The Pope and Guardian Angels

It would be very easy for me, as a lifelong unbeliever, to take a cheap shot at Pope Francis’s recent statements about guardian angels, but I won’t be doing that.

guardian angel


It’s not because I’ve suddenly seen the light, or because out of the blue I’ve decided to respect all the religious tosh we’re bombarded with from every quarter.

No indeed.

It’s because the Pope is entitled to speak in the same metaphorical terms as all the rest of us.

I spend my days trying to explain to literal-minded trolls that I didn’t mean  the exact words I just wrote, that I was just trying to paint a picture. Or to put it a different way, I spend much of my time trying to explain to idiots that human communication cannot be reduced to the push-button Catholic certainty they desperately crave.

So therefore, who am I to criticise Pope Francis’s evocation of guardian angels?

Who am I to sneer at the beautiful, if futile, concept of the benign, supernatural fellow-traveller, filled with love and care for each one of us?  I might as well sneer at and dismiss every poem, love song and fairytale ever written.   What sort of philistine brute would do such a thing?

I’m happy with the Pope speaking in wistfully poetical terms of a helping fairy that looks after each one of us.  What harm is he doing by believing that?

This is not a pope, unlike his predecessors, who condemns what he fails to understand.  This is not a pope who inflicts fear on gay people, or on those whose marriages have broken, or on  people afflicted with the pain of having an anencephalic baby, unlike the ideologues who claim to speak in his name, such as the appalling quasi-Nazi Youth Defence, or the laughable Iona Institute.

This pope, in my best estimation, is a kind man and if he chooses to believe in fairies I won’t attack him for it.  He’s entitled to his dreams.  My favourite auntie in the entire world believed in fairies and there is no kinder soul I can think of.

I’m not here to laugh at beautiful delusions.  We all need them.


Favourites Uncategorized

Tom Collins, Sign Artist

Here’s some more fine work by Limerick-based sign artist Tom Collins, this time the intricate craft of water gilding.



I was very taken by how well this project complemented a lovely old premises like Karl Kleiser’s piano shop, so I thought it might be nice to keep a record of the job, and then I thought, why not put a few of the pics together in the form of a little video?

Here you go.   I hope you like it.

Music Uncategorized

Leonard Cohen Hits 80

It wouldn’t be right to let this day pass without wishing old Lenny Cohen a happy 80th birthday.  Last time I saw him, he was only 79 and his knees were in far far better shape than mine.  Now that I come to think of it, all of him was in far better shape than me, but especially his mind.

How can it be that after 80 years of whiskey and cigarettes a man can be so fit, so sharp and so funny?  Not to mention so unrelentingly creative.

Leonard Cohen

I read somewhere that when Leonard quit the smokes a while back he announced that if he made it to 80 he’d take them up again and I’d lay money on it that he’ll be as good as his word because after all, when you’re eighty years old, nothing is bad for you.  He only has twenty years left till he’s the same age as his very close companion.   She’s a hundred but she’s wearing something tight.

Ah Lenny.   Was there ever a poet as misunderstood?  For years he suffered from the razor-blade jibe, thrown at him by people who knew nothing of his art, nothing of the deadpan, self-deprecating humour that underlies almost everything he does, nothing of the profound respect he shows to everyone he meets and to all who attend his concerts.  I’ve had that privilege perhaps half a dozen times over the years while Lenny has continued to walk by my side, somehow articulating the angst of my generation’s long trudge towards oblivion, like a literate, horny,  well-dressed Jesus for non-believers.

I won’t spend all night talking about Cohen for a simple reason.  If you get him, you get him.  If you don’t it’s because you haven’t found the time yet.

I don’t know how he’s spending his birthday, but I imagine it’s with a song, a prayer, a joke, a meditation, a whiskey, a cigarette and a circle of friends.

I believe there’s a word in Yiddish, mentsh, (equivalent to mensch in German).  It denotes a person of decency and integrity, somebody to be admired.  An individual of uncommonly good character.

Cohen the agnostic, Buddhist Christian Jew would probably recoil from any such description of himself since he’d be the first to point out the many things in his life he’s not proud of, but in the end it’s not for him to judge.  That’s a matter for others but I think there are few who would disagree that if you’re looking for a mentsh, Lenny’s face fits the wanted poster.

Leonard Cohen.   A most uncommon Everyman.

Happy birthday Lenny and remember your own advice in this song from the mad Phil Spector days  …


Previously on BTR.

Cohen plays Dublin




Council Candidate Bases Election Promises On Honesty, Shocker

I'll do fuck-all, promises Limerick local election candidate.  And he means it.
I’ll do fuck-all, promises Limerick local election candidate. And he means it.

