Bewitched by the spell of a platinum blonde

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The Independent Online
I WAS in Clare last week for the Merriman Summer School, ostensibly dedicated to the preservation of the Gaelic language. At one point we were informed that the English had attempted to outlaw bastardy in Ireland in 1623, although what that has to do with the Irish language escapes me. Miss Finnegan, who was consulted by an emeritus professor of history (who is, incidentally, a member of the Irish Senate), reported that I seemed a bit dopey when answering my hotel telephone in Lisdoonvarna. 'He is usually dopey in the morning,' said she with her characteristic charity. 'Stan is always dopey,' said the senator. 'He has never recovered from two things in his life: the first was that he was diagnosed of cancer and the second was that he was told he was cured of it.'

This is the sample of Irish wit at its most facile, at once gratuitous, cruel and inconsiderate. There are many things I have had to recover from in this life and Irish wit is certainly one of them, but being cured of cancer caused me no bother at all. I have been in a bad mood for the past several months as the consequence of having fallen for the most brilliant platinum blonde in Ireland. She is invariably described by those who meet her for the first time as 'stunning' and 'delightful'. I could not agree more: trouble, in other words.

She has an infectious laugh and wears a slash of scarlet lipstick across her beautiful face which, whenever she frowns upon me, causes me intense grief. She likes to see me smile and greatly regards my company when I am amusing but cannot stand it when I am sulking.

Well, I ask, how can I not sulk when I am in this condition? In Lisdoonvarna, was I not approached by a fan, a voluptuous blonde who expressed an interest in my continued company? But I fled at about two in the morning, the gloom having descended on me like the rain and the mists that have obscured most of this country since last I held the beloved in my arms. 'You are like a wounded animal,' said Miss Finnegan.

'I am a wounded animal,' said I.

I skipped an excursion to the seaside, near Ennistimon, where Augustus John was granted droit de seigneur to his daughters by Francis Macnamara as soon as they achieved puberty, and exercised it. Here there is a small pub wherein the proprietor always produces a long, gnarled stick resembling a whip and asks his guests can they identify it. It is the desiccated penis of a whale.

Nearby the praetorian guard of the Irish Women's Liberation Movement took to the sea and Mary went with them. Mary kindly accompanies me these days on fairly purposeless but enjoyable trips to nowhere in particular and attempts to console me in my grief which is by now beginning to bore even myself.

I had been swimming, by a peculiar coincidence, a couple of weeks earlier in a heated pool belonging to a friend, quite near the Liffey, while the platinum blonde, with her beautiful feet dangling in the water, asked me why in the name of Christ I loved her. I never did get around to answering her, for a friend appeared. 'You look like a seal,' said the platinum blonde.

The Merriman Summer School is not a school nor does summer have much to do with it. It was founded 25 years ago by a friend of mine, Cornelius Howard, and celebrates, one way or another, the memory of Brian Merriman, an 18th-century poet who wrote, in Irish, a diatribe addressed by the women of Ireland to the men of Ireland on the subject of their disinterest in conjugal love. As if by way of recompense, the congress of the sexes has never been neglected, in my experience, at this festival, but none of the stories I can think of to illustrate this point are even remotely respectable. I can just barely recall an encounter on the sand dunes at Kilkee with a redhead and my discovery, the day afterwards, that I remembered more Gaelic than I thought I did when I heard her father, an old IRA man, discussing me in malevolent tones in that language. I came away from the Merriman with no clearer idea of the future of the Irish language but I have somewhere a declaration of love addressed to me, written in Irish. It is as well I cannot find it.

IN Lisdoonvarna they hold a licentious marriage fair in September. Some of the fellows arrive on tractors, having crossed half the country on them. Often they are pursued by American women looking for eligible bachelors. The talk there last week was of 'save sets'. This turned out to mean well-conducted folk dancing. 'The men are all to wear condoms,' we were told, 'and the women are on no account to take their clothes off.'

I have always felt the lubricious nature of the Irish is not given due recognition abroad. Set dancing, a healthy and vigorous sport, is obviously one way of counteracting any odium that might attach to us in the sexual department. I discovered last week at Golden Falls in Co Kildare that water-ski jumping is another. Apparently we are quite good at it and no hint of scandal has ever been raised, possibly because nobody has ever thought about platinum blondes while approaching a ski-ramp at speed and lived to tell the tale.