Fearghus Ó Conchúir Choreographer and Dance Artist

Yearly Archives: 2012

December 22, 2012

Cure: herd or heard

According to Seamus Heaney, in an interview that I came across on Youtube, in times of crisis, political crisis, the writer is there to be heard singularly not herd – part of the tribe: ‘though at moments of crisis, this is a very fine and important decision’
YouTube Preview Image

A different perspective on art and political engagement is offered by choreographer Keith Hennessey in a new work called Turbulence (a dance about the economy). In his Director’s Note he describes the genesis and rationale of the project:

Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine revealed how many of us have prioritized human rights issues (and identity politics) at the expense of economic injustice and more lasting structural change. I set out, over two years ago, to challenge my own ignorance about financialization, about the roots of economic turbulence, and to sharpen my understanding of extreme wealth disparity. The mythological association of capitalism to democracy to freedom must be troubled, contested, and ultimately destroyed. Ok that’s a manifesto. How can a manifesto inspire a dance?

Hennessey is too smart an artist to think of his work entirely as a political statement: ‘Without delivering a coherent critique nor a totalizing vision of resistance and reconstruction, we hope to inspire broader public engagement, discussion and action with regards to the economy, particularly its violence, corruption, and injustice.’

But there is nonetheless a clear parti pris in aspirations that ‘the mythological association of capitalism to democracy must be… destroyed’.’ My rage is always close to the surface but the bank bailouts really pissed me off.’

Turbulence - Robbie Sweeney Photography


What interests me is that that alongside or through this engagement with economic and ecological crises (‘We work on everything at once, producing almost nothing coherent or clear…’) is an experimentation ‘in developing alternative modes of producing performance’. For Turbulence, Hennessey has invited over 10 dance artists to work collaboratively in the creation of the work, and is adding guests artists for each performance of the piece: ‘Integrating new cast members as generative collaborators for each performance, the work resists fixed or predetermined outcomes.’
This strategy is both political and aesthetic. It is also resonates with the choreographic process that I’ve initiated for Cure – a process that feels like the necessary next step after Open Niche and Tabernacle.

December 09, 2012

Cure: In Berlin with Mikel

It wasn’t until I arrived in Berlin to rehearse at Tanzfabrik that it occurred to me that the representatives of Europe’s financially beleaguered economies have travelled to Germany for some kind of salvation. However the anger in Greece at what is regarded as German-imposed austerity – an anger that revives old traumas – indicates a dissatisfaction with this proposed path to recovery.

Photo credit AP/Washington Times


While Ireland has maintained a smoother relationship with Germany through the financial crisis, the realisation that Ireland’s draft budget for 2011 was seen by a German parliamentary committee (and all of Europe’s finance ministers) before being brought before the Dáil (the Irish parliament) did make Irish people anxious about sovereignty and self-determination. How important might that sense of agency and self-determination be to recovering? And what kind of cure is it if it is imposed?

These are some of the questions that I think about as I start rehearsals with Mikel in Berlin to rehearse Cure. I also think about whether my body is strong enough for what he will want, whether I will get tired, whether I will be creative, whether I brought the right clothes, whether there will be wifi. I have a great capacity for self-regarding questions and not just macro-analysis of our political and social conditions. However I think Cure might require some kind of connection between the personal and the wider context, an understanding of how the macro context is experienced personally as well as how the individual experiences (psychological, physical and emotional) of weakness, loss, survival and recovery might teach us about what’s going on at a political and social level.

November 10, 2012

E-motional Bodies and Cities:

“A 2010 survey revealed that only 24 per cent of Irish people feel any emotional connection to the capital. The figure goes down to 15 per cent when you exclude Dubliners.

In 2010 a study by Gallup revealed the link between money and civic engagement. Over the previous five years American communities with higher proportions of attached citizens (that is, people with high loyalty and passion for their communities) had stronger GDP growth than those with smaller proportions of attached citizens. More recent research suggests that rebranded capitals can help to revive moribund economies. Indeed the economic argument for rebranding cities may be the strongest of all: it pays to invest in civic pride.