Gerry Adams Arrested For Questioning About Jean McConville Murder

Antiquity is never a good reason to overlook a crime. We continue to prosecute old men and old women for crimes that took place seventy and eighty years ago, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that Gerry Adams might be questioned about the murder of Jean McConville in 1972, at a time when he was heavily involved in the IRA, despite his denials.

I don’t know if Gerry Adams had any involvement in Jean McConville’s murder. I don’t know if he ordered it. I don’t even know if he heard about it at the time.

But I do know that he should be asked about it because the IRA was undoubtedly behind this despicable killing of an innocent widow whose only transgression was to show compassion to a dying man.

gerry adams

The sectarian murder of Jean McConville, a Protestant woman who married a Catholic man, exposed as a lie the narrative that sectarianism was the exclusive preserve of Loyalists. It showed that sectarian hatred existed on both sides, but more significantly, it revealed that the supposedly impartial leadership of the IRA was as riddled with bigotry as any other part of Northern Ireland society.

Of all the people involved in this sordid story, Jean McConville, who crossed the divide for the love of a man from the other side, was the only one free of the bigoted curse, but Jean McConville ended up beaten and then murdered for the crime of comforting a young soldier shot dead at the side of the street, leaving ten children to fend for themselves.

History does not record what the IRA did to help these children, for one very simple reason: — the IRA did nothing to save them from destitution.

As I said, Gerry Adams might not have been a decision-maker in the IRA when they murdered Jean McConville, but at the very least, he might be prepared to help identify the common criminals who took her life, instead of hiding behind an ideology. Jean McConville was an innocent victim, savagely killed by thugs for no reason. Why would Gerry Adams not try to identify the people who took her life?

Either he’s a democrat or he isn’t.

Favourites Uncategorized

Game of Thrones Accents

Not too long ago, a fortnight or maybe two, I was with some French friends who happen to live in our fair town, and we got to talking about Game of Thrones.

Who wouldn’t, after all, with the start of a new season almost upon us?  What lover of televised drama, intrigue, violence, fantasy, sex and adventure would not be fixated on the latest episode of a tangled tale that has gripped the entire world? (Apart from everyone, of course, whose  first concern is getting clean water, food and shelter, avoiding oppression by despotic tyrant rulers and  not being killed by a cataclysmic seismic event, a typhoon or a vast, all-destroying war).

ned stark game of thrones

Anyway, getting back to the French friends, people I often lampoon, to my shame, about rugby and Monty Python castles and Gallic shruggery, we drifted around to the matter of accents and here’s a very telling detail.  I don’t  know if it’s from film and TV or if it’s from personal experience, but our Irish ears are keenly attuned to the difference between a Cockney and a Scouser.  We know a Geordie from a Cornishman.  We know York from Lancaster and Mile End from Mayfair.

These subtle, and not-so-subtle distinctions have, for centuries, served to delineate characters in British-based drama, identifying precisely what station in life each character is expected to hold, thanks to the extraordinarily rigid British class system.  Young people from every corner of the island consciously adopt the accent of the hereditary ruling classes when they leave their home towns — the bizarre pronunciation system known as RP, or Received Pronunciation.  In other words, what used to be known as BBC English.

What’s not so widely known is that RP is a relatively recent invention.  Queen Elizabeth I would not have recognised it and nor would  Henry VIII.  Those monarchs spoke a version of English that sounded much more like the form of  the language that we Irish speak today.  In an odd twist of linguistic irony, the language that people of my great-grandmother’s era spoke was closer to Elizabethan English than to anything local, although it was of course overstrewn with remnants of the Irish language it had supplanted, and thus, Hiberno-English.

RP sprang up in the last two or three centuries, driven by political impulses.  Before that it simply did not exist, but its development was entirely logical and necessary, if a newly-created aristocratic ruling class wished to establish itself and prosper, as any Mafia might gentrify itself.  For one  thing, wealthy families needed  to find a way of turning their backs on the reality of how they acquired  their money.  It’s all very well to live in splendour, but when you know full well that your father acquired all that money by being an ignorant, unlettered, violent, thieving brute, it’s not so easy to look down on those less fortunate.  What better way of turning our backs on our fathers than to speak in a different way?  Nothing new there, as any despairing parent in the 21st century knows.

My French friends, oddly, don’t get these subtleties, and that surprised me.  After all, didn’t they invent the word nuance?  Yes, they did, but they were brought up in France, and were therefore not subjected to relentless conditioning.  They don’t know that upper-class movie Romans come from the Home Counties.  They don’t understand that all Bond baddies have an Oxbridge education.  They don’t understand that if the leader of the aliens has a Home Counties accent, he is simply evil.

Blame James Mason.

