Saturday, May 20, 2006

No man is an Isle

Domestic upheaval notwithstanding, I feel I have to get this one out of the system before tomorrow’s match in Cardiff. You see, win or lose, it doesn’t really matter. One important question remains.

A friend of mine used to say, “How do you know that a man is a lawyer?” He’d then answer this rhetorical question with the telling line “Don’t worry, he’ll tell you soon enough!” And that’s kind of how I feel about Munster men. What is it about them that makes them want so desperately to tell you that they are from that province - an almost mythical yet irrelevant demarcation of Irish counties?

It’s the first thing they will tell you about themselves. With everyone else it is “Hi, I’m Basil…and I’m a dentist” or “Jacintha Merriman, Oisin’s mother, we live in Blackrock” or “Lovely to meet you, I’m Derek’s other half, Alice”. But no for Munster men, it goes something like “Howya, girl, I’m Enda from Macroom. Irish by birth and a Munster man by the grace of God!”.

I should of course point out that this has nothing what so ever to do with Rugby. As ball games go, rugby seems to have all the disadvantages associated with grown men chasing a ball around a green field with none of the advantages. Any field game were the object seems to be to kick the ball out of the park or send it forward by passing it backwards, has to be considered up there with American Football in the world’s most moronic sports categories.

That said, thanks to the dramatic efforts in recent years, of Munster, I’ve grown to have a begrudging respect for the drama that this band of warriors seem to squeeze out of an otherwise dull spectacle. I would even go so far as to say I not only know the name of a few of their players, I even have a mental picture of their characters. Accurate or otherwise. Peter Stringer is your impish rogue that your mother warned you about. Paul O’Connell is a big hapless huggable cousin from the country who envelopes you with a big hearty embrace. It’s the same sort of hug he gives round bales or a calving cow and it only gets confusing if your name is either ‘Yahoor’ or ‘Betsy’. And then Ronan O’Gara is the guy you knew you should have slept with in College instead of Brian but then you are pathologically attracted to jerks and programmed to repel nice decent boys.

The whole “Munster” thing, I just don’t get. To me, Munster is a nice, if a little dull, town in Germany and is spelt with an umlaut. Munster is the sort of adjective builders use if they want to avoid fierce parochial tribalism. You know, like “Munster Joiner”. If you are from Limerick, you are not sure if they are from Cork and hence to be hated. And then that’s the other thing. Limerick folk hate anyone from the Rebel county. Waterford folk hate Cork people, and Cork people are even despised by those otherwise nice folk from Kerry. Tipp v Cork – let’s not go there. The term “Munster” allows everyone in the southwest to lay claim to the exploits of Cork people without having to concede that a Corkonian excelled at something other than walking out of the team training camp in a strop.

You never ever hear someone from Louth laying the same claim to Offaly success under the guise of being a Leinster man. When has anyone from Longford proclaimed, ‘Irish by birth, a Leinster man by the grace of God’? It just isn’t necessary. ‘You are now entering Westmeath, home of Tom Allen and the Travelling Minstrels’ is not a phrase you hear every day. If you drive across the border into Ulster you don’t get bombarded with ridiculous claims about Monaghan being the largest county in Ireland taking into account it’s undulating terrain. Laois people never tell you that theirs is the only county in Ireland bordered by a county that has a coast line. Well okay they do, but they never put the significance down to some divine “Province”.

The folk down south get misty eyed over the “Munster Final” when everyone knows that it is at least another six weeks before any decent hurling gets played in Ireland. The Connacht, Leinster and Ulster finals in both football and hurling don’t evoke childlike whimsy like a poorly attended horse of a match in Thurles does. Maybe it’s something they put in their hang sandwiches?

Of course, geography isn’t their strong suit – doesn’t anyone have the heart to tell them that Athenry is Galway and not in Munster? Hence it’s probably not the best choice as provincial anthem. (Liverpool FC fans of course bring that sin to ridiculous levels but at least they are sufficiently shamed to change the lyrics.) Maybe that’s what it is. In the primary school curriculum perhaps (because they are not as sharp as the rest of the country), they only articulate the south of Ireland vaguely and hence don’t mark out the boundaries too clearly. It’s sufficient to know that you are a Munster man – even if you are a woman.

