Making ability count

As he nears the end of his three year degree in Social Science, Alan Sheehan is as aware as any other graduate to the challenges facing him. “I’m not ruling anything out, and I’m not ruling anything in,” he states with a mixture of positivity and trepidation. The careers event I meet him at has employers from companies such as Citi, Google and Bank of Ireland in attendance, and Alan is looking forward to seeing what is on offer. More importantly, he is eager to know what will be expected of new graduates such as himself.

Alan knows that these companies will be expecting nothing less than 100% from applicants. A tough jobs market guarantees it. He knows that he can give them what they need, however, for the simple reason that he’s used to giving 100%. Sitting next to Alan is his educational assistant, who rarely leaves his side. Our canteen table allows plenty of room for the wheelchair that Alan has been confined to his entire life.

The career event is organised by the Association for Higher Education Access & Disability (AHEAD). Their Assistant Director, Mary Quirke – a nurse, turned midwife, turned career guidance counsellor – knows the additional challenges facing graduates such as Alan. The first hurdle is the way in which they disclose their disability to the employer.

Tackling this in a positive manner is half the battle, says Mary. “One person can go in and sit in front of an employer and say ‘I have a visual impairment’ and somebody else can go in and say ‘by the way I can do the job but I will need this technology on my computer because I have a visual impairment’, and after that it’s fine.” Once in the door and doing the job, Mary’s experience of employees with disabilities has been overwhelmingly positive. “If things are going fine, nobody sees it anymore,” she says.

Disclosure is one thing, but how can you disclose something that hasn’t been diagnosed. This was the case with Alan’s other disability, dyslexia, which very nearly ruined his chances of reaching third level. In primary school his teachers viewed him as “just being one of those kids that you can’t do anything about.” Things weren’t much better in secondary school, until his English and History teacher spotted his intelligence and ambition, finally seeing him as someone who wasn’t just “hanging about trying to pass his day.”

Completing his Junior Cert at 18, his college plans were dealt a further blow when his school informed him that they had no Leaving Cert programme in place for people with disabilities. “We do now; I’ll be back in September” was Alan’s response to his principle. While acutely aware of his disabilities, Alan knows what he needs to do to succeed. “I’m not a genius but I work very very hard, and that’s the key point of being disabled as I see it. I don’t focus on my disabilities, I focus on my abilities.”

Despite Alan’s perseverance and pending graduation, he now finds himself caught up in a problem that even he himself can’t control – our economy. While Ireland’s public sector ensures that those with disabilities comprise at least 3% of its workforce, the private sector has no such obligation, and competition is fierce. It is in times such as these, however, that Mary believes that companies look to the “big thinkers and creative thinkers.” This, in turn, can provide opportunities for those with disabilities to shine as they are “used to finding solutions to problems for themselves.”

Sometimes the biggest solution is to change your outlook, something which Alan is all too aware of. “One has to ponder the definition of disability,” he says. “I’m disabled, but I don’t wake up every morning going ‘Oh Jesus I’m disabled, I can’t do anything.’ That’s not part of my thinking and never has been.” Always positive, Alan believes that Ireland’s support structures, such as the Disability Support Service in University College Cork, has taken him from “being a disabled person to a person with a disability. That is a big transformation.”

Being a person with a disability, however, can still prove limiting. While the option of last resort for many who can’t find work in Ireland is to emigrate, it’s hard not to imagine that the physical and support needs of those with a disability make this option infinitely more difficult. In this respect Alan feels that he is “very lucky” that his “disabilities are very mild in comparison with others.”

Having fought hard to get to a position that many others take for granted, Alan has no plans on throwing it all away now. “I have responsibilities now not only to myself but to others, and I will do what I need to do,” he says. “If that means emigrating, that’s what I will consider.”

Hearing Alan speak, one can’t help but wonder what the long term effects of the Government cuts will have on those with disabilities. Between the reductions in Special Needs Assistants and the proposed cap on student numbers at third-level, it’s difficult to imagine that the number of graduates with disabilities will increase. Despite these very real fears, Mary still hopes that the opportunities will continue to present themselves. “If you go out and you do something well, it will work out,” she says.

While still believing that “as long as there are people with disabilities, there will be graduates with disabilities,” Alan is worried. “As a country, as a community, and as a people, we cannot stand back and say ‘Ok job done, this is as far as we can take this particular group of people’.”

Role models play an important part in all walks of life, and for people with disabilities, it is no different. To see people who have had to overcome similar challenges and succeed is heartening to all. Looking to famous dyslexics such as Cher and Tom Cruise, Alan is quick to credit their role. “This is why I’m positive, because there are people like that and they achieve what they achieve,” he says.

