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Class/Culture…Centre/Periphery June 21, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Class, Culture, media.


Reading Conor’s post on Dublin Opinion about representations of the Irish working class brought back memories.

Many of them bad. Many of them centred on RTÉ.

There was Strumpet City which was okay. Then various programs such as the late and unlamented The Spike (set in a school in a working class area) which was pulled as I recall before it ended the run because of episodes which depicted amongst other things students pissing in bottles in class, a life-drawing class for adults and – gasp – the vernacular.

Didn’t much like it, even though I was in my early teens. One of the advantages of going to a primary and then community school in Kilbarrack was that one developed an ear for the plangent middle class tones of many Irish actors and consequently their mangling of working class Dublin accents. But The Spike seemed gratuitous for other reasons. The effort expended hardly worth the result.

I’ve mentioned in response to Conor’s article how I always felt there was something a tad condescending about the way in which life in ‘Barrytown’ was depicted in the Roddy Doyle books and how it was curious that a man who had been through the Democratic Socialist Party of the late Jim Kemmy (good socialist, somewhat raving two nationist), would in a sense present a deeply depoliticised account of working class life quite at odds with the experience of my daily life. By depoliticised I mean that there was no real political activity in the books. Everything from the Commitments onwards seemed to centre on the personal rather than the political. That in itself is no crime. But it seemed odd in a Kilbarrack where Labour, the Workers’ Party and the real hegemon Fianna Fáil organised strongly that this wasn’t reflected by any serious acknowledgement.

But on to the central point. What struck me reading his post, and in particular the way in which he noted that British depictions of working class life were more accurate and representative of anything found on RTÉ during that period (and perhaps even today), was that part of this was due to the commonality of language, the remarkably centrist culture in Ireland (or at least the representations of same in the media) and perhaps the actual quality of the material being produced across the Irish Sea.

But then consider depictions of Northern Irish working class life. Give My Head Peace while in parts enjoyable is hardly an outstanding example, but I’m pushed to find any other example of television that has touched on this. I’m wary of treading on this ground because – I’ll be honest – I don’t follow UTV or BBC NI sufficiently to know for sure, but in some ways the aversion to depicting the working class in the North might have similar roots to that in the South. Class was never the issue. Identity was centred upon national, political and/or (slightly more diffusely) religious affiliation in the North, centred on national identity in the South. Labour could wait, not merely politically, but culturally. Cultural production was restricted – or contained might be a better term – to a fantastically small milieu centred upon television, stage and music and within a rather constrained geographic area. And what representations of labour in cultural production were apparent were reified to an absurd degree…consider the way in which O’Casey’s plays became part of the discourse of official Ireland, their oppositional core sidelined by their status as almost untouchable artifacts of the new state.

And in part this was because Dublin, for all its pretensions was never quite the centre. Perhaps that was because it had once been part of Empire, second city, or was it third after Birmingham? But part of a pecking order whatever rank it had. Elsewhere I’ve written about how the ‘myth’ of the Irish Revolution (and I mean ‘myth’ in the sense understood by Barthes i.e. a societal discourse) was one where the Revolution failed. Consider how Leinster House is never seen as central to the ‘myth’ of Irish nationhood unlike the G.P.O. And that in itself is revealing. The Republic of Ireland was incomplete, truncated. Independence was initially circumscribed by the Treaty, later by the reality of partition.

Emigration meant that often Dublin was a way station on route to the exit. The centre, psychologically was to the East in London or far to the West in New York and Boston. And exemplifying that was a reality which saw all, bar one, of my closest school friends from Kilbarrack and Raheny leave for London between 1985 and 1988. All bar one of my close college friends leave for London and New York between 1990 and 1992. I went too.

That’s not to say that Dublin was the periphery. It wasn’t. But it was failing and failing fast. Articles in the Irish Times seriously argued that the optimum population of this island was two million. Perhaps less. Senior politicians could state, with no hint of regret, that emigration was a social good. It is truly bizarre looking back on that now.

And culturally this meant that the eyes of the bulk of the population were raised beyond Donnybrook as and when British television became available (and note that as recently as 1997 Tom Gildea was elected to the Dáil in Donegal on the ticket of ensuring continuity of supply of the British channels to that region). Cues were taken from Coronation Street and East Enders. This was true in music as well – and in some respects still is. Punk didn’t happen in Ireland, bar small outposts in Belfast. Bands didn’t come to Dublin, except when they had reached the fag-end of their careers. Cheers to the Damned in the SFX sometime in 1985.

