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Review: Mentioning The War by Kevin Higgins

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higginsKevin Higgins is a poet from Galway and a long-standing contributor to the independent left publication Red Banner Magazine. A former member of the Militant Tendency (now the Socialist Party), he has played no small part in making the world of writing a more accessible and pleasant place to be in this country – not least for those …

This review first published November 2012 in The Irish Anarchist Review 6 (Ireland).  Full version here and also on Kevin Doyle Blog here

Book details: Mentioning the War: Essays & Reviews 1999-2011  by Kevin Higgins
(ISBN: 978-1-908836-12-0)  Published by Salmon Poetry (April, 2012).

Cover Artwork: © Lisavan | Dreamstime.com

Written by kfdoyle

March 31, 2016 at 1:44 pm

Review: No Global by Robert Allen

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NoGNo Global is based on Robert Allen and Tara Jones’s Guests Of The Nation (1990). Essentially it is an account of the various environmental clashes that have taken place in Ireland since the mid-70s when the Irish Government’s policy of attracting multinational corporation into Ireland – in particular in the chemicals and pharmaceuticals sector – moved into full swing.  In terms of being a record of these many struggles, No Global is a very useful compendium with a lot of first hand information as well as useful analysis. The author was involved in some of the events he addresses and this adds a particular validity to the account.

This review was published in Red and Black Revolution 8 (Ireland, 2008). The full version maybe read here:

Book details: No Global: The People Of Ireland Versus The Multinationals by By Robert Allen. [ISBN: 0-7453-2210-7] Pluto Press, 2004

Review: Constructive Anarchism The Debate On The Platform

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Cont Anarchism“The debate is important still, and lest we forget why, consider, on this the anniversary of 1937 – the year of defeat for the Spanish Revolution – the conclusion of Jose Periats, the anarchist historian aligned with the CNT. In Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution he says: “Anarchism is largely responsible for its own bad reputation in the world. It did not consider the thorny problem of means and ends. In their writing, many anarchists conceived of a miraculous solution to the problems of revolution. We fell easily into this trap in Spain. We believed that once the dog is dead, the rabies is over. We proclaimed a full-blown revolution without worrying about the many complex problems that revolution brings with it”

Published in: Red And Black Revolution 3 (WSM, Ireland)

Review of Ailliliú Fionnuala (Camden Palace, Cork)

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Donal O’Kelly after his performance in Ailliliú Fionnuala at Camden Palace, Cork.

I first saw Donal Kelly perform the one-man show Catalpa in the mid-90s. Catalpa is the epic story of six Irish Fenians rescued from prison in Fremantle Prison in Western Australia in the 19th century.  Given that the Catalpa rescue involved transportation across continents, Fenianism, Australia, a sea voyage and a prison break, it hardly seemed possible that it could be encapsulated in a one man show.  Yet Donal O’Kelly managed all of that.  It is no surprise that Catalpa has won many awards and has been performed to acclaim worldwide.

Bat the Father Rabbit The Son was another of O’Kelly’s plays and a character from this – Ambrose Keogh – has now returned as the main figure in Ailliliú Fionnuala.  In the years since Bat The Father… Keogh has prospered and is now working as a PR consultant for Shell Oil.  Employed in Erris (Co Mayo) he is  privy to the underhand activities that Shell is engaging in in its efforts to smother resistance to its grand-scale theft of Ireland’s natural gas resources – located off the Mayo coast.  But unfortunately for Ambrose things start to go wrong.  As Benbo Productions’ synopsis of the plot explains:

When the Tunnel Boring Machine he named Fionnuala sinks into the bog in Erris Co. Mayo, he is magically confronted by Fionnuala of the Children of Lir. Fionnuala puts a geas on him – he’s bound to tell the truth about Shell’s operations, such as the attack on Willie Corduff in the Shell site at Glengad. During his ordeal, Ambrose meets his primary school classmate, Malachy Downes, an anti-pipeline activist, and echoes from the past resound.

