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ARCHIVE PIECE: Adventures in vegetarianism



Vegetarianism, and its stricter variation veganism, is all the rage these days, isn’t it? We have Leo Varadkar announcing that he’s now eating less meat for health reasons. Veganism – the pure uncut crack to vegetarianism’s cocaine – has become very cool with those ever-on-trend weathervanes of social change, hipsters and celebs.

Meanwhile the meat industry faces strident calls to transition to crops, as all those flatulent cows are blamed for contributing to climate change. (In fairness to the Irish beef industry, we should add, it’s one of the most eco-friendly on the planet, in a number of ways.)

Yep, everyone’s going meat-free in 2019. Except, that is, for your humble correspondent.

I have a rather unusual perspective on all this, you see. I was vegetarian for many years (though never fully vegan – I just love melted cheese on everything too damn much), but have recently returned to consuming animal-flesh. Yes, I know it’s doing things backwards, that’s just how I am.

I bought a mini-disc player about five minutes before they became defunct. I was wearing a man-bun (known then to me as a samurai top-knot) as far back as the millennium; you couldn’t pay me to sport one today. I moved to Japan for work literally within weeks of their economy suffering its first major downturn since the Second World War…and right as Ireland was entering an era of unprecedented growth and employment opportunity.

My sense of timing, therefore, is less than exceptional. And so it is with this whole meat-eating thing: I began my “12 Years a Vegetarian” odyssey around the year 2000, when approximately 15 other people on the entire island weren’t carnivorous, and 14 of those were Hari Krishnas.

It’s so long ago now that I’m a bit hazy on the exact whys of this decision; as far as I can recall, it was a mixture of moral queasiness, nutritional reasons and probably a soupcon of good old-fashioned contrariness. In other words, it amused me to annoy people.

And my God, annoy them it did. It’s a funny irony that vegetarians are constantly stereotyped as nags and zealots, forever demanding that omnivores justify their diet.

In my experience, I have never – not once – been harassed about eating meat by a vegetarian.

On the flipside, though, I was often attacked, assailed, assaulted and harangued for daring to forego the pleasures of a dead beast on my plate. Eventually, I began to empathise with, and even envy, the cows lining up for a bolt to the head.

Where do you get your protein! You’re just trying to be cool! You think you’re better than us! Where do you get your protein! What’s the matter with you! I couldn’t live like that! You must have a tofu turkey at Christmas ha ha ha! You must feel weak all the time! Where do you get your protein!

By the end I used to wonder if these people had shares in a meat-processing plant or something. They seemed so personally invested in what I had for dinner. Like – why do you care so much? I don’t give a rat’s ass what you eat…including if it’s actually a rat’s ass.

Anyway, around six or seven years ago, I went back eating fish. Society just wore me down, I guess.

I got tired of explaining my meal in restaurants; the one single thing I find more boring than talking about food is talking about myself. I got tired of paying nearly the same prices for vegetable- or bean-based dishes as intensive-production meat ones – it’s a total rip-off.

And I got tired of asking the waitress at weddings if the chef couldn’t possibly cook something different for me. From now on, I reckoned, at least I can say: “I’ll have the salmon.”

That led, inexorably, to a gradual reengagement with culinary corpses. Now I eat meat sometimes; I’ve added “I’ll have the beef” to my repertoire at weddings.

I hardly ever cook it myself – and I’d forgotten what a stinking mess meat makes of your kitchen, as opposed to vegetarian food – but it’s handy when you’re out and the only veggie option is “goat’s cheese tart with salad”.

Ah no, I exaggerate: in fact, after a decade-and-a-bit of enduring stir-fried veg and rice at social functions, many eateries now have a decent range of vegetarian dishes.

Which is a bit ironic, when you think about it. But it’s not the only one: after years of people hassling me for being vegetarian, I can now look forward to years of people hassling me for being a callous murderer and/or ruining the planet.

Talk about going against the prevailing currents. Then again, as Roy Keane famously said, the only thing that goes with the current is a dead fish.

Which I am about to eat with lemon and tartar sauce. Somewhere in a parallel dimension, where things took a different turn, another Darragh – still vegetarian – is shuddering with disgust, without quite understanding why.

Laughing in lockdown



If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.

Clichés endure because there’s often a germ of truth, and rarely has this hackneyed old saw been more appropriate. In the midst of the most surreal, unsettling situation in memory – dread and panic bubbling under the surface, barely suppressed, and no end to the crisis in sight – what else can the normal mind do, but revert to humour?

Lockdown, isolation, pandemic, distancing, economic Armageddon, not to mention the fact that both Liverpool’s long-awaited league title and the GAA championships are now in doubt…it’s all too much. So we ignore reality and have a laugh instead.

Kidding around enables us to face things we’re afraid of: by mocking them, making them seem less serious, less (literally) grave. It’s the ultimate act of defiance, even in the face of the ultimate threat: mortality itself. You’re not so tough, Death: in fact you’re a big joke.

There’s another familiar maxim, about humour as the best medicine, which applies here too. We’re always instructed on how mental health is crucial for the body, and laughter releases happy hormones, strengthens immune systems and makes you physically stronger and more resilient.

The Bible exhorts us to “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”. There’s no need to be quite so apocalyptic – most of us will come through this pandemic fine – and there’s certainly no need to remind a nation bulk-buying bread and alcohol about the importance of food and beverages.

