Eulogy – Dr Anne Boyle

February 7th, 2019

We had the memorial service for my mother today – she died Monday, and the Irish tradition is to have a short few days of funereal rituals prior to the burial. In Mom’s case – always the non-conformist – she asked for a non-religious service and a cremation, so the last few days have been about moulding old rituals into new forms.

Much of the service was structured around eulogies from her three children, followed by reflections from those present. I think she would have liked the notion that there was no single authoritative pronouncement on her life, but multiple overlapping glimpses.

Here are the lines I delivered:

Holding court in the kitchen, sitting by the stove, or bustling about from oven to table, while children and grandchildren ate fresh-made scones with ham and cheese, or slices of batch loaf spread thick with Nutella.

Making friends out of seemingly random strangers in cafes in New Orleans, in queues in museums and restaurants, while waiting on the bench that is Eason’s windowsill.

Returning from an evening’s canvass, with tales of the voters she had connected with, listened to, and learnt from.

Mom enjoyed meeting people, engaging with them, getting them to open up about their lives, their passions, their challenges. And then she would share those stories, bringing to life the dreams and struggles of people who became part of this living tapestry – a waitress in her favourite coffee shop, who she had gotten to know in the days and months she spent drafting dissertation chapters; the families of her pupils at Hillside Park; her extended family – siblings, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

The power of stories, of narrative, had been the tool she used to ground her PhD project, to understand and communicate the role of education in the lives of members of the Travelling community. It had been the means by which she had connected intuitively with the work of theorists like Michel Foucault, fascinated by his tales of punishment, control, and institutional power. And every day, it was her skills as a listener and a storyteller that she used to bind her family together, listening to the quotidian details of our lives, and retelling them so skillfully that I had, at times, to remind myself that her version of a minor drama was second or third hand, rather than something she had witnessed herself.

Family was at the centre of her life. As she had, so many times before, in her closing days she echoed the words of her own mother, in urging us (her children) to avoid fighting with each other, and to provide support for each other, and for Dad.

She did so much for us, sacrificed so much. Maybe it was because I was such an overwhelmingly charming baby, but she decided not to return to her work in the tax office after my birth, despite being one of the first able to avail of maternity leave after the lifting of the marriage bar.

So much of our parents’ time, money, and energy, was invested in us, focused on us. Holidays spent packed together in a car, as we travelled. Travel, exposure to other cultures, and experiencing the artifacts of culture and history so immediately, was a very conscious gift, from Roman Baths and Wookie Hole in England in 1980, to exploring the Brothers Grimm during a memorable visit to Austria, the Carnac menhirs in Brittany, the Lascaux Cave paintings, Niagara Falls, the historic sites of New England when Dad was based there for work, from the witch trials of Salem to the Plymouth settlement.

It wasn’t all serious. There was the sugary indulgence of Disney World. Relaxing into the surf near Bordeaux.

While she treasured her home life, Mom was fascinated by what lay just out of sight. Some of the earliest memories she shared were of sitting with her father, as he explored a world atlas with her. As with so much else, I think her fascination with knowledge, her love of learning can be traced back to those formative moments.

She was proud of where she came from, of who she was. In the sitting-room hangs a photograph of her grand-uncle, lost at Gallipoli before she was born. Remembered still by her, by us.

She was a McCarthy. She loved West Cork, its beauty and its sense of home. She loved her parents, and was proud of the example they had provided, of generosity, of standing up for what was right.

And she had stories, always stories. Of how they were unafraid to stand up against the symbols of Official Ireland – the bullying school mistress; the priest who sought to exclude and shame others.

She brought their fearlessness with her to Galway, speaking up against the anti-Traveller barricades she passed, walking into town as a young mother, later joining the Galway Traveller Support Group, and dedicating her working life – and so much more – to the Traveller pre-school system, striving for an education system that offered inclusion and opportunity, while valuing diversity.

She was fearless and unstinting as a mother too. When I, at seven, wondered why our teacher had told us the boys in my class would do ‘crafts’, while the girls learnt to knit, she ensured I had the chance to be perhaps the first boy in Renmore Primary to learn knitting. Which is why I have in a short 36 years, already completed 30 rows of plain.

She got up early to drive us to rowing practice. She was on first name terms with IRTC staff as we sought the Flirt FM licence, with our home phone the main point of contact for our not-yet-a-station. And when we decided to follow the roads less travelled – to take a year out to work in student radio; to leave a job with a bank in favour of an Olympic dream; to move to Cambridge; to leave a job in telecoms to become a graduate student in the humanities – every time, she provided all the support we might need, and more.