My conversation with Alan has come to an end. Mentioning that today is his 29th birthday, he ponders as to what his 30th will bring. When I mention that perhaps he will be 30 with a Masters qualification, his response is far more modest. “Or even better, 30 with a job,” he says. Having said my goodbyes, I can’t help but feel that Alan won’t have a problem getting what he wants. After all, he has spent his entire life showing what employers have always looked for – recession or otherwise.

Alan has shown his ability.

When hypocrite eyes are smiling

With Ireland out of the Euros and England into the quarter finals, just who are Irish fans going to cheer for next?

Charles de Gaulle once said that “patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” Not a bad quote, for a cheese-eating surrender monkey. And that’s how simple it is. You take what you want from a nation before sullying the rest. Another famous Frenchie once said “let them eat cake.” Where our nearest neighbours are concerned, however, it appears to be us who are happy to not only have one’s cake, but to attempt to eat it too.

Based on the definition above, I’m sure most Irish people would like to think of themselves as patriots but, truth be told, they’re probably as guilty as the next in their selective nationalism when thoughts of the land mass across the Irish Sea come to mind. The English get a rough time of it where we’re concerned. We joke about them, and continue to call them the old enemy amongst other – vastly less printable – things. But what is our relationship with the English, and when are we going to own up to the hypocrisy of it?

Still not sure what I’m talking about? There is no better example than football – or soccer to our American friends – to indicate just how short-sighted many Irish people can be when it comes to our relationship with the English. Where the English Premier League is concerned, a huge proportion of Irish people have indeed been there, done that, and bought the jersey – both home and away.

And all this from a subsection of Irish people who, once Ireland is knocked out of major competition a la Euro 2012, turn their thoughts to who they don’t want to see win it, namely, England. What a confused bunch we Irish are.

It’s probably time for a disclaimer of sorts. I’m not really much of a football fan. A much younger version of myself did have a fleeting interest in Serie A, the Italian football league. The team was Juventus and their star player, Roberto Baggio, was probably the original of what we would now term a David Beckham. Perhaps I was hoping I could be cool by association.

Young as I was, I still would have seen an issue if an apparent contradiction had arisen from my then-love of Italian football. Should I have held strikingly anti-Italian views in some other aspect of my young life and relished in making these known, I would have thought long and hard about my football allegiance. But I didn’t, because I didn’t.

I have a friend who for many years regaled all who would listen about his night of drinking with an English work colleague, during which he took it upon himself to dish out a history lesson concerning our countries tumultuous dance through the ages.

His story ended with the victorious assertion that their verbal jousting had brought the other person – who had probably started the night with thoughts of a few drinks and a laugh (how different they are!) – to a form of submission, with him apologising for the last 600 years of something that he had absolutely nothing to do with.

One down, 51.5 million to go. To go where, I’m unsure. But one thing is for sure, we don’t appear to be done yet. Not even close.

So, the football thing. Where football fandom is concerned, you don’t have to look much further than (Glory Glory) Man United. We Irish appear enthralled by them, even going so far as to add an additional dimension where possible and catch the action in Avatar-like 3D down the local. Perhaps the supporters have good reason to. Over the years, they’ve had many great Irish players, from Belfast’s favourite son, George Best, to Roy “Keano” Keane.

George Best is remembered for a lot of things. For playing football mostly and for womanising and drinking latterly. In both life and death, I remember reading stories of the quiet lad who couldn’t handle the bright lights and big city that was Manchester. England had been the wolf in sheep’s clothing and Georgie had innocently answered the door. When the crime scene of Irish self-victimisation turns up an English fingerprint, mea culpa is no longer a requirement. Blame the English; they did it (probably).

Had it not been for his playing for Manchester United, would we even have known how good “Bestie” was? If he had played for a team in either the 26 or six counties from 1963 to 1974 before hitting the lows that were the Los Angeles Aztecs, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the San Jose Earthquakes and the Hong Kong Rangers to name but a few, would we have known (or cared) who he was?

England gave him something. It gave him profile, and it gave us an insight into a perceived dream existence that was hedonism unchecked. Why else would so many Irish people have supported an English football team at the same time as our nationalist friends further North were trying to blow its citizens to hell? How many of those same football supporters also supported that cause, while happily making football the exception to the rule that it continues to be to this very day?

Now hating is never a good thing, but if you’re going to do it, be consistent about it at least.