But there’s no harm in appreciating the importance of merry-making, and since Covid-19 crash-landed into our lives, the people have played a blinder. Not just in obeying rules on social distancing, or remaining civilised – but in unleashing a whirlwind of jokes, gags, memes, gifs, tweets, puns, satire and comedy songs.

Across social media and messaging groups, in emails and texts and conversation, our spirits have been raised by this absolute, and thoroughly commendable, refusal to take Covid-19 too seriously. I mean, obviously we’re taking it seriously; just not too seriously.

The most recent Corona gags to make me chuckle included a Photoshop of that famous picture of workmen having lunch during construction of the Empire State – and a guard in yellow hi-vis telling them to observe social distancing; YouTube collections of “home haircut fails”; parodies of that hideous video of celebrities singing John Lennon’s imagine; a spoof movie trailer, starring an up-and-coming youngster called Donald J Trump, about “the world’s stupidest man” struggling to deal with a “Pandumbic”; Michelangelo’s Last Supper reimagined as a conference call; and the cartoon of a dystopian Coronation Street, with heroic Ken Barlow and sidekick Robo-Deirdre 4000 as mankind’s last hope.

It’s not just online. One of the newspapers had a brilliant spoof letter from a woman who’d set up a support group for people finding themselves increasingly attracted to Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan, complete with a perfect closing-line about “the baldy man” (ask a Cork person to explain that).

Meanwhile conversations in real-life – held at the appropriate 2+ metre separation, of course – begin with furrowed-brow discussions of “what’s going to happen” before inevitably dissolving into giggles and daft jokes about “don’t come any closer, I’m armed”.

If you’re utterly sick of Covid-19 – and why wouldn’t you be? – there’s plenty comedy to be found elsewhere. I’ve been ploughing through Netflix’s extensive selection of Jimmy Carr stand-up gigs: very funny in a clever-dumb way, with just the right edge of bad-taste to make you feel you’re flicking a metaphorical two fingers at everything during this sorry time.

Netflix also carries Archer, the best animated comedy since The Simpsons’ heyday, and I’ve rooted out DVDs of some classic series – Blackadder, Alan Partridge – and films: Idiocracy, Spinal Tap, Clueless. And Shaun of the Dead combines great gags with a pandemic setting if you’re so minded: zombies, not viral infection, but we can’t be choosy.

All of these are so good, they bear endless re-watching. Indeed, as with a cherished album or book, the pleasure is almost accentuated through familiarity.

But perhaps the biggest belly-laughs during lockdown have come from Tiger King, a Netflix documentary about the beyond-weird world of private zoos and big-cat aficionados. It’s outlandish, gripping and – albeit in a vaguely horrified way – hilarious.

And guaranteed to make you feel better about your own life: when you haven’t had to return to work just five days after getting your arm ripped off by a tiger, things don’t seem that bad.

ARCHIVE PIECE: Butt out and let people do what they like



Good man, Killian Scott. The actor best known for playing brain-damaged, fizzy orange-loving, unrealistically-sensitive hoodlum Tommy in Love/Hate has come out swinging against ridiculous criticism of his cop character’s chain-smoking in new crime drama Dublin Murders.

Newstalk went big on the story in yesterday’s breakfast show, interviewing an anti-smoking advocate who claimed that it “normalises” the habit, sets a bad example to kids and is, all-round, Something Awful That Must Not Be Allowed.

Listener texts, read out on air, generally concurred. Twitter – but of course – has been groaning under the weight of “what’s with all the smoking/was this sponsored by a tobacco company/let’s #bansmoking” messages.

Now, this is a show about murder – like, it’s there in the title. Weirdly, though, many of these sanctimonious do-gooders don’t seem too bothered by all the killing, rape, missing children, corruption, greed etc. etc. But God forbid someone smokes a fag!

It reminds me of a cartoon I saw years ago, of an American man bedecked in half an arsenal of lethal weaponry – but the surrounding crowds were disgusted by the smouldering cigarette between his lips. We used to laugh at hypocritical American puritanism once upon a time, you know.

This daft, manufactured controversy even reached the UK-based website Digital Spy – which is where Killian Scott came in. He commented, quite reasonably, “This compulsion to manicure a flaw out (of a character) is something to resist, I think.”

I couldn’t agree more. It’s all so tediously moralistic. What’s wrong with imperfect characters in fiction? Why must everything have an ethical lesson or healthy advice or some stupid political point to it?

Why must filmed entertainment be “improving” in some way? Why does it have to “teach” us something? And most of all, who the hell decided that TV shows must provide “good role models” for kids?

If you’re worried that some made-up drama might send your children over to the dark side, then you’re a crap parent who needs to up their game. It’s not TV’s job to instruct and guide those kids – it’s yours. So shut up and do it, and let telly just be telly.

Scott also argued that his character, Reilly, has “a flippant attitude towards death”, expressed through constantly having a fag in his gob. Not so amazing, surely, in a homicide detective; and not so horrifying either.

Grown adults are still allowed laugh in the face of their own mortality, right? Or has that been banned too, along with virtually everything else deemed to be bad for us by the purist guardians of society?

There’s a new alcohol law coming in. Sugar and fat taxes are inevitable. Around Budget time people were clamouring for smokers to be forced, via price hike, out of their habit – or even for smoking to be made downright illegal. Most drugs already are illegal.

