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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

Cic Saor returns for 2008

After a fairly lengthy break for family and professional reasons (I am working on a book translation at the moment), it is great to be back blogging in cyberspace. May I take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and creative new year – bliain úr mhaith agus faoi shonas do chách.

I wrote a lot and thought a lot over my extended Christmas break and the three articles/essays below form part of the outcome of all that thinking and touch on subjects which regular readers will recognise as being close to my heart. The first one is a review of Michael Ondaatje’s brilliant book – “In The Skin Of A Lion”. The second is a partly poem based article, is in Irish, and deals with some of my feelings about the Donegal Gaeltacht (Gaeltachts are places where the primary language in the area is Irish)...
...I now regard Tír Chonaill as my spiritual home – the place where I breath easiest, partly because its like living on a ship again! Then, of course, there is the language and on that point, I’d appreciate it if people with no Irish would not write and ask me to translate everything I write in Irish. How would you feel if I asked you to translate everything you said or wrote!?

The final article is about the most recent controversy concerning Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s stewardship of the Royal Ulster Constabulary as the PSNI was formerly known. Once again, most of the media did not cover this story properly. It is my firm belief that Mr. Flanagan will, in the not too distant future and not because of pressure from journalists, be brought before a European Court to explain the disasters which happened on his “watch”. Ronnie Flanagan will ultimately be held to account for the activities of RUC Special Branch in the 1980s; a time when he was a senior commander and then the commander in chief of that force. I do not persist in writing about Ronnie Flanagan because I blame him personally for the Troubles, or because I want to see him jailed – that would be daft in the context of the peace settlement in our country. He should, however, be forced to tell us about how he and others ran RUC Special Branch and why things went so wrong. He is, after all, supposed to be a public servant and the RUC was supposed to be protecting our citizens in the North.


“In The Skin Of A Lion” by Michael Ondaatje

I am grateful to Booker Prize winner (2007) Anne Enright (one of our own) for alerting me to this beautiful and crucial piece of art. Anne wrote a brilliant, if flawed, essay about Ondaatje's book in the Guardian last year and I went out and bought “In The Skin Of A Lion” straight after reading her review - see “The fallen nun”-,,2169248,00.html.

Very briefly, I'd like to use Anne’s review to explain my own feelings about "In The Skin of a Lion", as there was much that she said that raised my spirits but also something that left me disheartened. Something that was not in the spirit of the book, which she says moved her so deeply as she started out as a writer. In the heart of her review there is a mean spiritedness which I find shocking and indicates the malaise affecting the Irish intelligentsia. She starts her review by quite rightly praising Ondaatje’s majestic achievement in the writing of this book –
“In the “Skin of a Lion” is full of things that Michael Ondaatje can do, but that you probably can't do, or can't do yet. It is a highly contagious book. It seems to do impossible things.”

However, she then goes on to reveal that she first read Ondaatje’s book “sitting in an evil little breeze-block room in the student residences” at the University of East Anglia, where she was doing a creative writing course. From her room Anne says –
“I could just about see one other girl, rocking endlessly in front of a huge Irish tricolour, listening to "A Nation Once Again" on a loop. I was worried about her. I thought she might kill herself. I would have found her door and knocked on it, if it hadn't been for the damn flag. Instead I sat there, wondering how to turn myself into ‘a writer.”

I had to read the bitter and uncharitable bile quoted above several times before I could make myself believe that a prominent Irish writer could be so petty and mean - the exact opposite of most of the characters in "In The Skin of a Lion" who reach out to each other despite differences in race or class or, indeed, gender. Since when did our national flag become such a symbol of oppression that an Irish artist could not bring herself to help a fellow human being, never mind a fellow citizen, because that citizen flew the Irish tricolour?

I was in England in the time that Anne Enwright was in East Anglia and a whole generation of emigrant Irish in England was politicised (in just the same way, I would argue that the characters populating "In The Skin of a Lion" are politicised) by the conscious raising of the tricolour or the Starry Plough in England. The raising, in the heartland of the colonial oppressor, of that ‘damn flag’, as Enwright puts it, was a brave act of defiance, which very often led, at the very least, to harassment, arrest and ongoing state surveillance. I believe that a large section of the intellectual classes react so strongly and negatively to our symbols of resistance because they feel a guilt at not having done anything about the North and they just wish the whole question would go away so they can get on with turning themselves into ‘writers’. It is a form of self hatred typical to all post colonial societies. And it is precisely here where Anne Enwright really lets herself down because she fails to grasp the star which Ondaatje holds before her. For Ondaatje actually celebrates the violent and righteous anger of anarchists and socialists who were fighting against oppressive social conditions in Toronto during one of the first waves of immigration from Europe to that city from the start of the 1900s onwards. This does not mean that Ondaatje supports violence per se. What it means is that in his writings he is happy and able to afford the poor and the oppressed a sometimes wondrous voice. He gives them a context.

