The Plastic Hippo

May 24, 2015

Smiling Irish Eyes

Filed under: Faith,History,Literature,Politics,Rights,Society — theplastichippo @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , ,
Wilde in Merrion Square Dublin

Wilde in Merrion Square Dublin

I was there less than two weeks ago; I saw the posters, understood what it was about and knew what the opinion polls were saying and heard the anecdotal opinions of the people I met. Yet on Saturday afternoon, as the result of the Irish Equal Marriage Referendum became clear, something utterly astonishing has taken place in Ireland. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire country has experienced a societal seismic shift overnight.

With a national turn-out of 60 per cent and with 62 per cent voting “Yes”, talk of a landslide is probably a bit of the blarney but the sands have shifted irrevocably and, to my mind at least, a Catholic State has become an Irish Nation. The figures demonstrate that a sizable majority of the population regardless of age, faith, ethnicity or gender who would never in a month of Sundays describe themselves as LGBT have voted for equality, compassion, respect and (wait for it) love as basic human rights extended to their fellow citizens.

These concepts lie at the heart of all world religions and are justifiably celebrated and promoted in Christian doctrine and in Catholic theocracy. If the referendum result wasn`t stunning enough, the reaction from disappointed “No” campaigner has, so far, been even more remarkable. They made their argument, they did not convince enough people and they now accept that change is happening. That`s how it works. If only that message could be heard by men in bowler hats in the north, state troopers in gas masks in the deep south and men in balaclavas in the Middle East. Religious and racial division is not the answer; it is the problem.

Dublin is rather good at doing public art. Apart from the fantastic galleries and museums, there is stuff on show that is real good for free. The statues on the streets are a particular joy not least because of the nicknames given to them by humorous Dubliners. Phil Lynott is known as “the ace with the bass”, two women shoppers sitting on a bench are “the hags with the bags” and Dublin had a “Floozie in the Jacuzzi” long before Birmingham did. The nicknames of a former statue of Queen Victoria or that of a current statue commemorating James Joyce cannot be reported on a family blog even after the watershed.

Perhaps the most ingenious nicknames are reserved for a somewhat quirky piece in the corner of Merrion Square in the Georgian south side. Perched provocatively on a large boulder, Dubliners refer to Oscar Wilde as “the queer with the leer” or sometimes as “the fag on the crag”. In terms of art criticism, I prefer to consider this as pragmatism and a love of poetic rhyme rather than homophobia and imagine that dear old Oscar would have loved it. Only nasty people use such terms as insults and I`m sure that Wilde appreciated Dublin irony and (wait for it) wit.

In 1912, just 12 years after the death of Oscar Wilde and just four years before the Easter Rising, Chauncey Olcott and George Graff Junior composed a cheesy ballad romanticising Ireland in a style that was popular at the time. On this May morning, at the dawn of a Celtic Spring, the lyric seems accidentally appropriate:

“When Irish eyes are smiling, sure `tis like a morn in spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing.
When Irish hearts are happy, all the world seems bright and gay,
And when Irish eyes are smiling, sure, they steal your heart away.

Congratulations Ireland; it is heartening to know that we have sensible neighbours.

1 Comment »

  1. Half a world away, we’re just as excited for Ireland’s vote on equality as you are for your neighbors!

    Comment by nmwords — May 24, 2015 @ 7:06 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: