I went to see the Shane Geoghegan exhibition in Limerick City Hall. It’s truly astonishing. Somewhere in the middle of that throng is a thing I made myself in a hamfisted way, as did twenty thousand other people who wanted to help.
There are twenty thousand tiny figurines in this installation. Some are miniature works of art, while others, like my own, are to put it at its kindest, well-meaning, but it doesn’t matter. Every one of these little creatures was made in honour of a fine young fellow, and collectively they make a statement that we citizens of Limerick embrace a spirit of healing and of mutual support.
We were always that way, and the people who ended Shane’s life were always outsiders despite living in our midst.
We reject them. They are not us and they are not of us.
Shane’s family and friends set up their stall week after week, inviting people to mould little fellows for the tiny army of peace and their determination has paid off.
The numbers grew and grew. I don’t know how they kept track of all the little creatures, but they did. They collected the fresh clay works, fired them and stored them safely until they were ready, and now they have their exhibition.
Look at this. Click on the image to see some more pictures of the exhibition.
The strange thing about the Geoghegan installation is that the miniature world has districts and neighbourhoods. Some are dark and angry while others are optimistic. Some city blocks are filled with frowning, menacing people while others are frivolous, dancing little mutants.
This deserves world recognition. If somebody could put a pile of bricks in the Tate and call it Art, why not give the Pitch for Shane the exposure it deserves?
There are some novels you find yourself reading out loud without even realising it, as you swirl the flavours of the language around your palate. This happened to me last night when I finally got around to opening City of Bohane and found myself still awake at five in the morning. I finished it this afternoon over a nice cup of tea in my pub of choice with people giving me funny looks as I voiced the speech of the characters.
It’s impossible not to do so with dialogue that jumps off the page, weird and vaguely familiar at the same time. It takes control of your tongue and commands you to speak. I have rarely read a book that manages to make language sparkle as it does in City of Bohane but Kevin Barry’s novel is that kind of book, an extraordinary blend of post-apocalyptic weirdness and Hell’s Kitchen gangster tale.
Here comes the second layer of weirdness, but it isn’t for everyone: just the denizens of this here borough. The city that is the book’s central character could be anywhere. It could be Marseille. It could be Liverpool. I could be Djakarta. It could be New Orleans. But it isn’t. It’s Limerick!
I know. Hardly a surprising discovery given that Barry grew up here, but it took about fifty pages before it dawned on me, which is probably very slow. I was never the quickest on my feet anyway, or on my dancers as the good people of Bohane might call them, but the language is pure Limerick dialect, mixed in with a bit of tinker-talk and the author’s own imagined speak, y’sketch? ‘Twould put the heart skaw-ways in you, as the old people used to say and as Barry remembers. Is there e’er a chance ye might recall it yereselves? Ironically, this kind of speech is far from traditional Irish, having its roots in the English spoken by the Elizabethan soldiers sent to quell this uppity little island, and preserved by centuries of urban Irish people until little more than a generation gone by, when young people started to speak like Yogi Bear.
Oddly, my personal insight into the language is a handicap. Someone unfamiliar with the argot will be entranced, captivated and ensnared by the dialogue. It jumps and it sparkles.
This is a book of gangs, of psychopathic dandies, of turf wars, opium dens and grim deeds carried out in the half-light of an August murk in off the sea. Barry has realised that you can’t just write a post-apocalypse novel without changing the way people talk, precisely as Russell Hoban did when he wrote the wonderful Riddley Walker, and so he created a new voice for the people, yet a voice that sounds utterly familiar.
Far to the north are the poppy fields, disregarded by a corrupt and degenerate hoss polis, a force ready and willing to accept bribes and inducements. You learn that only some world routes are still open. Mobsters can buy their high-topped boots from Zagreb and their wine from Portugal, but for most people, life is grim.
His touch is so light that you never quite know what disaster befell this Ireland of the 2050s. You can see the disused pylons everywhere. You know that everything is powered by generators. The streets are lit only when the Authority can afford it. You realise there are no cars, no mobile phones, no computers, no email and no guns. People write to each other, and when they wish to commit homicide, they do so using shkelpers: knives. Shkelp, a wonderful North of England word, kept alive in Ireland and reimagined by Barry. Even the most powerful mob boss must walk in the biting wind and the rain, for there is no other means of transport except the foot. This is not the world we know.
