Monthly Archives: October 2010

Ghouls & Fools: it’s an Irish thing

TODAY is the day when spirits are let loose by divine dignitaries to mingle with the living and even the half living or those who are long dead but are still refusing to lie down. Not just ordinary ghosts either but sinful smelly souls – destined to return in the bodies of animals – black cats, dodgy donkeys, foaming-at-the-mouth dogs, etc. This year’s ghoul factor is on a special state of high alert with the addition of dozens of ghost estates, zombie hotels and abandoned train stations for never-to-be-built towns. Originally Halloween sprang out of the celebrations of the Celtic/Druid pagans of our sumptuous shores, as well Scotland, Wales and Brittany. Every October 31st, these groups celebrated the return of winter, as well as honouring Samhain (not to be confused with salmon, another Irish export) a kind of Celtic lord of the dead geezer. On the feast of Samhain, the Celts celebrated by telling lengthy yarns about their ancestors. They also made desperate fraught attempts to glimpse into the future: a practice which has now been more or less replaced by tarot, angel card and aura readings, mediumship, psychotherapy and TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne.

De Oirish have played a huge part in Halloween right from the off. Even contemporary “jack-o-lantern” – popular in the US – was named in honour of an Irish blacksmith “Jack” who St. Peter refused into heaven and Satan barred out of hell. As a result, Jack’s spirit was doomed to rove the planet, with only a scabby coal from hell in his hollowed out pumpkin to light his pitiful passage. Even our “Help the Halloween Party!” childhood cry for a trough-load of e-numbers stretches back to the 17th century peasant tradition of darting about asking for gifts of food on Halloween in the name of St. Columbia, an Irish priest who established an early form of social welfare.

Another slant is the plastic Halloween masks that have their roots in Celtic myth and legend. Fearful folk wore disguises when heading outdoors on Halloween so roaming spirits, with a bone to pick with the living, wouldn’t recognise them. Celtic Druids dressed up in elaborate costumes to disguise themselves as spirits and devils so as to avoid real ghosts, ghouls, witches, vampires, goblins, zombies, mummies, skeletons, werewolves and demons. This practice was later adapted into the wearing of balaclavas by the Provisional IRA and various gangland criminals during bank robberies. Swingers from Kildare – to this day – wear eye-masks in case business people and high-ranking legislators recognise each other in the course of sexual duty.

A quick glance at this weekend’s papers discloses another startling Halloween phenomenon. Modern-day Irish folk believe in ghosts more than ever. It can even look super on your CV. Former Miss World Rosanna Davison admitted this weekend she was haunted by a young maid when a kid. ‘The model made the spooky Halloween confession as she told how she was left terrified after coming face to face with the spirit in her sprawling family home,’ the Irish Daily Mirror article read. “I saw the spirit of a young girl in my house when I was about 11 – it was in one of the downstairs back rooms and it was terrifying. I just stared at her for ages and my heart was racing but eventually I lost the bottle and ran away. Last year I discovered through the 1911 census online that the room where I saw the ghost was a young maid’s bedroom”.

Paul O’Halloran an ex-soldier from Connemara insists in The Sun that he’s ‘a strong connection with the other world as a result of a near-death experience in Lebanon’. Most of the dead souls that contact him are simply looking to be released, he reckons. “If there is a spirit or an energy in a house, I can remove these energies and help to heal the situation,” he said. He also told the newspaper how he can see ghosts in the most unlikely places, even when he’s taking time off to sup the pints. “I go for a pint and they come up and tap me on the shoulder. They’re just looking for help. If people die suddenly or with guilt, they often have a connection with a person or place and they don’t want to leave.”

Ghosts (taidhbhse) and general purpose dead things can also be very good for live business. Old pubs, haunted castles, spooky hotels and bog-standard bogs are all fodder for an industry that is flagging under the strain of recession. From Jonathan Swift’s mental hospital ghost in James’ Street to a bloodied butcher in the ruins of a house in North Dublin, years after he’d cut his throat in 1863…we just love to be petrified at any cost. The ghost of Archbishop Narcissus Marsh still haunts the Marsh Library (especially during the tourist season), sadly searching for a letter from his eloping niece. The Olympia theatre ghost never bores of following/floating around after actors in the staff dressing room during rehearsals. Eerie tales of a Cork poltergeist in a house in Hollyhill too (96fm covered the story). Every corner of Ireland is haunted and if it’s not, it soon will be. An international Paranormal Directory of Ghosts describes Irish ghouls as: ‘ranging in size from the nearly invisible to the huge, from tiny sprites to giant headless horsemen. Some of them are vengeful, some mischievous, some helpful.’ Hopefully this is useful while on the lookout later today.

