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Column: Romantic Ireland's dead and gone

In his weekly column, David Kenny reflects on his great-grandfather who gave hugely of himself for Ireland’s sake – and the modern grasping greedyguts who give nothing – but take everything.

David Kenny

WE BROKE UP my dead father’s desk the other day. We threw him in a skip a few weeks back: clothes, medicines … the personal, next-to-the-skin stuff. Now it was the turn of his furniture.

It was too heavy to drag downstairs, so we pulled it asunder. Amid the frenzy of splintered wood and curses, we heard a loud crash from the sitting room below.

Our banging had loosened the sitting room light, and it had smashed onto the dining table. “Jesus, it’s Ted’s ghost telling us to show his desk some respect.” We laughed until we saw the damage.

“Well if it was, I’m sending his ghost the bill.”

You do that with death. You use “weird coincidences” to make sense of it.

We uncovered a sheaf of old newspaper clippings in his office – and the bulb went out.

“Ted mustn’t want us to read these.”

“Nothing to do with the fact that the bulb hasn’t been used in the 12 years since he died, then?”

‘Weird coincidences’ are grief’s sticking plasters.

I remember a friend once saying of an elderly uncle: “Just as they lowered the coffin, a blackbird began singing in the tree near his grave. He loved blackbirds. That was him, saying everything would be all right.”

“No it wasn’t. It was just a bird whistling in a tree. It’s what they do. It was probably telling his mates that there were LOADS of worms in the newly-dug muck. Besides, I knew your uncle. He was a rubbish singer.”

I thought about this as I lifted the last panel of Ted’s desk, expecting a light to flash on or a blackbird to start singing. Instead, I found a stash of papers, mainly old articles typed on his Amstrad. Two items stood out. One was a tattered picture of a bearded old man, the other was a Photostat of a Victorian newspaper, ‘The Carlow Vindicator’.

Seditious material

Memories rolled in. Dad once said his Carlowman grandfather, Matthew Walker, had ruined himself by publishing a paper devoted to vindicating his friend, CS Parnell. The latter, you may recall fell foul of the Church for playing offside with Kitty O’Shea. The local bishop didn’t approve of Matthew’s editorial defence of an ‘adulterer’. He turned his children away from church on their Confirmation day and read Matthew from the altar. The family moved to Dublin, where greatgrandad began printing seditious material for Sinn Fein.

I always wondered if dad had exaggerated his grandfather’s life. He seemed to be an Irish ‘Zelig’, popping up in major events up to and including the Rising. Over the years, I’ve discovered what he said was true. The tattered picture I found with the Carlow Vindicator was another ‘clue’. It was a print of legendary IRB/Fenian president, John O’Leary – of ‘Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone’ fame. He was a journalist. Matthew was an IRB man and a printer. The picture was signed. Great Granddad and O’Leary were friends.

Like O’Leary, Matthew dedicated his life to Irish independence. In 1916, he walked from Glasthule to the GPO where Pearse instructed him to print the Irish War News. He was almost 70. (He also delivered Pearse’s GPO farewell letter to his mother.)

Matthew raised his family to believe in self-sacrifice. They were all ‘out’ in 1916. My grandmother made the ultimate sacrifice during the Rising. She lost her fiancé. That generation gave everything they had for their country. Their patriotism seems very remote when you survey today’s Ireland. Self-sacrifice has been replaced by self-entitlement – especially among some of those who claim to serve our republic.


On Monday, I read about how our county managers feel ‘entitled’ to 42 days leave a year. Twenty days is not enough. They must be hard-working, busy people if they need that much time off to recharge. Busier, at least, than the 400,000 of us on forced ‘leave’.

In the Sunday Times, I read that some of our state agency chiefs felt entitled to have their wages lowered to avoid paying the 15 per cent income levy. For instance, former Royal Irish Academy director, John O’Connor, had his salary reduced from €203,327 to €199,999, thus taking him out of the higher band. (Let’s not mention O’Connor’s additional €29,000 in expense payments.)

Elsewhere, I read about the other public servants who feel entitled to take time off to celebrate Empire Day and royal birthdays. The Civil Service Arbitration Board has rejected moves to remove the archaic ‘privilege days’ as it might create “a sense of grievance”. Go tell that to the people at hatch 21.

Further up the political line, Jackie Healy Rae feels he’s entitled to run for the Presidency. Healy Rae propped up the last government as it destroyed our future. He sold Ireland out for the demands of the people of south Kerry. His voters felt they were entitled to hold a country to ransom in order to get their potholes fixed.

And what about his ‘entitlement’ to bequeathe his seat to his son Michael? That’s the same Michael H-R who was ‘entitled’ to €1,310 whenever he came to Dublin to attend the Citizens’ Information Board. Oh, and Michael feels his brother is entitled to his former seat on Kerry Co Council too.


Michael Lowry, like Healy Rae, propped up the last regime for local gain. He feels entitled to take whatever comes his way – particularly if it’s tax-free cash. He also feels he’s entitled to meet President Obama in Moneygall. Jackie wants to be president, Lowry wants to meet the president.

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Lowry’s voters, like Jackie’s, felt entitled to hold us to ransom. They also felt entitled to threaten journalists when his sanctity was questioned.

Here comes Ivor Callelly again. He felt entitled to get his house painted for nothing while a junior minister and then run up massive expenses while in the Seanad. He also feels entitled to call a garda’s eyesight into question.

On Monday, he denied holding a mobile while driving his Jaguar – and was fined €60 at the District Court. Callely has had bad luck with mobile phones. Last year he was suspended from the Seanad following allegations that he used invoices from a defunct company to claim expenses for almost €3,000 worth of them.

It’s not just politicians who continue to have an inflated sense of self-entitlement.

Our ‘captains of industry’ do too. Anglo’s Seanie Fitz still feels entitled to breeze around golf courses after helping to ruin this country. His bankrupt Anglo friend, David Drumm, felt entitled to a €9,000-a-month salary while ‘holed up’ in the US.

Look around, there are still any number of grasping individuals who feel they are entitled to help themselves at our expense. We were promised change, but when will it come?

On Wednesday, John Bruton told RTE it was our “patriotic” duty to be positive in the face of adversity. How can we be positive, when life is crumbling around us and the same old chancers still don’t accept responsibility for their actions?


I placed my faith in this government at the ballot box. It’s still early days. However, unless change – and retribution – come soon, I’ll join the growing ranks of doubters.

You can’t expect a people to wait indefinitely for justice, while ‘self-entitlement’ is still alive in political circles. It’s hard to stay ‘patriotically positive’ when you feel you’re not entitled to anything except pain.

Last night, I pinned my father’s tattered picture of John O’Leary to my office wall. It’s there to remind me of the republic he and Matthew dreamed of. The one that was hung out to dry by gombeen men and bankers, fumbling in greasy tills. ‘Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with O’Leary in the grave.’

Bruton says we can resurrect it through patriotic optimism. It’s a trite statement, but I still hope he’s right.

About the author:

David Kenny

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