Sneering and sanctimonious: Purnell in Ireland

“Hello, my name’s Paddy,” said the Irish B&B owner.
“Of course it is,” says I.
“You’ll have to speak up. I’m as deaf as a post.”
“I said, ‘my name’s Richard.'”

Yes, I find myself in Ireland, the former English colony where Cromwell set about the locals with unparalleled gusto. And perhaps it is that historical echo which brings out my sanctimonious sense of superiority over the Irish. Or perhaps I’m just a twat. Hard to tell.

I came here through the sort of negative decision making which typifies my approach to holidaymaking. I wanted to go to Scotland but discovered a train to Fort William was £140. I then noticed a flight to Cork was £35, so went to Ireland instead.

People always say that Ireland is a very welcoming country. That is true. And I suppose if you’ve had as much money off the EU and IMF as Ireland has over the years, you’d be welcoming too.

Signs of the subsidy and loans goldrush, now dried up, are everywhere to be seen. The airport is a swanky glass and steel affair, opened four years ago. The city’s municipal buildings are the same way. New and shiny. Bought, but not paid for.

Bought but not paid for: Cork's magnificent airport

It was no surprise, therefore, that the main news story here is that the Irish government is trying to wriggle out of paying back the £3.5 billion loan from the IMF. Now is probably a good time to ask. With Greece rapidly descending into anarchy, the IMF may think it wise to burn the Irish debt to stop it going the same way.


I am magnificently unprepared for life in Ireland. I have arrived with no jacket, and no brolly either. And Cork, as most people know, has but two types of weather: drizzle, and heavy rain.

So, with nothing more than a purple v-neck sweater on my back (H&M, £19.99) I find myself wandering the streets, diving under awnings when the rain gets fierce. It was through this method that I entered, dripping wet, the local art gallery.

The Crawford Art Gallery has the standard, winning combination of abstract paintings, religious art and pictures of rich locals from the 18th century. Beyond all this, on the second floor, you find that scourge of galleries everywhere: the video art installation. (I don’t know who decided galleries must display this crap, but could they please reverse the edict?)

This particular video was by Grace Weir, a sort of one-woman argument against state subsidy of the arts. By unhappy coincidence, I had seen this film, In My Own Time, at the Science Museum when I worked there a few years ago. Grace Weir is Irish so I suppose it is only right that her countrymen should suffer her videos, too.

In My Own Time is one of those works which should only be viewed if it is pissing down outside, and there is nothing else to do. On that basis, I ambled in.

I remembered two things about this film:
1. It is impossible to sit through.
2. It is impossible to sit through because it has a cow-milking scene in it.

This cow-milking scene isn’t, of itself, offensive. I like a drop of milk and so it would be folly to object to seeing the process in action. But in this film it comes after 15 minutes of Grace and her black rollneck-wearing accomplice dicking about with mirrors while she prattles on about time, thoughts lifted, no doubt, from back issues of the New Scientist (that’s how she wangled the Science Museum commission).

With that dreadful prelude, when the cow-milking scene arrives, even the most hardened gallery-goer begins to suspect he or she is the victim of a practical joke. Disgusted, the viewer cuts their losses and clears out of the gallery, vowing never to watch video art again.

Which is exactly what the other person in the gallery did. I, however, through a combination of masochism and lack of brolly, stayed until the bitter end. I would have become the only person to have watched the film in full, apart from the fact that I’d arrived a shade late and missed the first few minutes.

When the film was over it was drizzling lightly, and I went for a Guinness. While supping the black stuff, I came up with this rather context-specific joke:

Q: Is Guinness good for you?
A: No, of course it’s not. Like all booze, it can give you all sorts of nasty killer diseases, but in comparison to Grace Weir’s art it is the elixir of life itself.

Guinness: good for you if you want an early grave