She was my Mom; she was our Mom. And our Grandma; our Grandmama. Sister; aunt; life-partner. Though I think she would be taken-aback by the description, she was, as so many have reminded us this week, a lady. A fierce, funny, strong, thoughtful, loving, unconventional lady. And we’ll miss her.

An end to the Free Music Archive

December 4th, 2018

Sorry to hear, courtesy of Radio Survivor, of the end of the Free Music Archive. It’s worth listening to the Radio Survivor podcast in full, as it goes into some detail on the development, and the context within which the Archive was developed, and in which this latest development occurs.

The Archive was an ingenious move by WFMU, a tactic in responding to copyright licensing challenges that opened up conversations about radio formatting, how music should be paid for, and more.

Celebrating women

March 20th, 2017

(While I’d originally intended to publish this on 8th March, for International Women’s Day, various events intervened. Still, it’s never a bad day to celebrate the work of women, as they bend the arc of history towards justice.)

Several recent news stories have caused me to reflect on women in my life who have been working, in different ways, for social justice.

Over the last several weeks, news has spread globally about the finding of the remains of infants and children (with age estimates ranging 35 weeks gestational age to three years old) in what appears to be a septic tank on the grounds of a former ‘mother and babies’ home in Tuam. While the location and method of burial – an unofficial, unmarked cemetery, perhaps a mass grave – has attracted particular attention, this development draws attention (again) to broader questions, which have surfaced repeatedly over the last several decades. It draws attention to the way we treated women, particularly those who got pregnant outside of marriage – something that has been dealt with episodically in Irish current affairs, but each time tucked back into the recesses of public space. One particular piece, in The Guardian, drew attention to the treatment of children of mixed race – something that made them less likely to be adopted by American Catholic families seeking ‘authentic’ Irish Catholic children. My aunt published a wonderful collection documenting the experiences of mixed-race children who grew up in Ireland, largely over a slightly later period, My Eyes Only Look Out. It’s an important piece of journalism that gives a space for these people to tell their own stories.

Another piece of social justice news – this a bit more cheerful – was the recognition, by the Irish government, of the Travelling Community as an ethnic group. It has been a key goal of Traveller activists for quite some time, as part of a broader campaign seeking to defend their human rights. My mother’s PhD thesis, completed in 2014, focused on parental involvement in Traveller Preschools, and identified the manner in which these schools were viewed as ‘protected enclaves’ by parents, places where young Travellers could start their educations, grounded in their own communities. A big part of what stands out for me in the work is the pride parents have in their identity as Travellers, and how this ties into their experiences of, and relationships to, education. It’s another example of story-telling, of giving space for voice. As Nick Couldry argues, “the offer of effective voice is crucial to the legitimacy of modern democracies.” It is important that people get to give voice to their own experiences, and for such narratives to be woven into the reflective and analytical pieces that can integrate them into policy, into cultural form, into history.

Here’s some of what the parents my mother spoke with had to say about being Travellers:

Parents said they were proud to be members of the Traveller community. Even in the face of discrimination and marginalisation, they were proud of their identity. They had a strong sense of being the bearers of a long and rich tradition. They had survived adversity and they saw themselves as a distinct group with cultural norms which they held in high regard. This pride was expressed by Sally (parent, Cuanmara) when she said: “I’m proud of who I am and would never change that for anything in the world … But I’m happy.” Lucy (parent, Lisnashee) also expressed pride in being a Traveller: “I feel very proud, it doesn’t bother me who I am to be honest … I am who I am.”

Although they spoke with pride in their Traveller identity, many qualified their feeling of pride with a fatalism which indicated that, whether or not it was convenient, they were Travellers and this could not be changed. Deirdre (parent and childcare worker, Liosbeag) was emphatic in saying, “you are what you are and that’s it … you are born what you are and you die what you are,” while Sara (parent, Castletown) declared: “Everyone is happy with their own culture and we can’t change it no matter what we are.” Similarly, Lisa (parent, Seanbaile) stated: “You are what you are. I like my children to know they are Travellers, ‘cause you cannot make yourself something you are not”, while Tara (parent, Avonard) said in relation to her children that “if they found out they are Travellers, what can they really do about it, like”.