No, to get somewhere, to hear something, to be someone, option A was to take the ferry to Holyhead and the train to London, and then disappear into the maw of the metropolis. Generally, it has to be said, disappearing to small colonies of other expatriate Irish working in the council or Underground or wherever. And living in that social context changed people remarkably. Given time paunches developed. Hair thinned and children appeared. Accents and attitudes softened. More settled than returned. And a modern Irish accent was almost always acceptable in business or at a social gathering.

Nor was ‘official’ Ireland unaware of these developments. As far back as the day that RTÉ started transmitting television Eamon de Valera opened the new station with the words:

“I am privileged in being the first to address you on our new service, Telefis Éireann. I hope the service will provide for you all the sources of recreation and pleasure but also information, instruction and knowledge. I must admit that sometimes when I think of Television and Radio and their immense power, I feel somewhat afraid. Like atomic energy, it can be used of incalculable good, but it can also do irreparable harm. never before was there in the hands of men an instrument so powerful to influence the thoughts and actions of the multitude”.

This caution, almost an aversion tells us much about the constrained cultural space within Irish society. In such a context what place for the working class or working class culture?


1. Eagle - June 21, 2007

Cheers to the Damned in the SFX sometime in 1985.

I saw Those Nervous Animals there in late 1986. I hadn’t been in Ireland long and went because this girl asked me to go. I can’t remember much about Those Nervous Animals, but I don’t remember hearing their names much after that. Don’t think I ever heard from the girl again, either.


2. Eagle - June 21, 2007

And in part this was because Dublin, for all its pretensions was never quite the centre.

… This caution, almost an aversion tells us much about the constrained cultural space within Irish society. In such a context what place for the working class or working class culture?

And, from my perspective, RTE was very rural focused when I first came here (1985). Ads for farmers and their products, a popular sitcom on a rural farming village, etc. In fact, I met a few people from RTE and they all seemed to be from “the country”. Dublin always struck me as a city dominated by country-people, something I never imagined in the city I’d left before I showed up here (New York).

The middle class (who ran RTE and other official organs of culture) seemed to have stronger roots in the farmlands of Offaly than in the working class neighborhoods of Dublin. This was completely different than anything I’d experienced in New York.

In New York, the powerful were usually at most two generations removed from the slums. They all knew the stories of life in the slums and had romanticized the climb out. In Dublin, the climb was from the small farm, not from the tenements.


3. smiffy - June 21, 2007

Fascinating post, as was Conor’s over on Dublin Opinion. A couple of quick thoughts in response.

I think you might be being a little hard on Roddy Doyle. Certainly, the presentation of working-class life in the ‘Barrytown’ books could be seen as rather patronising. However, it should also be borne in mind that before them there was little or no representation of contemporary working-class life in Dublin (i.e. life in the estates built in the sixties and seventies, rather than the constant harking back to tenement life and how much Brendan Behan could drink). On a minor point, I do remember a real shock of recognition reading, I think, The Van, and realising that the small wall at the shopping centre actually was the same small wall that I passed every day. I can’t think of any other Irish writer, apart perhaps from Dermot Bolger, exploring that environment at the same time. While he might be ventriloquising the ‘voice’ of working-class Dubliners, I think his attempt was, at least, sincere and grounded in some kind of experience. Also, there’s a marked improvement between The Commitments (which really isn’t that good) and The Van (which is much more rounded and substantial, and where the simplicity of the language masks a real complexity of character). I think what he tries to do in the trilogy, to explore aspects of Irish society through the experience of a single family is laudable, although it, by necessity, is going to narrow the focus.

On the issue of working-class culture or lack of, particularly compared to Britain (rather than the UK), I think one would have to look at how class politics developed in the two states. Something like Kes or Boys from the Blackstuff (this is chopping and changing a bit with the Dublin Opinion post, but not matter) didn’t emerge from a vacuum. They’re rooted in working-class political activism and, in particular, in a self-consciously working-class cultural project that traces its roots back to the Fabianism of the late nineteenth century. In Ireland, by contrast, the project of nation-building overshadowed the question of class, both in terms of political movements and in terms of cultural production. While progressive artists and writers in Britain approached their work seeking of accurately represent working-class life as well as to interrogate (even overthrow) centres of power in society, Irish culture for much of the twentieth century was as much about creating a nation, and national identity, as it was about accurately reflecting the real lives of Irish people.