And yet, this weird and strangely familiar town is the place they choose to be. They could take the High Boreen to the Big Nothin’, or even the Nation Beyond (known as the NB) but they don’t.
I recognised individual characters and whole families from local knowledge, which provided a wry insight. Having done a little bit of this kind of thing, I know that an afternoon in the public house can have a wonderfully clarifying effect on the creation of a character, but general readers are probably better off lacking the home-town knowledge, to preserve the feel of the story.
Barry takes a bit of here and a bit of there to create Bohane, and it all reminded me of Myles Na gCopaleen’s Corkadorcha in the Poor Mouth. I’m sure Kevin must have read Myles/Flann/Brian, just as I’m sure he looked to Blade Runner, Once Upon a Time in America, Mad Max, perhaps Riddley Walker and many more besides but he went one step further than most. Just like Stephen King, Barry realised something that only the best practitioners know: you have to leave them wondering, and he doesn’t provide all the answers. He just plants the questions. This city of Bohane doesn’t seem to be a direct projection of 2011 Ireland, even if the apocalypse occurs. There’s too much weirdness. Something else is going on.
This city of Bohane is in a parallel reality, close enough to be familiar, yet sufficiently removed from us to be entirely alien and terrifying. It’s not an offshoot of our current existence, but a strange and menacing alternative universe. You wouldn’t want to meet any of this book’s characters in real life.
My conclusion? Wonderful. Years ago I gave up caring if something is good literature. Is it a good read? That’s all that matters, and this one is a big thumbs up. It cost me a night’s sleep.
I hate Kevin Barry. I’m consumed by jealousy at his gift for language. I want to track him down and eat his liver.
I’d say he had the greatest laugh of his life writing this book though, y’heed?
Limerick, as you know, has the magnificent River Shannon flowing through it, and the river has always been at its heart. While not quite a seafaring people, we are a riverine species, and why wouldn’t we be when we have such splendour and beauty on our doorstep?
Little more than twenty minutes from Limerick, we have the magnificent Lough Derg, a place we all love, and the scene of many a night’s carousing.
As usual, we all blundered up the lake for the annual blasphemous Good Friday booze-up and singing-thing. This is a very special custom, for it upsets the fervent and the observant. It annoys and discombobulates the True Believers, especially the wolfing down of bloody steaks on this blackest of black fast days.
This year, we were spoilt for choice, with the possibility of parties in three different places, and I felt my only option was to attend all three, but I didn’t plan on being waylaid within seconds of my shoe-leather striking the pier, when some friends shouted at me from the plushly-appointed cruiser on which they were slugging back large amounts of foreign beer.
Oi, Bock! C’mere and have a bottle!
Is there grub? I shouted back.
Sure is, they chortled.
Meanwhile, another crowd of bowsies were shouting good-natured abuse from inside a camper van, but the promise of grub won the day. Grub and beer. I am Homer Simpson, and so I boarded the fine vessel and tucked into some fine Czech beer from Budejowicke, a town I once visited solely because it contained that excellent brewery. (It has little else to recommend it).
Singing drifted across the water from a boat. Singing, fine musicianship and a little cloud of smoke. More singing wafted from the camper van. The smell of steak searing on the bbq filled the magnificent vessel on which I was a guest. The sun filled the sky and for a little while it was possible to forget what our government and the ECB had been up to.
That was when a gigantic converted barge hove into view and damn me, but I knew those people as well. This Easter weekend begins to show more promise than I could have hoped for, which is saying a great deal, for these weekends on the Shannon are always first class.
And so it was that the following day, I found myself chugging up the Shannon at three knots, driven by a sweet-sounding 59-horsepower Lister diesel, enjoying the experience of not-very-much happening.
I have to get back, I told my host.
Sorry, he replied. You’re booked in here tonight.
Right. I surrendered. Go with the flow.
It was lovely to note the absence of Celtic-tiger guffaws from illiterate nouveau-riche fools drinking over-priced wine on giant over-priced plastic power-boats they didn’t know how to drive.
As my host remarked, They’re all gone and we’re still here.
You see, in spite of all the economic misery, the gloom, the despondency and the negativity, there are times when you have to look around you and realise that we live in one of the best places in the world. Therefore, rather than bore you with a tedious account of my savage journey to the heart of Good Friday night, why not just glance over a few pictures and enjoy the wonderful amenity we have on our doorstep?
We had a teacher years ago, a Christian Brother called Kelly. He was a little rat-faced fellow with buck teeth, very intense, very serious, a good teacher of Latin and mathematics. He was the year head which meant he was responsible for keeping us reasonably well behaved and I have to admit his job wasn’t easy. There’s no getting around it. We were a bunch of jerks. Fourteen-year-old pricks.
I’d say he couldn’t have been more than about 27 or 28, but there was something in his over-controlled demeanour that suggested he was battling demons. You could see by his eyes that he wasn’t a man to cross, and we didn’t. We might have been jerks but we weren’t fools.
He wasn’t one of those teachers who try to make friends with the kids. Most of the time he was fair, but you were in no doubt who the boss was. He used his leather sparingly but with great effect.
Kelly turned up one morning even more tense than usual. His face was tight and his eyes bulged. He looked like someone who had been awake all night staring at the ceiling and now that I have the benefit of many years hindsight, I think he probably had no sleep. Yesterday’s chalk-dust still coated his soutane and his frizzy hair.
Today, he hissed, we’re going to talk about sssexsssss!!
Oh shit, we all thought.
His ratty little eyes darted around the classroom, daring any of us to snigger. This man was boiling with rage.
The time comes when a boy starts to hanker after sssexxxssss, he spat.
Jesus Christ, everyone was thinking. This sounds like evil shit.
And for a full three-quarters of an hour, Kelly went on to spell out the mechanics of sexual intercourse in graphic detail, his voice filled with rage and disgust as he did his best to indoctrinate us with the belief that sex was shameful.
I now realise that he had no idea what he was talking about.
Poor Kelly had learned all the nonsense he was spouting from some Christian Brothers pamphlet produced by another equally-inadequate celibate. His rage and disgust were directed inwards at himself, having probably been recruited as a young lad like us, whisked away to a monastery, with no affection, no family around him, no intimacy, no outlet for his emotions. I now realise that Kelly was fizzing and popping because, intelligent man that he was, something inside him knew what he had missed out on. But the Christian Brothers machine that controlled him was running at full throttle, and the misfortunate Kelly was in many ways no more than a glove puppet.
I can still see him, the poor rat-faced, buck-toothed little fellow, pacing around the classroom, hissing Sssexxxssss! with the contained rage that only a 28-year-old virgin might possess.
You must be kidding. Any questions? We all stared at our desks, hoping against hope that the torture would end soon.
In a parallel universe, I might be sitting there as an adult he’d be afraid to hit, and I sometimes think I’d like to ask a question.
Brother, did you ever have sex?
But you know, that might be an extreme cruelty to inflict on a man who was clearly tottering on the edge of the abyss.
The readers of this site have always been an intelligent, upstanding, smart, well-read, discerning, good-looking, charming, attractive, witty, generous bunch.
All right then. I am looking for something, but not a lot. Just your opinion.
I have a new idea, and I want to know what you think, but first, a little background.
From the very start of Bock four years ago, the site was always going to have a Limerick flavour, because that’s where it’s based. I like where I live and I’m happy to tell you about things happening in the place, if I think they’ll interest you. However, it was never going to be a Limerick site. I wanted the site to deal with everything from sport to music, with a heavy emphasis on current affairs. I wanted some jokes and the occasional dollop of the insanity that runs through everyone’s private lives. I wanted it to appeal to people no matter where they live, and that seems to have worked.
Therefore, any posts with a Limerick theme must also have a more general appeal, which might be about music or sport or some political issue that interests everyone and not just those who live in this town. I probably haven’t always succeeded, but that’s the way I try to keep it. Local yes, parochial no.
Now. Here’s the point. I think the time has come to expand Bock by launching a Limerick edition.
For some time now, I’ve been avoiding some of the juicier local stories because nobody outside Limerick wants to hear me talking about what an idiot the Mayor is, or what a bunch of dimwits we have for local councillors. If you live in Dublin, or Galway, or for that matter London or New York, or wherever else you happen to be reading this site, you don’t want to hear my opinions on planning decisions for some stupid supermarket.
You will, however, still probably want to see videos of local gigs, reports on rugby from Thomond Park and pictures of local events where they’re of interest, so there will probably be a fair amount of overlap. You’ll see a lot more coverage of local events, businesses, shops, restaurants, pubs and the like, but as usual, the sacred Bock Central Principle applies: make it up as you go along and hope for the best.