Essentially, consenting adults are being instructed: you are not allowed to do something which is bad for you.

But why not? Each of us is the sole possessor of their own life. Nobody else has the right to force you to live it wisely, healthily, or even to continue living it at all. If you, as a grown-up of sound mind, wish to smoke and thus risk a panoply of unpleasant and potentially fatal ailments – that’s your choice. I really don’t feel it’s my place to lecture you about it.

One contributor to Newstalk went so far as to contend that smoking – which Killian Scott was doing on the telly! – was a “social problem”. This is just wrong. In fact, smoking is about the only drug which has no adverse social effects at all.

Yeah, it might kill you. Guess what? If smoking doesn’t, something else assuredly will. The human race continues to post a 100% mortality rate, and until they invent some immortality elixir, it always will.

Yeah, smokers are a drain on the health system. Except of course they aren’t, because they’re paying over ten euro on every pack of 20. This is literally billions a year – all of which, presumably, is going to that health service?

That is most of the point of screwing smokers with these exorbitant taxes, correct? It couldn’t be that their pariah status is being exploited to fund all sorts of things for everyone else, could it?

This all comes down to morality – a particularly mean-spirited, controlling variant. Deep down, social engineers don’t want to ban smoking to save people from themselves, irritating (albeit well-meaning) as that may be. They want to ban it because it irks them that others are choosing to do something which they personally don’t like.

There’s a character in some Roald Dahl short story – a hateful, bitter, pathetic streak of misery – who insists that his wife stop smoking. She assumes it’s because he’s worried for her health. Not a bit of it: he simply doesn’t approve.

Let Killian’s character have his smoke, you pompous bores. It’s the life of Reilly, not you – so mind your own business and, ahem, butt out.

ARCHIVE PIECE: Why “dating” is a new concept in Ireland



In one of the more unusual moments from the long and often weird history of Reality TV, Ulrika Jonsson recently appeared on Channel 4’s First Dates Hotel. It wasn’t, as you might understandably expect, the usual thing of a faded celeb pulling a stunt to catapult themselves back into the public eye.

No, Ulrika’s motives were more personal. Simply put, she’s now 52, single again after a divorce, and finds it hard to get back into the dating scene. Apparently – as I gleaned from a number of follow-up articles on the subject – this is not uncommon for people in middle-age.

The funny thing about all of this, from an Irish perspective, is that any of us in our fifties, or even our forties, who endured the misfortune of a relationship break-up wouldn’t then be “returning” to dating at all. That’s because the cultural ritual of dating didn’t really exist in Ireland when we were younger. I couldn’t imagine going on a date at the age of 46, mainly because I have no experience of this from my twenties.

Our social history in those days, romantically speaking, could essentially be boiled down to this: you went out, you had a few drinks, you chatted someone up in the pub or made a beeline for someone during the slow set in a nightclub, then the pair of you snogged and whatever else took your fancy.

If you liked each other, on an emotional as well as physical level, you might agree to meet up again. If you got into the habit of meeting up regularly, you were now said to be “going with” each other or “doing a line”. After a few years of this, you either broke up and returned to the drink/beeline/snog carousel, or you got married and settled down to a life of blissful domesticity.

Either way, the concept of “dating”, as such, was foreign to us. Literally so: it was the sort of thing that characters did on American TV shows. We’d sit there, slightly agog, as someone asked someone else out for a meal, or hey let’s check out that new band.

Sure, we did stuff like go to dinner and gigs with our sweethearts. But that was only after we’d already got into the “going with” groove. The idea of asking someone out on a date wasn’t just strange and intimidating, it was borderline incomprehensible.

The sole exception to this was if you already knew the person – through work or what-have-you – and might casually suggest heading for a few beers after work. I dunno, like, whatever you think yourself? I’m really not that bothered. Look, I’ll be in the pub anyway, so if you happen to drop in, grand.

But why was dating such an alien concept to us? Why, to be blunt, were we so terrible at it? I’ve put on my cleverest hat of all to work this out, and come up with these five reasons:


Generation X coolness.

For my generation, at least – born roughly between 1960 and 1980 – nothing was as important as being seen to be cool. You couldn’t come across as too eager, in anything. And asking someone out (on a date!) was definitively too eager. You had to pretend to be all easy-going and indifferent and coola-boola, hoping all the while that, at some point in the evening, you’d “accidentally” bump into that girl you’d been in love with since Freshers English.



Ireland was a great place in a lot of ways in the 1990s but we didn’t, perhaps, have the brashness and self-assertive confidence of yer average Beverly Hills 90210 character. Deep down, most of us probably expected disappointment. We expected to be rejected: not a good start-point for a culture of dating. One revolving around alcohol, on the other hand, injected us with bravado and a grossly inflated sense of our attractiveness to others. Booze put the “courage” in “Dutch courage”!



Hanging around your friends’ flat, drinking cans of own-brand beer and cider while watching Aliens on VHS for the 19th time, is relatively inexpensive when you’re young and penurious. Dinner for two at a decent restaurant was not so. Doing it regularly was simply not feasible.


Lack of options.