The [Dublin] city council, in partnership with Tourism Ireland, Dublin Bus and the Little Museum, has just launched a competition, Uniquely Dublin. The competition invites artists, writers, photographers and filmmakers from all over the world to celebrate Dublin. There is a cash prize of €10,000 for the winner, the deadline is January 28th and the winning entries will be exhibited throughout the city in the spring.

My hope is that the competition will feed into a much larger conversation about the future of our country. It’s good to talk. As for the project to rebrand the capital, this is exciting work, and I think it deserves your support.

A strong local identity is essential, not simply for social capital but also for economic performance. If we get this right, Dublin may yet take its place among the great small cities of the world.” Trevor White The Irish Times

Before we came to Cyprus last week, I had become increasingly aware of the commodification of map making Recent disquiet about Google’s comprehensive map-making has focused on concerns about privacy (‘Google is planning to release a new version of the Google Maps program, offering users a 3D aerial-mapping technology that provides details capable of showing objects just four inches wide….Google is deploying its own camera-equipped spy planes to generate 3D maps that show greater detail than the satellite-powered images featured in its Google Earth program.’Brian Koenig, The New American). However the real point about these maps is that they have commercial value, hence Apple’s decision to replace Google Maps on the new iPhone with its own Apple Maps.

Map-making has always had a political and commercial dimension. Map-making records the naming power of the victor (as Friel’s Translations coveys in his play about a British military cartography expedition in Ireland). Other colonial cartography projects designate the territory for commercial exploitation. Columbus exploration of the Americas was funded on the promise of the wealth it would bring to Spain, as well as the political prestige of its territorial expansion. In more academic language, to quote Shu-chan Yan’s Mapping Knowledge and Power: Cartographic Representations of Empire in Victorian Britain

‘“[a]s much as guns and warships, maps have been the weapons of imperialism.” As communicators of an imperial message, “[m]aps were used to legitimize the reality of conquest and empire. They helped create myths which would assist in the maintenance of the territorial status quo” (1989: 282). In other words, “[c]artographers manufacture power: they create a spatial panopticon, and it is a power embedded in the map text” (2001a: 165; see also Joyce, 2002: 159). As such, cartography can be treated as a discourse or a form of language, and maps as texts to be read and deconstructed.’

And of course Google is one of the new transnational empires of today.

Against this commercialisation of map-making, I think of the research practice that Olga, Luke, Madalina, Arianna and I have undertaken since Dublin is an emotional cartography that resists commodification. Our repeated ‘walks’ in Dublin and now in Limassol allow us to build highly personal, determinedly idiosyncratic maps of us in our environment that make no claim to objectivity since the ‘us’ part of the process ‘contaminates’ it irrevocably. The maps exist only in us and through us. They have partial manifestations in our dancing together, as we process them into being.

Olga, Luke, Madalina, Arianna and Fearghus in Charob Factory (photo Souzana Phialas)

Increasingly compelling for us are sightings of our maps that we see in the framing projects of our local collaborators. Mary Wycherley’s film of our process in Dublin is clearly a work of her own authoring sensibility and yet through it our map is made temporarily visible

Frames and Fragments from Mary Wycherley on Vimeo.

(Frances Byrnes audio documentation of the process has the same quality).

Olga in Charob Factory (photo Souzana Phialas)


Fearghus in Charob Factory (photo Souzana Phialas)

In Limassol, our work has been visible in the photographs of Souzana Phialas and in the drawings of architect Nicholas Santos.

They are not entirely outside our maps since their warmth, welcome and guidance has shaped how we’ve experienced the city. Their comfortable navigation of the city reminds us of what being at home looks like. They nurture us in their home. But they do not share the history of map-making that we’ve started in Dublin and which we will carry beyond here to Bucharest.

This resistance to commodification feels important in this time when we reach to understand values that are not simply commercial. The discredited financial models of liberal capitalism remain strong despite being discredited, let’s be under no illusion. But enough doubt has been sowed about their validity that it feels that there is a possibility for us to propose (inspired by and alongside the work of many others) an alternative value system. What this means in practice is that our research in E.motional Bodies and Cities is not aiming at achieving commodifiable outcome. It doesn’t feel like that’s our aim, in any case. None of us are driven to putting on a show that we can sell. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t concerned with others. Our aim is to involve people, to offer our map as material for them to become implicated in rather than a product to consume. Maybe I write only of my own desire, but at the moment I feel that I have found a context and a peer group of mature artists that helps me to investigate how that different value system for art-making can be achieved.

November 08, 2012

E-motional Bodies and Cities: Christine Madden on international mobility

It’s appropriate as I am in this residency in Limassol and soon to head to Berlin to start work on Cure with Mikel that this article on the international mobility of Irish dance artists should appear in the Irish Theatre Magazine.

“Ó Conchúir and other dance professionals, such as Liz Roche and John Scott, and Robert Connor and Loretta Yurick of Dance Theatre of Ireland, have been very active in creating contacts abroad and working together with international partners. But also up-and-coming artists such as Liv O’Donoghue, Emma Martin, Aoife McAtamney and Charlotte Spencer are making the most of their funding by pairing it with international programmes and opportunities. “Dance has a great advantage over other arts forms,” acknowledges Elisabetta Bisaro, Artistic Programme Manager of Dance Ireland. “There’s no language barrier. It makes it easier to be mobile. And being mobile is a necessity at the moment.”

I’m pleased that Christine Madden’s article acknowledges what I’ve learned from collaborating with Xiao Ke, as well as from EU-funded projects.

November 03, 2012

Cure: Chris Morris on shame

I think shame is at the root of our current financial crisis and all the problems in our country. Shame affects everyone who holds back the whole truth of who they are because they are afraid of rejection, and that means almost all people. Shame eats away at us and makes us less creative, less productive and less willing to contribute to society. Shame makes us independent rather than collaborative. It makes us pessimistic rather than optimistic. It makes us care less about our health and it leads to addictions, anxiety and antisocial behaviour. The cost of shame is immense.

Treating each other with dignity is as simple as honouring what’s underneath our individual masks. We’re all human beings and all equally worthwhile. The ripple will be infinite when all people are respected and all love is celebrated the same way.

Chris Morris writing in The Guardian

Morris’s whole article situates itself in relation to debate about marriage equality. He no longer categorises himself as Gay (deliberate capital G to indicate a particular identity) but he has been in love with his male partner for many years and wants to be able to recognise that love in marriage, equal in his loving to the love between heterosexual partners.

I am drawn however to his connecting of shame to the current financial crisis and ‘all of the problems’. It seems hyperbolic and yet there is a connection between the micro and the macro, the personal and the political that makes sense to me as I think about recovery.

His injunction to treat each other with dignity connects to our work in E.motional Bodies and Cities Research. As I arrive in Cyprus today to resume the next phase together on that project, I realise that I will be weaving together Cure and the E.motional Bodies

Image on the wall in Limassol

In relation to respect, dignity and sexuality I am confronted by, on the one hand feeling that Limassol is a welcoming generous place (we have been welcomed with warmth by all the Cypriots involved in the project) and on the other, feeling I need to arm myself against the homophobic cat calls I’ve experienced pretty consistently since we arrived (That coupled with being propositioned by a strange man in a Mitsubishi van on the sea front which could!) All of which makes me think about what it means to be at home, what it means to feel safe, to belong.

November 02, 2012


In June this year, Liam Carson, director of IMRAM asked me to present something in the Irish Language Literature Festival that he organises. His imaginative approach to generating more interest in new writing in Irish leads him to commission collaborations between writers and artists from other disciplines. I was to be his first foray into contemporary dance. I suggested working with a poet initially, prompted by the sense that the allusiveness of poetry allows more space for the kind of dance I like to make. Liam proposed instead a novella called Ré by Daithí Ó Muirí. I read it and was intrigued by its dream-like narrative in which the female protagonist returns to the same or similar locations meeting the same or similar people. Dreams work by substitution, association and repetition and I recognised choreographic structuring in the way the story is put together with a coherence that isn’t necessarily in the narrative line.

The challenge in working on the project is the limitations of budget and schedule meant we would have just two and a half days in Dublin to make the work before its opening in the IMRAM festival. To be able to achieve the end result, I had to work in a way that was very different to how I usually make work. I had to plan the piece in advance and see the two and half days as simply the working through of the plan. I wasn’t very comfortable with that kind of approach. I value the opportunity to learn new things in the studio and was afraid this kind of process would be mechanical rather than creative. However it’s been a year in which I’ve encouraged myself to try new creative approaches and it felt like a good challenge to take on.

