Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Sigmund Freud is supposed to have said that the Irish are one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever. This quote is invented, I checked. But it became famous with the release of a brilliant film by Scorsese, The Departed.

The fact is that to analyse people, you must let them talk about their feelings. This is something that the Irish are certainly not prepared to do.

My wife, who’s an Irish academic, sometimes complains about the fact that American and UK researchers always introduce themselves by stating how great they are. While she knows she should do the same if she wants to stay in the race, she finds the procedure extremely hard because pride is not something people easily express in her own culture.

I have seen this attitude in many areas of Irish life, and climbing is no exception. Grades, which are always a matter of heated discussions, no matter which country we are talking about, are usually contemplated with a fainted disdain in Ireland. Irish climber Dave Ayton regularly underlines this fact on his blog. In his latest post, he notes that in Irish climbing circles, grades don’t matter, and that “Grade Whore seems to be the phrase of choice at the moment back home”.

The fact is that talking about your achievement is expressing your pride, and pride is a feeling. Since the Irish are brought up not to express their feelings, they regard most expressions of pride with disdain, climbing achievements included.

But this attitude conflicts with national pride, because national pride is vital to Ireland unity. National pride is what allows any people to express a sense of identity, especially if we are talking about the most famous emigrating people!

And so, while the Irish do as if they disregard the importance of grades, they are desperate to make Irish climbers’ achievements more visible. This is probably why the Irish are often seen as a friendly bunch, because they manage to express national pride without the arrogance of self esteem.

Pretty much the contrary of the French!


Dave said...

Love your work man! :o)

Stephen McMullan said...

Well they say that the Irish are a nation of begrudgers and maybe the "modesty" is a fear of this stereotypical reaction but I don't really find that holds when it comes to the climbing community.

I know very few Irish climbers who would not applaud the achievements of their fellow climbers. So I think its safe to come out of the shell a bit but at the same time its important to congratulate the achievers in a sincere manner.

Pierre is right with regard to national confidence and we need to tell folk that what they have done is outstanding.

This is important not only to maintain the motivation of that person but also those who are inspired to try and emulate and surpass.

Of course any chance to stick it to the Brits is also welcome - well done again Nige :-)

Stephen McMullan said...

And another thing :-)

If I go out and do and do a very difficult climb say graded VS and then find out some folk consider it an HVS - how has the achievement been improved? If its downgraded to HS how has the achievement diminished? Its the same climb. You found it hard. You got up it.

It just does not compute that pride turns to sorrow based on a number/grade. That's where the artificiality of the situation kicks in. So perhaps a bit of scepticism regarding grades is a good thing.

Pierre said...

Cheers lads!

Kevin Marnane said...

Pride, Achievement - can't argue too much with you Pierre. Accurate grades are so very important for a multitude of reasons and people knowing is so very important for as many; here's one:

Motivation for one - Caroline Harney (a quintessential irish girl in the context of this discussion i.e. talking about her success and combination of talents) broke the 8a ceiling the other week. I have heard no song, seen no dance and seen no article in the Mountain log or Outsider mag noting this achievement. Would we know at all if it weren't for Dave and his very non irish (again in the current context) way? People like Caroline, Michael Duffy, Nigel Callender, Rob Hunter and several more are becoming legends in the ghostly sense - sometimes thought to have been seen out in the boulder fields and crags doing something amazing but how often does the ghost turn into vivid 3D in the climbing consciousness? I suggest these people, who are breaking barriers, should be revered as flesh and blood people that can be followed and overtaken and not spirits that must have undergone some supernatural event to have gained their magical gifts. Progress in the community is what we should be after and there is no better way than to set these people's benchmarks as attainable targets that must be bettered! Its in human nature to do this so why not have it, and promote it, in the nature of the irish climber? ...sure if progression wasn't in our nature we'd still be hanging out in caves! (Ayton's cave aside - thanks for killing my point Dave and Caroline! ;) ) Things are improving with the tools like this blog and other sites i'm happy to see and well done to all concerned!

To finish I'm thieving a quote from a driven friend of mine:

'Don't let the best you have done so far be the standard for the rest of your life.'
- Gustavus D Swift

Anonymous said...

It's quite simple:

1. England - climbing community massive, it is a mainstream sport.

2. Ireland - climbing community tiny, sport for a handful.

Thus any achievement is acknowledged by a smattering of people.

davo said...

If people don't send articles to IML then they won't print any. It's as simple as that. I don't think they have an anti-climbing editorial bias. If some of the above named individuals choose not to publicise their achievements then that is their choice. Why would they say nothing? Maybe they have reported their achievements before and been critised - rightly or wrongly - for boasting. Its possible to report stuff in a non-boastful manner. I think that is important to state. Maybe they don't spend much time on the internet.

I don't know about some of you grade whores but I would be interested in hearing of any new bouldering done. Regardless of the level. So this isn't an issue of what is noteworthy or not.

Maybe for years irish record breaking climbs wheren't reported partly because they illustrated how far behind the irish scene was. This probably not longer applies. Outsider magazine has nothing for climbers, if anyone wants to submit an article I think they should send it to IML.

Dave said...

Some good points davo. Not just elite news, ANY news... bouldering, trad, sports - if it happened on rock i'd like to read about it. But like you said for whatever reason the people don't feel like publicising it. The names mentioned above are by no means an exhaustive list either - And as the nameless post above suggests - Irish climbing is a tiny group of people - maybe people feel that those who want to know already do (coz they were probably spotting during the send!)

Eamon o Riain said...

Hmm the phrase in this blog 'Grade Whore' is not the way I use it , to me a grade whore is someone who has Climbed 6c and wants a 7a ,E2 wanting a E3 or whatever.They never want to consolidate the grade they are at, while we all know there is lots of different styles at each grade. It's about being someone wanting to being able to say they are the next grade level, to Me it's a bit like social climbers, not happy in there skin. Now I'm always impressed by what others do and grades are away of seeing your progression in the sport but not be and end all.