It set me wondering.  If Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark sound like coal miners, it sets off certain triggers in my brain, but perhaps it activates even more intense reactions in the skull of a true Brit.  Immediately, I’m thinking that this is, as they say, a violent yoking together of opposites.  In  traditional drama, a powerful Northerner can be a mill-owner, a football-club chairman or the proprietor of a shipping line.  But he cannot be a judge, a Classics professor or a king.

Game of Thrones subverted all that, thanks to the device of the parallel reality adopted by its producers.  It’s not ancient England, or France or Morocco.  It’s something else.

My French friends were still somewhat baffled, so I put it to them this way.

What would you think if the king was from Toulouse?

Oh no!  It is ridiculous!  This is impossible.

C’est vrai!



Imperial Measurements

Do you like the occasional pint?

Are you trying to lose a few pounds?

How fast do you drive? 60 mph?  70 mph?

If you play rugby, did you ever make the hard yards?

It hasn’t gone away, that old Imperial system of measurement, much though successive governments have tried to eradicate it, and that’s for the very simple reason that it works.  Not in an engineering sense, I must emphasise, and certainly not in any way that might lend itself to accurate computation, but in a human sense it’s far more intuitive, and that’s why we stick with it.

Just like everyone else, I was educated in the SI system.  Metres, millimetres, Joules, Newtons, Watts.  All that.  But any time the urge overtakes me to build a table or a dresser, my dimensional amygdala takes over.  I have to make it about four feet wide, about six feet tall, about eighteen inches deep and it has to hold a 42-inch tv.  It has to fit in a room about fourteen feet by twelve.

Why are these measurements so enduring in the face of the Napoleonic onslaught of Le Système international d’unités?

Simple.  They correspond roughly to parts of the human body.  The thumb.  The foot.  The length of a human stride.  We can grasp what they mean in an intuitive sort of way.

Some will tell you that the kids aren’t like that.  They’ve bought into the whole metric system.

Really?  In that case, why not try a simple experiment?  Ask a random teenager how tall they are.

The metric system is great for building things and sending satellites into space, but you know what?  When it comes to size, as many people will confirm, inches matter.


New Mobile-Friendly BTR

I’m a lazy bastard, but that’s why you love me, right?

No.  Sorry. That would be somebody else.

Anyway, after much badgering, nagging and general bitching, I finally came into the 21st century and made the site friendly for smart phones.  Why didn’t I do it before now?  Because I fucking hate smart phones, even though I’ve had them for years.  I just can’t see the point of shrinking everything down to the size of a cigarette pack when you could be looking at it on a decent-sized screen.

If I could have my really nice Nokia back, I’d be delighted, with its real buttons that click, instead of a horrible glass face that tells me nothing.

As a matter of fact, if I could have made the site Nokia-friendly, that’s what I’d have done, but it is the 21st century after all.  The early part of the century.  The part that every century laughs at.

Later this century, technology will evolve.  Computers, screens and keyboards might no longer exist,but whatever replaces them will be be human-sized again, so that people like me can use them in comfort.

When that happens, BTR can go back to being unfriendly.   As it should be.



RTE Iona Institute Payments Reveal Something Rotten at the Heart of the National Broadcaster

What exactly is the relationship between RTÉ and the pressure group, Lolek Ltd, which calls itself the Iona Institute?  The debacle following the Saturday Night Show, during which Rory O’Neill criticised the behaviour of certain people which he felt placed him at a disadvantage as a member of a minority by virtue of his sexual orientation, is unedifying to say the least.

Rory o neill miss panti iona institute saturday night live brendan o connor

With remarkable alacrity – not mention synchronicity – those same people bombarded RTÉ with a broadside of legal threats which led to a cringeing, cowardly climb-down by the broadcaster, removal of the video clip from the RTÉ website and a public apology read by the show’s presenter, Brendan O’Connor.

But more significantly, if this unseemly, gloating press release from Lolek Ltd is to be believed, RTÉ also handed over an undisclosed sum of money to  certain individuals in what it describes as damages.  To the best of my knowledge, damages are awarded by a court, and the Lolek Ltd threats remain untested in law.  Therefore, what RTÉ did was make ex-gratia payments to these individuals.

Even if you ignore the self-pitying tone of the headline: Threatening emails received by The Iona Institute, the Lolek Ltd press release has the usual smell of half-truth and spin about it, since O’Neill didn’t accuse any of the people associated with the ludicrous Iona Institute of being homophobic.  What he actually said was that they were really horrible and mean about gays.

Imagine how devastated your life would be if somebody accused you of being really horrible and mean.  That’s every teenage girl up before the courts for defamation.  In classic legal terms, it amounts to no more than vulgar abuse, and pretty mild abuse at that.

What is wrong with these people?  Are they so immature that they can’t stand a little criticism from somebody who is day in and day out on the receiving end of genuine prejudice?

Grow up, Lolek Ltd.

