John Arnold: Will PC brigade force us to change song lyrics now?

Political Correctness, or PC, has affected every facet of society, so says John Arnold in his weekly column
John Arnold: Will PC brigade force us to change song lyrics now?

Bridie Gallagher, left, in 1960. Will her song The Boys Of The County Armagh now become The People From The County Armagh?

I LOVE a good sing-song and in normal times I’d surely attend such an event ten or 12 times a year. Songs that reflect the history and traditions of Ireland are my favourites.

A few years back, I set myself a goal to learn a song about each of the 32 counties! At the time, every Monday night for July and August, there used to be a great Comhaltais ‘Seisiún’ in the Adair Hall, Fermoy.

Fermanagh and Laois I found a bit problematic, but eventually an old song, The Enniskillen Dragoons, and a new song, Lovely Laois, completed the collection for me.

So, one Monday night I sang a verse from 32 songs, ’twas mighty. That was only four or five years ago, but lads how things have changed!

I’m not talking solely about the Covid pandemic but the way this ‘thing’ called Political Correctness, or PC, has affected every facet of society.

 You hear people say, ‘Now John, you must mind your Ps and Qs’, yeah right, but what does that mean at all, at all?

Now, I see a big distinction between political correctness gone absolutely mad and movements like the Me Too campaign. I am a fulsome supporter and advocate of Me Too because for too long sexual abuse in its myriad forms was brushed aside, hidden away, whispered about, but not spoken openly.

It was a case of out of sight out of mind, and the blowing open of the veneer of respectability in the film industry and in showbusiness has to be welcomed. There are no excuses, no ifs or buts, when it comes to sexual abuse — no matter what the circumstances and regardless of the perpetrators.

Getting back then to my singing repertoire, I now find I have to be very careful with my choice of lyrics, even those regarded as old classics. One has to so careful not to offend anyone, especially what I term the ‘PC Brigade’, who seem determined to ‘cleanse’ our daily conversation of even the slightest reference to anything pertaining to either gender.

Gender neutrality is the buzz term and while I am a firm believer in equality of the sexes, that in no way means we have to avoid mentioning either.

One of my all-time favourites and a great party-starter was the song made famous by Bridie Gallagher The Boys Of The County Armagh, sorry, now it has to be ‘The People From The County Armagh’!

It’s a rousing song and always stirs the emotions with vivid descriptions like ‘Where the girls are so gay and so hearty’ — naturally, we can’t have that in today’s Ireland, and if we substitute ‘boys’ for ‘girls’ it’s not much better!

In fairness, you could call Francie Bellew, Jarlath Burns and Geezer ‘hardy’ but hardly ‘hearty’!

I used often give a blast of the Holy Ground made famous by The Dubliners but that’s gone on the naughty list now also.

Fine girl you are! You’re the girl I do adore

And still I live in hopes to see the Holy Ground once more

Fine girl you are

I know, I know, in this day and age one cannot make comments like that, even though they are kind of complimentary, but apparently the appearance of a person is now out of bounds when it comes to descriptive terms.

Another song I loved was Paul Brady’s The Island, about war and conflict and carnage in Lebanon. Now seemingly the moralisers in the PC movement want to ban this verse:

I want to take you to the island.

And trace your footprints in the sand.

And in the evening when the sun goes down

We’ll make love to the sound of the ocean

They contend it smacks of female entrapment. ‘Why didn’t he take her to the seaside or a lake? No, he wants to take her to an island where she cannot escape and then to have his way with her’.

Another great song of emigration, The Boys Of The County Mayo, is to be indelibly altered also:

So boys pull together, act each like a brother.

The sanitised, anodyne version will be:

So persons pull together, act each like a sibling

But where will it all end?

I’m afraid that ‘the maid with her lover the wild daisies pressed on the banks of my own lovely Lee’ will be seen by some to be overly and explicitly suggestive!

Often, at a hurling or football match, there might be a bit of a schomozzle, as the late great Micheál O Hehir would call it, and you might hear an excited fan shout ‘Up ya boya’. Naturally, this will not be acceptable in the future.

The GAA may issue tickets for the All Ireland Finals this year only to those with at least two certified Covid vaccine injections taken and a written undertaking not to utter phrases which could be offensive in respect of non-compliance with gender neutrality etiquette.

Last Saturday morning, I was in a local… well, we’ll call it a nearby store, getting a few farming bits and pieces. Being Saturday morning and they closing at one for the half day, it was very busy. Customers and staff were all masked, plenty hand sanitizer and social distancing was being well observed.

Well, I was at the far side of a long L-shaped counter with Perspex between us and those on the tills as is required. Just one customer was in front of me at my side. Maybe 20 people were there in total.

The door swung open and in walked a woman I knew well, she lives not far from our place. Across the crowded room I winked at her and she winked back at me. I was next up to the counter. She was getting flowers and plants at the other side.

When her turn came, just as I was about to leave, she spoke to the shop attendant — oops, when she spoke I realised she wasn’t who I thought she was, the masks cover a lot of peoples faces!

I said: “Sorry, I winked at you there a while ago, I thought you were someone else, someone I knew.”

She laughed and replied: “No problem at all, I never mind when a handsome man winks at me!” and off she went and the two of us laughing! Sure, I was feeling six feet tall after such a compliment.

In fairness. for the past five months I looked like an ancient woolly, hairy mammoth but the day before a family member in our ‘pod’ had tidied up my head and I probably looked quite dapper — from a distance anyway, as Nanci Griffith might say!

I suppose the PC moral police would have frowned at the very prospect of a man like me winking at a woman like her! 

But what could we do? Hugging and shaking hands are banned and we were too far apart to touch elbows, and in fairness I didn’t want to shout a greeting across a crowded room.

There we were in broad daylight, two consenting, winking adults, sure what was the harm in that? Was there a brief fission, even a hint of a spark of sexual chemistry, yerra no, ‘twouldn’t light a 20 watt bulb for ya! But it made my day.

Some enchanted morning, you may see a stranger

You may see a stranger across a crowded room

And if she winks at you and you wink at her

And you go your way and she hers

Sure ‘twas just a bit of innocent fun.

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