19 March 2012

For this that all the blood was shed

While I was standing on Dame Street passing snide remarks about the recycled Macnas floats pressed into Paddy's Day service, elsewhere in the city a group of artists were making their own comment about the state of our nation.

Outside the former future Anglo Irish Bank Headquarters on the North Wall Quay (where CANVAZ also recently added his own thoughts) a series of panels were placed, illustrating the words of Yeats' September 1913 as they relate to contemporary Ireland. Being possibly the only two folks in the whole country yesterday not to wake up with a hangover ("An Irish Epiphany", as Boris Johnson might say), The Very Understanding Girlfriend and I decided to hop on our bikes and go down to have a look.

Entitled Romantic Ireland: From The Streets, according to the collective behind it the Anglo site was chosen because it "was a central player in the madness that went on in this country. This site is an exceptionally appropriate and evocative symbol of the audacity shown in the previous 20 years and the results of that audacity. We own this building through NAMA therefore no permission need be sought to use it. Nobody sought permission to spend our taxes on private debt."

September 1913 was chosen because it "is a century old acceptable and relevant comment on the effect of greed on the ideals of a nation. On St. Patrick's Day the world is watching us celebrate artistically. It seems appropriate to display an artistic response on this day that shows we're also capable of a bit of reflection". Yeats' words also inspired the only Irish Times editorial during this whole crisis that actually took a forceful stand, coming in the immediate aftermath of the bailout and loss of our economic sovereignty (alas now behind a pay-wall so the only was to read it is through second-hand coverage of it).

The collective behind the Anglo installation call this work "an artistic response", saying that it is "part of a wider ongoing discussion around ideas of sovereignty and nationhood" and they pose a series of questions, asking "Was it always like this? Are ordinary people consistently sold a lie for the benefit of a relatively small group of people? It has the potential to establish a starting point for a different discussion on Ireland. Is there a place for idealism? Is it a romantic notion? Is idealism interchangeable with naivety? What does it mean to be Irish? What is the relationship between the economy and being Irish? Or the economy and sovereignty or being Irish and sovereignty? We were in the exact same place 100 years ago"

They summarise the whole project by saying that "The exhibition is a statement of a few things, one of which is that there are many people who never lost the run of themselves over the course of the economic 'boom'. These people are still here. While the only discussion about Ireland to be heard is about the economy, this exhibition concerns what's best in being Irish -- Creativity, Self reliance, Community. It was done for free by all participants. It is a gift to the state."

Which is more than Anglo ever did for us.

There have been many responses to our current economic, political and societal woes (though not as many as I would have hoped for or expected), and all too often they, like myself, have fallen foul of focusing solely on the negative. What interests me about Romantic Ireland: From The Streets is that it manages to be an act of positivity and creation without shying away from the reality. The reclamation of the Anglo site as a public space, the acknowledgment of the cyclical nature of Irish history with both our myopic inability to learn from our mistakes and the role that cultural creatives have always played in reinventing our identity during times of crisis, the mirror of "Real" Ireland that this holds up to the world on the day of global Plastic Paddiness, all of these add a much welcome new voice to our national conversation.

The collective behind it all put together a video of the project, which you can see above. The work is one of those, like so much street art, that photos cannot do justice to. If you live in Dublin take the time to go down to the Anglo site. Standing in its skeletal remains you get a sense of the arrogance of the economic and political dynasties whose hubris destroyed our country, and how many more meters of blue hoarding there still remains for other artists to add their thoughts...

Romantic Ireland: From The Streets at the former future Anglo Irish bank headquarters
North Wall Quay, Dublin, Sunday 18th March

And for those of you who didn't study Leaving Cert English in the 80's, or were too busy writing "Anthrax" and "Megadeath" in blue biro on your canvas school bags and haven't yet succumbed to the rosy-hued nostalgic reprinting of Soundings, here is the complete text of Yeats' poem that inspired this work:

What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone;
For men were born to pray and save;
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave.

Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,
But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman's rope was spun,
And what, God help us, could they save?
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave.

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
It's with O'Leary in the grave.

Yet could we turn the years again,
And call those exiles as they were
In all their loneliness and pain,
You'd cry `Some woman's yellow hair
Has maddened every mother's son':
They weighed so lightly what they gave.
But let them be, they're dead and gone,
They're with O'Leary in the grave.

- September 1913, William Butler Yeats

For this that all the blood has shed
North Wall Quay, Dublin, Sunday 18th March

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