LongMyles Road – An Irishman’s Diary about Conor McGregor, Flann O’Brien, and the Tallaght Gaeltacht

‘Suddenly, I was in Leopold Bloom’s kitchen, circa 1904, trying to fry kidneys (which burned, with the result that I smelled smoke)’

‘The writer said Conor McGregor had grown up in “the Gaelic speaking, council estate badlands of Tallaght, south of Dublin”.’ Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

‘The writer said Conor McGregor had grown up in “the Gaelic speaking, council estate badlands of Tallaght, south of Dublin”.’ Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

What a tragedy that Myles na gCopaleen, late of this parish, was not around to read the Sunday Times last weekend.  His heart would surely have soared at the review of Conor McGregor’s new film, especially the bit where the writer said McGregor had grown up in “the Gaelic speaking, council estate badlands of Tallaght, south of Dublin”.

How Myles would have rejoiced at the news, 75 years after An Béal Bocht, that a Gaeltacht had arisen at Newlands Cross.  That Corkadoragha had come to Corkagh Park (or near it).  And that not only was Dublin at last sharing the “sweet Gaelic” of Ireland’s West, but also the “excellence of its poverty”, so crucial to the language’s purity.

For did the Sunday Times man – a latter-day Robin Flower – not also write that it was in Tallaght’s Gaelic-speaking badlands McGregor “learned to defend himself in order to survive among the bigger beasts of the urban jungle”?  And if those mean streets could produce a fighter as fearless as he, it was a compliment to their poverty not even Bonaparte O’Coonasa could match.

Gaelic-speaking badlands

No doubt they still say of McGregor in Gaeltacht Tallaght that “his likes will not be seen again”.  But alas, the question of whether they were ever seen there has since been raised by sceptical ST readers.  

After all, it’s not that long since another admiring journalist from overseas (the US in that case) told his readership how McGregor grew up among the “projects” of Crumlin, where the streets were made to sound at least as mean as anything Tallaght could offer. Geographically, at least, that seemed more in keeping with fact.

Not that mere facts should be allowed to circumscribe such semi-mythical figures as McGregor.  Still, for the record, he did indeed grow up in Crumlin.  He only went to Gaelscoil in Tallaght, in Coláiste de hÍde.  Maybe it was that school’s campus the ST meant by “Gaelic speaking badlands”? If so, that’s a harsh verdict.  I hope its likes will not be seen again.

Still with Myles, and still speaking of projects – sort of – I recently paid a visit to Boston College, where the Flann O’Brien archive is now housed.  While there, I took part in a day-long “colloquium” on the great humorist’s work: an event organised by Prof Joe Nugent, long-exiled native of Mullingar.

Nugent is a noted Joycean, but also a Flannorak.  Back in the 1980s – a time when it was neither profitable nor popular – he founded the Mullingar branch of a Flann O’Brien appreciation society.  Now, in far Amerikay, he continues to spread the word, as do some of his new students, who plan to preach it via the medium of podcasts.

So in an event presided over by Flann’s hat – from the archive – there was a series of talks and performances, aimed at inspiration.  I had to give one myself, in strained circumstances.  My usual pre-speech routine is a well-practised one, in four parts.  First I try to focus, then re-read my notes, then notice the notes have turned into Egyptian hieroglyphs since I wrote them, and then panic.

JoyceStick

But side events of the day also included demonstrations of another Nugent project: JoyceStick. This is a virtual reality game with which he and his scholars aim to recreate the novel Ulysses, no less.  Shortly before my turn to speak, I was invited to try it out.  

Thus, in a church-like room of BC, where Joyce collides with Harry Potter, I first watched students create a “field’ for the game by waving magic wands around.  Then I put on the head-set and took the controls.  

Then, suddenly, I was in Leopold Bloom’s kitchen, circa 1904, trying to fry kidneys (which burned, with the result I smelled smoke, as if from a real fire, although I’m assured this effect was imaginary). So it was that, shortly afterwards, back in the real world, but haunted the smell of incinerated kidneys, I gave my dissertation.

Whatever about me, the actors attending did a good job of bringing Flann’s world alive for students.  And one, at least, suggested Prof Nugent might be justified in thinking the time opportune for spreading the gospel stateside.  

The actor performed scenes from At Swim-Two-Birds in which Gaelic super-hero Finn MacCool bigs himself up to worshipping followers and trash-talks all opponents: “I am Cuchulainn, I am Patrick . . . I am every hero from the crack of time.”  The similarities with a certain cage-fighter, now the most famous Irishman in America, were striking.

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