In other (over simplistic) words, the reason we don’t have an Alan Bleasdale is the same reason we’ve never had a Labour government. Mother Ireland always came first.


4. smiffy - June 21, 2007

Oh, one other quick thing. Reading over part of the above, it might seem as if I’m claiming my background to be working-class. It isn’t. I’m just from Kilbarrack, but bourgeois through and through.


5. Conor McCabe - June 21, 2007

The thing about mother ireland always coming first doesn’t really hold up when you think that the two most prominent working class writers Ireland has produced – Sean O’Casey and Brendan Behan – were both republicans, and socialist ones at that. Both drew on their personal experiences when it came to writing – as writers do.


6. smiffy - June 21, 2007

Granted (and that’s why the final sentence in the comment was definitely overly simplistic). However, I wasn’t trying to argue that every writer or artist was concerned with trying to define an Irish national identity in a colonial/post-colonial context.

Rather, the point was, roughly, that because there was a strong, working-class political consciousness in Britain, around the broad Labour movement, there was a cultural infrastructure in place from which a strong, working-class voice could emerge. Labour clubs, and local community theatre, would be examples but another important factor would be the BBC itself (hardly the bastion of revolutionary vigor). Because it had a public service remit, but didn’t have the same kind of narrow, nation-inventing, focus that the cultural institutions of the Free State/Republic (e.g. RTE, of course, as well as the Abbey) had, it was able to become a training ground for important writers like Bleasdale, Griffiths or Potter.

While obviously there are and were individual Irish artists ploughing the same furrow as their British counterparts, and attempting to create socialist (although not exerable socialist realist) writing, I don’t think they had the same opportunities in terms of presenting their work to a mass audience as the British ones did. I think that goes some way to explaining the lack of ‘authentic’ (treating that word with caution) working-class expression on Irish television relative to television from across the water.


7. Donagh - June 22, 2007

Irish culture for much of the twentieth century was as much about creating a nation, and national identity, as it was about accurately reflecting the real lives of Irish people.

Hannah Arendt when talking about Jewish nationalism made the point that for nationalism to succeed in a state it has to protect the idenity of the majority by marginalising the minority, effectively dispossessing them of land. She was talking about the Zionist project in Israel and the marginalisation of the Palestinians. But I think this ties in to Conor’s point about how the working class were not only portrayed in the media as a social problem; that is how they were treated by the state.

Council Estates around Dublin and indeed, around the country, are typically seen as social black spots, no go areas, and sites of rampant delinquency, not as accommodation for working families who have a strong tradition of community and self pride. I have known two families who grew up in council estates, but have been able to buy their own home in more ‘respectable’ areas, in one case only a quarter of a mile from where they had lived. They had nothing but bad things to say about where they came from. It seemed that they were in a real hurry to shed their personal history.

I would argue the Roddy Doyle, in a sense did bring the political to his portrayal of working class life. The very act of writing about Kilbarrack and the people from there was political because no one else was doing, other than the Finglas of Dermot Bolger of course.


8. Conor McCabe - June 22, 2007

I agree completely with what you’re saying, Smiffy. what I’m trying to do in my posts is place together
1. the marginalisation of working class culture in Irish society
2. the marginalisation of working class history in Irish historiography
3. the marginalisation of the working class itself in housing estates on the edge of the cities,
4. the marginalisation of the term “working class” in Irish journalism and so-called “intellectual” commentary

in order to better show the pattern at play here.
for me, it becomes clear as to what is going on when a class analysis is placed on all of this.
That, given Ireland’s unique history, the middle class / social elite have been able to pretty much run this country as a fiefdom.
now, up to somewhat recently, emigration allowed them to get away with a hell of a lot that they just wouldn’t have gotten away in any other working democracy – although they were certainly helped by a lettuce-leaf-lobbing-labour party. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years, when the “new middle class” finally cop on that they have been screwed.
Oh, where else apart from Ireland (or possibly Canada) would ANYONE actually WANT to be fucking middle class?


9. chekov - June 22, 2007

The discussion seems to be relying on a fairly narrow definition of working class – basically the traditional, urban, manual or factory labouring proletariat, and if you accept that definition you’re never going to see nearly as significant a representation of them in Irish culture compared to English culture, because, well, we never really had a significant traditional industrial proletariat in the south since had no industry of any note, our population was hugely rural until very recently. By contrast, england was more than 50% urbanised by 1800 by which time it had no significant agriculture, and by the late 1800s factory work was the norm for much of the population (rivalled only by domestic service in numbers employed).

