Departure Day; You have been warned…

by John Boland

Every cloud has a silver lining. Yes, over 130,000 people have been forced to seek work outside Ireland within two years, and, yes, more than 280,000 jobs have evaporated since the recession began, and, as if that’s not bad enough, a third of recently-polled young Irish adults have declared their intention to emigrate in 2011, yet Alan  Gallagher is able to declare “It’s been a great year for us.”

That’s because Alan belongs to Visa First, a company that organises basic arrangements for would-be emigrants and that holds regular information and advice sessions for those in search of a viable life beyond our beleagured shores.

Departure Day (RTE1) caught up with Alan as he was conducting one such crowded session in the Red Cow Inn. And while he acknowledged that people “come to our talks a little bit defeated” he hoped that  “they leave optimistic.”

Mind you, he sounded the only upbeat note in a decidedly uncheery film., the tone of which was captured at the very outset with the forecast that Ireland “will probably be in the shitheap for the next 15 or 20 years” and was reprised at the very end with a message to the nation from a young emigrant at Dublin Airport: “You’re raising another generation for export, and it’s your own fault. All of you are arseholes.”

The first quote came from Meath electrician Ray, who was leaving for Sydney after failing to find any work here. “It’s every parent’s nightmare,” his distraught mother said and Ray conceded that “it’s probably going to be hard on the mother because she’s a woman.” His father, on the other hand, wasn’t given to displays of emotion. That, according to the son, was because he was an “Irish male”, though Ray was pretty undemonstrative himself.

More affecting was Declan, who had returned from Sydney with his Australian wife to look after the family’s menswear shop in Newcastle West but was now being forced to reverse the journey, this time probably for good. Business had plummeted in the store, or, as Ray put it, “if you only see four or five customers during the day it’s a long day.” He considered himself “very, very lucky” to have a good job awaiting him in Sydney, his wife adding that “the sooner we’re out of here the better.”

Brian Hayes’s film was poignant, even if I couldn’t quite discern its purpose – beyond serving to reinforce the general air of gloom that’s now our default emotional setting. “Day by day it gets worse,” one despairing young man said, while the advice of Ray’s mother to anyone thinking of emigrating was “Go, go, go!”

Still, we could be worse off. We could be living in Haiti, as two programmes reminded us. In Haiti: Hell to Hope (RTE1) we were reminded that last January’s catastrophic earthquake had killed over 250,000 people and left a million-and-a-half homeless, a million of these now subsisting in ghastly makeshift camps. And that’s not to mention the cholera epidemic that’s erupted, or the daily outbreaks of violence resulting from a general lawlessness.

Jim Fahy delivered the narration in curiously robotic fashion, but the visual images spoke for themselves, and he located some admirable Irish aid workers to add telling and mostly frightening detail. Indeed, despite the film’s title, there seemed little evidence for hope, a feeling underlined by Channel 4’s Dispatches film, The Battle for Haiti.

Here we learned that among the immediate side effects of the earthquake was the escape of almost 4,500 criminals from Port au Prince’s main jails, which had been reduced to rubble.

These thugs, most of whom had been incarcerated for violent offences, promptly vanished into the capital’s slums and temporary camps, where they’ve been routinely raping young girls and boys and terrorising  the other inhabitants.

“I can’t put a cop in every tent,” police chief Mario Andresol defensively protested. Indeed, the skeletal police force clearly isn’t up to its task of protecting the nation’s citizens, and the indications are that the situation will only get worse – which makes the efforts of volunteers, Irish and otherwise, seem all the more noble and selflessly heroic.

John Healy: You Have Been Warned (RTE1) told the remarkable story of the London-born son of Irish emigrants who, in his early forties, wrote a much-acclaimed autobiography – The Grass Arena, which was published in 1988 and which documented his upbringing at the hands of a violent father and his subsequent life as a wino and vagrant.

There was a violence in himself, too, as he acknowledged in Paul Duane’s absorbing film, and his allegedly threatening behaviour towards his publishers, Faber & Faber, caused them to permanently abandon him and led to other publishers treating him as a pariah, though Robert McCrum, who worked for Faber at the time, seemed both sheepish and uneasily defensive when questioned about this episode in Healy’s life.

“From being a genius the week before I was suddenly a psychopath,” Healy recalled, with writer Deborah Orr  insisting that “John’s exclusion from the literary world was entirely about class.” Happily, the autobiography was reprinted two years ago as a Penguin Modern Classic, though his other books remain unpublished.

I never read The Grass Arena (though I shall now), but clearly the man is some kind of genius, also taking up chess during a spell in prison and becoming a master at it. And though he later gave chess up as too stressful, the film showed him at a recent exhibition tournament beating the fourteen other contestants as he roved among their tables and drawing with the final contestant, a computer.

But he remains unfulfilled and when asked in the film to state his greatest wish he replied: “I would like to get my recognition.” Perhaps he’ll get it now.

TV3’s Crime in Mind: Lost in the Mountains told of Annie McCarrick’s disappearance in 1993, just as the same channel had done in last year’s Vanished in the Mountains. Here, though, a research psychologist called Mary Aiken (bearing an uncanny resemblance to Priscilla Presley) and a forensic psychologist called Mike Berry tried to make sense of the disappearance by conjuring up likely scenarios for Annie.

Maybe she was meeting someone. Maybe this someone wasn’t a person she knew very well. Maybe it was a man. Maybe it was a woman. There were maybes galore, though none of them will bring the young woman back or even say where she’s to be found.

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