Fortunately it worked out very well, due in no small part to the rest of the team involved: dancer (and choreographer) Ríonach Ní Néill, sound designer Alma Kelliher, lighting designer Ciarán O’Melia, Daithí the writer and Adam Fitzsimons the technical manager.

It was a pleasure to see Ríonach dance material from the Bodies and Buildings films, particularly the Osage gallery films from my Beijing Residency. I’d chosen to use those films because their urban quality related to the setting of Ré and Ciarán, the designer did a great job of connecting the architecture of the films with the distinctive architecture of Smock Alley.

I’ve not been concerned in recent years with whether the dancers with whom I work look like me when I ask them to take on my movement material – and I don’t do that very often. Teaching the Mo Mhórchoir Féin solo to the dancers for Tabernacle was more of an opportunity to display their individuality rather than their adherence to my movement style. However Ríonach and I have always moved in similar ways, probably as a result of our long limbs, our attack, our muscularity and of our angularity. So it was an unexpected pleasure to see Ríonach dancing material that had emerged from my body and only been expressed in my body. Seeing her take on that material gave it a validity and purpose that I don’t always accord movement that only exists in my own body. And the material looked good – by which I mean large, dynamic and peculiar.

After the first performance in Smock Alley for IMRAM, we had a second performance at Axis in Ballymun as part of the Fás agus Forbairt Symposium about Irish Language and Contemporary Arts Practice. Because we were in tech rehearsals most of the day I didn’t get to take part in the discussion but I appreciated the engaged audience that came from it to see the performance.

In the post show discussion I was asked about the difference it made to me to make work in Irish. I could only respond by saying that Irish tastes different in my mouth. It shapes my jaw in a different way and that shaping is a physical reality that is different to how I function in English. Both physicalities are part of my making. I wouldn’t want to lose either.

October 23, 2012

Modul Dance: Structures of Power and Intimacy

I was in Tilburg last week to attend a conference on Ethics in Aesthetics organised by Danshuis Station Zuid. The conference was supported by Modul Dance, the EU project through which I was able to bring Tabernacle around Europe. Modul Dance selects artists from across Europe to receive different kinds of research and production support from the dancehouse network involved. Economic and political changes in Europe have affected the dancehouses with some losing their funding, thereby changing the network and having an impact on how dance artists operate with in. Danshuis Station Zuid, unfortunately is one of the casualties of cutbacks in support for the arts in Holland. The conference was one of its last public events and its complex of well-equipped and welcoming studios will close at the end of the year.

The conference gave an opportunity for the Modul Dance dancehouses to gather and to invite the Modul Dance artists to join them. This was a particularly important development for me since I had observed at a previous encounter with the dancehouses that while the programme was a huge resource to me in developing and disseminating Tabernacle, the long-term legacy of Modul Dance was to strengthen the network of dancehouses. The focus on dancehouses alone risked treating artists as an interchangeable product that passed through the network. I wondered at that time whether it would be possible to strengthen the artists as well as the dancehouses for the wider benefit of dance. The gathering of the artists proved a positive response to that question.

I hadn’t met my fellow Modul Dance artists since the first gathering in Lyon in 2010 where we had to present ourselves to the dancehouses with a view to securing their support. I was already excited then by the diversity and quality of the other artists but the anxiety of securing confirmed dancehouse support, as well as the shyness of a first meeting, meant that we weren’t able to establish strong bonds. This second encounter in Tilburg, joined by the next cohort of artists from 2011, gave us an important opportunity to share our experiences of the programme and to build the friendships or at least friendly peer relationships that I hope will be the basis for future work together.