Michael Ondaatje himself was born in Sri Lanka (formerly called Ceylon and just as much part of the Raj as Ireland was) and came from an apparently well to do family of mixed Dutch, Tamil and Sinhalese cultures. His first novel was “The Collected Works of Billy the Kid” (1970). This novel/poem is a meditation on the nature of heroism and violence and it alters the conventions of the novel form by using poems, prose, images, newspaper interviews and other material to present the artist as an outlaw. See for example -

In other words, it is not that Ondaatje would necessarily have supported Irish republicanism in his novels were he to be in that situation but he would have certainly given a dignity to that quarter. Something which Anne Enwright cannot bring herself to do. Try, dear readers, to imagine any present day Irish artist as an “outlaw”, or even writing sympathetically about political outlaws and see who you come up with. We have become so safe and comfortable with ourselves and what we haven’t achieved through partial independence.

Ondaatje is unashamedly and radically political in "In The Skin of a Lion" but without nailing his colours to any political mast – I like that. He gives respect to the workers who built Toronto, whilst at the same time ridiculing the rich. At the end, however, in a nice touch, he shows a certain sympathy to a city father who had the will to dream a city and build an aspiration for a city - or parts thereof - bridges, viaducts, water treatment plants. With his sensibilities as an immigrant to Canada, Ondaatje writes from the side of the poor and in particular the male worker. The main hero, Patrick Lewis, is not a fully radicalised worker hero, but he does find a kind of peace and love amongst people who are so radicalised, and the author allows Patrick to ruminate on literature and its power to transform. Joseph Conrad is mentioned on several occasions.


Anne Enwright's review is strongest, perhaps inevitably, on the sexual politics of "In The Skin of a Lion" and she says that the erotics of the book still fascinate her. It is certainly true that Ondaatje ‘decentres' sexual relationships. There is a remarkable feeling of sexual freedom about the book and a remarkable absence of jealousy amongst potentially contending lovers, although Patrick Lewis does have the occasional urge to murder the former lover of his girlfriend. Enwright says that Ondaatje achieves this ‘freedom' for his characters by asserting the impossibility of knowing another person let alone owning them and also that Ondaatje ‘undoes’ ideology. I think that is wrong. What Ondaatje does is to celebrate human ideology as part of the human condition and to refuse to be intimidated by it. Ideology, when seen as a force of social cohesion rather than the negative connotations it is given by alleged ‘liberals’, is important to Ondaatje’s message in this book. For whilst his characters stress the damaging effects of social injustice and the liberating power of individual sensual freedom (the thing that Enwright predictably stresses) the underlying force for good in the book is the cleansing light of love. Patrick Lewis is a dynamiter, a lover, a drifter, a kind of bounty hunter and lots of other things but he never really feels at ease with himself until he accepts the ideology of love as a unifying force. The very title of the book, in my view, tells us this as it is taken from perhaps the world's oldest novel, the Gilgamesh epic, a seminal literary work, written about 2000 BC. This heroic poem was set in what is now Iraq - another cradle of civilsation that has been destroyed by colonialsim. Gilgamesh, was a tyrannical Babylonian king who was challenged by Enkidu, to a wrestling match. Eventually Gilgamesh and Enkidu become close friends. So much so, that when the Gods decide to punish Gilgamesh, they kill Enkidu. It is at this point that the devastated Gilgamesh dons the skin of a lion, abandons his former status as a demigod, and sets off to discover the meaning of life, declaring - “I will grow my hair long and wander through the wilderness in the skin of a lion". This quote appears at the front of "In The Skin Of A Lion".
Patrick Lewis, too, embarks on an odyssey. But it is important to note that it is a post-colonial odyssey (nearly all the book’s heroes are migrants, newly arrived in Canada). Patrick finally discovers himself (discovers his light) via the love of a daughter that was not biologically his and a woman for whom he was not necessarily first choice. Still it was real love and Patrick wisely embraces it, unlike Anne Enwright who (ironically, given that "In The Skin Of A Lion" is a post-colonial novel par excellence), cannot bring herself to embrace a sister and fellow toiler because that sister proudly shows our anti colonial flag.

Read "In The Skin Of A Lion". It is a truly brilliant book.

Clapsholas is muid ag fágáilt na Carraice


Lonn dubh agus an Nollaig thart

Bím i dtólamh rud beag thíos nuair atá muid ( mé féin agus an teaghlach ar ndóigh) ag fágáilt Ghaoth Dobhair i ndiaidh na himeachtaí agus an craic a bhaineann leis an Nollaig - Santa do na paistí, agus mar sin de. Seo chugaibh dán a scríobh mé ar an oíche dheireanach agus mé ag amharc siar ón teach i gCarraic Mhic Eacharmharcaigh go hoileán Inis Meain agus Gola ina dhiaidh.. Bhí tonnta na farraige móire ag crapadh le titim an tsolais. Idir an dá sholas m'intinn.
Is fiú a rá gur mhothaigh mé drochscéal ar an lá céanna nó bhí muintir mo bhean a rá liom go fhuair máthair de chara de mo chuid bás cúpla la roimhe sin. Ba as Baile Lár nó na Machaireacha Annie Beagan – go raibh suaimhneas Dé go síoraí ar a hanam. Máthair de mo chara Bernie Beagan a bhí Annie agus as Gaoth Dobhair ó dúchais. Tá aithne mhaith agam ar Bernie. Gael den scoth atá inti agus imeasc an seanghlúin i dTír Chonaill ar a laghad, tá clú ar athair s'aici, Jimmy Beagan, mar trodaí ar son na n-oibrithe agus na cearta sóisialta. Ní mór dom a rá go bhfuair mé an pictiúr galánta thuas ó suiomh idirlín na Crannóige! -

Seo mo dhán

Nil aon brón cosúil leis an dubhghorm san fharraige ar an oíche dheireanach.
Néalta liath sa speir shéimh, réidh le caoineadh de thairbhe ghrá tréigthe,
Níl ann ach cruth dorcha taibhseach ar Ghola agus Inis Meáin anois
Iad ag druidim isteach iontu féin, ag tiontú droma dom, míshásta,
Cloisim macalla de scairt, ait a bhfuil bearna airgid idir farraige is talamh
Ach tá sé i bhfad i gcéin agus nil aon freagra agam cibé.
Ansin thig síobán gaoithe na feirge thart orm is mé ag creathadh
Na síogaithe ag iarraidh tromcrhoí a chur orm, rud a bhí.

D’amharc mé thart ach ní raibh ann ach salann garbh i mo gaosán is béal
D’amharc mé arís i dtreo na hoileáin ach bhí siad ar shiúl

The curse of Ronnie strikes again

Ronnie Flanagan – former RUC Chief Constable and head of Special Branch

In May 2002, during research for my book “A Very British Jihad”, I wrote several letters to Sir Ronnie Flanagan who around that time had left the RUC to take up a senior position with the police inspectorate in England. The letters sought to obtain information about a crucial area of policing in the North and I will come to that area shortly. Of course, I doubted that I might ever get a reply from Mr. Flanagan but as a journalist, or writer, this kind of letter must always be written. One should never stop asking questions just because a high level public servant, or influential figure, might be peeved at the reception of such a letter, or might not wish to reply. This approach would simply hand over control of information to the rich and powerful. Eventually, and rather strangely, the press officer of the new PSNI wrote to me saying that Sir Ronnie, dedicated public servant that he is, would not be replying to my inquiries.

Ronnie Flanagan has been in the news again because of the collapse of the Omagh bomb trial. Quite apart from clear acquittal of the accused, Sean Hoey, the trial also established that two police officers, who were serving under Ronnie Flanagan at the time, had lied whilst providing evidence on a separate but related matter. Mr Justice Weir told the Omagh trial that two officers on the case were guilty of "deliberate and calculated deception". Now on the limited number of occasions when Flanagan has faced any sustained media pressure at all about his time as RUC commander, he has said that he cannot have known about the behaviour of all of his officers at any one time, or indeed the specific behaviour of his officers in Special Branch when running particular agents. Agents, that is, who were subsequently found to be carrying out serious acts of criminality, including many murders, either with the acquiescence, or possibly at the behest of members of RUC special branch. However, Flanagan’s defence does not stand up to scrutiny and it is, in my view, a journalistic scandal that no heavyweight media inquiry has been launched into the possible culpability of Flanagan himself in the collusion nightmare. After all, here is a man who was once the effective “Governor General” of Northern Ireland and the head of a police force which both Nuala O’Loan’s bombshell report into collusion and the Stevens Enquiry described as being involved in systematic and endemic collusion with loyalist paramilitaries. In fact, former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain subsequently stated that collusion could be deemed as having been “endemic across the whole of the RUC”.


Despite all the above, Sir Ronnie Flanagan has maintained that he never knew anything about collusion. See for example –

In essence, I had two simple questions for Ronnie Flanagan when I wrote to him in May 2002:
1) As the then head of Special Branch and Operations Commander for the RUC, and a daily attendant at Tasking and Coordinating Group meetings, how did you process the daily stream of information coming in from your top informers within loyalist and republican groups?

2) As head of Special Branch and Operations Commander for the RUC, can you explain why the RUC’s covert intelligence ‘Threats Book’ carried virtually no information about the targeting of Catholics for murder? (see Judge Cory’s account Cory Collusion Inquiry Report Patrick Finucane -

1 comment:

Ronnie Flanagan will never be subject to any kind of enquiry in my view. The resulting can of worms would be too big to control.
by: Brian Larkin (contact) - 29 Jan '08 - 11:29


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Title: Cic Saor returns for 2008
Date posted: 15 Jan '08 - 02:46
Filed under: General
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