In Ireland, the peasantry was always far more important than the industrial proles, more numerous, more militant and so on. There are very few people in the country who are more than two generations removed from a totally impoverished peasant existance.

Pretty much all Marx-inspired socialist though classified the urban proletariat as the progressive class, while ignoring the peasants, or even classifying them as an inherently counter-revolutionary class of petit bourgeois. This reached its apex in the stalinist states where the peasantry was starved, rounded up and forced to live and work in collective farms which weren’t a million miles away from the gulags, and to top it off, being seen with a turnip was enough to get one classified as a kulak and shot.

By contrast, nationalists have always orientated themselves towards the peasantry – seeing them as a sort of living residue of the proud cultural tradition of the nation.

So, it might be possible to explain the different ideological roads taken by Ireland and the UK purely by the history of the two country’s different industrial development and the fact that marxists were rarely bothered with peasants, while nationalists have little or no interest in the proletariat.

[will post more later, when I have more time]


10. Conor McCabe - June 22, 2007

Hi Chekov, these posts (worldbystorm’s and my own over on dublin opinion) are not relying on a narrow definition of working class at all – what they are doing is examining Irish cultural representations of the working class – and that’s where you see the narrow definitions you refer to. So, just to make clear, we’re not making those definitions – but Irish media, cultural producers, the people we are talking about, do all the time. and that’s what the posts are about.

Even there, they do not use any definition of working class that includes working people. Almost to a man they have working class as unemployed, feckless, drug-using, ne’er to wells.

As for myself, I am loathe to use simple classical marxism to explain the irish working class. I would much rather have the irish working class do that themselves, and one way is through an examination of working class cultural production.

now, NONE of the cultural expressions I’m talking about are in any archives or libraries, so ALL academic discussions of the Irish working class are based on “official” evidence – crime, housing, drug reports, etc. That is, the problems are how the Irish working class enter academic discourse – it’s at a disfunctional level that we meet the Irish working class in academia.

the only way that we can get to the heart of how the Irish working class live is to look to how they live – and how they see themselves. (Irish working class cultural discourse is so fucked up that tautologies are actually a way forward.) This can be done, in one small way, through items such as family photographs, home movies, social events, etc. The Irish working class do not make RTE programmes, but they do make movies – home movies, photos, etc.

I’ve decided to put my photos where my mouth is, and I’ve been putting them up on dublin opinion with the intention of examining them as social texts.

I come from Dublin, so they are an examination of Dublin working class.

I cannot speak for rural working class, but hopefully, a process may kick off here where we can see similiar posts about Sligo, Waterford, Athlone, Limerick, Cork, (yep, even Cork), Arklow, Leitrim, Mayo, Clare, Drogheda, etc.

Irish working class cultural expression , like the emancipation of the working class itself, is the job of the working class. Only with that, can we arrive as even a rough approximation of the Irish working class experience, and not have to rely on theoretical definitions based around the English experience, Trotskyist ambitions, or the “problems” based research that dominates the academic and media world.

Put simply, I’m getting fucked off with other people – academics, media, Trots – telling me about me, my family, my neighbours, my cousins, my friends, and my environment, telling me what we are, and wheta we are not. Know what, I’m going to do that my fucking self. hopefully, others will do the same.


11. Conor McCabe - June 22, 2007

Sorry Chekov, one small point about nationalists rarely bothering with the proletariat – one of the reasons why Fianna Fáil secured their victory in 1933, and held onto power for the next 15 years, is because they not only looked to the proletariat, they built houses for them, thousands of houses. The success of Fianna Fáil is based on precisely the opposite of what you said – it is based on the successful merger in the 1930s of social policy and nationalism.


12. ejh - June 22, 2007

Pretty much all Marx-inspired socialist though classified the urban proletariat as the progressive class, while ignoring the peasants

This isn’t true (though more true that the rest of the paragraph).


13. franklittle - June 22, 2007

While not agreeing with everything Chekov says, I think there is a great deal of logic to his argument in terms of how we can ignore in representations in Irish culture class issues in rural drama simply because they are rural and not part of the urban working class image we can easily drop into.