Some of the fatalism seemed to be linked to an awareness of the negative view of Travellers often held by settled people. When talking about their identity as Travellers some did introduce the notion of shame, to deny that they themselves felt any shame. Tom (parent, Seanbaile) said: “I’ve never been ashamed, like, of who I am or what I am” and Deirdre (parent and childcare worker, Liosbeag), when referring to the possibility that her son might follow the traditional trade of his father and grandfather, said: “It’s not that I’d be ashamed of that”.

Some respondents reflected on their continued identity as a community, even as some of the traditional trappings of Traveller life – nomadism, living in tent or wagon, for example – are dropped:

Many Travellers nowadays live side-by-side with settled people in standard housing, especially in towns and cities. To the outside observer there might appear to be few differences between Travellers and the settled community. Although large numbers of Travellers have outwardly assumed aspects of the settled population’s way of life, they regard themselves as a distinct community. As Sara (parent, Castletown) put it: “You are in a house like a settled person, your kids go to school like a settled person’s … [but] both communities are different.” The difference is one’s identity and sense of belonging to a distinct culture. Tara (parent, Avonard) described how an awareness of the difference between Travellers and the settled community first occurred to her:

I was eight or nine before I even copped on that I was one … I knew that they were all my people. I knew still I wouldn’t let anyone say anything about them; but you know from an early age, are you a buffer [Traveller term for ‘settled people’] or are you a Traveller.

Traveller culture differs from that of the settled community, and is reflected in a distinctive approach to family relations, in the practice of nomadism, in the Cant language, and in the practice of traditional Traveller trades.

Sara (parent, Castletown) described how support from family manifests itself:

It’s the family, like, if you come from the Travelling community and the support when you’re sick or sore. All your family has all that support. They come to you and they comfort you and at least you know that you can turn back to them. Traveller families are very very close to each other when it comes to weddings or comes to deaths or respect or all that kind of way.

Tríona (teacher, Lisnashee) gave an example of where local Travellers had rallied round to bring home for burial a member of their community who had been living abroad and who had died in poor circumstances:

They’d a big funeral there last month. Six thousand they paid for the headstone …They were so happy to bury her, to bring her home and to bury her. I mean, she was an alcoholic but they didn’t deny her. They brought her home.

Indeed, this support from the Traveller community can sometimes give rise to tension and misunderstandings by others, as referred to by John (parent, Cnocard):

Family is the centre and for the burial everyone would chip in for the tombstone and [settled] people say – ‘Ah, Travellers are rotten with money’ and all this. They never see the poor side.

Travellers are expected to provide support to the extended family when needed and they put family loyalty above all else (Bewley 1974, Gmelch 1975, O’Hanlon 2010). As Mac Aonghusa (1993, p.102) put it, “families depend on each other for support in times of trouble and enjoy each other’s company in family celebrations”.

How many jobs does Ireland need?

November 27th, 2013

Drawing on the recent piece by Michael Taft, assessing the proportion of emigration for which the recession/response is responsible, and on some CSO estimates for population, we can see the following:

The Irish population has grown by 108,000 between 2009 and 2013.

Taft estimates a net 136,000 Irish aged 15-29 emigrated due to recession over the period from 2008 to 2013 .

That clearly leaves out those over 29 who emigrated due to the recession, but it gives us a floor.

Thus, to keep up with natural growth, the Irish economy would have to have grown by 244,000 over this period. Instead, FTE employment has dropped by 303,000. That’s a net difference of 547,000 between what would be required and what we actually see. The 300,000 the CSO reports as unemployed only tells a small part of the story. (Note, that’s partly because the FTE figures will capture the ‘underemployed’ figures, which are hidden by the simple employed/unemployed summary.)

It’s great to see increases in net employment – I’ve been seeing for the past week or two the press releases touting an increase of something over 50,000 in the last year. However, let’s not kid ourselves: we need ten times that to get back to pre-recession levels – and that’s not even accounting for the loss in purchasing power of those who are in employment. A back of the envelope estimate – assuming that population growth continues at the same pace – would suggest we’ll need another 250,000 jobs to keep up with upcoming population growth over the next five years. So, if we wanted to get back to ‘normality’ over a five year period, we’d need about 160,000 net jobs a year over that period. To put it another way: 50,000 is just about keeping up with natural population growth. Any fall in unemployment in the past year can be attributed wholly to emigration.

Primary Care Fallout

September 28th, 2012

The scandals around the Irish health minister are a constantly shifting landscape at present, with recent news including the resignation of Labour’s junior health minister, Roisin Shortall. Prior to Shortall’s resignation, I had submitted a letter to the Irish Times. Since they declined to publish it, I’m sharing it here:

A Chara,

It is unusual for a minister to come under such sustained attack, on such a wide range of fronts, as the minister for health has over the past several months. His personal judgement, conflicts of interest, and his competence in managing his brief have each been challenged by significant revelations.

Now we learn that sites in the minister’s constituency have mysteriously jumped up the priority list for primary care centers. This at a time of straitened circumstances, when the government claims to be making hard decisions in the national interest.

As a Labour Party member, too often I find myself gritting my teeth at many of the compromises of coalition. The premise of uno voce means that Labour ministers are implementing and defending decisions that often bear the imprimatur of Fine Gael far more clearly than the trace of social justice and intergenerational solidarity. Such, we are told, is the nature of coalition, of compromise. Perhaps so.

Corruption is of a different nature. The stench of personal self-interest, disguised to a greater or lesser extent, echoes through the scandals emanating from the department of health. The minister should resign. The Tanaiste must insist upon it.

Is mise,

Stephen Colbert’s lawyer, Trevor Potter, analyzes the Citizens United decision

May 27th, 2012

One of the strongest elements of Colbert’s coverage of the post-Citizens United era has been the inclusion of Trevor Potter. It’s been fun seeing just how much Potter clearly enjoys his role as real lawyer to Colbert’s fake-character-having-real-impact. This piece by Potter, originally a speech, shows his deep engagement with these issues:

I do not pretend this is a simple constitutional issue, precisely because this is where two important Constitutional values meet, sometimes head on: the First Amendment, the quintessential individual right to free speech, which we know about, and the important collective right to a functioning, representational government, which we sometimes forget is the whole purpose of the Constitution. But the Supreme Court has until now recognized repeatedly that the legitimacy of government is threatened at its core when it is corrupt, or even appears to most citizens to have a serious conflict of interest.

Compare and contrast

April 20th, 2012

People think I’m completely evil and what I’m doing is completely immoral, but at the end of the day I feel like I’m just educating people on technology.

That’s Hunter Moore, founder of ‘revenge porn’ site IsAnyOneUp, as quoted by the BBC. Compare that with the rationale provided for an ‘art’ exhibition currently showing in London:

Two Italian-born artists are showing off more than 10,000 private photographs they claim to have stolen from random people’s hard drives, part of an exhibit that also features fragments cut, torn or chipped off of iconic works by Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp and Jeff Koons.

The loot from the art-minded crime spree is intended to raise questions about what’s private, what’s public, and what makes art “art,” said curator Barbara Rodriguez Munoz, who gave The Associated Press a tour of London’s Carroll/Fletcher gallery on Thursday.

The Moore defense is one of several rather random claims made – that he avoids passing judgement (just as his most recent hosting company claims to ‘remain neutral’ on their clients’ activities), that while some are upset it provides entertainment for others, that if he weren’t doing it someone else would, and that he’s ‘just a businessman’ exploiting a market opportunity.

The artists are making a more targeted claim – that framing the project as ‘art’ with the purpose of ‘making us think’ excuses the illegal and unethical methods used to obtain their content, and the arguably voyeuristic nature of their product. But is there really that much of a difference between their claims and those of Moore, or are they both self-serving excuses for ‘doing what I want, for my benefit’, whether that benefit be advertising revenue or an artistic profile?

From O.J. to Trayvon – NYTimes.com

April 8th, 2012

This isn’t 1995. This is the good fight. This is about restoration of faith. Until there is a trial for George Zimmerman, the whole justice system is on trial.

via From O.J. to Trayvon – NYTimes.com.

Twitter / @markmackinnon: At press conference at her …

April 3rd, 2012

Twitter / @markmackinnon: At press conference at her ….

At press conference at her house, Aung San Suu Kyi was asked where Burma was as a democracy, on scale of 1-10. “On the way to 1,” she said.

Mobile operators seek to block Skype in Sweden – The Local

March 31st, 2012

VoIP software, like Skype, is a challenge for traditional telephony operators, who now have income from providing digital bandwidth, but are losing higher-margin operations, such as voice calls. Good to see the European Commission stand up for network neutrality on this one:

According to the European Commission, maintaining “net neutrality” – whereby all internet traffic is treated equally – is important and companies shouldnt be able to control how customers use the network.

via Mobile operators seek to block Skype in Sweden – The Local.