Now that RTÉ has handed over a chunk of money to certain people associated with this private company, perhaps it’s time certain questions were asked about the relationship between our national broadcaster and this small but extremely vocal assembly of fundamentalists.

Such questions might include the following:

Since Lolek Ltd is just another small niche PR company, why are its representatives afforded such a disproportionate level of access to the RTÉ studios?

Why are these people not introduced clearly by RTÉ presenters as representatives of Lolek Ltd?

Why did RTÉ collapse under the pressure of this flimsy legal threat?  It has been pointed out by legal professionals that what Rory O’Neill said was uttered in good faith and without malice, that as a member of a minority he was entitled to defend himself against what he saw as oppression and that in any case he didn’t accuse these individuals of being homophobic, even though some people would conclude that many of their campaigns are decidedly so.

It seems to me that there is a strand running deep within RTÉ that wishes to support this small but aggressive pressure group.  Up to now, that support has taken the form of unfettered access to the airwaves, but once the national broadcaster censors the sincerely-held views of a citizen, and hands over public funds to self-appointed moral guardians, we need to start asking hard questions.

Maybe this is a job for the Public Accounts Committee.



What exactly is the Iona Institute?
Same-Sex Marriage, Iona Nonsense and the Constitutional Convention
Constitutional Convention Votes for Same-Sex Marriage
Same-Sex Marriage
Misinformation Techniques





The Journal

Oireachtas retort

Open letter to RTE



2013 Round-Up at Bock the Robber

Here we are again.  For the seventh year in a row, I sit  down to choose a few posts for your entertainment, diversion and possibly infuriation.

It was a year of Magdalene laundries, Anglo tapes and Slane girls (remember that?)  It was the year when Tourism Ireland spent €3m on a bad website  and hailed it as a triumph.  It was the year of religious ideologues like the absurd Iona Institute and the nonsense written by its high priest about same-sex marriage.  Of course, David Quinn was in good company – after all, if Putin is against it, who am I to disagree?

As I thought about Anglo, it crossed my mind that they run on pretty much the same entitlement software as priests, so maybe it isn’t a church thing at all.  Maybe it’s just a power thing, combined with an establishment thing.

It was the year of the constitutional convention  and the rise of the microfascist.  When I wrote about lynch mobs, little did I realise that I’d provide a vehicle for a sad fantasist to parade his sense of being oppressed, but such is the way of the interwebs.

This was the year when the Pope declared that bishops need to smell of sheep, which we all agree is infinitely better than if they smelled of children,  but of course, the new Jesuit Pope meant that they should be shepherding their flocks more vigorously.  These days, sadly for the bishops and their leader, people tend not to think of themselves as sheep and see no reason why an elderly man in a dress should be waving his crook at them.

As it happened, the process of removing priests from public policy continued apace, with the electorate voting to permit abortion in certain restricted circumstances.

We had a little bit of travel on the site this year, but only a little bit.  I took a few trips to the West — Conamara and Inis Mór — and late in the year, a couple of us visited Krakow, for a bit of fun in the city but also to visit Auschwitz and try again to make sense of what we had seen five years previously.

Of course, no year on BTR would be complete without the annual Easter blasphemous post.   Maybe Iona might make a formal complaint to the Guards.  We live in hope.  And if that one didn’t annoy them enough, perhaps the Holy Space Cannon might piss them off.

This year, a reformed hooker tackled Limerick prostitution and a fool spoiled my nice breakfast.  Springsteen paid us a visit, and a couple of ,months later, I met up with his sax player, Jake.  But Bruce wasn’t the only superstar.   After all, the sublime Nile Rodgers also graced us with his presence and even turned up in Dolans bar later to jam with the local bands.  Much respect!

This year, our beloved Siobhán launched her album, and I laid down the definitive catechism of the blues.  Yeah!

We had, of course, the ludicrous annual grudge match between Nancy’s and Tom’s and of course I was cajoled into making a video of it but that’s what we do.   It’s about the laugh.

Needless to mention, we had the usual complement of frauds, chancers, quacks and con-men in the medical world, all trying to take your buck on the basis of nothing more than a loud mouth and a low standard of ethics.  If you try to challenge them, you’ll be confronted with a barrage of anti-science vitriol, because alt-med is big business and it will stop at nothing to silence the sceptics.  As I keep asking, would you fly with a pilot who believes in alternative laws of physics?  Would you eat with a chef who uses crystals to keep his pots sterile?

Besides all that, we had the re-emergence of the Drumcondra mafia, minus Bertie this time, and  sucking at a charity instead of the State.  Thanks to these boys, all charities ran into trouble with a rightly-sceptical public but somehow, the annual Art for Cure initiative still turned out to be a spectacular success.

There was a lot more besides but that’s enough for now.  When it was all finished, Sergeant Mullins went to bed.