Another story in the Irish Daily Mirror concerns psychic medium Angie Freeland, who claims she videoed a spirit moving a torch in the historic Wicklow’s gaol. It led to Angie’s Halloween ‘vigil’ selling out in record time. Angie dressed in the traditional costume of the gaol’s matron Mary Morris in the hope of drawing a reaction from the spirits. It allegedly worked as when Angie reached for the torch it chillingly moved towards her, sliding across the table on its own in the spooky schoolroom.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the intense paranormal activity since I first came to the gaol. Now the public can view the evidence for themselves,” she said. You can also ghost hunt 16-year-old Helena Blunden from the comfort of your DFS couch. She fell to her death from the stairs of a Belfast mill in 1912. The ‘live cam’ project on the Ireland’s Eye website has been on the go 24/7 since 1998 and is still visited by millions every year. What’s left to say except happy apple bobbing, stay safe, eat plenty of Barnbrack. If you do happen to have Samhainophobia or other phobias such as fear of cats (ailurophobia), witches (wiccaphobia), ghosts (phasmophobia), spiders (arachnophobia), the dark (nyctophobia), and cemetaries (coimetrophobia), it might be an idea to stay indoors till Monday. But please do get in touch if you’ve a decent ghost story to share…

The Bricks ‘n Mortar Muppet Show

I have tried to picture the child estate agent to be: pasty and sulky, selling on satchel-warmed lemon curd sandwiches or a half-eaten Mars bar in the school playground for a stupidly inflated price. Failing English grammar and spelling tests…dreaming of a commission-loaded life with a leatherette clipboard and a Smart car. A life of ‘gently urging’ people to buy poorly constructed plywood homes without gardens, not far from a motorway, but still managing to share the same sewerage pipe as a once-famous now-dead Irish person of vague literary worth who managed to pen a novella drunk.

Now after a decade of unprecedented smarminess, the grown-up estate agent is no longer nestled in a good place at all. ”Rare as hen’s teeth!” s/he hollers out about a dormer bungalow for sale in Dublin 15 – one of the capital’s slowest selling enclaves. ‘Rare’ opportunities abound, a chance to snatch up a bungalow, for instance, even though there’s 5,570 bungalows for sale nationwide at the moment. In an attempt to ambush the flimsy heartstrings of hapless arty types, there’s a deluge of property specs marketed at the budding poet, artist or fisherman ’where you can also enjoy the panoramic views over lush green surrounds’, in the middle of nowhere. The desperation is quite staggering. ‘One of the last opportunities to purchase a “raw” house on this salubrious road’. What exactly is a ‘raw’ house? One with its walls removed? If we’re not permitted to lie about the contents of food, why is it admissable for a house purchase? In essence, do we need to read such brainless turgid crap three years into bust?

Irish history continues to infect the bijou mind of our more-than-happy-to-help estate agent as well. You can nab a semi-derelict cottage in Leitrim that’s handily positioned ’near’ Sean McDermott’s Cottage, a well-known tourist attraction and the birth place of the 1916 leader, but nothing whatsoever to do with the house for sale. The sales hunger for famine cottages hasn’t abated either – perfect for a ‘lifestyle change’ the estate agent assures us. Or how about Gordwin Swift IV’s gaff? Never heard of him? That’s OK. Another spec reads: ‘Behind its funky facade…the lavish and stylish art deco foyer provides a unique atmosphere that perfectly complements the building’s history.’ Yeah, how so? It’s an apartment refurb in Dublin 3 that’s not selling and is being flogged for half price. ‘Hurry hurry hurry, before it’s too late’, the man with the white towelling socks says.

Then there’s the almost generically applied *** WOW *** WOW *** WOW *** category which some estate agents are using for every house sale: a 3-bed in the heart of Poppintree Ballymun or a terrace in deep downtown Finglas. ’Wow what a stunner!’ the agent says about this Tyrrelstown house in a hideously inglorious part of Dublin no-one wants to live in. Wilson Moore is one such estate agent that uses this ‘wow wow wow’ insignia on almost all its sales briefs, regardless. Let’s not forget too the estate agent’s excruciating post-boom rewrites…houses like 19A Long Lane dubbed the perfect bachelor’s bolthole at €425,000 in the grip of boom. This week it’s eventually ‘sale agreed’ after being unashamedly flogged as a ’low maintenance home’ for €155,000. The reason why it suits a single gent or a sociopath is because the house is only two metres wide (around 7ft), being an old laneway that was filled in to create a uniquely anorexic house that has nose-dived in price by at least 68%. You absolutely could not swing a cat and you’d definitely have trouble energetically shagging your Mrs.

