An Irishman's Diary

Sat, Nov 10, 2012, 00:00

It’s amazing the things that upset people during newspaper redesigns. I know of at least one man, in Kavanagh Country, who was very annoyed this week that our horse-racing fixtures no longer included the runners’ ages. And sure enough, this was one of the things sacrificed to the new, slimmer page design.

We’re into jumps season now, after all, when horses of double-digit vintage and carrying 11 stone 12 are not uncommon. Something had to give. But I gather my friend was not alone in protesting. As a result, there has been a stewards’ inquiry in the editor’s office, and the ages will shortly be reinstated.

Then there was Lighting Up Time. I never noticed this myself, although it was in the paper for at least a century until last Monday. And it might be an overstatement to say that readers raged against the dying of the light (up time) in the new format, but there was some genuine consternation.

It was a burning issue – almost literally – in Crosshaven, that famous seaside village in Cork, where Cronin’s Pub had displayed the time (and tides) on a blackboard for as long as anyone could remember. Local street lamp-lighters used to check it before performing their offices. And in a more recent age, Lighting Up Time provided endless amusement for smokers, who enjoyed pretending to interpret it as a temporary lifting of the ban.

Above all, as Caroline Burgess from the pub wrote, it was a valued tradition. And if it had ceased to have much practical significance, it was still a guide for ecologically-minded citizens as to when was a reasonable time to illuminate their homes.

Thus it was part of the daily routine for a member of staff to buy the paper and mark the board accordingly.

Lighting up time is perhaps a bit of an anachronism. As a legal requirement, it relates mainly to road traffic and used to run from an hour after sunset until an hour before sunrise. Then cars became faster and the solar time lapse was reduced to half an hour, where it remains.

Now, however, the advice is to keep your car lights on even during the day. And if you’re a sufferer from SAD syndrome, that might apply to your house-lights too (although of course you’d be better off seeking professional help). But in any case, the people of Crosshaven have spoken and the redesigners have listened. Lighting Up time has also been readmitted on appeal.

Light in the Dark Ages

Elsewhere this week, but still on the subject of light, I see that the Taoiseach has been talking about saints and scholars again. Collecting his European of the Year award in Berlin, he returned to a favourite recent theme by reminding Germany of the role played by Ireland during the Dark Ages, when our holy men roamed the continent, spreading “the light of learning”.

The hint, as usual, was that it was time for Germans to reciprocate: locating their inner 6th-century monks and spreading enlightenment in Ireland’s dark age. Illuminating manuscripts – especially bank debt manuscripts, and with box of matches – would be a good place to start.

We live in hope that the hint will be taken, eventually. If it’s not, I might have to agree with a cynical friend who, on the subject of The Gathering, has canvassed my support for an alternative event next year whereby the entire population would emigrate and abandon the Government to its fate. “The Scattering” he calls it.

Of course, plenty of people have scattered already. And it was a matter of both pride and sadness to learn this week that the Donegal football manager/svengali, Jim McGuinness, is about to follow the well trodden path from his county to Glasgow, if only part-time.

I’m not surprised to hear that he was in Parkhead for the Celtic-Barcelona match. We’ll probably find out yet that he gave the team-talk beforehand. There was certainly something Donegal-like about the way Celtic played, with a blanket, 14-man defence (that’s what it looked like anyway), interrupted by occasional lightning counter-attacks.

McGuinness appears to be a modern-day St Columcille. He has already persuaded a group of young men from Donegal to live like monks – a miracle in itself.

Now that he’s bringing his mission to Scotland, I predict Celtic will light up the benighted continent, scattering vandals (if not, for the foreseeable future, huns) in the process. In fact, the illumination has already started. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that the winning goal against Barcelona was scored by an 18-year-old substitute called Watt.

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