I met with Napper Tandy and he took me by the hand(fromThe Wearin’ of the Green by Dion Boucicault)
and he said, "How's dear old Ireland and how does she stand?"
"She's the most distressful country that you have ever seen
they're hangin' men and women there for wearing of the green"
If you met John Waters author of Give Us Back the Bad Roads just out published by Currach Press he would tell you the same thing only the wearin’ of the green would be the values of an Ireland represented by his father and the hangin’ the attempt at his reputational destruction by fellow journalists. Luckily though he has a very accurate litigation rifle and caused some not very smart people to smart in the wallet Not that he was after a pay day as he explains. He was described as a ‘homophobe’ by a drag queen on a popular chat show that goes out pure live. The host did not attempt to challenge this characterisation which had and has no basis. At that point an Apology was sought to be broadcast the following week. The form offered by the legal weasels of R.T.E. was of the ‘we regret’ type. They played it out and were eventually brought to the point of settlement on foot of definite court action. His colleagues in journalism did not support him as it is supposed to be bad form to sue when you’re a journalist because as you know suing is ruinous for newspapers being a limitation on what they can print. It sends the wrong message.
Running contrary to the liberal consensus gets you into trouble when you work on the Irish Times, the paper of record. The Byzantine machinations of its hierarchy as they practiced what Sean O’Faoilan called the Irish art of palicide is told viz. ‘the art of drinking to your friend with one hand while stabbing him in the back with the other’. The story has a darkly comedic aspect to it particularly his encounter with the Religious Affairs correspondent Patsy McGarry at Waters’ mother’s funeral. Fintan O’Toole, Ireland’s one and only public intellectual of the Western world adds a sly Gramscian note to the liturgy.
John Waters supplied the conservative counter to the Times line on gay marriage and abortion. You might well say that was his role as a columnist. Unlike Paul Claudel he was not forgiven for writing well. He left in 2014.
If it was all just this then it would be a dispiriting read even if at the end calumny and detraction were vanquished. The book has a hero, Waters’ father and most alternate chapters focus on him. Does John mention his name, he may have but I choose to believe that he didn’t for his father is both a man and fatherhood, the good connection of a son working with him and not talking about it, not ‘sharing’. The grinding of the valves of an engine that his father set him to do when he was 12 was a way to condition his spirit and to show him that patience was all the strength man needs.
The job went on for weeks and then months, with occasional breaks when you were feeling unwell and I was required to come along on the run to help with the mailbags and the newspapers and the day-old chicks and the 80-year-old passengers. This was a welcome relief from the grinding and yet I remember going back to the task afterwards with a new zeal. The progress on any given day was so infinitesimal as to be undetectable......
But even towards the end, as I was beginning to note the fruits of my somnambulant exertions, you were relentless. Every evening you would return, shove up your glasses, peer expectantly at the valves and their seatings and pronounce: “More grinding”.
Eventually the valves pass:
That Sunday, we reassembled the engine, restoring the block with its new gaskets and the other reconditioned parts you had prepared. I remember watching you as you wired in the battery and connected the jump leads. The engine burst into life with a thunder of protest and a ferocious belching of smoke. It spluttered for a few moments, then found a rhythm and calmed down to a purr. We stood there listening to it, without speaking, each paying attention for any telltale irregularity. There was none. You nodded. “It might not be so bad,” you said. I don’t think you ever praised me so highly. To be standing there together in the balm of that noise, knowing what it signified and what it had arisen from, we were united in a way that would never be erased.
His relationship to his daughter Roisin and shared access with Sinead O’Connor, her mother, was gained by a court process which one gathers made valve grinding seem a pleasant hobby. Non disclosure agreements I surmise oblige silence on that subject. John has been a lone voice in support of father’s rights which are often ignored in court proceedings.
How does Ireland stand? Making great progress going backwards is the answer to that. I got this book on Friday last and finished it on Sunday morning, all 428 pages of small print. Nicely produced with a superb photo on the cover of the author’s father pulling an engineless Model T after him with a rope. The car is packed with children and young lads.