well. The homestead is easier cleaned and boozy nights in take on a far more social feel. In a world where people are making increasingly less love, with three lovers the sex becomes much more available, between all 3, a cosy 2 or even the more traditional 1.

More sexually and emotionally gratified people living for less in urban areas, creating less pollution and traffic. Occupying less tables in restaurants but spending more money. The only question now is why stop at 3?

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Monday 19 June 2017

"The Founder" - National myth and the art of the deal.

Every day, the fast food restaurant McDonald's feeds 1% of the world's population. It started out a tiny burger joint in San Bernardino, California. The McDonald brothers, who had failed to break into Hollywood, failed to make it owning a cinema and failed at owning a drive in, decided to refine their product in one last-ditch attempt to break even. 

The Founder is the story of American Capitalism. Specifically, the two kinds of American Capitalism. That which was brought over from Northern Europe with the first settlers. And that which developed as the Twentieth Century progressed after the war. All told through a neat little story about flipping burgers. The German sociologist Max Weber wrote a book about the first kind. It was called 'The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism'. In it, Weber argues that Protestantism, and especially Calvinism, provided the foundation upon which Capitalism could properly thrive. The Calvinists believed very firmly in the existence of a heaven and hell. They also believed there were a finite number of seats laid out in heaven. A practicing Calvinist would never know, until he or she died, whether or not they'd lived a good enough life to be admitted through those pearly gates.

It was essential, then, for your 16th Century Northern European Calvinist to toil away thanklessly. To build his business steadily, contribute to his community and take a meagre portion so he could get by until he was called by his God. It was this dogged, conscientious business acumen, Weber argued, steeped in the mortal dread of the fiery afterlife that enabled Capitalism to prosper and small businesses to flourish. It's no coincidence that the Northern Europeans who settled the North of America in the 16th and 17th Centuries were by enlarge German and British Protestant stock. Scottish Protestant families like the McDonalds would have numbered greatly in those first ships over to the New World.

Benjamin Franklin laid out the ethos pretty concisely.

Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides. [...] Remember, that money is the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again is seven and threepence, and so on, till it becomes a hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills a breeding feline taint, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds.

There's a protracted scene in The Founder which is necessarily tiresome. It involves the McDonald brothers perfecting their revolutionary 'fast food' system. They chalk down some lines on a tennis court, denoting where the grill is, where the fryer sits and the serving stations, and then painstakingly test out how their new employees will function between those lines. They pause, wipe out and redraw all the lines again and again until the system is perfected. It's at this point you start wondering if you've bought into a two hour ad for McDonald's. But you haven't.

For Weber, this steadfast ethic lay in stark contrast to the Catholic outlook. For Catholics, it was possible to sin, to be lax, to slip from your duties, and spend time enjoying yourself. This was because all you had to do was confess to a priest and you'd be grated absolution. Your seat was once again guaranteed in heaven.  At an early point in the movie, we witness Ray Kroc, the titular 'founder' a failed milkshake machine salesman, alone in a motel room, drinking cheap whiskey and listening to an LP called “Power of the Positive” by a fictional author named Dr. Clarence Floyd Nelson. It's a fictional recording but a very clear reference to the work of Norman Vincent Peale. It's what was at the time called 'New Thought' but is currently more widely recognised as 'Visualisation' or The Secret. In the recording, "Nelson" recommends a ' a never-ceasing flow of energy' and maintains that individual persistence trumps any talent or genius. Belief, visualisation and an ethereal mysticism are all a person needs to get ahead. It certainly got Peale ahead. He presided over the wedding of Donald and Ivana Trump in 1977.

It gets Kroc even further. In stark opposition to the McDonald's failed attempts at building a franchise slowly and with cautious regard for standards, Kroc immediately buries himself in vast amounts of debt pursuing his lone fantasy of making it. The phrase 'American Dream' is bandied about a tad loosely here. Corners are cut. Powdered milkshake replaces the original milk-based product. Ray ditches the wife who's supported him into his fifties for a younger, blonder model. Ray then ditches the McDonald brothers. He owns the real estate. He owns the restaurants. Kroc winds up bullying up a deal with the brothers to claim legal rights to their name and their 'fast food' technique. Most of the second half of the film is a procession of ugly scenes where Kroc does the brothers over again and again, to the extent one winds up hospitalised. It then transpires neither brother ever received a cent of the royalties they were promised.