19A Long Lane: originally a laneway

From the peak of the market in 2006, Dublin house prices have fallen in real terms by 45.7%, while nationally, prices are down by 40.2%. This and a whole host of other stats we’re already laboriously aware of. But where and how did we lose our minds so utterly? There’s an apartment block in Parnell Street with a ‘putting green for the golf enthusiast’ – directly opposite alleyways where the city’s crack cocaine dealers do a roaring trade. Wyckham Point in Dundrum is an apartment complex which offers an ‘on-site gym, sauna, steam room, cardiovascular & resistance gym equipment and heated relaxation zone’. Tullyvale in Cabinteely has a resident’s swimming pool on site although a lot of the apartments are now being sold at a substantially reduced price. I imagine the swimming pool is fast draining of chlorine and charm. Did they really think the luxurious gimmickery could last forever?

Remnants of boom-based mentalness still exist in some high end properties too. ‘Things only happen when we dream’ the intro reads, for a multi-million euro apartment overlooking the River Liffey. The 2-bed [plus guest accommodation as extra] apartment is decked out by a ‘revolutionary stylist’ we’re told, to include none other than a three and a half carat andrée putman lacquered oak coffee table, floors custom-made from antique oak cobbles, a “Vous de Jouer” mirror [one of only 20 in the world], ‘cupboards concealed behind felt-coated doors whose colour and texture mimic the heather and granite tones of the Irish countryside’, a hammam steam room, and a Gien Polka tea set that the designer ‘noticed’ during an official trip to Soviet Russia…It was on originally for excess of €4 million in April 2007, but later dropped to €3.74m and now it’s a straight forward ‘price on application’, though you might nab it for a bit less if you ask for some of the 45 bespoke designer items to be taken out of the loop.

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the current estate agent invective is the ‘Reduced To Sell’ signs flung up in gardens all around Ireland over the last year or more. We’re expected to believe prices are reduced only as a favour to us and not as a result of a totally impacted market. An ’exceptional opportunity has arisen to acquire a unique and attractive property’. Except there’s nothing exceptional or unique about it at all. Where were the equivalent ‘Inflated To Sell’ signs during the boom?

This post originally appeared on the Anti Room blog in October 2010. To read comments click here

Pope on a rope – and other adventures

Have a goo at this wonderful snippet (below) from Stephen Fry where he argues that the Catholic church is not – to put it at its mildest – a force of good in the world. It ain’t new but the topics he covers are timeless. He believes in the Enlightenment, in the eternal adventure of trying to discover moral truth at your own pace. By contrast he sees the church as a benighted outdated institution that’s causing a lot of pain. He also labels it as utterly sex obsessed:

“They say that we, with our permissive society and our rude jokes, are sex obsessed. But no! We have a healthy attitude. We like it. It’s fun, it’s jolly…because it’s a primary impulse, it can be dangerous and dark and difficult. It’s a bit like food in that respect only even more exciting. The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics or the morbidly obese. That, in erotic terms, is the Catholic church in a nutshell.”

Aside from discussing damnation, original sin, the ‘moral evil’ of homosexuality, the horrors of child rape, how The Ratzinger spread the absurd word that condoms actually help spread AIDS, he also makes reference to how religion has always been implacably opposed to women’s choice in their own bodies and destinies. Let me know what you think. It’s Sunday in the financially corrupt holy nub of Ireland after all…

Some questions I’ve asked myself & now ask you:

What is God? If we’re made in his image, how come we all look different?

Do you believe in talking snakes and women made from snapped-off ribs?

Have you ever had a genuine ’religious’ experience that confounded you?

What would women priests bring to the Catholic religion if Rats & Co. gave the eminent go-ahead?

Is religion extinct as a dodo or salvageable/relevant?

Did the Holy Spirit turn up at your Confirmation?

What age were you before you found out Jesus had siblings?

Was the Billings Method ever explained to you in sex education?

Do you agree/disagree with Aristotle who said: The gods too are fond of a joke?