Tag: Irish

The Gombeen Strikes Again


The Healy-Raes making news for espousing ill-informed and biased opinions is not news in itself. We seem to be living in the era of unqualified Gombeen politicians making up ‘facts’ everywhere. One could be forgiven for thinking it was 1950 rather than 2017 while reading the daily political news. 

In this article an Irish mother who’s son was killed by a drunk driver is expressing her outrage at the Kerry politician’s claims that a few glasses of Guinness have never led to a drink-related driving fatality. 

By the way he owns a pub. 

Let’s support people standing up to this insidious, yet harmless seeming, Gombeen style of politics in Ireland and America. Policy should be created based on impact measurements, analysis and stakeholder engagement; not loudly stated ignorance. 

Read the Irish Independent article here – Miseducation by Danny Healy-Rae

The Politics of Puzzling Hair

Donald Trump’s campaign started off as an Apprentice sequel. A bit of car crash television that viewers watch to enjoy a good laugh and then end up emotionally involved.  Then it veered and swerved wildly into attacking the mother of an American soldier killed in Afghanistan then onto sexual assault. As his R-rated campaign has turned from reality television into a slasher film, complete with racial slurs and stereotypes, it has become apparent that Trump could use a few politicking lessons from the wily gombeen men of Irish politics.

Who would have thought that the Healy-Rae political dynasty  would make a U.S. presidential candidate look backwards and provincial for his lack of policy platform, general knowledge and eloquence?

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Jackie & Michael Healy-Rae’s stupid hats & hatless Danny Healy-Rae
Who also would have thought that a presidential candidate would share a penchant for puzzling hair and bad hats with the original gombeen man, Jackie Healy-Rae?

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Trump’s stupid hat
On the surface there are no similarities between the Irish political dynasty of the Healy-Raes in County Kerry and empire of Donald Trump, but under the cap is a different story. Political watchers will be surprised to learn they share more than just spectacular comb-overs.

If you’re not familiar with today’s Irish politics you may not know the infamous political dynasty that is the Healy-Rae family of Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry.  The term political dynasty conjures up images of tanned Kennedy’s romping on rolling lawns of their Hyannis compound in tennis whites. Think rumpled suit jackets, mucky shoes, paddy caps and heavy machinery and you have an accurate mental image.

Modern Irish politics has many gombeen characters (remember Bertie Ahern, the Taoiseach who was so calculatedly pedestrian that he avoided bribe accusations by claiming he didn’t even have a bank account. He slithered right out of the spotlight after his Celtic Tiger came crashing down and bankrupt Irish banks and taxpayers)

Gombeen is one of those great Irish words adapted from the Irish language but embedded with cultural meaning that makes it difficult to directly define. The Irish word ‘gaimbín’ is a noun meaning interest as in the actual interest charged on a loan. It then became used to define a money-lender and then specifically a shop-keeper or business man who sold gods and food to the poor on credit and charged crippling interest rates.

In general, it refers to shady ‘wheeler-dealer’ type of business men who accepts bribes or looking to make a quick buck at someone else’s expense.

It’s now generally used to describe politicians and businessmen involved in self-serving activities, and more specifically Irish politicians involved in Daly-style vote getting in exchange for pursuing personal favors for constituents. Gombeen men skillfully make insider deals while convincing their supporters that they are actually outsiders, like them, and hence more straight talking and capable of representing the common man’s interests.

The concept is really that despite being wealthy because of your political connections (Healy-Rae and Trump wealth is of course relative) and having no skills, experience or knowledge of public policy or government, you are the more trustworthy candidate because you are a regular Joe-sop just trying to look out for the other honest Joe-sops that no one in Dublin (or Washington) gives a shite about it because they are too sophisticated and corrupt to care about the rest of us. Regular Joe-sops are always honest when it comes to elections.

So while gombeen men make it seem easy to convince voters that they are more trustworthy than the usual politicians, Trump has shown us all that it takes a considerable (and possible uniquely Irish) skill set to maintain the line between straight-talking and ranting without alienating the media and less extreme voters.