The film portrays Kroc as a man possessed. Heedlessly pursuing a dream at the expense of everyone he knows and gambling everything he has. And he makes it. Why, he's invited to lecture at an event with Ronald Regan, the president who used to get his speaking cues direct from the president of Goldman Sachs stood right beside him.  For John Lee Hancock, the careful, Protestant Capitalism of Northern Europe has been usurped by the quasi-mystical fantasies of the individual 'hero's journey'. Hancock leaves us with a portrait of a man of fire and belief who works hard and gets everything he wants. But the people he burned to get there and the price paid are what lingers as the credits roll. In a closing scene, Kroc explains to one of the brothers, what he bought wasn't their system. It was the name. McDonald. It sounds so genuine, he maintains. What's inferred is the history, the stock, the generations of labour.

What's interesting about The Founder is how easily it could have been told as a story of individual triumph against adversity. Against the nay-sayers. The small-thinkers. You could even potentially film the same script that very way. It bespeaks an American mainstream culture taking a hard look in the mirror. I haven't seen a film like this one released by a major studio since maybe the eighties.

Header image:

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Sunday 5 March 2017

American Honey and the anti-love-story

I don't mean to come across like one of those lone-fisted, self-righteous, middle class timeline revolutionaries (I say middle class, I just bought a 400 euro car) shitposting about the rights of people with whom I never interact. I say I don't want to come across that way, but I definitely will. I used to be active, I'll just say that much. But when I watch movies like American Honey I'm drawn to recall what used for me to distinguish actual leftist material by people who meant it from Guardian op-eds by guys living in Kensington. The real stuff told you what to do at the end. The purpose wasn't to get you to share the piece so you appeared all torn up about a bar chart, it was to get you out on a street someplace holding a placard. American Honey almost, almost has that feel. But instead of telling you what to do, it shows, like great cinema ought.

It's revolutionary in the way it takes a pretty standard set of tropes, the all-American road movie, a cluster of sexy, outlaw youths, a banging soundtrack and loads of luscious landscape photography, and presents an inversion of everything a movie like this typically says. It's the story of a teenage girl, Star, who we're initially introduced to dumpster diving for food with two young children, returning to an abusive stepfather and negligent mother, living in a kind of squalor shocking to witness only because you simply never see America shown this way on screen. Not without it being glamourised somehow. She bumps into Jake, played by Shia Lebeouf, and a gang of lost-boys and girls careening around in a van and causing chaos at a local supermarket. Jake offers Star a job in Kansas and, bereft of any other options, she accepts, abandons her family and gets in the van.

What she finds she's joined is a nomadic matriarchy constructed along tribal lines. The game is everyone has to sell magazine subscriptions to stay in the van. They do this door to door, approaching people in car-parks, bus stations, truck stops and oil fields. Like all true salespeople they sell themselves more than the magazines and say anything and everything to make the sale. Jake, as the top-salesman, is tasked with showing Star the ropes and right away, the initial connection between them sparks into a passionate and alluringly forbidden affair. Forbidden because Jake seems to be the property of Crystal, the aforementioned matriarch, who organises the accommodation and transport and enforces all the rules the guys and girls in the van need to stick to in order to keep on the road. Like any tribe, seemingly pointless rituals are key to the identity and success of the project. When one guys drops his trousers as a joke, the tradition is all the other guys give chase and play-fight him into submission. When anybody happens to play 'We found love' by Rihanna, everyone has to drop everything and wild out like crazy on the spot, the two worst sellers have to fight it out at end of each month and all of this is conducted in a patois of military style callouts, slogans and inter-group slang designed to bond the unit.

The most important of these traditions, though, is no couples. Jake explains to Star after they've made love that they've got to hide it from the group. It seems like you can fuck, but you definitely cannot have a relationship. The movie then becomes about Jake and Star burying and fighting their burgeoning young love in a way the viewer anticipates will end with some kind of ferocious romantic tragedy. Blood and gunfire and retribution. But this isn't what happens. In fact it's the exact opposite.

None of these kids are on their phones. Star has to borrow one at one point to check in at home, but aside from that, this is a generation and class of kids detached from an kind of a screen. They watch TV at night in motels but digest the content the same way they use the constant hip hop being blared over the van radio while they freebase and pass around the vodka bottle as breakfast. They use it to bond. The content doesn't matter. They sing along to every song the way drunks do arm in arm while the staff in clubs are already mopping up. The music is to keep them together. It's not to sell them any notions of love or wealth or freedom or political ideals. They consume it within the tribe for explicitly tribal purposes. And they're not consumers. The clothes they wear are picked out by Crystal to help them sell better in whichever district they're headed next. The food they eat and where they stay is based on what they can scare up. The only identity they have is a group identity, based in the songs and the rituals.

