January 2004 Newsletter
This month Discovering Ireland Vacation's resident 'all
things Irish' expert and historian, Turtle Bunbury, muses on Ireland
Apparently there's forty million Americans willing to swear they're
Irish right here and now. That doesn't surprise me really. As my
last newsletter said, we've secretly been invading America since
the Bronze Age. Head west with the gunslingers and you'll find Pat
Garret, Jesse James, Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickock. Get political
and there's anyone from President Polk to JFK to Colin Powell. The
first guy to work out why the sky is blue grew up in Leighlinbridge,
County Carlow. And me? Ah me ... I am destined to be a horrendous
historical bore. My children will grow up on back seats telling
me to shut up and concentrate on the driving. It's a professional
hazard. I'm historically minded. A scientist dwells in a world of
periodic elements and algebraic formulae. A photographer divides
us into thirds and frames us with his pupils. Everyone has a slant.
I take refuge in the past. I find it a comfortable zone because
it's already happened. It can't be changed. It simply is. Only these
days we've managed to harness history and convert the past into
showbiz. Think "The Patriot" or "The Last Samurai" or "Gladiator"
or "Braveheart". A lot of historians are unhappy about these movies
because the scripts so often bear zero relation to the actual events.
But the Hollywood coffers remain chunky and that makes me happy
because if Hollywood likes history, then it means historical bores
like me stand a chance of making some decent cash.
I'm told Hollywood quills are presently scratching the final scenes
for a full blown biopic based on the life and times of Grace O'Malley,
the Pirate Queen of Connaught who famously raised a defiant finger
to the Court of Queen Elizabeth in the 16th century. I'm also told
the rampant Irishwoman is to be portrayed by no less a raven-haired
giantess than Xena, Princess Warrior, aka Lucy Lawless. Begob! Well,
you never know. Perhaps it will be a great success. And if it is,
I'm minded to write a sequel based on Grace's direct descendant,
a righteous rogue named Peter Brown, aka the 2nd Marquis of Sligo,
aka the Emancipator of Jamaica.
Here's how I'll do it. The tale will begin in the spring of 1798
when his aristocratic father's mansion in County Mayo is taken over
by the twirly-tashed General Humbert and his blue uniformed French
officers. The garlic-munching French have arrived to help the Irish
beat up the British Redcoats. There will be much talk of revolution
and the common rights of man. Ten-year-old Peter watches with growing
fascination as the French and their Irish allies march to catastrophic
defeat in the battle of Ballinamuck.
Peter then goes to a very posh English school called Harrow where
he befriends a maniac called Lord Byron who corrupts him into the
world of gambling. And he's not bad at it either. At the age of
21, he stuns the racing world when his Arabian horse, Waxy, thunders
home to win the 1809 Epsom Derby. Three years later, he wins 1000
guineas in a bet when he gallops his coach from London to Holyhead
in an incredible 35 hours. We're only about ten minutes into the
movie so far but I assure you, you'll be hooked. About this time
his father dies and Peter becomes the 2nd Marquess of Sligo.
In the spring of 1812, the dashing Lord Sligo goes to visit Byron
in Ancient Greece, takes a powerful hit on an opium bong and accidentally
stumbles upon the Tomb of Agamemnon, the King of the Greeks in Homer's
Iliad who was murdered by his long-suffering wife while sharing
a bubble bath with his mistress. Peter becomes entranced by the
splendid Ionic columns guarding the temple's entrance. "What you
looking at, Sir?" enquires Barry Flanagan, his trusty sidekick.
"Those pillars, Barry", replies Peter. "Wouldn't they look absolutely
swell back home in Ireland?"
The Napoleonic Wars are in full swing. There are plenty of ships
about. Peter befriends a swarthy sea captain and duly sets off with
the classical relics across the smoky seas to his homeland. But
somehow he's rumbled, arrested and brought before the law on a charge
of "enticing British Seamen to desert". He gets a five thousand
pound fine and is sentenced to four months in Newgate Gaol for good
measure. It's horrible in there. On the day of his release, Lord
Sligo's widowed mother marries the Judge who sent him down.
I'm not so sure what happens next. Maybe an interlude so everyone
can get more popcorn? At any rate, let's fast-forward to 1834 when
the ex-con and all round pipe smoker is despatched to the colony
of Jamaica as its brand new Governor. Slavery has just been abolished
throughout the British Empire. Peter's task is to see that the plantation
bosses of Jamaica behave accordingly. He's well placed for this.
He knows the island well. His family own a couple of coffee plantations
there. And he loves reggae. But his policy to liberate the slaves
goes down like a lead coconut with his fellow plantocracy. They
feel that paying black people to work is a disgrace to common intelligence.
Nonetheless, the Mayo man presses on with his reform programme and
by the time he leaves the island 2 years later the Jamaican people
are hailing him as the "Emancipator of Slavery".
And d'you know, all that is true. But I know. The tale will need
some fine-tuning before it gets anywhere near the silver screen.
I'll have to make Peter himself seem like a man far ahead of his
time. I'll have him arrogant as they come until he goes to prison
and then I'll rain all manner of humiliation upon him for 20 minutes
straight. He'll emerge humble but true, proud and defiant. Peter
will take the Jamaican cause to his bosom. He will make their freedom
his goal. He will speak with power and passion of the common rights
of man. He will raise his fists in the air and shout of liberty
and an end to tyranny. He will be "The Emancipator". And I will
have cracked the great chasm between historical bore and highly
paid cigarillo-chomping screenwriter. Hurrah!
until this time next month...