I promise to vote for the bearer

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The Independent Online
AS WITH everyone else, our currency shrinks as if ashamed of itself. The new, detumescent pounds 20 note is about two inches by four and depicts a curly-haired Daniel O'Connell on the face of it, he of whom it was said that you could not throw a stone over a poorhouse wall without hitting one of his bastards. I thought he had gone entirely out of fashion for he was not a revolutionist and preferred bombast to violence. I am glad to see that he has not. The obverse of the note portraying him - and it is entirely appropriate that he should appear on our banknotes, for he was very fond of money - contains a representative sample of his prose.

'We, the undersigned,' it reads, 'being convinced that good Government and wise Legislation can be permanently secured to the Irish People only through the instrumentality of an Irish Legislature, Do hereby solemnly pledge ourselves, To our country and to each other, That, We will never desist from seeking the Repeal of the Legislative Union and . . .'

Well, you get the drift. This declaration is dated 1845. Not many states would choose to print a political manifesto on the back of a banknote, but having secured for ourselves our own approximation of good Government and wise Legislation we can do what we like. I wonder if O'Connell knew what he was letting us in for.

The outcome of last week's general election appeared to hinge in the end on one single vote in one constituency in Dublin where a decision between who was entitled to the last remaining seat, of five, under our quaint system of proportional representation (the choice was between an elderly Republican and a reconstituted Communist) was set to determine the composition of the next government. This might have been the ninth vote the voter had cast for, under our system of proportional representation, you have as many votes as there are candidates. When you have an electorate of 40,000, as in this constituency, and nine candidates there are consequently 360,000 theoretical permutations, and numerous are the voters who like to play with them.

'If the Third Secret of Fatima candidate gets only 10 votes,' one of these enthusiasts said to me, 'and one of his votes only is transferred to the Workers' Party, then you know that must have been your vote, and with any luck you can watch it bouncing around all night.'

I do not think that O'Connell, who liked his elections neatly fixed, would have approved of these transactions. My own opinion is that the Government here has missed a terrific opportunity to put its own propaganda, instead of O'Connell's, on the back of the pounds 20 note.

'Warning: you may think that this money belongs to you, but you are mistaken,' it might read. 'This note remains the property of the Republic of Ireland. It is on loan only, and unauthorised use of it may result in criminal proceedings. Any person in temporary possession of it must realise that it may be repossessed without warning, and almost certainly will be.' It is a warning which, come to think of it, might well be incorporated in every currency in the world.

ONE sadly leaves Bea's house in Connemara for the last time. A tempestuous Atlantic storm raged in the night and a ball of lightning struck with a tremendous crash to the ground outside. Sheets of rain are blown sideways over the bogs and the stream that flows past the gate and ambles towards the sea is a torrent now that has burst its banks and formed a new lake across the road. There is certainly nothing subtle about the Connemara weather.

We picked up an old fellow on the road and gave him a ride into Clifden. He is a turf- cutter by profession and garrulous to a degree. 'I am very thankful to you,' said he. 'You gave me a lift to Cashel once when it got very cold and I had forgotten my vest, and I was stuck, and I was very thankful for that. I am always very thankful for a lift.'

And so on, and on. He remembers when Cashel, a hamlet, had eight or 10 children to every household and vast throngs of idlers would congregate after Mass to play pitch and toss, for lack of anything else to do. 'And where are they now?' asks Bea.

'Dead,' says the fellow, 'or in America.' We must all move on, more's the pity. But I'll be back in Connemara, one way or another.

I MAY emigrate to Korea. I met last week Michael Mulcahy, an artist who has just spent a year in a monastery there after being introduced, over dinner at our embassy in Seoul, to Suan Suime, eminent painter, poet and, incidentally, monk.

Michael became his pupil. 'The first thing he does,' says Michael, 'is to give me the name Togon, which means Empty Island, Clear Sky. Then he showed me how to hold one of the brushes in a way which gives total power and told me to write my name 10,000 times.'

Michael, or Togon, ground his master's ink every morning, a process which took two hours, and fed the goldfish. He prostrated himself 108 times in the temple every day at 3.30am and watered the gardens. He was told not to bother learning Korean.

Buddhism appears to be an amusing religion. On board a Korean container ship on his way back to Ireland, Michael tells me, the crew prostrated themselves before a pig's head. Apparently this guarantees a safe passage. It must work, says Michael, for a similar container ship, where the crew had not taken this precaution, went down in a storm.

It seems an agreeable existence to me, apart from the early prostrations. I wonder if they would have me.