The political and cultural landscape has changed almost beyond recognition since the Hog first exited his pen – and took up his pen. But there is no getting away from some eternal truths.
Things change, things remain the same. In the beginning, before the first month was out, Fine Gael had a new leader. Yes, there was a general election in June 1977 and the ruling National Coalition of Fine Gael and Labour were soundly beaten by Fianna Fáil, led by Jack Lynch, who had made a series of irresistible promises to the electorate. Liam Cosgrave resigned as leader of Fine Gael and was duly replaced by Garret FitzGerald. We here on Hog Heights were pleased to see the back of Cosgrave. After all, as well as his general conservatism he had, after all, crossed the floor of the Dáil to vote with Fianna Fáil against his own Government’s Bill on contraception in 1974. In retrospect we were probably unkind. After all, the man was a spent force. Besides, he had done good things too. He is still with us and over the years has accrued a patina of experience and knowledge, respect and even affection. We wish him well.
Another target of our early ire was the visit to Ireland by Pope John Paul II in 1979. It wasn’t just the disruption, it was the whole kit and caboodle, the arrogance, the assumptions, the missionary intention to re-evangelise Ireland. JPII was cheer-led in Galway by Eamonn Casey and Michael Cleary. We gnashed our teeth and pulped our spuds. Although it was exactly what we desired we didn’t foresee the fall that was to come.
If the present pope visits Ireland he will encounter little of that world and we are all the better for it. He will doubtless be welcomed as the spiritual leader of the Church to which many Irish still profess attachment. He will also be welcomed as an important voice on the global stage on equality and global climate change. His glum expression when meeting Donald Trump spoke volumes as did his evident pleasure when meeting Michael D.
It hasn’t always been easy bearing witness to the twists and turns of the world and of Ireland over these decades. There are swings and roundabouts. Snakes and ladders, smoke and daggers.
Early on, the foibles of humanity featured in our thoughts, the daftness and futility of life and the knots that people found themselves bound by. It was often funny but taken in the round the focus was essentially humanistic. There was exasperation but there was fondness too.
The Troubles were never far away and this became an increasing preoccupation for the Hog in the ’80s especially, as the column grappled with the violence and tried to tease out the thinking, motivation and histories driving the conflict. To solve a problem you must understand it and for a long time few seemed willing to move away from the safety of received positions.
This column was one of the first to question the republican presumption that they acted on all our behalf. Not in my name, we said, and no amount of historical sophistry can be deployed to change our mind on that. It was a point taken up in Hot Press interviews and subsequently the wider discourse. Rage at the callousness and brutality of bombings and shootings and sectarian cleansing and criminality along parts of the border gave way to recognition that something new and extraordinary was afoot.
When it came, and for all the fears and reservations and false dawns, it changed everything and while the Hog has already acknowledged this it is also right to do so again: people on both sides, and especially the paramilitaries, looked into themselves and their articles of political faith and found a way to see and then do things differently and they deserve our heartfelt thanks for that. What a shame that this great achievement may be undermined by Brexit.
The continual flood of revelations also fuelled the fires up on Hog Heights. Great investigative journalism uncovered many truths and lies. Progress was often slow but with hindsight we can now see that even when things stalled other layers of knowledge were uncovered.
By way of example, the capacity of leaders of the Catholic Church to economise on truth and even mislead was revealed when Cardinal Desmond Connell, himself a highly regarded Church intellectual, revealed the concept of mental reservation, a mechanism whereby church figures could lie without lying.
But for all their great contributions the media could also mislead and be (perhaps willingly) misled and we have long been critical of the arrogation by both the media and their senior figures of quasi-episcopal roles. The new hierarchy and moral arbiters, we called them, and we were, and continue to be, right on that.
Naturally, the Hog also pondered the troubles of the earth, the role of humans in making them worse and the ways in which humans might mitigate the disasters that may ensue. More than seven billion people live on this planet and if they all live like Americans then the world is fucked. They can’t and we can’t and Americans shouldn’t. But that’s not to say that everybody can’t live well and in harmony with the planet. They can but getting to that point is one of the top four challenges over the next 40 years.
The other three are firstly, maintaining our democracies and egalitarian values in the face of the power of billionaires and social media giants, secondly defusing and disarming fundamentalists and narcissists of all kinds and thirdly harnessing technology to work with us and not against us.
The Hog has also devoted a lot of space to technology. What we have now wasn’t dreamt of when we kicked off. People would have scoffed had you suggested that one could video-phone one’s family in far flung foreign fields while walking away from a football match that they too had watched on their computer or smart-phone, but now you can.
So, yeah, change, both good and bad, is constant and ubiquitous. I could have lived without reality television but what the hell! Likewise what has stayed the same.
When it all comes down, most of us pull on the shirt and do the best we can, to feed our families and ourselves, to have whatever craic is to be had, to leave the place as good as, or better than, the way we found it, right? So too the Hog.
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