Keogh is forced to confess the details of the sordid and underhand work that is taking place at Erris.  The truth comes out but there is also the element of justice (finally!) being meted out to Keogh and (possibly) Shell Oil.  The repression of the locals and connivance of the Irish State with what is going on in Mayo is explored.  You and I are being robbed and the Irish establishment is in on the deal – sound familiar?

As a work of theatre Ailliliú Fionnuala is powerful and direct.  In part this is due to the personalised nature of the one-man show.  Donal O’Kelly has honed this form well and appears to be quite at home with the multiple characters and streams of dialogue.  His facial expressions, accents and delivery are excellent  and we are very easily drawn into this inventive and strange story of Ambrose Keogh’s reckoning with mythical Fionnuala.

Ailliliú Fionnuala is also a dark story about Ireland and where it is at even now.  Someone on the night I was present mentioned that this play should get the award for the best political play of the year.  Surely it must.  Mind, would there be a lot of competition?

Running at about an hour in length, Ailliliú Fionnuala can only do so much.  There is plenty more no doubt that could and will be said in time about Shell and its activities in Mayo.  Personally I was left wondering again how something like what is happening in Erris can so easily go on under our noses.  The heavy handed police work is one side of this but the other is the enourmous giveaway deal that has been cut for Shell’s enjoyment at all our expenses.

An important and poignant aspect (of this connundrum) that is broached in Ailliliú Fionnuala is quiescence in Irish society.  Keogh’s confrontation with his old school mate turned anti-Shell activist, Malachy Downes, is the occasion for this.  In the years that have passed since they last met Downes has travelled along a different route to Keogh.  He was sent to Letterfract for rebellious behavior at school.  At Letterfract Industrial School he was abused.  Through Downes, Donal O’Kelly acknowledges the mentality prevalent in Irish society that was and is all about ‘letting things be’ or ‘shur isn’t that’s the way things are’. To hear Downe’s story is to be disturbed and reminded of what Ireland was like not so long ago at all.  Ailliliú Fionnuala asks if the same sort of societal mentality is sill hard at work today, once again foiling our interests in favour of the powerful and wealthy?

This show performed at the Camden Place on Friday, May 24th.

Related Links

Next performance:  Thurs 6th June, Pavilion, Dún Laoghaire (with the film The Pipe and a post-show talk.)

Benbo Production

Listen to Donal O Kelly talk on RTE arts show Arena about his show Ailliliú Fionnuala

Letterfract Industrial Schools

Shell2Sea Campaign

Doctors for Choice: But What Will Change?

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With inquest into the death of Savita Halappanavar  concluded and the Irish government on the brink of bringing forth new legislation – a position, recall, forced on it by a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights – it seems timely to remind ourselves of what will NOT change here in Ireland despite all that has happened.

In the video below, Dr Mary Favier,  (Doctors for Choice) sets out the following key points about the current situation here in Ireland and what the government legislation proposes NOT to address.  [The video was record at the March for Choice held in Cork in March, 2013].

She states:

1) The new proposed legislation will affect no more than 5 to 10 Irish women every year.  This is a miniscule number compared to the actual number of women in Ireland who consider the option of a termination in any one year.

2) The new proposed legislation would not have helped Savita and Praveen Halappanavar to overcome the legal obstacles placed in their way and which, in effect, led directly to Savita’s death when she was refused an abortion in Galway last year – see article link below.

3) The proposed legislation will not help any woman who has an unwanted pregnancy as a result of a criminal act such as rape or incest.  Such a women will still have to travel outside the Irish state to obtain a termination.

4) The proposed legislation will not help any of the estimated 4000-5000  women who travel out of Ireland each year to have an abortion.

Related Articles

See Also

Review of “Mentioning The War: Essays … ” by Kevin Higgins

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Mentioning The War: Essays and Reviews (1999-2011) by Kevin Higgins. (published by Salmon Poetry).

[This review first published in the Irish Anarchist Review No. 6 (Oct 2012).]

