An Irishman's Diary

Sat, Jul 16, 2011, 01:00

AS THEY seek a new name to suit drastically reduced circumstances, I wonder if the Soldiers of Destiny could do worse that staying with Irish mythology and adopting the title of another tribe of former rulers, the Tuatha Dé Danann.

There are, after all, some broad similarities. As pre-historians and Horslips fans will know, the Tuatha Dé Danann were a race of magicians who dominated Ireland for a period through their apparently supernatural abilities to make things happen.

Their flying ships first landed in Connacht (not far from where, many centuries later, Fianna Fáil would pitch their semi-legendary tent). And they then famously burned their boats to prevent any possibility of retreat: something Fianna Fáil appear finally to have emulated.

The Tuatha brought with them four magical treasures: the Sword of Light, Dagda’s Cauldron, the Spear of Lugh, and of course the Stone of Fal, whose name is echoed by that of Micheál Martin’s party. Using these and other sources of power, they ousted the Fir Bolg and ruled until being in turn defeated by the Milesians. Yet even then – and this is where Fianna Fáil might have grounds for optimism – the Tuatha Dé Danann were assured a certain immortality.

In a peace settlement after the Battle of Tailtiu, Ireland was divided evenly between the Milesians and the Tuatha, with the former getting the half above the surface of the earth, and the latter the half below. The defeated party thus entered the underground, via the sidhe mounds or “fairy forts”. And according to tradition, they remain there to this day as the “little people”, their magical skills much reduced but not extinct.

It’s not an entirely encouraging precedent for Fianna Fáil, I agree. But apart from the formal name change, the transformation may already have happened. The Soldiers were led underground through those modern-day fairy forts, ghost estates (into which some superstitious people are already afraid to tread). And insofar as they still have any power over the humans above, it seems to take the form of curses: such as the curse it’s thought would befall any presidential candidate were Fianna Fáil to openly endorse him.

So it could be argued that the name change would merely formalise the existing situation. As for a new logo, it would be hard to improve on the burning boat motif. To save money, I suggest they borrow the AIB’s boat logo and just add flames. The little bird with the branch in its beak could remain, albeit with its feathers suitably singed. Or to hint at a possible comeback, however unlikely it now seems, the dove could be redrawn as a phoenix.

WHILE WE’REat it, I also have a suggestion for the Milesians – and more particularly, for their Minister of the Arts. It concerns his idea of reclaiming the old House of Lords on Dublin’s College Green and turning it into a world-class literary centre: a plan that depends on its current owners, Bank of Ireland, doing the decent thing and handing it over to the people of Ireland, in gratitude for the bailout.

Unfortunately, to use a term from Mr Deenihan’s illustrious sporting career, the bank is not yet playing ball. So my suggestion is that he should simply seize the building. But not though anything as shabby as emergency legislation, or other paralegal means. No. I think something more dramatic might be appropriate.

The centenary of 2016 is now looming and thoughts are already turning to suitable commemorations. How better to get things started than if, next Easter Monday, the Minister (dressed as Padraig Pearse or otherwise) were to lead a contingent of writers into the building and, reading a proclamation from the steps, simply declare the literary centre founded? It could be the start of another poets’ revolution, if you like, but this time without the guns.

I foresee such a move being followed by a day or two of uneasy silence. Then no doubt, the bankers would send their legal artillery up the river. But in return, the heroic defenders of the building could bombard the assailants with poetry (if he’s not president by then, I foresee a big role here for Michael D Higgins). And surely, this time, the people of Ireland, who’ve already bought and paid for the building many times over, would turn out to support the rebels.

Ideally, in any case, the College Green garrison would not be acting alone. Signalling the key role culture is expected to play in the emergence of a new Ireland, there could be a series of supporting events scheduled at existing theatrical venues across Dublin. Perhaps staging O’Casey, the Grand Canal Theatre could play the role of Boland’s Mill.

The theatre in Liberty Hall could put on something appropriate too. And it goes without saying that, whether planned or not, there would also be drama at the Four Courts before the week was out.

If Mr Deenihan wants to run with the idea, I will happily surrender any copyright. All I ask is that, if the proposed centre does thus come to pass, maybe my role could remembered with a small plaque somewhere. If the Minister thought a modest literary pension was also in order, it would of course be churlish to refuse.