The following was written in mid-April and appeared in the Chicago magazine ‘Irish American News’ for May 1.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Irish Politicians Have Something in Common
You’d never guess we were about to start the election countdown, would you? Not much, you wouldn’t. You know, if you didn’t shake yourself out of it now and again and look at our politicians with the jaundiced eye they deserve, then it would be all too easy to despair.
This coming Monday (April 20th) sees a new documentary on TV3 that will have ‘four politicians spend time with constituents who are surviving on social welfare’. The report I’m looking at goes on to say that these four goons will be experiencing what it’s like to make ends meet, feed themselves etcetera, all on the money that people who find themselves unemployed have to survive on.
With breathtaking condescension this slice of ‘poverty as entertainment’ is called ‘Dáil on the Dole.’ Just as classy and sensitive as you would expect when you see that TD Willie O’Dea is one of the prime beauties involved.
I’ve said it many times but it always needs repeating: they have absolutely no sense of irony. Could they possibly be more patronizing? Really and truly, a publicity stunt that involves them pretending to slum it (bet they manage to still claim their expenses) whilst being followed around by a crew of cameramen.
Maybe they got the idea from Gwyneth Paltrow and her ‘living on food stamps’ gig. After all, the actress may well be one of the few with even less connection to the person in the street than our grisly lot.
An Unexpected Journey: Mad Mike and a Prodigal Son
All right. That was the easy part. Blowing off steam about our gougers has never been overly difficult for me. In fact, being able to rant on paper may well be the reason I’m still stomach- ulcer free. Now, though, I want to tell you about a sea change that began to take place in my life a year ago. This would never be classed a Road to Damascus conversion – a lot of things caused it, not one or even half-a-dozen — but it’s a major sea change for me, just the same.
A year ago my friend and local character Mad Mike died. Mike, as you might guess from the sobriquet by which he was affectionately known, was one of Life’s real eccentrics. He was also one of Nature’s true gentlemen. So along I went one Wednesday evening to attend the Mass for him in Oranmore Church. I wasn’t exactly in a rush, since attending Mass these last four decades has generally been something I would only do for the odd wedding or – of course – funeral. I’d never be in a rush to get there, that’s for sure.
I had, however, stopped referring to myself, if asked, as an atheist some time previously. This was mainly because I had begun to be turned off by some of the characters who were also describing themselves like this. I’m talking about people like Richard Dawkins, who comes across to me as an insufferably arrogant man. The late Christopher Hitchens I at least found amusing and likeable. With Dawkins, it appeared to me that he was more intolerant, narrow minded and abusive than those he railed against.
Then of course there was the Atheist Ireland society. I thought this was a joke at first. I mean, what on earth do these people do at their meetings? Argue about who disbelieves more?
So I had dropped both the tag and even giving much thought to religion in general. It was therefore a big surprise to me at Mass that evening to find that I was greatly interested in what the parish priest was saying. This is Fr. Diarmuid Hogan. He’s been here in Oranmore for two years now– so naturally he’s still referred to as ‘the new priest’. He may even still be getting called that if he’s here in 2025.
For the life of me I can’t recall what it was he said that made me listen. I think it was just his easy-going manner and the way that he would mention little snippets of information on what he was doing in his own life, something that he has continued to do.
After that I began to drop in if I was around in the afternoon. Even empty, I discovered that a church is a great place to think, to focus yourself a little. Then I began to pick up some of the books on the shelves at the rear; and from there it was a short but very strange step to attending the occasional morning Mass. I still haven’t gone of a Sunday yet but I find that there is a pleasant feeling these days to a part of my life where I hadn’t even realised there was something missing.
I have said some really vicious things about the faith of my late father in the past. So am I a hypocrite? I don’t know; I hope not. I hope that I’ve just realised that if you stop growing then you might as well be dead. Ditto if you find that you’ve made some very wrong calls throughout your life and don’t acknowledge them out of stubbornness or misplaced pride.
Last month I took the enormous step of making my first confession in over 35 years. (I doubt that I’ll ever get used to calling it ‘reconciliation’.) As it turned out I had gotten the time wrong and as a result was there when Fr. Hogan was about to lock up. When I told him what I was there for he locked the doors and he sat on one pew and I on another. It was both informal and intimate – and deeply, deeply moving.
Now of course, I’m full of questions. What was all that in the readings at Easter of the apostles not recognizing Jesus after the resurrection? Hadn’t these guys known him for years? And this thing about ‘forgiving our trespassers’: there are grudges I’ve held for donkeys’ and I’m going to miss them if I can ever actually let them go.
As for turning the other cheek… Well, as far as I’m concerned you only have four – two on your face and two on your ass. You can’t just walk away from trouble all of the time.
So yeah, I’m going to have a hard time with a lot of this. At the moment I feel like a kid, though, eternally asking: Why? Well, maybe not a kid; more like the Prodigal Son from Hell.
I only ‘know’ Fr. Hogan from listening to him on the occasional morning that I head to 8.30 Mass; but if the church had a few more like him it wouldn’t be a bad thing, that’s for sure.
In the meantime, I’m sure that I’ll get a fair bit of stick for this; but that’s OK — because I think that the benefits are going to make it all worthwhile.