It is home to the third largest city in Ireland. By population it is the third largest of four provinces. It has the third largest number of counties of any Irish province. So it is the smallest quarter of the third largest European Ireland and you can’t fly from it to anywhere in the world without a Government enforce stop over en route to Dublin.

So perhaps the province doth protest too much. Maybe it is an innate insecurity that has they clutching for the Munster security blanket. Maybe the fact that Irish life and history has tended to pass them by almost completely has caused them to clamour for attention. If Munster was partitioned from the rest of Ireland in a dastardly plot (as Ulster was - by two men from Munster incidentally) in 1922, I seriously doubt anyone would have bothered initiating a terrorist campaign to free these six counties. Of course in some respects, by their constant differentiation from the rest of Ireland, Munster folk enforce their own cultural partitioning.

Our country is famed as the land of saints and scholars but few if any of these came from Munster. Apart from holding a Nobel prize for literature, Shaw, Yeats, Beckett, Heaney all have the distinction that none of them are from Munster. Never was Joyce. I have it on good authority, that there is much debate in Vatican circles on if there was ever a St Finbarr!

Beating a severely hungover All-Black team by one score sometime in the Seventies seems to have been sufficient sporting achievement to sustain these men of Munster. You just never ever hear Shelbourne fans tell that Matt Busby or Ron Greenwood or some other courteous English gentleman ever described their pitch as being second only Wembley as a playing surface. The atmosphere at Inchicore or Tolka Park is never feted as the “ethereal” Turf Lodge is by men from the South West.

But for all that – and maybe it is despite your protestations – we love and cherish you no differently from any one else from Ireland. We, the rest of Ireland, sincerely hope that you prevail tomorrow and we’ll be cheering you on like you were one of our own. Because you know what, despite your claims of a unique birthright, you are just one of us.

[Disclaimer : The Blankpaige would like to point out that her ex-boyfriend being a Munster man and their recent separation has provided some cathartic energy for the above post. Tony also should be held responsible much of my twisted view of Munstermen. But boy, that felt good! Tune in next time for the next instalment in a series entitled ‘Working through Issues!’]


Blogger Steven said...

Hey Paige,

I've wanted to email you for a while but can't find an address for you.

Would you mind emailing

1:15 a.m., May 20, 2006  
Blogger Auds said...

"When has anyone from Longford proclaimed, ‘Irish by birth, a Leinster man by the grace of God’?"

But many a Longford woman has.

Well, no not really.

Sorry to hear about the breakup and associated upheaval - I don't really know how one does "blogger embracing" but here's one and a G&T on me.

*blogger embrace*

(G&T now spilt as I'm not a hugging person)

1:44 a.m., May 20, 2006  
Blogger Fence said...

Sorry to hear about the break-up. But venting is always good.

And you've been quoted. That's something, right?

11:07 a.m., May 20, 2006  
Blogger Omaniblog said...

YOu obviously needed to write that. So I don't even need to forgive you for it. Who cares about odd spellings...
Do I detect a hierarchy here? People from Dublin are sound and grounded. Louth, Offaly & Meath have themselves sorted out. Cork are unfortunate. Limerick dillusioned.
I'm going to do research to find out whether any nobel prize winner ever stayed in a Munster B&B and might have been inspired by the experience.
Yes, you did need to write that. You hinted as much weeks ago.

8:36 a.m., May 21, 2006  
Anonymous ainelivia said...

Love it, and I love the disclaimer. Better out than in, that's me motto.

7:59 p.m., May 21, 2006  
Blogger Curly K said...

Well Paige, that's a rant and a half, you go girl - it's all better out than in. We all know that Munster isn't really that bad. Glad to see you getting things off your chest - I personally can't wait till you take into the leggy blonde bitch - that will be worth waiting for! ;-)

12:39 p.m., May 22, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home