Trump began his campaign in gombeen style with virtually no policy interests and lots of controversial ‘straight talking’ air time. Although he was technically a party nominee, he never really felt like a member of any party. He has no policy platform based on facts, plans or experience. Statements about terrorists, immigrants and plans to build a wall on the U.S. – Mexican border with Mexican funding are as far removed from public policy as Danny Healy-Rae’s claims that global warming is not real or Michael’s claims that the Gardaí should dole out drink-driving permits to rural pub drinkers because drink-driving is a made-up problem in Ireland (the Healy-Raes own a rural pub).

Many Irish politicians and commentators have argued that Healy-Rae style politics is damaging to the national interest by ultimately blocking policy decisions that might benefit the Ireland as a whole in favor of local interests. Their ‘local’ interest is to expand their voter base in Kerry and translate this into increased local and national offices. To be fair to them, most international political commentators now argue that Trump style politics is damaging to the U.S. national interests for far worse reasons!

Of course he had a different schtick than the Healy Raes because he’s not hiding his wealth but we have to factor in the cultural differences here. Trump’s number one asset in the U.S. is that he’s rich but his boastful wealth would be a hindrance in political life in Ireland and would it make it impossible for voters to buy the “I’m one of the guys the locker room” talk and trust him (especially while suffering from the Celtic-Tiger champagne hangover).

Trump has now left the likable gombeen track and is completely off-roading in uncharted political wilderness in the U.S. He made some crucial mistakes when he went from calculated ignorance to galvanizing hate and bullying. Gombeens have to carefully calculate how controversial their outrageous publicity seeking statements are in order to maximize press coverage and unmanaged non politician image but rather a regular honest man who just says what’s on his mind. Danny Healy-Rae has received international coverage for outrageous and incorrect statements about climate change being a hoax which he claims is proved by the story of Noah’s Ark (Please look this up, it’s brilliant) and Michael Healy-Rae put forward a motion to make drunk driving legal in certain circumstances where old men and rural pubs are involved (for example their own pub in South Kerry).

Trump has lost the art of being controversial and straight talking by being hateful towards groups that are generally seen as easy targets by a bully.  Gombeen men make ignorant comments, but they save their ire for the smug politicians and elite of the Pale in Dublin and certainly know better than to bully vulnerable groups like those pesky people with disabilities and victims of sexual assault.  How unfair that the media and public tend to take their side!

Trump is shockingly less calculated then the Healy-Rae boys with his late-night tweets, rants and general buffoonery. The Healy-Raes don’t even have a real office – they hold clinics in a pub and their public relations management puts him to shame. Maybe he and his professional political advisers and strategists (assuming he hasn’t had them all beheaded or locked in a tower by now) could use a trip to Kilgarvan in order to see how you win elections without addressing any real policy issues.  A few pints and easy singles slices might just be what this election needs to turn things around.

The Civil Service Girls

When do you stop being a ‘girl’? It seems to me that if you work in the public sector in Ireland, than you will be a ‘girl in the office’ until retirement. Is this sexist or just a another cultural difference that I don’t quite understand? While it doesn’t seem to bother anyone particularly but me to hear grown working women referred solely to ‘the girls’ or ‘the girl, I can’t help feeling it represents a systemic disrespect in the Council that I worked in that goes beyond language.  Now this would certainly not the first time that I would be accused of taking things too seriously and making too big a deal out of equality stuff so I am open to the possibility that I am simply missing the intent.

So who is a girl and who is a non-girl? I would hope as a non-girl, that I’ve reached woman status but I suspect there could be other less endearing ways to refer to us non-girls!

Do you have to be young, sweet and single to be a girl? No, doesn’t appear to be any correlation to age, temperament nor marital status.

You can be a bitter, frumpy, 45 year old with a man’s haircut and a mustache and still be a girl if you sit at a certain desk usually surrounded by other ‘girls’. In fact, it took me a while not to laugh when I heard some women referred to as girls because they were so far beyond being girls it seemed ludicrous to pretend otherwise.

Is it a sign of affection and endearment used by men for women they’ve worked with for years? Possibly. Is it just common Irish slang, like referring to men of any age in certain contexts as lads? Possibly but I don’t ever hear anyone referring to a meeting of the Senior Management Team or Directors as ‘the lads are meeting in the conference room’ so it seems to have more significance than simply being an expression although that is the preferred explanation when pressed.  Most commonly men and women are referring to ‘the girls in the front office’ or ‘the girl at reception’ who they are offering up to provide some admin or secretarial support or make tea and coffee.  The context is what makes the language sexist.