I find it difficult not to pay attention to the meta-choreography in these situations. I feel strongly the presence of the determining structures that we’d like to think are ‘outside’ but which in reality are with us shaping what’s happening. For example, in Tilburg the artists had an opportunity to talk about their experiences of Modul Dance with the dancehouses. The artists were honest and consequently vulnerable in sharing their positive but also some negative experiences with organisations that have power in how an artist’s career develops. It felt troubling to me that the artists would share their feedback and that there was little response from the dancehouse partners. However, I gradually realised that the network operates by consensus which means that the partners cannot respond in the moment without consultation on a joint position. This negotiation is not shared with the artists. As a result, the structure in our Tilburg feedback sessions inadvertently created an impression that the artists were having to open themselves and be vulnerable while the dancehouse partners could watch silently – and (according to my own anxieties) judge.

Once I recognised the reason for this peep-show arrangement, it lost its threatening potency. I could see the power-dynamic as a function of the structure and not the intention of any individual. I just wish that we could operate our choreographic sensibilities in the planning of these encounters to mitigate against unwittingly unhelpful power relationships.

September 23, 2012

Cure: Lunch for Café Valise

Cure has been beginning for a while. It began in March with my dancing for Matthew on his solo for me. It began with applying for funding. It began with conversations between the partners who are helping to support the work. It began last November in the studio in Ljubljana when we were on tour with Tabernacle when I realised that I couldn’t ask the dancers to carry questions about sickness and cure in their bodies (not while they were carrying Tabernacle) and that maybe I was able to carry those questions in my own body.

Cure began again today with a lunch I was asked to host in Liverpool. The lunch was part of Cafe Valise, Metal’s contribution to the Liverpool Biennial. Metal has long had hospitality and shared meals as a framework for building relationships that spark new ideas. For the Biennial, Metal asked 12 artists to host a lunch. A wide variety of artists were asked to be involved including journalist Yasmin Alibya Brown, novelist Rosie Thomas, stand-up comedian Shaista Aziz.

It felt like a big responsibility to cook for 20 people.

I decided to cook a vegetarian meal because it wouldn’t be exclusive. I wanted something fresh and healthy but also something that would be satisfying, I couldn’t have people leaving feeling hungry. I haven’t baked soda bread for a long time but I do connect baking it with hospitality, with care and with my home in Ireland. I wanted to share that care with people if I was going to be responsible for lunch. I made pea and mint soup and salads with quinoa, lentils, rocket and roast aubergine. There was tarragon and olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I’m a cosmopolitan artist now – I can handle such ingredients. But I wanted to end our meal with an apple crumble because that mixture of fruit, sugar, fat and flour comforts me, pleases me and consequently nourishes me in a way that those healthy greens don’t quite manage.

In thinking about nourishment, I wanted to use today as a chance to start talking about recovery and to listen to other people’s response to the topic. I wanted to hear what recovery meant to people on a personal level but also on a social, economic and political level. The lunch guests were a mixture of artists and visitors to Biennial who shared very personal experiences of recovery but who also spoke with passion about what recovery means for Liverpool in the week following the report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel exposing “institutional denial followed by institutional deceit

Some spoke of the acknowledgement of what had really happened at Hillsborough as a potential turning point for the city whose name had been tarnished by a false account of Liverpool fans’ responsibility for the tragedy. Others added nuance by reminding us that while recovery and reconciliation (that word emerged to displace recovery in the conversation) benefited from an acknowledgement of truths that had been denied, that forgetting was also necessary to recover, that some parents of the young people who died in Hillsborough did not want to know that their children could have been and should have been saved. It leaves me wondering what balance of remembering and forgetting, of holding on and letting go is necessary to recover.

A lawyer reminded us that the word ‘recovery’ was not helpful to the extent that it suggested going back to a previous state. Such a return is impossible. My torn meniscus is excised and no longer causes me pain, but it is not regenerated. I move, move on but three little scars around my right knee bear testament to the injury and unseen inside other literal scar tissue remains to be worked with.

So I left the lunch full (and like an Irish Mammy relieved that the guests were full and particularly satisfied with a good custard and crumble). I am also aware that recovery is a big subject to broach with people. My hope is that these conversations will help me refine what in recovery is right for me to address with people. Cure has begun. Again.