Visually, the film recalls everything from Easy Rider to Badlands to Larry Clark movies, which is intoxicating enough, but conceptually the story is taking us somewhere else. Jake isn't fucking Crystal. Crystal, the only person with her own motel room, fucks two, three guys a night according to her whim. She won't allow monogamy. Star has found a lifestyle which has reverted back to pre-capitalist, maybe pre-feudal times. Nomadic, skill-based, property-less, sharing commune, only one where they never once make it a political thing, never once speechify on why or where it came from. It's also decidedly not a utopia. It's brutal. The fight scene between losers is cold. They point out how the group frequently abandons poor sellers on the side of the road, only because it can't afford to carry them.

The film presents all of these rituals and laws as something Star comes to accept easily, not out of being politicised or radicalised in any way, but because she's coming from nothing. She hasn't got a phone to check in on Facebook. She can't bingewatch box sets of MadMen on a 20 year old TV with 4 channels. Fashion and nutrition and exercise and partying and the concerns of a modern nineteen year old have never been on her radar. Marx never proposed revolution as morally correct, or even as a choice. He presented it as an inevitability. What Andrea Arnold does with American Honey is to present a revolution that's bloodless and simple and almost natural progression for an underclass of forgotten people. Here's where she makes it interesting. Romantic love.

People like Adorno for years posited an idea of romantic love as a red herring. Romantic love, for a revolutionary, is a distraction from what a person truly yearns for, which is community and to be part of the nurturing group. Monogamous, romantic love between two people was designed to focus on the self, divide property up and segment communities. Right from the start, traditional monogamous love is painted as corrupted and corrupting. Star's stepfather, her mother and the environment in which they exist is toxic and doomed. But Star inevitably sees her narrative with Jake as something paving the way for a glittering future together. He for his part gives her gifts and flies into a jealous rage at the idea she might have sold herself sexually. Both characters seem headed for the tragic-romantic end, but then something else happens. Crystal pulls rank. Jake is banished. When he returns, passions have cooled. This brings us to the final scene. The van full of youths stops by a lake to bed down for the night. They start up a campfire, begin dancing around it, like any ancient tribe would have, leaping over the flames for sport, and Jake secretly hands Star the gift of a small turtle. One of many gifts from him she immediately gives away. But this one she gives back to the water. Star looks for the longest time at the group she's adopted as her community. Then she walks into the lake herself, emerging moments later to shoot upward, lashing back her dreads like a rebirth, like a baptism to something all-new.  It's a scene many struggled with. I found it fascinating. She's relinquished her romantic aspirations. She's given away Jake's turtle. She's part of the tribe now. She's learned to love not herself, but the group. The film is about someone learning not to love.

As a married man, who, let's face it, very naturally loves his wife, this presents a really confrontational outlook. Everything else I can imagine buying into, the attitude to media, property and ritual is all fine but learning to get past the love of an individual I've already fallen in love with, is shocking to me. This is what good art does. It confronts you with yourself. This sounds like some fucking aphorism you might witness on BBC4 in front of a carefully lit Caravaggio, but cinema like this nourishes you and really, annoyingly maybe, gets you talking this way. Much to the dismay of probably everyone.

Naturally American Honey went overlooked at every awards ceremony and is currently running around 79% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I can't recommend the film highly enough.

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Saturday 23 April 2016

5 ways to connect with modern Irish culture from abroad

5 ways to make a new connection to your Irish Heritage
5 new ways to connect with your Irish Heritage

For anyone with an links to Ireland, whether you're a native, you're an ex-pat, you're part of the diaspora, or just a welcome visitor to our shores for whatever reason, the Irish culture you're familiar with might not be what you always imagined. 

People have a very definite idea on how Irish music is supposed to sound, on what Irish food tastes like, how the Irish films play and how Irish Books should read. But, like any culture, Irish culture has evolved into a fluid and dynamic heritage, connecting what people think of as Irish with the myriad influences to which Ireland has been exposed over the years. Modern Ireland is careful to preserve its identity, the identity it struggled for so long to gain ownership of, but is also keen to fit that into how people think and live now. Here are 5 ways you can connect with your Irish heritage in modern Ireland, whether you're Irish, Irish-American, British-Irish or from anywhere else.

Irish Beer Heritage

1. Drink an Irish beer, but not a Guinness.

You'll see it on St. Patrick's day, you'll see it in every Irish movie, you'll see it on Friday and Saturday nights up and down the country, men and women standing in pubs drinking a pint of the black stuff. And why wouldn't they?  Guinness has been incredibly successful in branding itself not just the Irish national drink, but as a very real part of our culture and how we see ourselves. But Guinness is by now means the only Irish beer people drink in Ireland. In fact, increasingly, Irish drinkers have expanded their horizons to include a much more varied bar tab.  If you're looking for an alternative to the most famous stout, then both Murphy's and Beamish have long brewing traditions in Ireland and are the first choice for many drinkers outside of Dublin. O'Hara's is a great little brewing company down in County Carlow and they've come up with a really nice stout of their own too. 