This may sound flippant, but it’s far too serious for that. Based on what Irish society exhibits outwardly, our relationship with the English points of one of two things:

  1. We genuinely hold a deep dislike for the country and its people and are willing hypocrites where football allegiances and a great many other things are involved.
  2. We don’t hold a deep dislike for the country and its people but want to be seen to do so out of some ill-defined need for pseudo-nationalism when the occasion calls for it.

Look no further than the Irish ballad The Fields of Athenry. A song to be proud of normally, until a certain group of drunk proud Irish people decide to throw the words Sinn Fein and IRA into the mix, and usually at a time of the night when they’ll happily grope hug any nationality, including the old enemy.

Never do we feel so nationalistic where England are concerned than when we are within a group of people whom we believe to hold such beliefs, leading us to proactively get the anti-English sentiment flowing in a classic case of Limey lemming behaviour.

We appear to have taken the Napoleon complex and transposed it from short-arse to small country. Anyone unlucky enough to have seen a wedding or night-out end with a rendition of the Irish National Anthem has most likely squirmed as a bunch of (involuntarily) swaying participants struggle.

Attempting to still hold their pint as they clasp their sweaty hands behind their backs, the time has come to engage in the group challenge to prove who loves Ireland the most. Both our patriotism and nationalism appear to flow best when in unison with a beer tap.

What’s even more ironic about Ireland’s widespread hypocrisy is that more thought and effort appears to go into feeding the contradiction: the club choice, the jerseys, the games, the supporters club, before finally being topped off by the graft required to attain an anorak-level of knowledge about said club. The weak-willed protestations against the English that the ears are often assaulted when this is brought up lack the same level of vigour or energy.

We attempt to justify it as an anomaly, a blip on the radar.

Yeah I like English football, which I actively follow, but I’m anti-English otherwise, which is why you’ll never find me in Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Topshop or myriad other English outlets.

This quote is mine, as I’ve just read it aloud as I typed it.

Had I not done so it would be unattributed. Not because my bibliography would have come up short, but because I don’t believe these words have ever been uttered by another living soul. For all the bluster, I have yet to meet an Irish person with such clarity of thought and, most importantly, the follow-through to see their supposed conviction through.

This willingness to be happily hypocritical has a face, and in reverence to Time’s person of the year for 2011 being the protestor, it is only fitting that it’s our own version that should be the one to show it. In 2006, the Love Ulster march in Dublin ended in riots. Some of the rioters did so having that morning made the strangest of clothing decisions, adorning themselves in English and Scottish club jerseys.

Five years later and the visit by Queen Elizabeth to Dublin was protested against by Éirígí, who view themselves as an Irish, socialist republican, political group – their words, not mine. Many of their members appear to have failed to get the memo, however. Perhaps they were over in Scotland cheering on Celtic at the time.

Carrying placards which read “Britain out of Ireland”, their football jerseys made it clear that this message was not without its terms and conditions, namely to leave the Sky+ boxes alone so we can still grab the match once they’ve left. After all, how else could you explain some of the protestors wearing jerseys as they protested?

How else could those who claim their convictions to be unwavering and pure engage in such a fashion faux pas? Now don’t get me wrong, I have much greater issues with Éirígí and their ilk than their confused dress sense, but this typifies the confused nature of the Irish psyche.

Now hating is never a good thing, but if you’re going to do it, be consistent about it at least.

Let us, for one minute, forget about a shared history and think about our shared present. Almost half of our tourists come from Britain. Not too shabby, especially when we need money, and lots of it. Also less than shabby is the fact that we Irish make almost three million visits to Britain each and every year.

All that coming and going is fine, I hear you say, but there’s nothing as nice as coming home to Ireland. Well, extenuating circumstances aside, the approximately 600,000 Irish who have made the UK their home appear to be struggling on through, managing to live and, cherish the thought, even copulate with those-who-must-not-be-named. It appears that the old enemy has become the new bedfellow.

Most astonishing of all is that fact that over 300,000 UK citizens have decided to live amongst us, despite our schizophrenic attitudes toward them. For those who would rather remain at arm’s length, three million of them happily claim Irish ancestry of some sort. I think my hating is never a good thing… assertion needs a bit of an update.

Now hating is never a good thing, but if you’re going to do it, be consistent about it at least, while making sure that it’s still justified.

Those who still bear a grudge, either genuinely or otherwise, don’t want their view mirrored. They want to hate while at the same time garner the love, respect, and adulation from the object of their disaffection. We want what is exported daily as “Irishness” to be embraced; even when we ourselves view much of it with national embarrassment.

