“Our situation is the following. We are standing in front of a closed box which we cannot open, and we try hard to discover what is and is not in it.”
They say that Einstein didn’t speak until the age of three, a nugget which has cheered many an anxious parent, but of course he made up for that early silence later in life. Asides like the one above were dished out regularly in his correspondence.
The image of scientists hovering around a mysterious box, trying to guess what’s inside, is an arresting one, but of course it’s not confined to the field of quantum physics.
Take the locked box that confronted us all last Friday.
Spreadsheet-whisperers and date-arrangers all over Ireland sprang into action when the GAA’s fixture plan landed into their mailboxes. Straight knockout! Qualifiers! All-Ireland finals a week before Christmas! What does it all mean?
That same day we were all waking up to the fact that there were new champions of the Premier League.
As every sentient being in the galaxy — as well as the non-sentient constituency — is now aware, Liverpool FC won the Premier League last Thursday evening. To gauge by the phrasing and posing of the online reaction it appears that many of their homebound supporters, few of whom resemble professional athletes, did the actual winning. (Nasty - ed.)
In any event the full roll-out of celebration was visible Friday . . . the very same day that we had a new Taoiseach announced, namely Micheál Martin of Fianna Fail, of Cork, and of Nemo Rangers.
This is where Einstein comes in.
He spent the last couple of decades of his working life beavering away on a unified theory — a kind of cosmic key that would account for everything from gravity to space-time, from light to matter to the vagaries of relativity.
Yours truly isn’t the only person, surely, who felt that some kind of inter-disciplinary theory was also what we needed last Friday to account for the sheer volume of events — and in the middle of a global pandemic, yet.
To give him his due, the Taoiseach-elect made a brave effort to tie some of those events together.
Micheál Martin used his Twitter account to wish Liverpool fans well as they celebrated unobtrusively all over the world: “I might be a Man U fan, but it’s very hard not to enjoy the Liverpool success tonight. Congratulations to all my colleagues and friends who are celebrating! #LFC”.
I might be a Man U fan, but it’s very hard not to enjoy the Liverpool success tonight. Congratulations to all my colleagues and friends who are celebrating! #LFC— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) June 25, 2020
Granted, this wasn’t Margaret Thatcher quoting St Francis on her coronation as the queen of the night back in 1979, but you’d think it was if you were just going by the toxic rolls of social media. Aren’t you allowed to congratulate people politely? (Trick question: you aren’t.)
More importantly for my purposes, though, it was a reasonable attempt to shepherd the biggest occurrences on a very newsworthy day into manageable form — to begin tracing out a few connections, to understand how they all slot together.
That’s not conflating cause and effect. The government wasn’t formed because Liverpool won the league; the GAA didn’t issue a master fixture schedule because a GAA person is in line for the highest office in the land.
Mind you, even Einstein couldn’t find a theory to accommodate Micheál Aodh Martin’s rebuke to his father’s message (“I don’t endorse this one bit. I hope it’s their last for 50 years”). Some locked boxes you just can't open.
That Micheál Martin tweet about Liverpool and being a Manchester United fan is not perhaps most people’s notion of the politician’s sporting affiliation.
He’s a regular at Cork GAA games, and not just the high profile ones. He’s also a long-term member of the Nemo Rangers club.
Credit here to the man who spotted a tweet from Leo Varadkar which featured a portrait of Michael Collins which the outgoing Taoiseach intended to bring with him; a subsequent tweet substituting Billy Morgan in the Collins picture frame was apposite (particularly if you know how clannish the Nemo crowd can be, your columnist’s daughters included).
A couple of years ago I wrote a book about the ’80s in Cork, and Martin contributed a clear-eyed view of the economically stricken city he grew up in and an optimistic appraisal of where it was going now.
He was also honest about his own sporting past, outlining an early appetite for the committee work which keeps every organisation alive, as well as appetites many of us of a similar vintage might recognise: a night out in Chandra’s nightclub, a chipper in Douglas St, and a junior football game the following morning.
To say his predecessor as a Cork Taoiseach had a more elevated sports pedigree is no reflection on the new man, because Jack Lynch’s sports pedigree bordered on the ridiculous.
We’re fond of saying in sports terms that a particular record is unlikely to be bettered, but collecting six All-Ireland senior medals in six consecutive years, as Lynch did, is the kind of CV entry that makes you wipe your forehead (1941-4 hurling, 1945 football, 1946 hurling).
That portrait space in the new Taoiseach’s office?
There can only be one candidate for the spot, really.
The only question is a suit, a Glen jersey, or the blood and bandage?
As noted elsewhere on this page, we weren’t short of headlines last Friday.
Take the GAA fixtures, which have already caused plenty of discussion.
For one thing, the schedule released means that the inter-county championship season can in fact be run off in a couple of months.
Park the objections and observations about the change of structure and format for a second: This means that the sprawl across the entire summer isn’t strictly necessary.
In and of itself this should be a revelation fit to stop the hands of the clock from turning, but in these extraordinary times it barely gives us pause.
Still, it’s a jolt to realise that deciding the All-Ireland champions in hurling and football will take a significantly shorter length of time than it took to produce a government after the election at the beginning of February.
Looking forward to picking up a couple of interesting books. I’ve written here before about John McPhee, and The Control of Nature is one that sounds promising in its focus on how disparate groups of experts try to control the natural world.
That’s not a new book, nor is Our Towns — A 100,000 Mile Journey Into The Heart of America by James and Deb Fallows.
Don’t be put off by the slant — the authors noted that “. . . most positive and practical developments in this stage of American life are happening at the local and regional level — but that most Americans have barely heard of those developments except in the communities where they themselves live.” As we come out of the lockdown, there’s surely something here we can learn.