• Saturday , 16 November 2019

Universal Satellites


‘Ah jaysus, would ya go way outha tha!’ he chuckled nonchalantly, only to be interrupted suddenly by a brief exercise of intense scrutinising. The obligatory fleeting lull. Inspected dubiously. Approved indifferently. A new trophy now joins the glistening constellation consuming the counter-top. Hollow rhinestones crowning the altar in preparation for the arrival of the faithful. Looked over of course by flirtatious, twinkling gazes from the icons; an apse of seductive spirits. Finished with meticulous polishing, punctuated by the slap of a damp linen cloth over his broad starched shoulder, the sacristy needed a seeing to. Least conspicuous of all, a haven to serious talkers, well-versed lovers and clandestine negotiators, an opaque fishbowl of uncertainty; both coveted and loathed by many. On a wounded lino floor, the turf of the layperson, shattered crisps and beer-mats torn to confetti offer a glimpse into the not so distant past. Shuffling back out of the sacristy with a dustpan of memories onto a rationally ordered nave, high-tops and stools are disciplined in their masses in preparation for the sermon while the window-side transept hosts the diligent and silent reading of the day’s pixelated gospels by newly arrived virgins of the Promised Land. Sedated and anxious cherubs measuredly replenishing with the black medicine against the bright frame of a vigorously animated city. The dwindling of sunlight arouses the choir and with the rattling and yawning of flapping timber, the first group of pilgrims arrive for confession and communion at Exo-Hibernia.

Codified beneath the ecclesial veneer is a juggling Janus, effortlessly balancing a gateway to the future with an anchor to the past, as new frontier insecurity is remedied with the embracing arms of familiarity. Internationally ubiquitous and effortlessly discoverable, each Exo-Hibernia embodies its own interpretation of its origin, an isolated extension of home and the fruits it bears. A stationary satellite in foreign lands. A curated pastiche, a rose-tinted repository or a precisely branded establishment; it depends on the person. Found here are walls sporadically adorned with Céad Míle Fáilte, Celtic emblems and infinite planes of layered kitsch, a sanctuary from the sterile and solemn horizon surrounding it, defiantly impervious to the trappings of banality beyond. Exo-Hibernia survives based on this schism, flourishing as a vessel of escape and longing. It’s all very clever: irreverence breeds comfort. Though stubbornly immutable in the face of conformity, Exo-Hibernia is ruthlessly universal. Through it’s autonomy and defiance, it adopts the role of a transparent and frequently boisterous embassy, where integrity of sovereignty and identity is never relinquished. It is a catalyst for indiscriminate exchange across the social spectrum, a transient distillation of the city’s inhabitants, tourists and immigrants. Conditional on patronage and a surrendering of expectations, a town hall emerges for the celebration and condemnation of life outside, as if it were all just a distant dream. Simultaneously both a furnace of epiphanies and a cradle of consolation, Exo-Hibernia is a flexible and democratic apparatus where programme is constant and atmospheric character is determined by those who dwell there, accepting infinite social permutations.

As the mass proceeds, and as a vanilla sky dissolves to lavender and then inked to charcoal, the congregation oscillates through song, anecdotes, spectatorship, crying and laughter. A non-linear procession of tragedy and comedy. A continuous recital of offerings reside at the altar, the granting of relief and absolution. In the nave, rampant rumblings are heard by outsiders, but possibly life or death to those involved and huddled around. Scarred timber dividers, crying glossy walls, sunset ceiling stains, curled-edge postcards of Blarney Castle and benign JFK lithographs; all disarmingly homely and trusting components; material confidantes. They spur on the public confessions, absorbing them from curious ears. A bell rings violently at the altar, lights flicker. The night becomes mortal, everyone becomes mortal. Heart-felt goodbyes as if by chance there will be no return to solace. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The mass has ended, and now we must return to the dream.

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