For those Irish embarrassed by the Riverdance juggernaut that came into being in 1994, other nations could not, would not, be allowed to find what we found kitsch to be just that. While at a wedding in England some of the Irish party saw fit to break into some impromptu Irish dancing, doing their best to access the part of their brains that had stored the steps learnt from classes taken in childhood.

And that was their stamp. The Irish were ‘ere 2012. True to form, they lived up to the brand, first with the drinking and then with the diddly-eye.

We do things like this in foreign countries like some sort of secret handshake. “This is us, and to hell with you if you don’t like it,” we think to ourselves. That is, of course, unless you react like you actually don’t like it. We wouldn’t be happy with this one little bit. Secretly, we want you to ask us about our little jig. We want your curiosity to get the better of you. We want your questions. We want that chance, and we want you to give it to us, even if you are the old enemy.

We watch sports on the BBC and UTV instead of RTÉ in order to see whether the commentator commits the most heinous of crimes and refers to someone from Ireland as being English or British. We want that tut tut moment. We crave it. Behind that tut tut we think “we have something you want” and we love it. We, from our armchairs, have gotten one over on them, through absolutely no doing of our own. When one of our own is seen to be winning, and revered on both sides of the water, we can hardly contain our excitement.

Another favourite son, this time from Cork, is as Irish as they come. When Roy Keane launches into a diatribe toward his own, he can divide a nation. When he ‘gets one over’ on the English, however, the majority forget his divisive nature and instantly forget that, ‘hey, he could be wrong, as he so often is when he turns his sights on us.’ We’re too busy lapping it up instead.

His draw is magnetic. By the time he left the manager position at Sunderland FC in 2008, he had helped to transform the club – financially. Irish fans had flocked, in love with the Irish domination of the club that came in the form of Niall Quinn and himself, seeing this as something truly unique.

Unique perhaps in England, but pretty much the standard when you consider the setup of our very own League of Ireland teams. But enough about them, for they don’t appear to be interesting enough for the vast majority of Irish. So long Monaghan United.

Irish fans had travelled by the bus load, literally, with his presence even resulting in the establishment of a direct air-link between Cork and Newcastle. Hold your incredulity for one more sentence, however. During the tenure of the cranky Corkonian, presentations had even been made to Cork City Council to twin the county with the English city.

This truly is unfettered fandom. But let us remember the Irish county we’re talking about here. Cork people have genuine trouble even accepting Dublin as Ireland’s capital. How many of the people on those buses or specially chartered flights would love all things Blighty? It doesn’t take an abundance of gray matter to work that one out.

I’m coming to a close now as I’ve a Union Jack that isn’t going to burn itself. Time for one last anecdote, dear reader. Irish people love Father Ted. It’s just the way it is. It is rerun nearly as much as Friends, which is pretty amazing, considering Friends reruns leave very little scheduling time free. We love the barren location that is Craggy Island, the backward locals and the harmless priests.

It’s all so very Irish, so very us. Stick around for the closing credits, assuming your sides haven’t split by then, and take a moment to notice how very English it is. You do recall you watched the originals on Channel 4, don’t you? You do remember Dermot Morgan’s near hatred for our own national broadcaster in his later years, don’t you? You do deduce that you would never have had a Dermot Morgan/Father Ted vehicle had it not been for the infinitely superior public-service broadcaster across the water, don’t you?

We Irish appear still in love with hating the English, despite the Queen’s visit, despite history being just that, and despite the hypocrisy that our football allegiances (and the rest) throw up in our faces on a near daily basis. We are truly adept at never letting the truth get in the way of some good old-fashioned mob mentality. After all, you don’t want to let the bigots down.

Do you?

New Documents – A Photographic Exhibition

New Documents - A Photographic Exhibition

An exhibition of documentary photography. A new Ireland. A new view.

Hi all,

My first piece of documentary photography will be exhibited this Thursday at the Little Green Street Gallery in Dublin 7 between 6pm and 8pm.

For further details of my document, please see below. I hope to see you there.

Kind Regards,


Title of work
The Gamble

The great Irish sell-off of the 21st century is underway. It’s not NAMA or our semi-states, our oil or our gas. Instead it’s something much more personal – our jewellery.

For ready cash, they take the risk. Family heirlooms are handed in with hopes of buying them back. They hope to never take that risk again. They hope recession won’t force them to.

The disappearance down the stairs, the hands, the players and, above all, the transactions. These are all the things I wanted to capture in my role as silent spectator.

The pawnbrokers that gave me access and the ones that didn’t. The customers that talked and the ones that wouldn’t. Regardless of the level of access afforded, I documented their existence, because they continue to exist.

The Gamble

The Gamble