Brendan Behan’s poster on a Dublin alley wall has a message you might want to send to the Minnesota legislature, or the U.S. Congress: “I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.” Roads, anyone? Food stamps? Heating assistance?
History and culture permeate Dublin’s streets, lanes and alleys. Brendan Behan’s poster is part of the Icon Walk. The Icon Factory artists’ cooperative created this public art in 2010 to celebrate Irish cultural heritage and to reclaim “these neglected crime ridden streets and laneways” in the Temple Bar cultural area. They knew, they said, “that Ireland’s economic slump had depressed many of us and we sought to remind people of the riches of our cultural heritage – how we had riches aplenty across our cultural spectrum.”
The cultural icons include Maud Gonne, who “opened the door of twentieth century politics to Irish women” and also exemplifies 1920s Irish fashion and artisanship. “We produced great linen, tweed, lace, wool, leather but wore and used them in very conservative ways right up to the sixties when the world changed.”
Another wall is dedicated to “Oddballs, Crackpots and Assorted Genius.” (We have a few of those in Minnesota, too.)
Harry Clarke’s historic stained glass windows, the Icon Factory notes bitterly, are “buried behind bars in a building now in the hands of NAMA, an agency set up to protect the assets of the Irish Nation. They do this by turning the lights off and allowing this cultural treasure to go to seed. Attempts to have it back-lit for you to enjoy fell on deaf ears and we present it now as photographs in an obvious failing attempt to show a modest example of his work.”
Sounds a little like the legislature’s attempts to preserve Minnesota’s natural treasures, by restricting clean water regulations and abolishing the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizen’s Board,
“Feed your head,” exhorts another Icon Walk poster, citing a 20 year study of 27 nations that found, “Whether rich or poor, illiterate or college graduates, parents who have books in the home increase the level of education their children will attain.” The collective insists: “More important than class size, availability of hi-tech equipment, quality of teacher or school, books in the home indicated academic success and a higher IQ of 10 or more points. As little as ten books made a difference and the more books, the greater the advantage.”
The Irish produce great books, and have done so for centuries. Irish playwrights led the English-speaking world, the Icon Walk claims, as, “Between 1613 and War of Independence 1922, which won back self-rule for most of Ireland, no play of any real merit was written in the English language by anyone other than an Irish-born writer.”
Besides food for thought, another poster focuses on actual food, especially for children. In the early 1990s, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children “found that diet played an important role in educational achievement. The difference could be as much as five or more IQ points between those on high sugar, junk food diet in early life, compared with children given healthier diets with fruits, vegetables and home-cooked food.”
So — give the kids books and healthy food, and do it early. That was the guiding principle for the education bills in the Minnesota legislature this session, right?
No, wait — the legislature decided to be miserly in funding early education, and not to provide enough funding for the kids on the Head Start waiting list or the daycare sliding scale waiting lists. The special session promises to do more, but still not enough.
George Bernard Shaw’s cynicism still works a century later and an ocean away. “Democracy is a device that ensure we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” And on that note, more quotation offered by the Icon Walk artists, even though it’s from a non-Irish source:
Albert Einstein: “Only two things are infinite: The Universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”
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