Cider has become a hugely popular drink in Ireland over the last 5 years too. If you're visiting, especially suring the summer months, you can expect to see large groups of drinkers with pint bottles of Bulmers cider out in beer gardens the length and breadth of the nation. Orchard Thieves is a cider which is been widely publicised more recently around the country too, and is really growing in popularity among younger drinkers.

If lager is your preference, then Guinness have recently hit the craft lager market with Hophouse 13, a refreshing, full bodied lager very different to the Danish brands people are familiar with here. Tom Crean fresh Irish lager, is another of the craft Irish beers which have cropped up in the last while. A little stronger and slightly harder to find might be Finn McCools, which is brewed up in Northern Ireland.  Once again, O'Hara's have a nice, smooth tasting lager called Helles style, which might be a little easier to find.

Irish Cinema Heritage

2. Watch these Irish films that aren't Derby O'Gill and the little people. 

Irish cinema has really matured. Drawing on a pretty strong cinematic tradition, we've been seeing a very strong crop of young film makers and actors gaining a large amount of international attention of late. None moreso than the list of nominees at the 2016 Oscars ceremony. While I haven't included any of those films on this particular list, a simple google, or glance at IMDB will gain you a far more in-depth insight with what's happening currently in the Irish movie scene.

In Bruges

In Bruges stars Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, in a tale of an Irish gangland assassin sent to Bruges for a final trip after having committed a mistaken execution, where he must await his fate. What sounds like a grim and violent plot is actually a hilarious and human tale from the pen of Martin McDonagh. It hits 84% in Rotten Tomatoes and provides more than one memorable moment and a whole heap of memorable quotes. And, perhaps most of all, it may actually convince you to visit Bruges.


Frank is a funny and fascinating film from Lenny Abrahamson, probably the best Irish film director of the moment. It stars Irish / German actor Michael Fassbender as the eponymous hero, Frank Sidebottom, losely based on the musician from england in the 80s but transposed to modern day California. Frank wears a giant papier mache head over his own head, on and off stage. It's tender, funny, quirky in a non-annoying way and actually boasts some pretty good music.

 Disco Pigs

Disco Pigs stars Cillian Murphy and tells the story of two star-crossed lovers who have grown up in houses beside one another and both indulged their crippling social misfit status to form and unbreakable bond. Adapted from teh Enda Walsh play, when faced with separation, dark and crazy things happen in a pair of virtuoso performances by then young Irish actors. 

 Adam and Paul

Adam and Paul draws on everything from Samuel Beckett to John Steinbeck to tell the tale of two down-and-out junkies wandering Dublin city aimlessly trying to get by. For the most part an exercise is some pretty bleak but really smart gallows humour. You'll find yourself in turns laughing and shocked by the outcome.


Including a who's who cast of Irish actors of the last few years (Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy, Colm Meaney to name the main stars), Intermission tells the tale of a young lover's (Murphy) brush with a crazy gangland hood (Farrell) all in the name of love. Colm Meaney's turn as a hard as nails Dublin gangland cop obsessed with Clannad is worth the viewing price alone.

Irish Music
Modern Irish Music

3. Listen to these Irish musicians that aren't U2.

Hailing from Cork, Simple Kid, actually packed in the music business after 2 CDs but there are haunting rumours of a return to the stage after a few years off. When we was gigging he was one of the most innovative, smart and likeable musicians in the country. 

Straight out of Cavan. Lisa O'Neill plays smart, personal, melancholy and quirky songs in a style smudging between folksy and indie. Involved, challenging and moreish. A really singular voice if you're interest in what's happening in Irish music right now. 

Nothing wrong with old fashioned good tunes and Bell X1 have hit upon using these to tell intricate, personal stories far beyond the boy meets girl. Awkward and dinky, but swelling with some really beautiful moments, Bell X1 have been at it a while now but are still one of the biggest draws in the country. 


Darlings of the Irish indie scene (and indie press), Villagers have been putting songs out a while since their hugely critically acclaimed debut CD a couple of years back. I wouldn't be a massive fan personally, but it's hard to overlook their very individual vibe and the charismatic vulnerability of their lead Conor J. O'Brien.

Aphex Twin

What, you didn't know he was Irish? Hailing from Co. Limerick no less, Richard D James is one of the most original DJs and musicians of the last fifteen odd years, with chilling, overwhelming tracks you can't help but return to no matter how unpleasant.

Irish heritage Television
Irish TV shows

4. Watch these Irish TV Shows that reflect a different side to the country. 

Father Ted

Although not technically made by an Irish company (it was filmed by Channel 4 in the UK), Father Ted stars all Irish actors, was shot in Ireland and was written and directed by Irish staff. As soon as you take a look you'll understand the shw simply couldn't be more Irish. Telling the story of three Cathlic priests posted on a lonely island in the middle of nowhere, the farcical set-ups, repetitive characterisations and shoddy production values shouldn't work, but so do. A must-see cultural reference point for what's Irish today.

Pure Mule

Small town Ireland is just like your small town, wherever you are. Kids and adults alike are bored and disenfranchised and there's nothing to do but drink copiously, take a whole lot of pills and sleep around with people you shouldn't. It's easy to get caught up in the melodrama of the plotlines while missing the point being made about the myth of a rural idyll.

Love / Hate

A million miles away from The Wire and The Sopranos, the Dublin gangland scene was so successfully portrayed in this show HBO bought up the rights and are making an American version. Glamour-free, filled with big characters and gut-wrenching tension, Love / Hate tells the small time gangster tale in gritty, ugly and cold terms.

The Fall

A Co-Production with the BBC, The Fall stars Gillian Anderson as a tough London Detective out to catch the horrific murderer played by Jamie Dornan across a fraught Belfast backdrop rebuilding itself after the troubles. Not that easy to watch, there's a lot being said here about women and social roles in a shifting landscape that would ruin the show to simply state.

Moone Boy

Purportedly based on actor Chris O'Dowd's own childhood, Moone Boy is a crazy, coming of age sitcom based in a tiny, grey little town in the 1980s in Ireland, where everyone smoked, women were fighting for a voice and weirdos seemed to flood every nook and cranny. Very funny stuff.

Best Irish books to read

5. Read these Irish Books that aren't Ulysses. What Irish books should you read?

The Spinning Heart 
Donal Ryan

Telling the tale of a small Irish down during the market crash in Ireland in the years following 2008, The Spinning Heart sets out to tell a number of smaller tales, each one dedicated to an individual character in the town and intertwined with events in other stories. A simple idea, but cleanly done, measured and relevant and memorable.

The Butcher Boy
Patrick McCabe

The monologue of a deranged young boy in a small town. Hang on, could this be a theme in modern Irish culture? Well yes, and this is where it started. Yet to be bettered, the butcher boy is a harrowing tale of a young boy in a dreary town, riven with the demons of his imagination and driven to monstrous acts.

Emma Donoghue

Now a global hit film made by the aforementioned Lenny Abrahamson, Room tells of a mother and daughter held captive, told through the eyes of a 10 year old boy. Both a harrowing thriller and uplifting tale of maternal love, Room is a unique and unforgettable reading experience before you ever go near the screen version.

City of Bohane
Kevin Barry

Tribal gang warfare in Smoketown, a crazy, distant and grim region beyond the beyond. Told in Kevin Barry's singular voice, Bohane's old enemy is back in town and blood is about to flow.

Alan  Walsh
And finally, you can always try my own book, Sour tells the story of an old Irish myth as a modern murder mystery, full of the heroes and monsters of the old Irish stories recast as local wild characters.

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Saturday 30 January 2016

Conor Harrington: Ireland's Baroque Graffiti Master

All sound and fury

The only issue of Irish Arts Review magazine I ever bought was the one with a Conor Harrington on the cover. Not that I have anything against the magazine, I was just thrilled they were finally recognising the guy. Turns out they weren't, but it was still as arresting a cover I'd seen of theirs. I first encountered Harrington's work when a guy I worked with in London appeared after lunch one day having just bought a print of his looking fairly pleased with himself. Right after work I shot straight over to the gallery in Soho where there were the conor harrington prints for sale. It was just one of those especially pleasant moments when you discover an artist in any field and it really connects with you. I was arrested right away by the insanely vivid colours in the graphic-design feel mixing with the old school comfort of  someone's sheer technical ability in rendering a vintage style figurative piece. I'm not saying Maser couldn't reel off something like this (in fact they recently collaborated) but the part of me that likes looking at Caravaggio met the part of me that likes Stefan Sagmeister and for the first time the two of them sat down and shared a beer. 