No joking, there really weren’t that many places to go on dates when I was younger. Ireland didn’t have ice-cream parlours and coffeehouses and soda fountains. (I still don’t know what a soda fountain is.) We had the pub, the cinema, and that was about it. But of those pubs, there were many…



…and the fear of being thought to have them. “Who’s your man think he is, asking that girl out on a date? Look at him there, ringing a restaurant to book a table? Thinks he’s better than the rest of us. What does he know about restaurants? ‘Tis far from dates he was reared, etc. etc. etc.”

ARCHIVE PIECE: The curse of eco-guilt



It seems to be an intrinsic element of human life that, no matter what happens, we must start feeling guilty about it shortly afterwards. Someone invented alcohol, we all had to feel guilty about drinking too much of it. Someone else invented religion to stop us murdering each other and keeping slaves, we had to feel guilty about moral failings and not doing enough to bring others into the fold. And so on it goes.

The latest phenomenon is “eco guilt”, which I’ve seen mentioned quite a bit lately. It hasn’t hit me just yet, I must say, but no doubt it will before too long. As a classically self-loathing bourgeois wimp, I’m always open to a little extra guilt to stop me getting too complacent about things.

I’ve read different definitions of eco guilt, but essentially it refers to the gnawing feeling that you could and should be doing more for the environment, but are too lazy or selfish or whatever to be bothered, and thus should hate yourself. The feeling is exacerbated by endless news reports of selfless heroes like Greta Thunberg, who basically give up their free time and worldly goods to fight the good fight on behalf of Nature.

You see Greta crossing the Atlantic in a large soup-can, paddling with her bare hands through shark-infested waters and eating nothing but dead albatrosses, and think: she’s doing all she can to save the planet. But what am I doing?

Well five minutes ago I was doing the washing up, and instead of cleaning and recycling an empty coleslaw tub – as I knew I should – I threw it in the bin because the mayonnaise makes the rest of the dishwater all oily and disgusting. Sorry, Mother Earth.

Now, this coleslaw tub situation is obviously an extreme example; indeed, I imagine Gaia would probably turn a blind eye to that one, given how mayonnaise really does leave a greasy smear around your washing up basin. Let’s face it, she’s probably done the same herself.

But there are many other times and occasions when we’re not prepared to do what’s right by the environment. Do we always separate all the recyclables from non-recyclables? Do we make sure to differentiate between hard plastic, which can be reused, and plastic wrapping, which can’t?

Be honest. When it’s late on a Monday night and you’re barrelling through the clean-up and you come across a can of cat-food: do you really clean that icky, stinky mess out and place the pristine can in the blue bin, or do you feck it into the black bag, destined for landfill?

Indeed, these domestic chores are, in a sense, small scale stuff. The real game-changers are things like travel and technology. And who among us is willing to give up their smartphone, telly and laptop, despite knowing that these devices are a massive drain on fossil fuels and rare earth minerals?

How many people forego air travel, despite the well-documented fact that flight devours energy resources at a frightening rate? We’re all fine to cycle and leave the car at home, if it suits us, and thus can feel all smug about doing our bit.

But what about taking a week to reach your holiday destination, by ship and train, rather than flying there? Not so many takers for that.

I don’t mean to sound cynical about climate activism. I think it’s fantastic that people are more mindful about ecology, and every bit of “clean” living, no matter how small, is worthwhile, as far as I’m concerned.

But if we really want to affect change – if we want to reverse global warming and save the planet, and ourselves, from calamity – we’ll probably need to do something a lot more radical, even drastic. And I’m just not sure that most people are willing to make the necessary sacrifices, whether financial or otherwise.

Also, life must go on, in the midst of all this putative change. It’s easy to lecture, say, farmers about their animals warming the globe.

Not so easy to simply switch to something more sustainable, just like that, when your own existence depends on making an income. And on the macro level, while we never put the economy top of a list of priorities, a functioning economy is what makes society possible in the first place.

So don’t feel too bad about not doing enough for Mama Nature. Ditch that eco guilt (making sure to place it in the proper bin for environmentally friendly disposal). All any of us can do is our best.

Don’t be too hard on yourself when, inevitably, you too are faced with that “saving the earth vs. repulsion at the thought of having to clean that coleslaw tub” conundrum. We’ve all been there.

As Kermit the Frog once beautifully sang, “It ain’t easy being green.” I say “once” because all frogs have now been driven to the brink of extinction by mankind’s rapacious overuse of natural resources. We’re some shower of muppets, in fairness.

ARCHIVE PIECE: Great Irish telly controversies



So does Lottie Ryan have an unfair advantage on Dancing with the Stars? A nation wants to know.

Genuinely – the nation really does want to know. I know, I know, you’d think we’d all have better things to be worrying about than whether or not the 2FM presenter is actually a “trained dancer”.

But we don’t, it would appear, and you know what? I don’t mind that. In fact I’m very find of this sort of daft controversy, which erupts on Irish television regularly.

Any type of scandal or row, involving reality TV, sport, the Eurovision, the Rose of Tralee and similarly enjoyable but ultimately meaningless things – they really add to the gaiety of the nation. You get all the drama of current affairs, but none of the depression and horror of real current affairs.

