Christ You Know It Ain’t Easy


From top: Stephen Fry on the ‘Meaning of Life ‘with Gay Byrne; Dan Boyle

‘Christ you know it ain’t easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They’re going to crucify me. ‘

The Ballad of John and Yoko – The Beatles

Among my guilty pleasures is a predilection for table quizzes. At a recent quiz the question was asked as to what was the last song The Beatles recorded as a single only release. Mentally leafing through my record collection (vinyl records), I worked out it must have been ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’.

Technically only John and Paul were involved in its recording. George and Ringo must have been recording the B-side (the other side of the record!), George’s ‘Old Brown Shoe‘, a better tune as it happens.

A number of years earlier Lennon had got himself and the group into hot water, with his claim that The Beatles had become ‘Bigger than Jesus’. This led to bonfires of Beatles records in the US, and with that an increase in record sales in order to add more fuel to the fires. Lennon never said that The Beatles were better than Jesus, despite Jesus never having cut it as a recording artist.

The reaction to the ‘Ballad of John and Yoko’ was far more muted. Some US radio stations refused to play the song, due the use of Christ as an exasperation and the allusions to crucifixion, which were felt to be gratuitous. Formal bans seemed to have escaped the song. In Ireland it reached number one.

Ten years later, the Monty Python film ‘The Life of Brian‘ (largely financed by George Harrison) was banned from being shown in Ireland. The Irish film censor was Frank Hall. He was best known for his RTE television series ‘Hall’s Pictorial Weekly’, Ireland’s version of surreal comedy.

Earlier in his career, as an RTÉ reporter, he had interviewed The Beatles while they were in Dublin, striking quite the condescending tone. After his death it was revealed he had had a long running affair with Ireland’s favourite agony aunt, Frankie Byrne.

I include these details to support an argument that any prohibition on what people should say, hear or see, in relation to matters religious, is at best right wing virtue signalling, but at all times is an attack on basic freedoms.

In government the then Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, re-introduced a Defamation Bill that had originally had been introduced in 2006. His predecessor, Brian Lenihan, had withdrawn the bill to allow for further consideration. At that stage the bill was solely concerned with libel.

When re-introduced Ahern (at the behest of the Attorney General), brought in a new section on Blasphemy. The argument of the Attorney General was that the law surrounding blasphemy had been left in limbo since a 1965 court case, and needed to be legislated for.

The ‘offence’ would be covered by a number of caveats, making any prosecutions improbable under this provision. I despised this ‘Irish solution to an Irish problem’ approach. I spoke against the provision in my contribution to the Seanad debate, citing the ‘Jehovah‘ scene from ‘The Life of Brian’.

And yet I voted for the bill, feeling obliged to do so. The nature of being in government throws up many such compromises.

Did I like it? No. I squared my conscience by knowing that the law passed was unworkable, and that no prosecutions would ever follow. I was also given an assurance that a referendum on the constitutional provision on Blasphemy would soon follow.

I find the liberal angst heaped on Defamation Act to be largely irrelevant. The issue remains the constitutional provision. Get rid of that and we all can talk more freely.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: RTÉ

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63 thoughts on “Christ You Know It Ain’t Easy

  1. Clampers Outside!

    I rented The Life Of Brian in Clan Electrics Galway city… brought home thinking ‘this’ll be some laugh’

    “Do you want the house struck by lightening!”
    “Not in the house, you’re not watching that under my roof!”

    A somewhat slight misjudgement on what the movie meant to some, on my part.
    Dutifully, I cycled back to Clan with the VHS tape in hand and on my arrival, and to my delight, the staff had just started the movie in store, with sound! … I stood there and watched… all the way through :)

    Different times alright

      1. Frilly Keane

        It would have had a full audience in our

        The vinyl is probably still in the attic

    1. Drebbin

      Some friends of mine rented The Inglorious B*stards there, or thought they did. The tape turned out to be a porn movie set on a spaceship. Highlights included a man in a Richard Nixon mask shoving fruit up a woman.

      Another video shop in Galway referred to their under-the-counter porn stash as The Fellini Section.

    2. Mé Féin

      I was on a school tour to London at the time. All the priests and teachers went to see it.

  2. Bertie "the inexplicable pleasure" Blenkinsop

    Would it not be “Real Love” Dan, as all 4 play on it?

  3. bisted

    …Question 1: Which political parties formed the government which approved the provision of a widened blasphemy law in 2009.

    answers on the back of your supply of used brown envelopes

    all proceeds from this quiz to Amnesia Ireland

      1. bisted

        …you were in the Seanad Dan…which doesn’t really count…but your mental reservation has been noted…

        1. Lord Snowflakee

          I had the White Album and Abbey Road on there for a few weeks recently.
          Kept going back to listen to Mother Natures Son

          1. mildred st. meadowlark

            Ah, now who could blame you? Great bit of music.

            On Saturdays I tend to lean towards their later stuff, the more experimental stuff, and on Sundays I like to go back to their squeaky clean early days.

          2. scottser

            there is no finer beatles tune, and indeed life lesson, than ‘everybody’s got something to hide (except for me and my monkey)’

      1. Harry Molloy

        I watched Ron Howard’s documentary on them only last night, it was excellent and had some great footage.

        it was mostly on their early years up until Sgt Pepper. Then ends by saying they would only play one more time after pepper, though they still managed to release 5 albums (!) in four years and the last scene was them playing on their roof.