What Harrington does so well is hit you with the visual equivalent of comfort food, old nineteenth century style dramatic figurative portraits, and distress them, tangling them in exaggerated smears, wipes, colour blends and striking fraphic-design style layout techniques now pretty common in urban graffiti. He takes the road originally tread by Caravaggio, in laying down black as the base from which everything spreads, heightening massively the visual contrast, the to overlay an urban palette of eye-searing primary colours, contrasting the bold, flat line of what would be considered pretty traditional graffiti fare, with the subtle, blended chiaroscuro and sfumato more modern graffiti artists are using almost casually. Which is a fancy pants way of saying he does shading pretty well and it looks nice next to black and flat colours. It's the scale and drama of the pieces that take your breath away though. Those two guys having a rumble are giants, like fucking Gulliver, stumbling around that side street wall. It's not unusual to see large pieces now, but it still feels strange to see an image you'd expect to come across in a museum or national gallery collection, smeared over off-grey spackling and let drip so the whole thing looks like damaged film.

What I like about the images is what I think they mean, at least what they mean to me. Anyone who's read John Berger's Ways of seeing or anything influenced by it, will be pretty familiar with the idea that traditionally, art was a weapon used to maintain the social status quo, by lauding images which enforced an idea that the wealthy and powerful were somehow, well, better, than regular shmoes like us, something to be aspired to, to dream about becoming, rather than question. Kind of like episodes of the Kardashians. Conor Harrington takes the language of this kind of social hegemony, always considered the paragon of refinement and unimpeachable quality, but in actual fact brutal and calculating, and marries it with an art form traditionally  associated with social protest on behalf of the voiceless working class masses. He's not the first to do it. he won't be the last, but the way he does it is just so fucking cool. It kind of reminds me of that old war movie 'The Charge of the Light Brigade', by Tony Richardson, which uses every visual trick in the book, down to costume, grain of film, lighting and colour to convey a feel of an established biopic of wartime heroics, only to absolutely lampoon and tear down every character on screen as an idiot. And all of it looking just gorgeous. Dead Meat and When we were kinds are especially good examples. Finding an original conor harrington for sale would be phenomenal, as would being able to afford it. 

Conor Harrinton Painting

He doesn't necessarily mock the characters within his pieces either. In fact, I'd say he's pretty much revelling in the high dramatics this old baroque style of painting can yield up, and the contrast they offer to how an artist can tag an urban street wall (down to the effects of a badly handled can of spray paint).  Our whole concept of what is beautiful in art has been absolutely defined by this traditional, salon, academic style of painting since before even guys like Giotto were accepting commissions. We have a contemporary art world struggling to redefine what we think of  as aesthetically pleasing on either a visual or intellectual level, freeing itself from pictures of gallant rich guys and their possessions and dramas. I like Conor Harrington;s work because it challenges how I relate to it. I like the comfort-food, mashed potatoes and gravy, of the salon style portraits rendered with expert care. I can't help it. But I love how new it feels. I love how cheeky it is. I don't feel angry or full of class warfare or even challenged politically at all very much. Maybe there's something to be said here about the Bullingdon Club feel to a lot of the characters, the way the upper class is portrayed as violent, blood soaked, armed. Something to fear. 

Conor Harrinton Painting

But the pictures are visceral, steeped in the counter reformation feel of high-drama, rich colours you could almost want to eat, laid down against the cold electric pinks, blues and burning oranges in razor sharp straight lines, or muddied in and out of  what look like layers of wall tags going back years. Walls in public spaces used to belong to these depicted characters, now they belong to us. The revisionist feel of taking something old and worthy and turning it on its head is something that appeals especially to me. I've recently had a book published which takes the old Irish myth Deirdre of the Sorrows and retells it as an absurdist modern murder mystery. I'm currently working up a story drawing in everything from Gatsby to Great Expectations to the Matrix. I think this is where things are now. We're only now beginning to understand aesthetics and what they've always meant. we're starting to look at pretty things which have always been accepted from a social perspective. You couldn't be blamed for fostering some hope based on this kind of an outlook.

Conor Harrington Graffiti

Alan Walsh

If you're interested in re-visioning old pretty things, my novel, Sour, retells an old Irish myth as a modern absurdist murder story.

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Saturday 9 January 2016

New Goodreads giveaway!

I'm thrilled to be starting a new giveaway on Goodreads. A free copy of the book could be yours!
Enter for a chance to win one of five Author-signed copies of 'Sour', the latest, most unusual mythological thriller from Pillar Publishing. 

A re-telling of ‘Deirdre of the Sorrows’, updated to the modern day, re-imagined with bizarre local characters and set in a fictional Irish countryside. In a desolate Irish town a local paper boy goes missing. Conall, a beetroot-faced, mule of a man, makes it his business to find the boy. What starts out a small undertaking, unfolds into a journey of strange rural experience, bizarre natural occurrences and warped small-town morality, revealing the shocking tale of a young girl horribly imprisoned and two boys fixed on rescuing her.

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Sour by Alan Walsh


by Alan Walsh

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Saturday 12 December 2015

Here are the first five pages of my book. If you like them, why not go ahead and buy it?