This current DWTS snafu is but the latest in a long and inglorious line of Irish telly controversies. And I remember, and love, them all. Here are some of my favourites – beginning, appropriately enough, with Lottie’s famous dad Gerry…


…and “Lambo”. In 1987, the 2FM powerhouse travelled with a group to the wilds of Connemara, as part of a proto-Bear Grylls kind of “survival” stunt. On their return, Gerry claimed, on The Late Late, to have killed and eaten a lamb to survive, thus earning him the aforementioned nickname. (Stallone’s Rambo movies were huge in the 1980s.) Although it later turned out to be a hoax, people were up in arms over this wanton act of animal cruelty…presumably while tucking into a nice lamb kebab.


Staying with the Late Late, a decade later one Siubhan Maloney, from Donegal, won the show’s antiques competition – yes, this was a real thing – with a renovated regency library armchair. Beautiful work, indeed, but unfortunately, not hers. Antique shop owner Joshua Duffy had rejuvenated the famous chair, a fact subsequently acknowledged in court.


And still staying with the LLS, 2014 brought us a dinger of a row between Linda Martin and Billy McGuinness. Two second-tier stars of Irish entertainment, screeching at each other on live TV – could it get any better? It sure could: they were arguing about Ireland’s proposed entry to the Eurovision, an event of such non-importance that it makes the proverbial “two bald men fighting over a comb” look like World War III.


Speaking of Eurovision, our 2003 entry, Mickey Joe Harte, got into a kerfuffle after allegations that We’ve Got the World Tonight was a copy of Denmark’s 2000-winning song, Fly on the Wings of Love. The storm raged on Liveline for days. Two genial Danish songwriters rang in to say it really wasn’t a problem. And Mickey Joe survived it all – to come 11th.


Fellow Reality TV alumnus Nadine Coyle was poised to join long-forgotten Irish popsters Six in 2001, until she inadvertently revealed that she’d lied about being over 18. The show – Popstars – dropped Nadine like a hot spud, but the tale had a happy ending: Six flopped completely after one dreadful single, and she went on to massive success with Girls Aloud.


The Rose of Tralee has provided some delicious controversies, including: the 2016 “Rose Cull”, when contestants were ejected from the final on live TV; New Orleans Rose Molly Molloy Gamble refusing her boyfriend’s offer of marriage about a dozen times (dry those tears, incurable romantics, they did get hitched in the end); Sydney Rose Brianna Parkins annoying even pro-Repealers by hijacking the Rose to deliver a lecture on reproductive rights; allegations that the 2013 results were “fixed”, after the prize was engraved with the winner’s name two days before the event; and the “Father’s Rights” protestor who stormed the stage – dressed, for some obscure reason, as a priest.


Joe Brolly is also deserving of an entire section of his own. The firebrand GAA pundit has been in hot water for labelling Rachel Wyse a “Baywatch babe”, slagging off Marty Morrissey for being “ugly”, questioning Sean Canavagh’s bona fides “as a man” and provoking the ire of Kieran Donaghy, David Gough and his fellow panellists, to name but a few. RTE finally let him go last autumn. He’s now with the subscription service Eir, after literally years of decrying GAA games being on subscription services. Ah, genius does what it must.


Eamon Dunphy famously threw away his pen in disgust after Ireland’s abominable 0-0 draw with Egypt at the dismal Italia 90 World Cup. He also said, “I’m ashamed to be Irish after watching that” – except, of course, he didn’t. What Dunphy actually said was the far more reasonable “We should be ashamed about the way we went about the game.” Did us rabid fans take that into consideration? Did we hell. I still remember a pal’s tee-shirt which read “We kicked ass on Italian grass” over a cartoon of Jack Charlton mowing the lawn…using Dunphy’s head a mower.


In 2007, Michael Healy-Rae – not quite as omnipresent across our media as he is now – took part in reality show Celebrities Go Wild (also set in Connemara). His magnificent triumphed, decided by a public vote, was marred somewhat when, four years later, it was revealed that thousands of votes had been phoned in from Leinster House, costing the taxpayer more than two grand. Michael pleaded innocence, but munificently pledged to pay the money back.


And we haven’t even touched on Tweetgate, Boyzone’s first Late Late, Boyzone’s most recent Late Late, Brian Lenihan’s “mature recollection”…

ARCHIVE PIECE: Why can’t we have Storm Terminator?



Storm Dennis is on the way, with high winds, low temperatures and Amazon Basin-levels of rainfall promised/threatened for the weekend. And all I can think is: why do they give storms such uncool names?

Dennis! In all fairness. That’s a name for the man who bleeds the radiators in your office. Dennis is the driver of the mini-bus that brought you on a day-trip to Ballybunion last summer. Dennis is that guy you play five-a-side soccer with, the big lanky fella who hasn’t much of a first touch but is a good man to get on the end of a cross.

Dennis is simply not a cool name. The only rock ‘n’ roll Dennises in history were Dennis Rodman, Dennis Bergkamp and Les Dennis. And frankly, that’s not enough.

Previous weather events had far more attention-grabbing monikers. Storm Darwin: I love it. It speaks to us of the pitiless fury of nature, red in tooth and claw, how all life is defined by a never-ending battle for survival in the great game of evolution.

Storm Ophelia is good too: in referencing the tragic character from Hamlet, it reminds us of man’s mortality, how we are mere whispers on the breeze of chance, here for a brief moment then washed away by the Biblical “flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven”. Ooh, spooky.

And The Beast from the East? That speaks for itself.

But now we have Storm Dennis. Pah. Even calling it Dennis the Menace won’t cut it, I’m afraid.