        It is truly mind boggling the musical journey those lads went on, and the cultural impact it had, all in less than a decade. They weren’t even 30 when they finished!!!!

        1. ivan

          i keep trotting this one out and i’ll do it again :)

          August 1966, they play Candlestick park in San Fran and – slightly longer hair notwithstanding – they’re still lovable moptops playing oldskool rock’n’roll (although at this point Revolver has been released)

          THREE MONTHS LATER moustaches have appeared, granny glasses are a thing and they’re starting Strawberry Fields Forever, and they’ve essentially gone technicolour.

          It’s quite remarkable. Three months.

        2. Spaghetti Hoop

          It’s a really excellent documentary (they are so hard to get right). Unrelentless song-writers. I know Lennon has his critics but I thought he was a wonderfully smart bast**d with the press.

        3. mildred st. meadowlark

          I’ll throw out the Scorsese doc on George Harrison as a recommendation. It’s a great watch.

          1. Bertie "the inexplicable pleasure" Blenkinsop

            Seconded, such a cool guy, taken far too young.

    1. mildred st. meadowlark

      Ah that gave me a wee chuckle.

      I’m a sucker for monty python though.

  4. Spaghetti Hoop

    So this post is an apology for voting in the Blasphemy Bill?
    And in the meantime, here’s a tenuous Beatles reference.
    Plus what does Frank Hall shagging an agony aunt got to do with it?

    1. Bertie "the inexplicable pleasure" Blenkinsop

      If it’s any help, first time I read it I thought he was shagging Frankie Boyle.

    2. Dan Boyle

      I wasn’t apologising I was giving a context. Frank Hall made his decision on Life of Brian on the basis of not upsetting Catholic/Christian values. On The Beatles I was going for a say, see, hear motif.

      1. Sheik Yahbouti

        Dan, a serious question. Our set up seems to be that we elect ‘legislators’ who therefore require a constant stream of bills to ‘legislate’ upon (a subject for another discussion). Given that situation, how can ANY legislator with a conscience vote in a bill which they know to be nonsense, in the vague hope that the provision will be “unworkable”? Is that not the very definition of time wasting and make-work?

        1. Sheik Yahbouti

          Incidentally, Dan, that was not a criticism of you personally – an entire Dail voted this rubbish in.

        2. Dan Boyle

          You weigh up the consequences Libel law was being improved Blaspgemy law was unimplementable.

          1. Sheik Yahbouti

            Ah, Dan, not a very full answer – which could be interpreted as “none of us give a s**t’. Care to elaborate at all?

        3. rotide

          If you read the article and the many news pieces about the Fry case, you would understand that the bill was a ‘good’ bill in that it improved the libel law in this country. The blasphemy part of it was just that, only a part of it and it was constructed for this very scenario, so that a crackpot can’t actually bring about a succesfull prosecution under it.

          What’s the actual problem here?

          1. Sheik Yahbouti

            Would you care to elaborate on what the “improvements” to Libel law in this country actually were? My question to Dan stands.

          2. Dan Boyle

            The Bill was a reaction to things like the De Rossa judgement. It has been successful in suppressing rewards of that type.

          3. Sheik Yahbouti

            I personally saw nothing ‘excessive ‘ in the award to Proinsis De Rossa. So it was a matter of political expediency and/or a judgement on the ‘worthiness’ of a litigant? DOB and Ms Kerins – Yaay. Mr De Rossa Booh?

          4. Sheik Yahbouti

            BTW, I will concede that the cases mentioned by me were not defamation actions as such, but might have been had definitions not been tightened. Nonetheless, my central question regarding our legislature remains.

          5. ollie

            “The Bill was a reaction to things like the De Rossa judgement. It has been successful in suppressing rewards of that type.”
            Prove that one to me Dan. De Rossa sued INM for libel and won €300k. There’s nothing in the blasphemy piece that would prevent tis.
            In any event, it’s not the role of government to prevent a citizen suing a private organisation like INM. I know that Denis O’Brien has had Fine Gael in his pocket for a long time, I didn’t realise until now that your government also protected this organisation.

    3. ivan


      “Hey Blasphemy Bill, What did you kill, Blasphemy Bill What did you kill”

      It’s so much better in mono, btw…

  5. gringo

    No need to make excuses for incompetence and stupidity Dan, we expect nothing else from the political classes.

      1. Bertie "the inexplicable pleasure" Blenkinsop

        Wait til you get a load of Tony Groves’ latest!

        1. Lord Snowflakee

          Shouldn’t that be “Tony Groves”? I’ve always thought he was a made up character.

      1. Sheik Yahbouti

        PS, the activities of Richard Boyd Barrett in the Dail today (a bete noir and champagne socialist on this and other media) throw into sharp relief the activities of Dan and his fellow travellers.

  6. ollie

    “And yet I voted for the bill, feeling obliged to do so. ”
    Sums up your time in government Dan. You also voted to reduce motor tax on Diesel cars knowing full well that they were a bigger risk to health than petrol. To save you time I’ve written next week’s piece for you:

    Baa baa baa baa baa baa baa baa.

    1. Dan Boyle

      It might surprise you Ollie but there are no clause by clause votes on any piece of legislation. Unless there is a specific amendment you vote on the generality of a bill. I voted for an emission based system of motor tax. I would do so again today. There were no Diesel/No Diesel votes. I’m apologise if that doesn’t help you with your obsession.

      1. Frilly Keane

        ah Dan

        good t’see ya

        there was a lad here last night that was fierce worried you wouldn’t be back near the place again

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