The first five pages of my book free, if you like them, why not buy it!

    Conall Donoghue sours his porridge with at least two lemons. I know it because I can see into his kitchen from my kitchen, and I can see him pounding away with that spoon, eating his oul porridge under his light-bulb of a morning, or plunging his sink for teabags, or trying to make that dog bring him slippers without chewing through them for holes. You’d want to see him sitting there behind his paper each breakfast, and his wife Molly, driven twelve fifteenths demented with him ranting about the exchange rate on the yen. Make you sick so, he would.

    Now, from here I can’t see what goes on in the other rooms. I can only see the kitchen, the back porch, the hall, the guest bedroom, a third of the back garden, through the side passage and into the driveway. And when the shed light is on, part of that too, but I’m sure I can pretty much bet the house he’s on about the same kind of crap in all of those places as well. He spends an ungodly portion of his time in that kitchen, though. Behind that paper, ranting and yammering about the Middle East and Kate Beckinsale’s overbite, eating his oul stews. My heart goes out to that poor unfortunate woman in there, with him since he retired. Man lost his mind soon after that, you ask me. Ask anyone. He was coming home, see, one night from Brady’s, late, with the dog Red Bob, when he witnessed a fatal accident. I think that changed him. It was steady stout and whiskey since a horse of his came in good the three o’clock at Chester, and that dog was like a guide dog to him on the unlit roads that run in this part of the world. He fumbled to hold tight on to its ears the full four mile limp home after closing up, and if he fell or wandered out onto the road or stopped behind a tree, which he did, the thing roared mad barks at him till he was back on true purpose once more. Well, this one horse-winning night, Conall was the halfway back home but he’d wandered out through some gate into a soft part of a field full of weeds, and thought to himself that it might just make a good enough bed for him, with the dog losing the mind across the road for growls and barks. There was a moment of stillness, then these wild white beams shot to life out of nowhere, only burning yellow the whole road. A second later and they shrunk down smaller and smaller and then a tiny wee car only tore along the tar macadam right at them, full speed, and the driver screaming to clear out the way, calling them all the foul names he could muster in his imagination till the car only jolted, swerved, rolled and finished upside down in three odd foot of ditchwater, wheels still spinning and the fella inside killed.

    Thing about it was, Conall was wearing his green jumper with the orange stripe at the time.

    The boy that went and got himself killed was Billy McKinley. He was a piano tuner from two towns over, and he was racing his way to urgently tune a piano, so the story went. Conall didn’t expect to witness Billy McKinley’s death at 4.17am off the North Road, but that he did. A whole party load of people were waiting in a room one town over the other direction with an out of tune piano, trying to keep safe some whiskey for Billy as a means of payment, but in the end it went drunk. People only found out the truth the next day. Billy’s car rolled four times. Billy inside bit out his tongue and spilled the leavings of his can and hit the dashboard at the same speed as the car was travelling, eighty eight miles per hour. What I’m getting at here is Billy’s blood-curdling revenge. Conall is willing to swear on any religious book you set before him that Billy McKinley, the speeding piano-tuner, haunts his green sweater with the orange stripe even today. Whenever he puts it on, he can feel Billy in the room, sitting in some chair with his empty spilled can, raging at him. More than once he claims to have heard a piano go playing out of tune at him. This is what happens when a man retires. He loses perspective. I put it down to this, what happened when Conall’s morning newspaper didn’t arrive one morning. 

    He was sitting at his table with the dog Red Bob at his heel, shovelling his porridge like an old plough.

    “Sure isn’t yesterday evening’s paper as good?” his wife said. “What can have happened since last night? I’ll go fetch that for you.”
    “Arragh, don’t stir. The boy will be along now. He came off his bike by Barrow’s field when that bored daughter they’ve got on their porch morning till night tried out catching him in the head with stones, or he stopped and talked another boy into splitting his round on account of the headwind bad enough to stop birds taking off, and how far up the hill we are. I’ll give him some talking to when he arrives, count on that much.”
Conall made it to his tea and toast, and then to another slice with marmalade, then a yoghurt, then some watermelon.
    “Will you not stop eating breakfast just to have the paper with it? You’ll boil the guts out of yourself with indigestion,” his wife said. And that he did. Conall came from a long line of Donoghue men who ought really to have stuck to a diet of lettuce, carrots, beetroot and water on account of their acidic constitution, but instead saw nights spent bedridden, rolling in reflux agony lived out as some type of war declared between their body and themselves, and how they would no way be first to flinch. Pints, pastry, cigarettes and olive oil all went into the arsenal. Whiskey, sherbet, cream cheese, the kind of things to scald through a man’s guts and echo through the whole room doing it, all of that went down as an out and out act of war. His wife Molly, bolt awake beside him in the sheets listening to the thing seethe and froth and the swearing out of him, wild enough to churn butter.
    “Look,” she said to him, “the racing isn’t on till three. Why not head down to Dannagher’s and ask what happened to the paper? Better yet, buy one.”
    “Not the point, is it? I mean, we had a trusted agreement. It isn’t about me having to go down there and get it myself. It’s about them bringing it me. Anyroad, it’s already the afternoon. The morning press is out of date. Goes out of date soon as you finish your toast and anyone knows it.”
    “Well, I’ll not have you moping and sulking around this house ‘till your horses arrive on screen at three. I’ve things to do. I’m meeting the girls. You need to go down there and kick up a little. I mean, what if the paper doesn’t arrive tomorrow?”
This hadn’t occurred to Conall.
    “You’re right. If they think I’ll take this lying down, they’re only odds on to pull it again. And me paying the subscription at last year’s rate. I’ll wreck that little fecker, so I will.”

