Frankie Boyle on Donegal links, Gaelic football and how to deal with criticism as a comedian – Buzz.ie

“If you feel Scots-Irish, that’s quite a difficult identity to explain”
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The links between Donegal and Glasgow have always been strong.
Seven Scots-born players – all from Glasgow or its environs – have played international football for Ireland.
All seven – Charlie Gallagher, Bernie Slaven, Ray Houghton, Owen Coyle, Tommy Coyne, Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy – have Donegal roots.
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And there will be plenty of Scots-born Irish fans in Hampden Park for the clash with Ireland.
Another with Donegal roots is the renowned comedian, Frankie Boyle. He is a regular visitor to his parent's homeplace in west Donegal and has developed an interest in Gaelic football.
Eamon McGee talked to him to get an insight into what makes him tick.
EMcG: Like most of west Donegal, I have a parent from Scotland, Mum's from Castlemilk. Was that a massive thing for you growing up, the Donegal connection?
FB: I know Castlemilk. As a rule of thumb, any bit of Glasgow that pairs two unconnected objects is the sort of place that’s up on a list in Ross Kemp’s production office – Easterhouse; Drumchapel; Castlemilk. Oh yeah, the Donegal part of our lives was massive. We spent the whole school holidays over there at my grandparents.
I know where the middle of nowhere is, and it’s somewhere between Crolly and Dungloe. It seemed that the name of the part of Donegal you were in changed about every 15 feet. Technically, it was called Meencorwick, an area that seemed to cover about two houses. It was a totally different life for us, we lived quite a grim existence most of the year in a drab bit of Glasgow. Suddenly we were in the country rounding up sheep, eating seaweed, being driven to the pub, and watching men playing endless rounds of a card game called 25.
EMcG: I play with Odhran MacNiallais who is a cousin of Paddy Crerand. Paddy has said he wished he'd played for Ireland rather than Scotland. Were you conflicted about your own identity, or was it always a mixed and fluid one?
FB: Yeah, I mean I still am in a way. I just got my Irish passport, and I only realised when it arrived that it was about something more than convenience. It was odd with my parents…they spoke Irish, and had these incredibly mournful Donegal accents, but they never wanted us to speak Irish (or “have” it, as they would say).
I think my Dad longed to go back to Ireland and my Mum didn’t. So it was odd, you weren’t supposed to feel you were Irish, maybe because they thought there was so little for anyone back in Donegal, no jobs or prospects. Yet at the same time, they didn’t want us to speak Scottish slang, or use Scottish words, which they associated with a lack of education.
I mean looking back, I think they were just picking up that cue from the dominant culture of self-loathing in Scotland. So there was definitely a fluidity to it – we knew families who went back to live and their kids became Irish and got into the Gaelic football and you’d see them holding up a trophy in the back of the Derry People.
EMcG: Has your sense of identity changed over the years?
FB: I suppose these days I feel Scottish but not British, and have no nationalist feelings about Scotland at all. If you feel Scots-Irish, that’s quite a difficult identity to explain, partly because there’s a dominant idea in Britain that you should shut up about your identity, and in Scotland that an Irish identity is provocative. I mean could you imagine a parallel situation in Canada or somewhere like that where people were frowned on because part of their identity came from their parents being Irish or Scottish? I think it’s partly the last breath of some old racist tropes.
EMcG: You know the Glasgow word 'gallus'. Means something like going around with a swagger and with something to prove. Is that a Donegal thing as well as a Glasgow thing?
FB: Gallus has a note of censure in it too, it’s both praise and criticism. I mean it basically means extrovert, and you get plenty of those in Donegal. I’m always struck by that irony that if you live in the country you need to be a bit more outgoing, because you need to know all your neighbours in case you need to get a sheep out of their field or whatever. There’s no peace anywhere.
EMcG: You're a frequent visitor to Donegal. You could literally holiday anywhere you want. What the hell keeps you coming back here?
FB: I don’t fly.
EMcG: You were photographed lifting Sam Maguire a few years ago. How did Donegal's All-Ireland wins resonate with you?
