The Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso, known simply as Ovid to his friends, is most famous among scholars for his 15-book mythological narrative Metamorphoses.
As a 13-year-old scholar of the classics (both Latin & Greek), I have a vague recollection of tracing my forefinger from left to right across the yellowed pages of this particular text with my mentor, Pádraig Ó Súileabháin, standing over my shoulder. Pádraig hailed from the Gaeltacht town of Castleisland in County Kerry, proudly it seems – keeping the Gaelic version of his name despite teaching in quite possibly the most anglicised school in Ireland. In the heady days of the 1980s, the British O-Level examinations were preferred by the ‘Ranelagh Jesuits‘ over the ‘inter cert’. Another native of Castleisland, Evening Herald sports journalist Con Houlihan, once described his hometown as, ‘not so much a town as a street between two fields’! Con had a way with words – as did Pádraig Ó.
The story my finger traced was that of a mythical King Midas who, having provided a week’s hospitality to the errant stepfather (and schoolmaster) of a friend, was offered a (somewhat mythological) wish – that everything he touched might turn to gold. The wish was granted and initially enjoyed but ultimately regretted, when Midas found he couldn’t eat without his food and wine instantly turning into the precious ore. Blinded perhaps by the arduous task of translating the ancient text, it is understandable that the metaphorical simplicity of the story escaped me at the time. It has, however, revealed itself to me in recent days.
Having played rugby at school and club level, I noted with interest in the past week that the Irish 2023 World Cup Rugby bid appears to be on a slippery slope. Despite the protestations of the bid team that all is not yet lost, I am in agreement with the contention that the recommendation of the Technical Review group, to award the event to South Africa, is unassailable. The proverbial horse, it appears, has already bolted.
I wondered instantly at the decision of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to ‘integrate’ himself with the Irish bid team at the eleventh hour. When news of his involvement reached the media a few weeks before, I had privately estimated that he wouldn’t align himself with a cause unless he had some degree of certainty of a successful outcome. That would be politically inept – at the very least, inept from a public relations viewpoint. The converse argument is that he was simply availing of a short-term opportunity – which, in and of itself, would demonstrate a short-sightedness of politically amateur proportions – lest failure be the outcome. Surely he hadn’t made a decision to get involved in an affair that was doomed to fail? What were his esteemed (and budgetarily expensive) ‘Strategic Communications Unit’ thinking? Regardless, I was confident his involvement could be safely considered a positive omen.
As the rugby news was breaking, I spotted another headline which indicated that the selfsame Leo Varadkar was meeting in the US with Apple CEO Tim Cook, in an effort to keep the Athenry Data Centre plans on track. The post-meeting press release disappointed, in that Cook was unable to provide any guarantees to Varadkar regarding Athenry. The Taoiseach attempted to gloss over the less-than-positive outcome of the meeting by stressing that the Irish Government was ‘willing to do whatever it could’ to see the Athenry Data Centre open. Reading between the lines – as we often must with ‘political‘ utterances – it was patently clear that Varadkar had failed in his attempts to assuage whatever fears Cook et al. still harbour. Tangentially, the ins and outs of the delays caused by flaws in the current Irish planning system are for another day.
Although King Midas initially enjoyed the benefits of his newfound ability to turn everything he touched to gold, he ultimately came to regret the granting of the wish – when the reality of his circumstance proved inconvenient. Perhaps Varadkar’s €5 million ‘Strategic Communications Unit’ needs to review the wishes they grant the Taoiseach, in case he ultimately regrets turning everything he touches to complete and utter shit?