    Conall walked the four odd mile road into town with the dog Red Bob at heel and his stick heard a good acre in every direction smacking off tarmac, shocking crows out of trees and disturbing field mice in the long rushes. Going the lazy way you veer leftward and cut across Foyle’s rested field to save following the long curve, designed for haulage trucks only and to no other man’s benefit, so Conall and the dog Red Bob kept their heads low on account of Dan Foyle being a vile, desperate daytime drunk and conjuring jealousies in his head, about his wife and men in the town. You’d often as not see squad-cars parked on his land, called out under the lie that his farm was under attack by robbers, just so the guards would arrive and look the place over and who knew, turn up a man in his underpants hiding out under hay bale or low between the ditches with electric pink lipstick all over his frozen white body.
“He bought that lipstick himself, specially in Gray’s pharmacy,” Conall told the dog Red Bob. “Bought up all nineteen sticks. So he’d know if he seen it on a local man, what it meant. Gray’s never got any more in for how god awful ugly it is.” Sure enough, there was a squad car at the porch.

    Conall knew the land better than any man in the town. Forty two years he worked as grounds man at the Clonliffe Estate. He had dragged that place up out of raw wilderness with his own hands, sunburnt and rained on and frozen, sober and drunk. He knew well every thicket, every stray weed-patch, and had named all the deer, the grouse, the horses and the waterfowl, and they weren’t always polite names either. There was one deer he just called Bastard. It was a gold brown buck, and whenever he saw Conall he charged him, head on full-tilt, and there were chewing noises out of his mouth like he was trying to talk. First time out, Conall figured him for possessed. He got to know the buck though, and how he had named him well. His father, Conn, had been grounds man before him too, but had kept the flora nice and thick and wild and good for hiding in for local hoodlums, rebels, robbers and any folks hunted by the realm. He had taught young Conall what it is to trap an animal, how to foster a certain tree or flower in just this place, which ones like rivers and which hate them. Which ones hate people too, and intentionally cause them to sneeze. He claimed there was only a Puca hiding in there too, deep into the gorse.
“True wilderness attracts true wildlife,” he said. He claimed the Puca liked to drink local poitin with him and smoke oul cheap tobacco, and rate the women in the town out of ten. He had a roving eye. Tell ye the truth, the conversation out of the Puca was a little coarse for Conn, especially after enough to drink, which was saying something, so Conn had to learn the local area that little bit better to be sure of avoiding him on the harder moonshine nights. Conall never did find that Puca when the job fell to him, and he cleared all of the gorse away. Fact was, he doubted its existence.      

Dannagher’s was a post office, a newsagent, a hardware store, a certain kind of bank, a certain kind of bookies, a pub and an undertaker. Paul Dannagher sat on a high chair behind his counter all day, smoking and reading the newspapers cover to cover from off the shelf. All he had to watch for were the schoolboys robbing out of his sweet jars, and the animals that from time to time made it in for shelter out of fierce weather. The only animal allowed in was the dog Red Bob, on account of how he seemed to possess that one true pure charisma. Everyone in the town said it, and he could get away with what he liked. He put this to the test, too. He chewed duvet covers off Mrs. Gallagher’s washing-line two weeks straight, he fouled up the Eire Óg pitch something wild after ruining the orchard out the back of Lacey’s field. Anyway, it was things like this. So, on that morning, the dog Red Bob arrived in the front door through the hung beads and Paul Dannagher set down his cigarette and newspaper.
    “Well if it isn’t the high king,” he said. He fetched out a tin plate and a piece of the oul sandwich he was finished with anyhow, and laid it down by the dog Red Bob.

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