These positions and employees are always women. It is hard to compare how a man would be treated in a similar role because simply there appear to be no men in clerical roles. They are just so good at administrative and clerical tasks that they fly through the grades and receive promotion after promotion despite that fact that I’ve worked with numerous life long civil servants who couldn’t’[t write a letter or even seem to type and have zero phone skills. Hmm?

A clerical officer once asked me “Don’t you have someone who does all this for you?” referring to sending emails, making phone calls, updating outlook calendars, and reminding her boss to ring or meet people. I couldn’t help laugh and replied “I don’t know any woman who doesn’t do all that stuff herself and come to think about it, I don’t know one man who does.”

I hope this culture is simply just the leftover sexism from an all around out-dated and unfit for purpose Irish public sector.  Is everyone a ‘girl’ in the private sector? Is the American civil service any different? Or am I just an uptight Yank missing the point?

The Local Battleaxe

There is a new unwelcome addition to our local Parent & Toddler group this year.  She is not a new mother and definitely not a toddler.  She is granny age but most certainly not a doting grandmother.  She has the sour face of Nanny McPhee but none of the magic nor even the interesting nose and wart.  She is not a well-intentioned volunteer.  She doesn’t clean, cook or welcome visitors to the community hall and tourist office.  She is the most dreaded type of matriarchal figure in village life – the busy body.

I think Battle-Axe is an American term or maybe even more local to the Boston area or perhaps New England.   While there are battle-axes in the US, I have to say Irish women of all ages are the most impressive battle axes I have ever met. The ‘Sister’s” on the hospital wards are probably the original cross between matron and nun that strikes fear in patients and visitors (probably Doctors as well). I have never been able to just ‘leave her at it’ and get along with this type which I think they can sense the minute they meet me and are therefore even ruder than usual to me.

Battle-Axe – Busy body = stern, brusk, dour face, usually squinty eyes behind thick frames (not designer geometric thick frames) who usually has short tight hair and appears stocky regardless of height and weight.  She is partial to the sound “hmph” and phrases like “I tell it like it is” or “No point beating around the bush.”  Her social graces reach as far as a “Who are you?” or “Who are you married to?” – both said in a voice that leaves no doubt of her real meaning, “What are you doing here and why should I bother with you?”  She acts busy and in charge of everyone and everything around her but do not try to find out what she actually does.

Initially everyone assumed our new busybody  was supervising the three women who have always cooked on Monday mornings in preparation for serving the elderly their lunch on Tuesdays.  As in supervising on behalf of the community group that runs the center or on behalf of Fas, the job agency that provides them work experience and pays them.   I suspected straight away she wasn’t a real supervisor – more the self-appointed matron or warden.

Then as we quietly asked each other “Who is that one in the kitchen?” The women who grew up in the village passed a few discreet comments – “No, she’s not on the community committee, no she’s not supervising the staff either, no she’s not a volunteer.” It takes a while to get to the truth in polite Irish company especially when someone is trying to relay what is a generally accepted but unofficial fact of village life.   Eventually her status was confirmed in hushed tones.

“She has nothing to do with the hall or the kitchen – she just thinks she runs the place.”

This beauty has a group of grown women and mother’s avoiding the kitchen and running to the bathroom sink rather than risk her disapproving demeanor. So far she has told the woman volunteering to run the group that we are not allowed to sit on certain red chairs-apparently our rear ends are more destructive than the elderly people who have dinner there on Tuesday.  She has stuck up a lovely sign – No Children Allowed on the kitchen door to ensure we don’t have the babies making coffee and scones while us moms chat.  She has removed the rubbish bin while we are there in some attempt to make us bring home our orange peels, snotty tissues and Liga wrappers. She pretended to mishear us ask the cooks for a tea towel to dry up the cups we use and wash and then insisted that we have our own somewhere in a bag.  I assured her three times that we do not have a pack of our own towels we bring but she just barked over me repeatedly that we have our own.  No way am I buying tea towels to bring to a community kitchen.  So while one poor mother goes down the hall to the toilet to empty our Aquadoodle pens and another shops for tea towels, I am planning how best to irritate her next Monday. Any ideas how to hassle the local battle axe?