What do James Joyce and Stephen Gately have in common? The answer to the above is that they both on this list, a depressing stupid and populist exercise that makes me despair for the intellectual life in this country. Put out by our national broadcaster, it claims to be a shortlist of the 40 "greatest figures in our country's history". When I read it first, I wondered if it was a bizarre joke. But I don't think it is, and this is what sent my Rage-O-Meter from 1 (placid, fairly contented) to 60 (throbbing, violent anger, complete with red mist before the eyes). What is so depressing to me is that nobody who perused this list at RTE seemed to think that there was anything wrong with it. Apparently, the list was compiled after a poll of a 1000 people done by MRBI, but that doesn't mean they have to view it as set in stone (and why shouldn't they poll all TV licence holders, seeing as we're paying for it!)!
Curiously, out of, say, 2000 years of recorded history they were unable to find a single figure from before 1763, and only four who died before 1901. Obviously there was nobody in that period of any real significance (which means I must have imagined the existence of St Brendan, St Patrick, St Columba, Brian Boru, John Scotus, St Columbanus, Hugh O'Neill, Edmund Burke, Patrick Sarsfield, Henry Grattan, Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Robert Boyle, John Field, and many, many others). There are no scientists at all (so much for the knowledge economy!), and by the way, a fine list of Irish scientists can be found here. Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League, and Michael Cusack, founder of the GAA, are absent, as are Jim Larkin of the 1913 Lockout, Home Rule politician James Redmond and Michael Davitt, founder of the Land League, all hugely important figures. Obviously, it would have made more sense to have separate lists for political/historical, cultural, and sports figures, which would have avoided the rather odd notion that golfer Padraig Harrington should be mentioned in the same breath as, say, Charles Stewart Parnell.
But as an artist, I'm primarily interested in the figures included who reflect the richness and diversity of our cultural heritage. And here they are (italics mark the figures that, in my 'umble opinion, actually deserve to be there): Bono, Joe Dolan, Ronnie Drew, Colin Farrell, Stephen Gately, Bob Geldof, Seamus Heaney, James Joyce, John B Keane, Ronan Keating, Phil Lynott, Christy Moore, Liam Neeson, Daniel O'Donnell, Louis Walsh, Oscar Wilde, and WB Yeats.
[A Doubtful Egg takes a moment to pound his head violently off of his desk, in the vain hope that when he looks up, the list may have changed to reflect reality as we know it].
I must first apologise to the shade of John B Keane, who's a fine playwright, but to include him ahead of Beckett or Swift is ludicrous. But as for the rest ... There are no visual artists; obviously Jack B Yeats, Sean Scully, or Francis Bacon, internationally renowned painters, were not up to scratch (and let us not forget Harry Clarke, Evie Hone and Mainie Jellett, who may not be in the same league as the aforementioned but are still important artists from an Irish perspective). From the world of film, I'm not sure if Liam Neeson and Colin Farrell are more important figures than Peter O'Toole and the erratic but often excellent Neil Jordan (although, to be honest, none of them belong on the list at all). Ronnie Drew and Christy Moore may be fine musicians, but are they really greater than Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains, the hugely respected and influential Liam Clancy, 19th century harpist Turlough Carolan, or John Field, the man who invented the piano nocturne that was so brilliantly exploited by Chopin (and let us ignore the list's total neglect of Irish classical music)? Phil Lynott, by all accounts a very nice guy, was not a musically significant figure by any standard. And for a nation that bangs on about how wonderfully litherary we are, by God, there are only five writers out of seventeen names. Em, Samuel 'Nobel Prize' Beckett? Jonathan Swift? Flann O'Brien? Thomas Kinsella? In fact, just go here to find some of the names that were considered less important than Joe Dolan...
And then we hit the dregs. Inexplicably popular singers Daniel O'Donnell, Ronan Keating and the abovementioned Joe Dolan? You must be joking. They might as well have thrown in Johnny Logan while they were at it. Bono? A puffed-up gas-bag whose meagre natural talent has been swamped by the tsunami of his ego (they could have gone for the equally pompous gas-bag Van Morrison, if only for the fact that his early works have a stronger claim to greatness than anything U2 have produced). Bob Geldof? Aside from Live Aid, I'm not sure if what he's actually accomplished can bolster the claim that he's History's Greatest Irishperson (and, as someone who leans strongly to the left, I'm always very suspicious of extremely wealthy men talking about making poverty history). Louis Walsh? A sleazy, greedy impresario who'll peddle anything to gullible fools as long as he can squeeze a few pennies out of them. And the absolute nadir, the most stupid thing I've ever seen on a list: Stephen Gately, whose only memorable accomplishment was dying (tragically young) while the tabloids were still interested in him, is being considered as one of Irish history's greatest figures. What is interesting, and very depressing, is that the list seems to view "culture" as being synonymous with "entertainment", with the exception of a few household names like Joyce and Wilde thrown in to dodge claims of out-and-out philistinism. That there are individuals out there who consider these figures and some of the others (Paul McGrath? Michael O'Leary? Adi Roche?) to be the greatest Irish people of all time, and that our national broadcaster would feel this view to be so prevalent that they would have no qualms about putting out this list, is deeply unsettling, and I would encourage everyone to boycott it. (I'm not even going to get into the discussion about the excessive number of sports figures or the comparative lack of women.)
Most astoundingly of all, it truly beggars belief, and shows our nation's attitude to blatant criminality in the elites that own and run this country, that on the list is Charles J Haughey, "Don Charleone", possibly the worst Taoiseach this country has ever had; a poisonous snake of a man who bankrupted the country for a decade while swindling his way to riches, and encouraging a culture of outrageous corruption which has led to the economic disaster that we now find ourselves in. The only list he deserves to be on is "Ireland's Most Shameful Politicians". And whoever compiled this list should be ashamed of themselves. If you've made it through that rant, here's an Irish song by two different singers: