March 17, 2015

A bit of Myles (na gCopaleen)

I find it very hard to conquer this neurotic weakness of mine, reading newspapers. In this (very) paper the other day I read the following:
‘The Department of Defence announces that persons who are not in receipt of a military service pension, or in possession of a military service certificate entitling such persons to a pension, must apply for a medal to the Secretary, Department of Defence. Such application will not be necessary from persons in receipt of a military service pension or in possession of a certificate.’
I’m not very sure about this. Suppose the population of this country is three million and suppose that 5,000 citizens have these pensions or certificates. That leaves a total of 2,995,000 persons who must apply for a medal. For that proprietary fraction, my own part, I have no objection (in the world) to applying for this medal, providing reasonable arrangements are made to deal with the vast hordes of people who will be converging on the Department of Defence. But I have one serious doubt. Is there not an important principal at stake here? Is it wise to compel so many people to apply for a medal? Is it judicious to introduce into our democratic civilisation the ugly word ‘must’? If I concede the right of a state department to compel me to apply for a medal today, how do I know that tomorrow I will not be compelled to call to some dispensary and swallow a bar of chemical chocolate? And the day after to have all my teeth extracted in the public interest? Do réir a chéile seadh tuitid na caisleáin.

Conceiving my liberty to be threatened, therefore, I have decided after the fullest consideration of all the relevant facts (funny how nobody bothers considering the irrelevant facts) to refuse to apply for this medal, and if need be to suffer jail or any other punishment that may be (visited) upon my head. (I digress again to remark that I am thankful that punishment is always confined to the head, which is a thickly-boned eminence and well able to endure it.)

Of course, I realise the awful futility of all this. I make a noble gesture in the cause of human liberty. I will not apply for or accept a medal. I sacrifice myself. I go to jail. I suffer. I lose weight. It is whispered that I am ill, nay, dying. People pray for me. Meetings are held. the public conscience is moved. A protest comes from the Galway County Council. There is a strike in Portarlington. Milk churns are upset at Athlone railway station. From my lone cell I issue an appeal to the people of Ireland to remain calm. High political personalities are closely guarded. Anonymous ballad-mongers sanctify my cause. The public temper mounts. Sligo County Council makes its voice heard (in no uncertain manner). The Banner County is next with a sternly-worded resolution. The Gaelic League comes into the open, calling me a martyr. Muintir na Tire dissolves itself as a token of mourning. The sea-divided Gael, meeting in solemn conclave, at Chicago, pledges its ‘inalienable community of feeling with the people of Ireland in their devotion to the glorious martyr now lodged in the citadel of Mountjoy.’

And it all works. I am released. Cheering crowds bear me from the grim fortress. It is 8.15 of a winter’s night. Grotesque torchlights enflame the city. I am wheeled away in Parnell’s coach. Massed piper’s play ‘A Nation Once Again’. Where are we going? Dorset Street, O’Connell Street, Nassau Street. The Mansion House! Doyle is there and all the boys. The wan emaciated figure is assisted to the platform. Speeches. Different people keep standing up and sitting down. Speeches speeches speeches. Then I find that some very distinguished person has walked over to myself and is talking to me. What’s this? I struggle to my feet. What has he there? A little black box. More talk. Then he opens it. A medal!

Then the crowd goes mad, but they don’t feel half as mad as I do.

—Myles na gCopaleen (Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan)), ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’, Irish Times, reprinted in The Best of Myles, 1968, Dalkey Archive Press, 1999