Tuesday 8 March 2016

Bad Day at Blackrock

I could be referencing the classic 1955 Spenser Tracy film in which the one-armed war hero exposes the Black Hats and takes one of them down after being bullied.  But BDaB was also used as the title of a 2008 novel by Kevin Power.  The novel went over, in fictionalised form [must avoid a libel suit], real life events from 8 years earlier when Brian Murphy, an 18 year old student, was involved in a fracas outside a famous Dublin nightclub and finished up dead from a tonk [repeatedly kicked and punched while on the ground didn't help either] on the head that caused cerebral edema.  It was a cause célèbre and great fodder for the papers because the principals in the tawdry and shameful melée were from very comfortable middle class backgrounds, fee-paying schools and played rugger for fun. Power's tale didn't claim to be the Truth but it was widely seen as having the ring of truth. If boxing is a licence to ape Achilles and Hector, then rugby football is sublimated violence of a tribal sort. And both of them are likely to result in someone sustaining CSE contact sport encephalopathy.  Don't get me wrong, it's okay for young men to puff out their chests and have a brawl: they are primates awash with testosterone.  If they are going to do it though, let it be in the cold light of day recorded on camera rather in the dark with lots of sharp and hard objects in the frame and lots of drink on board. Drink? Club Anabel said they were very sorry and wouldn't be offering 3 for the price of 1 cocktails in future, but only because new legislation made the practice illegal.

If your actions result in someone else getting hurt, then you need to own their pain. If you can vote you can hardly claim diminished responsibility. What actually happened was that the witnesses massaging their memories of the events and the families of the accused lawyered up and did everything they could to prevent their boys suffering any inconvenient consequences for their behaviour. Eventually one chap was sentenced to four years for manslaughter and two others were convicted for violent disorder.  Even those sentences were quashed on appeal. Those involved protested when Power's book brought all the events back into focus when raw memories were beginning to scab over.

There's another Bad Day at Blackrock which hasn't been written yet but which I can piece it together from some circumstantial evidence and write a story that has the ring of truth and may make us reflect on a man-eating serpent in the midst of our society.  We were down in Cork visiting Dau.II over the weekend and we had a long invigorating walk along the River Lee where it widens out to become Cork Harbour. We parked at Blackrock Castle [L] which hangs romantically above the channel on a natural promontory.  After the walk in a biting Northerly wind we repaired for an enormous lunch at the Café in the castle courtyard. It was all delicious and the waitron was engaged and well informed. With two daughters in the catering trade we recognise quality . . . big tip.

But here's the thing; on the way up to the castle I leaned out over the wall over the bit of a beach, looking for buoys, and saw a tinplate sign fixed to the sea-wall promoting the Samaritans.  Feeling crap? phone this number, we're here for you, we will listen. [I paraphrase]. It seemed a peculiar place to put a sign where the only person likely to see it is a deckhand (with binoculars) on one of the container ships passing up-river to the port. On the other side of the wall, where every passing car and pedestrian can see it, is a discrete in memoriam sign for a young chap who died at the age of 26 a few years ago.  Surely there is a relationship.  Is that sheltered and secluded bit of scrubby beach, with a view of the river as a metaphor for the wide and impossibly distant world, the place where the young chap decided to end his pain?  Was his pain made worse by an uncaring, competitive peer group that didn't include him in their brawls games?  Or did some bigger blokes take out their own unhappiness on him? Road fatalities seem to be an essential item in the calendar of Irish news reporting and they are going down in a way that must gratify the National Roads Authority, Insurance Companies and of course the devastated families left behind. But there is no real shame in driving like a mad thing, or with drink on board, so that you kill yourself and others.  Suicide is both lonely and shameful and it takes an epidemic of such deaths to make the national news.  If we could 'out' clinical depression and expose it as a treatable problem the way Bressie has been man enough to do, then maybe we can begin to deal with suicide the way we are getting to grips with car-deaths.

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