If you take the trio of Irish rural soap operas, starting with The Riordans, then Bracken and into Glenroe there were major issues of class and property ownership discussed in them. Most famously in The Riordans was the fact that it dealt with changes in Irish law that provided for the automatic inheritance of the family farm by thw die in cases where the husband passed away. It was a massive issue at the time.

Class issues were also explored between people from farm labour backgrounds, the Big House Catholics and the remnants of the Protestant landowning class (Who always seemed to be able to hold on in Irish rural fiction). The depiction of the chasm between the men and women of property and the men and women without it was one of the defining themes of The Riordans and Burrowes, while not setting out to create class conciousness, certainly succeeded.

In terms of urban depictions of working class life, I think it’s interesting no-one has yet referenced the first such by RTE, Tolka Row, which was a depiction, albeit a depoliticised one, of working class life in Dublin in the 1960s. It continues to be seen as important in the accuracy of it’s depictions of working class people dealing with issues of family, employment, emigration and so on, while at the same time depicting the political and economic forces driving these problems as being some sort of mysterious entity no-one could understand. Still, it was the first effort by RTE to depict working class urban life in contemporary Ireland and even if it didn’t probe the social and economic explanations for the difficulties the characters encountered, at least it showed what those difficulties were.

Anyway, this isn’t an area I know a lot about but I’d suggest checking out Helena Sheehan’s website in DCU on television drama. Some interesting stuff there and she comes at it from a Marxist perspective.


14. splinteredsunrise - June 22, 2007

There’s been a bit of punk nostalgia in Belfast over the last few years, as the people from that scene are now of an age to publish. I remember it really as being small pockets indeed in the ’80s. East Belfast had a bit of a punk culture, but if you went further out east Newtownards was heavily goth and Comber was a heavy metal town.

It strikes me that there’s been very little depiction of working-class life in Belfast outside of Troubles fiction, and even though sectarianism pervades most things there are other angles. The punk scene or the gay subculture or the strong Communist Party tradition among Belfast Protestants are all less obvious things that nobody’s really bothered with.

I do quite like Bateman’s novels though.


15. Eagle - June 22, 2007

You guys are leaving me for dust in this discussion. For what it’s worth, I’ll try again.

Ireland’s ideal during the first 40 (50? 60?) years after 1922 was rural life. Not city life, not even small town life (Athlone, Dundalk, etc.). We’re talking about country villages and townlands. This was definitely the impression I had of Ireland when I was growing up in the US during the 70s.

This was not due to anything done by Bord

Failte, but because most of the Irish immigrants I knew were from such places. That was the Ireland known in the US.

What surprised me when I got to Ireland in the mid 1980s was the extent to which people from the same backgrounds dominated big chunks of Dublin. Gardai, civil service, teachers, even those I met who worked in RTE – these people were in large part either straight off the farms or were only one generation removed from farm life.

These people were the new middle class. And, whether they idealized or despised the rural image of Ireland, they all recognized it in a way they didn’t recognize or understand what life was like for those who lived in tenements and who had moved out to Ballymun, etc.

They were not descendants of generations of urban poor. These people were not really part of the new middle class. I think those who came from such backgrounds and wanted to get on in life left and went to England (much more than they went to the US).

This meant that Dublin was the center of financial and government dealings in Ireland, but not the primary reference for most of the culture that was produced here, whether for home consumption or export.


16. Redking - June 22, 2007

There was a vibrant punk scene in Derry that centred around bands such as The Sect, The Idol Threats, The Moondogs and of course…..The Undertones, although it took a while to get established due to active hostility from pub/club owners and a local obsession with heavy and prog rock.
I seem to recall some decent work from the Field Day group on northern working class culture-but of course the troubles infected everything-but only because in reality they did affect everything


17. Conor McCabe - June 22, 2007

I’d love to get my hands on a copy of even one episode of Tolka Row and see for myself what it was like. As for the Irish rural drama, for now I’m keeping to Dublin because it’s what I know about. I’ll leave the accuracy (or not) of RTE’s rural dramas to, well, those who grew up in rural Ireland.

While I think of it, did anyone out there ever see “The Courier”? The 1980s movie. How come Ireland’s “plan 9 from outer space” is not re-run at festivals and late-night film shows on a loop basis?

It had EVERYTHING!! It had drugs, it had death, it had Something Happens! God now there’s something else I’d love to get my hands on.

finally, does anyone remember the Mods? My brother was one in the early 1980s, and there seemed to be thousands of them in Dublin at the time. surely there’s a social history waiting to be written as well.