We need to give these terrifying, ferocious forces of destruction much better names: cooler, more dangerous-sounding, with a bit of edge and a bit of flash. An unapologetically macho moniker like Rick, Dave, Butch or Thor The Mighty Hammer would do the trick, and could give hysterical weather forecasters on satellite channels the chance to show off all those wild gestures and manic outbursts they learned in broadcasting school.

“HURRICANE BUTCH is on its way!! It’s BIG, ROUGH and SCARY!! Just like the guy I met IN A BAR LAST NIGHT! But that’s enough about MY LOVELIFE!!! The forecast is…LOCK YOUR DOORS!! Because BUTCH is on his way!! And HE’S ANGRY!!! GRRRR!!”

I’d definitely tune in for that. Sadly, it won’t happen for at least another 11 months, as names for the 2019-2020 “storm season” have already been decided by a meteorological brains trust in Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands. Still, I’d like to see #StormButch trending as soon as possible on Twitter, just to get everyone ready.

Speaking of getting ready, one other problem with effete, limp or uncool storm names is that we don’t take the threat seriously enough. If Storm Terminator was forecast, I’d be bunkering down in the basement with a rifle and a thousand cans of spam six months ahead of time. For Storm Feeble, Storm Pretty Flowers or Storm Hozier, not so much.

I’ve been looking at the still-unused names for this storm season, trying to work out a likely threat level. Storm Francis will surely be timid enough, relatively speaking, after the famously gentle saint beloved by birds and small woodland animals.

Hugh reminds me too much of Hugh Grant to get stressed. Iris is named for a flower – nothing to worry about. Ellen, Liam, Maura, Olivia, Willow and Róisín are all too nice.

As for Storm Kitty? Ah here. You might as well name it Storm My Little Pony.

On the other hand, Gerda puts me in mind of the doughty heroine of The Snow Queen: one of the most terrifying stories ever brought forth into creation by the fevered subconscious of humanity, and furthermore, it’s all about bad weather – freezing winds, wild snows, the whole world turning into a melancholy, doomed palace of ice. Now that’s a goddamn storm.

Noah brings up thoughts of the Old Testament flood – not the kind of thing you want to be considering just as you discover that the hardware shops are sold out of sandbags and buckets.

Jan has a hard Nordic edge about it; Piet has a hard Dutch edge. Samir, while not exactly scary, at least sounds exotic, and thus cool (ish).

Tara, then, reminds us of the old High Kings of Ireland, for whom the weather was not an objective meteorological event, which could be mapped and understood, but the fierce, dreadful eruptions of the angry gods. So that’s one to stay indoors for, just in case our forebears were right.

Finally, we come to the pick of the bunch. Storm Vince – now that’s what I call a proper name. Vince: he could be a 1950s rockabilly hero riding his motorbike down the dark highways of the soul; he could be a fat Mafioso wheezing as he drinks espresso and listens to Nessun Dorma.

In this case, he/it is a potential storm, but either way, it’s a cool, tough-guy name. Vince is worthy of our fear and respect.

ARCHIVE PIECE: Why WhatsApp is basically Irishness in tech form



The GAA has urged clubs to stop using WhatsApp, apparently over concerns about data protection, privacy and child safety. This is, I think, very bad news.

That’s not because club members now won’t have any way of letting each other know who can’t make training tonight or what time the Under-10s blitz is on this Saturday – there’s always texts, emails, phone-calls or, God forbid, face-to-face conversation.

No, it’s bad news because Irish people, including the half-million or so GAA members, absolutely love WhatsApp. It’s almost as if this messaging system was specifically invented for us, so neatly does it dovetail with the national character and modes of behaviour.

WhatsApp is essentially a pub conversation moved online: one of the greatest contributions this nation has ever made to the well-being of mankind. Graham Norton wrote a hilarious section in his 2015 memoir, Life and Loves of a He-Devil, about Irish pub conversations. The bit about a group sitting around the table, discussing farm gates under various sub-headings, will have you wiping away tears of laughter and then nodding in proud recognition.

WhatsApp is an online version of that, only better because this one never ends and there’s no danger of it degenerating into rancour, regret or slurred incomprehensibility, as is the way with many actual pub conversations.

That’s the problem with them, ironically: the drink. Initially it loosens tongues, removes inhibitions and makes everyone feel happy and friendly and, most of all, loquacious. Should it go on too long, though, it can get boring, spiteful, pointless or depressing, leaving you with a physical and metaphorical bad head the next morning.

But WhatsApp circumvents all that unpleasantness. It removes the negative effects of alcohol and leaves you with only the best, core elements of a great Irish pub conversation: people talking shite about everything and nothing.

To demonstrate the diversity and breadth of WhatsApp conversations, recent ones I’ve been involved in have included: Catherine Noone; the 17th century Baroque architect Nicholas Hawksmoor; why slackers were so lazy back in the 1990s that even sitting around smoking dope seemed like just too much work; the Corona virus and/or germ-masks; when did words like “moron” and “idiot” move from being medical terms to more-or-less socially acceptable ways of describing, well, morons and idiots; Paw Patrol; fiftieth birthdays; the Tipperary man who co-founded Boca Juniors football club in Buenos Aires; the death of Elizabeth Wurtzel; an upcoming christening; the tractor rally in Dublin; Nicolas Cage’s first appearance on British television; and why Margaret Atwood would ironically be displeased by the cult-like groupthink which has sprung up around her most famous novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.