FB: I listened to them both on the radio! I remember both times that all my uncles (who live in Dublin and Monaghan) went straight up to Donegal to get on the drink. We used to all go up and watch the Ulster final in Clones every year when I was a kid. I think the last time Donegal won the Ulster final I had offered to buy all the players a sheep if they won. I just donated to the training fund in the end. Which is good, because I looked into it, and getting a single sheep delivered to a whole load of different people is a logistical nightmare.
EMcG: I've been involved in a few social and political causes and you get people going 'why would a footballer do that?' You've done something similar – do you get 'why should a comedian do that?' Do you feel a responsibility to take a stand on certain subjects?
FB: I don’t really, I don’t really feel any responsibility at all, other than trying to do my job well. It’s odd, but the main thing I feel responsible about as a comic is not shortchanging the audience. I think George Carlin’s attitude, that he’s just watching the parade, and remains completely outside of it, is the healthiest one for a comic. And at the same time, I feel it’s maybe an attitude from a different time; that it’s maybe too late a point in history to not be involved. Life as we know it could end soon, and that gets me involved, even though I understand that the effect I can have is pretty marginal.
EMcG: I've been called a bollocks on numerous occasions, mostly due to these political viewpoints and probably because I am a bit of a bollocks too… You've got that abuse on a scale multiplied by a thousand. Is there any part of you, even the smallest part of you that reads or listens to that type of grief you get and you think 'fuck you'?
FB: I’ve always been pretty detached from what people say about my stuff. I set out with some idea of what I want to do, and I have to get a live audience to respond within a certain spectrum to those ideas, to laugh a little or a lot at certain points. But worrying about what people more broadly think about it? I’ve never seen the point: comedians are so self critical anyway, and to some extent their whole talent is a kind of self criticism (there’s endless tinkering and rewriting) that once you get to a certain standard at it, outside criticism often feels kind of irrelevant.
There are a lot of misconceptions about comedy, people often confuse it with the way they use humour in their own life: as small talk. That five-minute jokey preamble at the start of a podcast is how most people use comedy in their own life, as a sort of politeness. And stand-up is ultimately not polite. On a basic level, it’s sentences that end in a surprising way. It’s hard to surprise people politely: “Excuse me, terribly sorry to bother you, boo!”. I mean even something like PG Wodehouse is profoundly rude about people in a way. Comedy is a type of acceptable rudeness, and people pointing out bits they personally find rude is a kind of tautology. I think there’s a thing in Britain generally where, maybe as a post-colonial hangover, people think that their personal tastes and preferences somehow constitute the moral grammar of the Universe.
EMcG: You're in favour of Scottish independence. Is there something to be said for having a People's Republic of Donegal?
FB: I’m sure you could find a few Republicans in Donegal.
EMcG: I met you after Gaoth Dobhair won the county final a few years ago. What did you make of that day? It's such a tribal thing. I'd be curious about the take from someone who's both inside and outside the tribe.
FB: There was a tribal feel, right down to the fact that a lot of the supporters were related to the players. I think the goalie had painted the side of his house up as a mural of Batman in a Gaoth Dobhair top, but I might have dreamed that. I actually thought it was mad that we all got to walk about on the pitch after the game, and the captain gave a mad speech in Irish. It was my son’s first time in Ireland, and I think it was as alien to him as Istanbul.
EMcG: What do you make of Gaelic football? Is it a game that appeals to you?
FB: I certainly find the level of skill surprising. I mean I always feel that with Gaelic, if people actually watched a full match they would be kind of shocked at how much technique is involved. It’s changed from when I was a kid when the players all looked like farmers to this current MMA look. I do enjoy watching it live much more, perhaps I just like the casual nature of the off-the-ball brutality. I’d definitely go to a lot of games if I lived there.
EMcG: I look at the Celtic/Rangers tribalism now as silly but I've been the young fella going to games and shouting abuse at a Rangers man in a jersey. We once goaded a Rangers bus of supporters but they actually stopped so we ran like fuck. Real silly stuff but I just accepted it, does that whole thing annoy you now? Do you look at some stuff and just shake your head?
FB: I remember years ago a Scottish magazine asked me to write about it. I wrote this thing saying that maybe both sides of Glasgow needed to understand each other as a valid culture, and the next issue was a double-page spread of all the hate mail they got.
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