18. splinteredsunrise - June 22, 2007

I think urbanisation is a big element here, and that’s part of the North/South difference. The big peripheral estates in Greater Belfast are full of people redeveloped from the slums in the 1970s, while those in Dublin are full of people a generation or less away from the farm. It wouldn’t be that weird in those days to meet a WP activist in Tallaght whose parents supported Blaney.

I suppose we’re still at the early stages of seeing some kind of urban working-class culture develop for that reason, and also because of Belfast’s history of anti-artistic Presbyterianism and Homo Dublinensis looking to Britain for models. But I do agree that you see a lot of class issues in rural drama, not to mention the unremitting grind of poverty in your Gaelic literature.

And mention of the Mods reminds me of the old chestnut that there were no Mods in Belfast because, well, would you walk around Belfast with a target on your back?


19. sonofstan - June 22, 2007

This discussion – here and at Dublin Opinion – is fascinating. It would be an idea, i think, to try and break up the subject into a few manageable sub- headings rather than try and deal with it all at once. From what I see so far, what concerns Conor is the representation of the actually existing Irish – sspecifically Dublin – wirking class, or rather the representations that substitute for such an actual representation thereof.

Other concerns, equally interesting, that have come up, are the particular modulations of the class system here and the differences between here and Britain in that respect. It is simply a fact that at no time would a majority of Irish people have described themselves as W- class, if we take that to mean urban, wage earning and likely to be publicly housed, something that, until recently, was true of majorities in England and Scotland.

I think that, nevertheless, there are particular Irish urban working class histories that have been buried a little under the grand narrative(s) of nationalism and sectarianism and need to be dug out, but I think what also needs to be looked at is what I think to be the watershed in Irish class history; the period between the famine and the triumph of the land league, creating as it did for the first time a large enough middle class – farmers and the shopkeepers and professionals who served them – to start politically dictating the politics of the nation. The fact that this class did not directly owe its prosperity to industry meant that they were disconnected from both Dublin and the heavy industry of the Lagan valley – surely a contributory factor to the ease with which this cohort – roughly the future Fine Gael – accepted partition.

Finally, I think Eagle -above – is right; the ‘core of mourning’ around which Irish middle class identity is formed is largely rural, and the urban working class – and protestants – are, like non- jewish Israelis – a little outside the narrative of national triumph against the odds.


20. WorldbyStorm - June 22, 2007

I don’t want to be too unkind to Roddy Doyle, but I think a critique of his work is overdue.

I think Eagle makes a very important point that it was the rural which was predominant. If you look at Irish participation at World Fairs during the 1920s through to the 1960s, and in particular leaflets or brochures, you see nothing but photographs of the landscape. Desolate, magnificent, depopulated bar the occasional house. This was the Ireland of the imagination. Terence Brown, the social historian, once noted that:

“After the War of Independence and the civil war in a politically divided island with a border truncating the country, the image of the creative unity of the West, the vision of heroic rural life in the Gaeltacht or on a western island served as a metaphor of social cohesion and an earnest of a cultural unity that transcended class politics and history”

It is that ‘heroic rural life’ which informed the official and cultural discourse of the state. Everything else, working class, arguably middle class, indeed any class was simply secondary to the issue. And that fed into representations of Irish people.

Incidentally Bateman annoys me as well although the novels can be quite fast paced. They’re a bit too glib.

The Moondogs I remember well. The idea of a Newtownards Goths is – different…


21. ejh - June 22, 2007

I don’t want to be too unkind to Roddy Doyle, but I think a critique of his work is overdue.

It would be amusing to do one in the style of James Joyce….


22. Conor McCabe - June 22, 2007

Gas From a Bleedin’ Burner – ye bollicks.


23. Ciarán - June 22, 2007

I usually loathe anything produced about the Six Counties because it almost always caricatures the two tribes drivel – all catholics have a picture of the Pope on their wall, all protestants have a picture of the Queen, both sides hate each other (except for the Romeo-and-Julietesque star-crossed lovers, depending on the genre) and whenever we see the British they’re completely neutral of course.

I enjoyed Give My Head Peace when I watched it in its early days (no-one’s allowed to admit that anymore) because I felt they were mocking that view of Northern society above. But the only other programme by the BBC I can remember liking in the slightest was Pulling Moves, centred around four working-class men from West Belfast, but once again the show was strangely dereft of any political references whatsoever (or maybe not so strange, considering it was produced by the BBC).

