I am 57 today. I share the same birthday with the erotic and political Austrian writer Hertha Muller, the Jamaican freedom fighter Marcus Garvey, the writer of ‘The Corrections,’ Jonathan Franzen, Ted Hughes, author of ‘Birthday Letters,’ and the greatest living actor, though a man of complexity, Mr Robert de Niro.
Leos, the astrologist say of this day, are controlled but passionate and inclined to lose the rag. Well all generalisations are odious and, though Mr. De Niro and I do conform to some similar generalisations, I do not believe in astrology.
The time of a birthday is a time for reflection or sometimes commemoration and the literature reflect all such themes. The great song by Stevie Wonder about Martin Luther King is why we should celebrate those lives that matter.
There is a mid-70’s film by the legendary Italian film director Francesco Rossi called Illustrious Corpses. (1976). The film in effect demonstrates how many fighters against corruption in Italy including communist judges such as Falcone – murdered aged 53 – became illustrious corpses. Of course, the toxic relationship historically in Italy between the Christian Democrats and Andreotti and the organised mafia of Sicily and Naples is well documented.
Ireland, beset by the same Catholic sins of nepotism and simony, has its own mafia: the triage of the established Dublin Catholic families and action groups with their sheddings in academia; the judiciary, bankers, and lawyers knee-deep in property speculation debt; their friends and associates in the police, political caste, and social services.
I was reminded of this and other matters when I attended both the funeral parlour and the wake for Adrian Hardiman, the darling wee man, now over five years gone and the greatest Irish human being of the last 50 years at least. Lonely is the grave In Memento Mori. Tempus Fugit. Died aged 62.
Yet at the funeral parlour and the funeral itself I was struck by the overwhelming hypocrisy of many of those in attendance, not least the good Catholic bourgeoisie who of course despised Adrian for both his views and indeed his lifestyle which was of course very libertarian.
Pietistic hypocrisy. Prayers for the recently, in his case, unfaithfully departed even though you could see the smug look in many of their faces both of their own survivability and indeed in some barely concealed joy that he was gone. Not that much concealed under a mask of seriousness or perhaps sanctimoniousness.
They all ritually attended, particularly those who disliked him the most. The coterie of right-wing Catholicism and Statism was there in its fullest. You could read the minds. Another problem not to deal with. Another voice of resistance to theocratic and statist control gone. Thank God?
I was acutely conscious of the silence, having only spoken to him days previously about a piece on the rule of law I wrote for Village magazine which he was most interested in reading and in that unforgettable Jussie Björling voice of his would revert by Monday when we would meet. He was dead Sunday.
A post-birthday resolution is to read his book on Joyce and to reread Ulysses which opens of course with the character of Buck Mulligan, based on another person born on August 17th, Oliver St John Gogarty:
‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.’
So, as I reach my birthday, I am proud of what I have done for the rule of law, not least the Irish Innocence Project and its exposure of the toxic Indonesian police state that is now the south of Ireland. I am of course proud of many other things: the articles written; the successful representations; the rather uncompromising attitude of principle; but, as a woman I should more successfully have wooed said to me, you are too stubborn, David, and perhaps over-confident. Well, she misjudged the latter. I am assailed by doubts and far too self-critical.
Of Gladstone it was said when he became prime minister at aged 80, that he was an old man in a hurry. That is the way I feel now, but it could be an Indian summer.
No quietus. No closure. Never give in. Enemies to be confronted: conservatism; neo-liberalism; fabricated or exaggerated allegations; corrupt politicians. Whistle-blowers to be protected, Magdalene Laundry survivor rights to be vindicated, innocents to be defended, extremism to be opposed, love to be asserted.
I am not getting old, just getting better.
David Langwallner is a barrister specialising in public law, immigration, housing and criminal defence including miscarriages of justice. He is emeritus director of the Irish innocence project and was Irish lawyer of the year at the 2015 Irish law awards. His column appears here every Tuesday and Friday. Follow David on Twitter @DLangwallner