I’m trying to decide what to call the new site, and I’d like your opinion. I might not take up any suggestions but I’d still be interested in your views. Who knows what inspired idea might pop up?
What do you think the new Bock local Limerick site should be called?
The Milk Market reopened today, and I must say I’m impressed.
Like a lot of people, I had my doubts about the project, but it works, and it works well. The place seems about ten times as big as it used to, now that all the vans and cars are gone, and I think a lot of the traders are feeling optimistic about it. There was fair amount of doubt in their minds, but that’s understandable, and now that they’ve seen the place in operation, I think they’re going to like it.
The general public certainly grabbed it with both hands. I’ve never seen a buzz like today’s.
Right. Today is Munster versus Leinster in Thomond Park, and I’m about to collect the tickets from Limehouse Dick, the scoundrel.
It’s a strange disconnected day. Due to our ludicrous, religious-influenced licensing law, Limerick is the only place in the country where the pubs will be open. This means that every maniac in Ireland will be travelling here for one night, and the majority of them won’t give a rat’s arse about the rugby.
I don’t think I’ll bother going for a pint after the game, because the chances are all the pubs will be full wall-to-wall with demented bastards who arrived half-drunk on buses from every corner of the country.
It should be an interesting game. We’re missing POC and Earls, but Jerry Flannery is back, while Micko and Warwick step in as able replacements. Leinster are missing BOD and have opted for bulk up front, but with Munster fielding a highly-mobile and fast back row, Cheika could be taking a big gamble.
Of course, everyone wants to see how the No. 10s shape up to each other. Will the Thomond Park silence unnerve Sexton as it does Charlie Hodgson? Will ROG impose his shape on the game and book his seat on the plane to New Zealand, or will the young pretender finally silence his harshest critics in their home town?
Romain Poite, the world’s worst referee, is the man with the whistle, to the dismay of everyone, both in Munster and Leinster. Given the uncertainty regarding policing of the breakdown, the shape of this game is is impossible to predict, and even the most experienced players will be unsure of themselves in the tackle. It depends on how the mercurial M. Poite interprets his brief, but we can probably say with confidence that whatever he does, it will make tonight’s game worse.
We’ve learned not to take Leinster for granted. They’re formidable opposition, but neither side will want to sustain heavy injuries a week ahead of the crucial European Cup quarter finals. That doesn’t mean either side will take it easy, but I suspect POC’s groin strain, and the identical injury to Earls, are being treated more conservatively than usual. I don’t know if BOD also has groin strain, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Maybe the three boys can discuss their treatments as they watch the game from the sideline. If Flannery didn’t need match time before the Northampton game, he might well have been struck down with groin strain too.
We didn’t win. Leinster were better. They won by a point.
Romain Poite was, as predicted, a complete idiot, but his decisions towards Leinster were as stupid as his decisions concerning Munster, and therefore all he succeeded in doing was distorting what could have been a very good game. This man is by far the worst referee in the entire world.
Here’s his WIkipedia entry:
Romain Poite (born September 14, 1975) is a French rugby union international referee. He made his World Cup debut in 2007 during the match between Ireland and Namibia. He also officiated (as touch judge or television match official) during three games in the 2009 Six Nations Championship. He will referee his first Six Nations match in 2010. He is well known for being consistent in decision making by mistakingly awarding penalties and yellow cards to each team equally.
Here’s 26,000 people staying silent for the penalty kicker.
I’ve been approached by some former Christian Brothers pupils who would like to renew their acquaintance with a certain Brother Kent.
This Christian Brother, it seems, made a deep impression on them as children, and now that they’re grown men, they’d like to meet up with him and re-establish a relationship as equals.
It seems Brother Kent has returned to Limerick after a long absence, so if you happen to know of his location, or anything about him, please leave a comment. Who knows — maybe you too have abiding memories of your time with him.
If you’re shy about commenting, for whatever reason, you can always send an email to this special address: email@example.com.
It’s not completely beyond the bounds of possibility that Brother Kent himself is reading this in which case, of course, he can make contact directly.
I’m sure he’d love to meet these former pupils now that they’re not children anymore, and I know that they would dearly love to meet him and talk over old times.