­­­Kevin Higgins is a poet from Galway and a long-standing contributor to the independent left publication Red Banner Magazine.  A former member of the Militant Tendency (now the Socialist Party), he has played no small part in making the world of writing a more accessible and pleasant place to be in this country – not least for those who don’t normally find themselves welcome in the hallowed, middle class halls of Literativille.   His approach is no accident.  Higgins knows that good writing can be found anywhere and is not the preserve of the privileged or the best educated.  But importantly too in terms of writing (and poetry in particular) he is committed to high standards.  ‘Political poetry’ with little poetry in it, and as well as doggerel in general are two of his bêtes noires.

His poetry should be treasured on the left (but it isn’t of course) in particular because we have so few poets who cherish the streets we wander along.   Dave Lordan or Diarmuid O Dalaigh in Cork might appear to fit that role too, but their concerns in the main are with the world outside the left.  Higgins in contrast often looks in at where we are and there is much that is valuable and sobering in what he sees.

His poetry I recommend highly but his essays, collected here by Salmon Poetry, are much more of a mixed bag.  One problem to be pointed out at the outset is that a fair number of his reviews (mostly attributed to The Galway Advertiser) are simply too short to be of much value.  I am all for brevity but with many of these, interesting points are raised only to be left hanging in their entirety at conclusion of said review.  A case in point being that of Lorna Siggins’ Once Upon A Time In The West which is strangely equivocal.  As I said, it would be interesting to know more about Kevin Higgins thinks about the significant yet tragically defeated protest centred on the Corrib gas fields.

When Kevin does have space to elaborate, he is invariably interesting and informative.  He is good at explaining and is always interesting and clear when writing about literature and poetry.  This is a real asset and rarer than you might imagine.  Not surprisingly his way with words is one of his strongest suits.  Generally he is even handed (see his review of Michael D’s last collection of poems) but he can be ruthless too as with his hilarious review of Ruairí Quinn’s Straight Left – A Journey Into Politics.  Such an opus was bound to provoke Kevin Higgin’s ire and it sure does.   Among many fitting observations about the Labour Party’s ultimate clown is the comment that Quinn “as a writer is dull beyond belief”.

Since this collection has been review elsewhere by general left commentators I will focus for the remainder on what anarchists and libertarian socialists might find interesting.  On the positive side Kevin is one of the few socialists who is prepared to face up to the authoritarianism (some call it the Leninist or Stalinist mindset) that is, even now, a significant feature of the serious left, both here and abroad.  This is a big plus for me.  The disaster that befell us all when the idea of socialism became inextricably linked to censorship, the Gulags, show trials, self-criticism sessions and so on and so forth (stand up Lenin, Trotsky and the others), is too easily glossed over by many within the marxist left.  Some don’t see the huge problem even now or imagine it to be some past aberration or some plot by the CIA to denigrate our ultimate goal.  Not Kevin Higgins, I feel.  He knows, as many of us do to our cost (I came across it myself only recently in the Anti-Household Tax Campaign) that the toxic world of authoritarian left politics is still very real and debilitating.

One the negative side, Kevin is just a bit too prone to lampooning the left, in contexts that are often not clear.  Some of this, I am guessing, is scar tissue from his Militant Tendency days, but often the swipes are too easy and undiscerning.  They are to be found here and there in this collection but an example is his observation about a speaker at a left meeting who was ‘earnest but dead-in-the-mouth’.   Of course this could well be true (and who hasn’t been at such meetings?) but the problem is that there’s loads of mundanity in trying to organise even the smallest of protests.  Our resources are almost pitiful when compared against those ranged against us, and I just wonder, in places, where the empathy is for the countless individuals who have been the foot-soldiers of important (and un-newsworthy) protests – against deportations, against the household tax, for choice around pregnancy termination?

Anarchists will find much of interest in this collection but there will be dissatisfaction too.  Like many from within the Marxist tradition, Kevin Higgins shows much insight into the problems of the authoritarian left.  But more searching scrutiny is not developed here.

Review of “The Guards: A Year Behind the Scenes with the Men and Women of An Garda Síochána”

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No pictures of beaten prisoners

No pictures of Rossport dust-up

No pictures of Shannon Warport

No pictures of Dublin Lock-down

Written by kfdoyle

November 22, 2012 at 8:29 pm

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