It’s brilliant. In fact, it’s basically the only reason I finally upgraded from a Nokia “dumb” phone to the slightly-less-dumb new version, which has WhatsApp installed (if little else commonly found on a proper smartphone).

Of course, it’s not all perfect. Or rather, people aren’t perfect, and many of us have tics and habits and propensities on WhatsApp which seem fine to us but might be really bloody annoying to everyone else. There’s an unspoken and unwritten etiquette about how to behave, but of course the problem is that, when something is unspoken and unwritten, not everyone gets the message.

So one person’s oversharing, for example, is another person’s “I feel the need to be honest and tell my story”. What one user considers a reasonable number of messages to post every day – say, four or five thousand – may seem a mite excessive to friends and family.

And what about the awkwardness of leaving a WhatsApp group? Everyone else in the group can see that you’ve gone, and now they’ve started discussing why…ugh, ground swallow me up, please.

Or the mild embarrassment of deleting a message? It could just be that you made a typo or your hand slipped and pressed Send before you’d finished, but others don’t know that. They think that you’d posted a horrific tirade in support of barbed-wire, booby-trapped fences along the border or something, and are now reconsidering your suitability as a member of the “Jane Austen & Afternoon Tea Appreciation Society” WhatsApp group.

And let’s not even start of sending a message intended for your brother or friend – a foul-mouthed but funny Richard Prior clip on YouTube, say – to the local church committee or flower-arranging club that you’ve recently joined.

Possibly the single most irritating WhatsApp habit is when someone – for instance, the hurling coach – gives details of an upcoming event, and specifically requests that only those who can’t make it reply to his post. Cue the flood of messages with smiley-face emojis, thumbs up graphics, redundant “Thanks Joe” comments, and someone asking is this where the Jane Austen & Afternoon Tea Appreciation Society arranges their next meet-up. What?

For all that, though, WhatsApp is the best thing to hit Ireland – and the most Irish thing to hit Ireland – since sliced bread dipped in Guinness, served by Dermot Bannon, while a U2 song plays in the background. Send me a message only if you agree with this.

ARCHIVE PIECE: Dream a little dream of the perfect job



It really is a job that’s out of this world: NASA is calling for applications from budding astronauts. The Artemis programme aims to put people back on the moon as early as 2024, and it’s open to everyone – well, sort of.

Successful candidates will have a master’s degree in a STEM subject, along with 20-20 vision, excellent physical and psychological health, US citizenship and at least two years of “related professional experience” or a thousand hours piloting a jet-plane.

Some of those would rule me out, I realise now. Actually, all would rule me out.

My degree is in Arts and not a master’s, I wear glasses, I’m unfit, I’m not American and I’ve never flown any plane not made of paper. On the plus side, I a decent Michael Jackson-esque moonwalk – never know when that might come in handy on the lunar surface – and I’ve always liked the thought of going into space. That counts for something, surely?

I’m probably not along among my generation in dreaming of life among the stars. We were raised on comic-books such as Dan Dare and 2000AD, TV shows like Buck Rodgers and Battlestar Galactica, and a welter of sci-fi movies about space, rockets, aliens and laser-guns that fire out a sort of green pulse and make a noise like someone is pressing all the keys on a synthesiser at once.

We were also raised just after mankind first walked on the moon, so we assumed that, soon, everyone would be jetting off to Neptune on business or spending their holidays touring the rings of Saturn. Astronaut, therefore, was one of those dream jobs for my generation. Not the kind of thing anyone really expected to do, in truth, but a possibility all the same.

An exciting, glamorous, exotic possibility, filled with cool technology, sexy alien babes, a hell of a lot of chrome fittings, and most important, the chance to say stuff like “Engage warp drive!” and “Multi-phase blasters set to exterminate!”

Other dream jobs of my youth included, at various times, movie star, private detective, secret agent, shape-shifting inter-dimensional assassin, immortal vampire who also fights crime, and Kim Basinger’s boyfriend/sex-slave/whatever.

I wanted to be the frontman in a heavy metal band. I wanted to take over from Batman when he got too old for the gig. I wanted to be the main striker for Liverpool FC; failing that, any position on the Liverpool team; failing that, any position at any decent club. I also had vague, but nonetheless committed, plans to basically steal Axl Rose’s entire existence.

None came to pass, as you might expect. For one thing, Ian Rush was still banging them in like billy-o at Anfield, and Axl Rose was acting increasingly edgy and paranoid, as if he was onto me somehow.

I’m unsure how many of these would still be on young people’s professional wish-lists, though. Does anyone under 40 want to be an astronaut anymore?

Rock music is dead for modern-day youth. Movies have been superseded by the internet. Vampires were rendered forever uncool by Twilight. Secret agents are now considered amoral tools of the ruling kleptocracy. Batman is too male, pale and stale.

Professional football remains a desirable destination for kids, but even there, I presume a generational shift. My dream was to win games and lift trophies; today’s soccer-wannabes dream of huge endorsements, their own jewellery range and a million followers on Instagram.

The ultimate dream jobs for millennials, and the generation that came after, seem things like YouTube star, Reality TV contestant, social media personality/influencer/content-provider, activist, advocate, tech start-up, app designer, hard-left or hard-right online provocateurs, or a combination of them all.