Maybe it’s just a case that everyone will bitch that their own constituency and interest is always under-represented. But even objectively speaking I do think that the depiction of a political working class culture is sadly lacking.


24. Craig - June 22, 2007

The points made about the over-representation of the rural aspect of Ireland have some validity. Many people living abroad are given the false impression that most Irish people live in country towns and villages. For instance here in Paris, there are travel posters touting the merits of the rugged landscape of the Connemara – nothing about Dublin, Galway or (the far superior) Cork. And yet I would imagine most people commenting here are, like me, from ‘urban’ origins.


25. Joe - June 25, 2007

I think we need a special thread on schooling, class and politics in Kilbarrack in the seventies, eighties and nineties. I’m from there too and was involved in the WP there in the 80s. Now I’m trying to work out who WorldbyStorm and Smiffy are. And where it all went wrong…


26. Ed Hayes - June 25, 2007

The thing that made me wonder about Roddy Doyle was when the teenage girl in ‘Family’ is going off to work with a load of other women and they are all singing on top of the bus on their way to the factory…at 7 o’clock in the morning presumbly, when everybody would be wrecked, tired or hung over? Singing when they finished work on Friday maybe? Incidentally I don’t know if Doyle was in the DSP, I thought he was briefly in the Socialist Labour Party in the late 70s and left because of all the in fighting, I seem to remember an In Dublin interview where he expressed his disgust at people arguing at conferences over ‘what Trotsky had for breakfast in 1917.’ A fair enough complaint but even if he was in the DSP, I think that party, outside of Limerick, would have contained more liberal, two-nationist types than working class activists. Some of whom ended up in Labour of course while others have reverted to the strange Aubane History Society, the artists formerly known as BICO. Anyway, thats neither here nor there. Great post by Conor McCabe on Dublin Opinion that started this discussion. Every town in Ireland has quite distinct local cultures that very often Dubliners don’t quite get. There belief that everyone from outside Dublin is a farmer still has some currency. As for RTE ‘Pure Mule’ wasn’t bad and I thought ‘Love is the Drug’ had its moments. ‘Legend’ is shite.


27. Ed Hayes - June 25, 2007

Speaking of the left and culture, is anyone familiar with the plays of Martin Lynch, WP member and writer? Trying to wrack my brains as to who else has emerged from the Irish left that has done anything of that nature.


28. Joe - June 25, 2007

Speaking of the left and culture, is anyone familiar with the plays of Martin Lynch, WP member and writer?

I’m pretty sure that’s ex-WP member, Ed. Since the DL split…


29. John O'Neill - June 27, 2007

What about Dominic Behan’s “Teems and Times and Happy Returns”? I thought it was quiet good. I don’t know who produced the film “Adam and Paul” but IMO it was more authentic than any of R Doyle’s work (someone reviewing it called it an modern day Ulysses). Although I have not read all his work I agree Roddy Doyle is long overdue some critical analysis. Way too many ‘Yossers’ and not enough class politics for my liking. We’re all happy go lucky, devil may care, oppressed underclass, but we love it. I recall at the time there was a glut of plays with middle class actors putting on working accents to working class school kid audiences who were laughing at themselves (usually on in the SFX i.e. War, Brownbread and Studs).

I never actually read the book “The Commitments” but I saw the film and was under awed by the experience. This could be down to Alan Parker’s influence? I hated his ‘Mississippi Burning’ an awful misrepresentation of the struggle for equality in the Deep South.

Doyle’s best work was Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, a tale of a child in the middle of his parents’ marriage breakdown. I enjoyed it immensely and thought it captured the reality of loveless relationships. It was set in a lower middle class home rather than working class.

A friend of mine a former member of the Irish Democratic Youth Movement (SFWP youth) recalls a Martin Lynch play called “We Want Work We Want Bread” which she saw in an “Official” Sheebeen in Turf Lodge. The WP used to encourage their young members to act and she participated in a play “Waiting for a Future” about kids from different backgrounds looking towards a bright socialist future (it was shown in the Project in Dublin). Neither play will go down as memorable works, but that was never their purpose.

