This week I naturally can’t resist poking fun at Mrs. Clinton’s protestations of poverty. I go at it in a roundabout way, though, first summoning up some Irish ghosts:
The nation nowadays called the Republic of Ireland got its start in 1922 when the 26 southern counties of Ireland broke away from Britain and attained self-government.The full Radio Derb playbill:
For the first few decades of its existence this new Ireland had a most peculiar national ethos. The Irish government encouraged its people to take pride in their own poverty and backwardness, as if these were marks of virtue, or perhaps divine grace. The most extreme statement of this attitude was uttered by Ireland’s Commerce Secretary Patrick McGilligan, quote: “People may have to die in the country, and die through starvation,” end quote. When you consider that the great famine of the 1840s was still within living memory, just barely, that was a pretty shocking thing to say. Even Irish nationalists of the time thought it was a bit over the top.
And of course this pride in poverty held Ireland back while the rest of Europe moved ahead and Ireland’s more energetic sons and daughters emigrated in droves. And, also of course, the professional revolutionaries and ideologues who were running Ireland were in no danger of starvation themselves, not at all.
The Irish writer Flann O’Brien wrote a satirical novel about this period. He wrote it in Gaelic, with the title An Béal Bocht, which means “the poor mouth.” This is an idiom in Irish. “Putting on the poor mouth” means talking up your own poverty for moral or financial advantage.
It’s a charming little book, if you don’t mind satire. The narrator describes one character thus, quote: “He possessed the very best poverty, and hunger and distress also,” end quote. If you like your books to have some uplift, though, I’d better emphasize that this is dark satire, of a very Irish type. Patrick Power, the translator, says in his preface to the English edition that, quote: “The key-words in this work are surely ‘downpour,’ ‘eternity,’ and ‘potatoes’ set against a background of squalor and poverty,” end quote.
Well, that’s probably more about modern Gaelic literature than you wanted to know. What brought it to mind was a news story this week about our own dear Hillary Clinton …