A few want to be professional video-game players or package-openers. Others want to be full-time couch-surfers. Still others hope to monetise the fact that they had a baby, or bought something, or thought something, or basically just exist and are special and so the world should pay them for it.

A surprisingly large number, meanwhile, recently applied to run a hostel on some wind-blasted island off our Atlantic coast, which would have amazed their forebears who were stuck on similar islands for generations, with nothing but seaweed and their own unending misery for nourishment.

It’s enough to make us older folks scratch our heads and wonder what the hell is up with kids nowadays. But I won’t be doing that, because I realise that every generation thinks the succeeding one is daft and has the sense of a toilet-brush. We’re all equally stupid and equally to blame.

I can only imagine my parents’ reaction, for example, when I announced my ambition of playing for Liverpool while also filling in for Batman, squiring Kim Basinger around town and being a vampire who fights crime. “I’ll give you Batman – on top of the head! Now eat your seaweed.”

Nowadays, of course, I’d be filming myself eating that seaweed, and extolling its virtues in exfoliation, colon cleansing and charkra-realignment. Feel free to use that one, YouTubers.

ARCHIVE PIECE: The past is never dead online



Social media is once again in the headlines, and the dock, as its often-pernicious influence is debated. The tragic case of Caroline Flack has seen calls for legislation, or at least tighter controls by companies providing this service, against abuse.

Meanwhile some newly elected TDs are learning a lesson already painfully absorbed by celebrities: the internet is immortal. Whatever you put up there stays there, forever.

Several big-name stars were fired from jobs, or dropped from awards ceremonies, after eagle-eyed members of the public trawled back through their tweets and posts for material deemed offensive, bigoted or otherwise verboten.

In some cases, it doesn’t matter if the sentiments were considered acceptable at that time. In an ironic twist, the users of this immortal medium are obsessed with contemporaneity. If a celebrity’s thoughts jar at all with the prevailing mood in February 2020, they’re toast. Welcome to “cancel culture”.

Now this digital archaeology has been extended to politics, though in that case, the concept has more validity. Indeed, one could argue that, in putting yourself forward for election to the national parliament, you’re not only exposing your past to scrutiny – but the public, and the system, have the right and the duty to examine it.

These are, after all, the people who will be shaping our country, drawing up legislation, making changes, forwarding one development and preventing another. They carry a hell of a lot of responsibility (and are rewarded for it very well).

So, yes, if you tweeted five years ago that Israel was responsible for bringing down the Two Towers, that’s probably relevant when the new Taoiseach is deciding whether to make you Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Actually, Israel was the subject – big surprise – of one of the more doolally post-election social media messages which got new TDs in trouble. In this case, the politician didn’t actually reiterate that old “the Jews caused 9-11” racist canard; she merely blamed “dirty tricks” by Mossad for hobbling the chances of Jeremy Corbyn last year. As one respondent dryly pointed out, it’s perplexing how this sinister, all-powerful organisation somehow allowed her to get voted in.

There have been other social media boo-boos, from candidates victim-blaming Mairia Cahill to anti-vaccination conspiranoia to unwisely triumphant chest-beating after victory. In perhaps the oddest – and most quintessentially Irish – instance, a politician got embroiled in a Twitter spat with Rory Cowan off Fair City and Mrs Brown’s Boys.

They say in public life that if you’re explaining, you’re losing. We can now update that to: if you’re slagging off the likeable Rory Cowan on social media, merely for supporting the similarly likeable Noel Rock, you’re definitely losing.

Our politicians have been caught with their pants down online in other, more recent ways. Just think of those viral videos of winning candidates lustily belting out rebel songs; hollering “Up the ‘Ra”, as if they have the slightest idea about the reality of The Troubles, having grown up in the pampered peacefulness of our republic; or crowing about “breaking” the “Free State bastards”.

Eh? The Free State? Hey, 1922 called – they want their political references back.

But it’s the sins of the past which increasingly come back to haunt public figures. Only a complete moron will keep tweeting their deranged effluvium once they’ve been elected – I know, there are a few – and most politicians will tone it down, in public at least, from here on.

As I say, though, the internet never forgets. If you typed and hit send, any site and any time, those words are now stored on a hard-drive, somewhere.

Deleting is pointless; once you’ve been rumbled, the first thing everyone else does is take a screenshot. This compounds the original crime: people now think you’re engaged in a cover-up. Which, of course, you are.

The internet is immortal. And in a strange and slightly eerie way, it makes people immortal, not just their words. People die but their online presence sometimes lingers on, a kind of digital ghost.

During the election campaign, I searched on Twitter for mentions of Noel Whelan, the brilliant psephologist and political analyst who died last year, whose contributions was sorely missed in 2020. It was a bit of a jolt to see that Noel’s Twitter page is still up. So too is that of Keelin Shanley and the aforementioned Caroline Flack. Marian Finucance’s remained online until recently.

It seems a bit weird, even unsettling, but then you think: well, what’s to be done about it? Twitter et al may feel they don’t have the right to delete someone’s digital existence, and nobody else but the person themselves can take it down. So there it remains.

Should we nominate someone to delete our social media if we die, then? Should that form part of a will? Should Twitter do it automatically once a death is registered, and how would that even work?

Oh, the complexities and confusions of modern life, where the technology of the future keeps us ever looking backwards. As William Faulkner famously wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”