Children of the Revolution – Martin Lynch
“Its hard for me to stand up here and sing this song for you
But I’ve got a thing or two to say and I guess I have to do
You’ve watched our play you’ve followed our lives,
You know what we’ve come through
We’ve learned from life what’s right and wrong
And we know what we must do

For we’re the children who’re going to make a contribution
We’re the children, Children of the Revolution
We’ve got brothers in Vietnam
We’ve got sisters in Mozambique
We’ve got friends all around the world dedicated to you and me
We believe in the rights of all to housing, food and clothes
And we believe in the working class and the future that it holds

We have to build a better life where people are the central theme
A life of peace, work and hope that some day will be seen
Brotherhood, comradeship, America won’t be pleased
The young folk of the universe will feel the changing breeze

Chorus again

Unite the Working Class- Martin again?
I was brought up rough I never had enough, but I got by alright
Most families in our street, they couldn’t make ends meet,
But they could sing at night, I was too young to say, everything works the wrong way,
Then I put my head down and said to myself, it will change
Now the years have gone and so much went on but things were still the same,
I saw the factory floor and the docklands shore, and the bosses without a name
My country was divided, religion had collided,
The prices were high, the wages were low, and I knew,
I knew there was a common ground

Unite the working class, can’t you see its coming fast,
Everybody’s got to realise we’ve got to see the world through workers’ eyes
I’m telling you straight from my heart, we’ve got nothing while we’re apart
We’ve got to organise, educate, come together before it’s too late

Take a look at the world with the wrapping unfurled and tell me what you see
You’ll see a working class and a ruling class within our society
You don’t need brains to recognise we’re been robbed before our eyes
By respectable men who live nice lives and they’re good
They probably go to church to pray and reassert their loyality to god
They pay the workers straight below the union rate no matter if you’re a Taig or Prod
I’m making you an offer you can’t refuse. I’m telling you something you can’t abuse
Get it into your head and you’ll see, we’ve got to have UNITY

Repeat Chorus

Taken from,
“Our Own Song” – Workers Party Youth Songbook


30. WorldbyStorm - June 27, 2007

Hmmm…Joe, I wonder who you are too. smiffy wasn’t in WP though, so your paths might not have crossed.
Wow, that’s quite a collection of songs John… Sort of makes me glad I evaded WP Youth except tangentially when groups were brought down from Belfast and Newry to sample the delights of the Northside. Although as someone I knew in the party noted ‘getting rid of the Fianna was the best days work in a long time’…don’t think WP Youth was really quite the same…
I agree entirely with your points re Roddy Doyles earlier work, and although I thought Paddy Clarke was pretty good I have a very specific gripe against it.
Actually meant to respond to Craigs point which I thought was probably true…


31. John O'Neill - June 28, 2007

Aye, theres a couple of gems in the song book from Des Geraghty and, one of my favourates “Why do all the biggest bastards drive the biggest cars?” by Pat Brady. In Finglas most of the Fianna stayed in the organisations’ youth wing the IDYM. WPY, at its zenith had about 300+ members nationally, with a number of healthy branches in Belfast and smaller branches in Downpatrick, nothing in Derry and I never recall any WPY members in Newry whatsoever.

Ed Hayes mentioned BICO who, I believe had a negative influence on the WP politics particularly on ‘Northern Ireland’. Many of the ‘leading lights’ in the ‘theory’ department in the 1980’s were associates/former members of this weird organisation that I believe now has gone full circle and is extremely Nationalist!


32. ejh - June 28, 2007

although I thought Paddy Clarke was pretty good I have a very specific gripe against it.

Spit it out, man…


33. Dublin Opinion · MICHAEL ZWEIG, CLASS, THE MEDIA, AND IRELAND - September 20, 2007

[…] course, Irish media is not just journalism. Again, this topic has been brought up elsewhere, and here at other times. It’s an ongoing debate, and one with a lot of scope with regard to […]


34. Grendel - September 27, 2007

Depictions of working class culture in Cork…I can think of the work of Frank O’Connor and the Play/Film “Disco Pigs”.I think there was
a novel called the “Shark Joke” that was set among Cork’s
working class as well.
I’m suprised nobody’s mentioned “Angela’s Ashes” and its depiction
of Limerick (I’ve only seen the Alan Parker film of it).


35. WorldbyStorm - September 27, 2007

Too far back in the past perhaps?


36. tucker - August 5, 2009

Martin Lynch is a writer from Belfast,professes to be a socialist,but used it for material for his ambitions,he was reared in Turf Lodge,never worked at the docks,he was a cloth cutter,so,his cv is false,another oppertunist,writes working class plays (which are good) but his working class roots are behind him now.Look out Hollywood another token Irish Socialist could be in your midst.


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