July 27, 2012

Cure: Re-thinking ‘Brand Ireland’

Simon Anholt coined the term ‘nation branding’ in the 1990s and has published an annual ranking of countries according to their brand strength. In today’s Irish Times John Fanning and Mark Henry write about Ireland is ranking: 18 in this year’s table (the US is No.1). It’s not bad given the country’s size. It’s notably ahead of Brazil and Russia but it’s also a concern that the brand is not as strong in some of the world’s fastest growing economies and not as strong among the young as it is among the old. Most of this concern for strong brands is about national income whether it be earned through tourism or exports but I was struck by Anholt’s suggestion for how Ireland’s reputation might continue to be an international strength for the country.

“One could well imagine Ireland succeeding in ‘positioning’ itself as the society and the economy that first finds light at the end of the post-Washington Consensus tunnel, the first country to pilot and prove a new form of capitalism – more moral, more fair, more balanced, more human.”

Fanning and Henry comment: “This intriguing proposal would undoubtedly position Ireland in a very different light. But at a time when we are preoccupied with the troika and the continuing perilous state of the euro, it would be asking a lot of a political and administrative elite who have always been more comfortable with the concrete than the conceptual.”

It occurred to me that artists are among those in the country who are already working on making it more fair, more balanced and more human and if the political class are not comfortable with the conceptual, it is precisely the gift and skills of artists to give concrete form to the imagination. Anholt’s suggestion, therefore, seems like a justification for making more of the values that underpin much artistic practice in the country (those values are not by any means the sole province of the arts).

The concern is that these values are appropriated in the service of capitalism, albeit a ‘new form’. Is that enough?

July 18, 2012

Cure: John Waters on rage in Irish culture

As I start to think about Cure for next year, John Waters article on the stabbings that happened at a concert in the Phoenix Park on the 7th July caught my attention as it interprets in the particular event symptoms of a greater cultural malaise. 9 people were hurt during a concert featuring Snoop Dogg, Calvin Harris, Tinie Tempah and Swedish House Mafia.

You can read more about the events in this here

Catholic Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has blamed the “culture of violence and . . . the emptiness of a culture of drink” and other politicians have discussed restrictions on alcohol advertising in the wake of the Phoenix Park stabbings. Waters article examines what alcohol might be setting free:

The Irish Times – Friday, July 13, 2012

We need to understand the rage in our midst

Last weekend’s Phoenix Park stabbings were a vivid manifestation of the rage that now defines our culture, writes JOHN WATERS

VIRTUALLY ALL the reporting and analysis of last weekend’s events in the Phoenix Park have been brought to us by unshockable crime correspondents and unreconstructed rock critics.

Predictably, then, we have heard a great deal about, on the one hand, the security and law-and-order dimensions, and, on the other, the particularities of electronic dance music and the putatively violent context of the attendant dance culture.

We need to dig deeper. About three years ago I suggested here that what we were calling the “economic crisis” was something far worse: an anthropological calamity arising from a misunderstanding of desire.

Having invested all hopes in the balloon-basket of materialism, (which had recently fallen out of the sky) we had being brought face-to-face with a confusion centred on an inability to define what we want.

What we skirt over as “materialism” denotes a core cultural misunderstanding that reduces human expectations to what is tangible and comprehensible. It is symptomatic of a culture that has lost its sense of the mysterious meaning of reality, and must therefore offer three-dimensional bait to keep the human mechanism ticking-over.

At the heart of such a culture is a hole, from which rage emanates in the manner of lava. What emerged in the Phoenix Park last Saturday was an especially vivid manifestation of the rage that now defines our culture.

We have come to think of a “stabbing” as exhibiting a narrow meaning related to the individual wielding the knife. More than 20 years ago Robert Bly wrote in Iron John about the power and meanings of knives. He recalled that, in traditional societies over many millennia, knives were used in the initiation of young men. The community elders would take the initiate into the wilderness and subject him to a regime of trial and fasting lasting several days.

Around the campfire, the boy would hear the great myths and stories that men shared only among themselves. On the third night, the elders would pass around a bowl and, one by one, would cut their arms with a knife and bleed into it. When the bowl reached the boy, he drank the elders’ blood.

Nowadays we shudder and dismiss such rituals as backward and barbarous, but neglect to take account of the barbarisms that occur in our midst because we no longer honour the natures of men. The elimination from our culture of the teaching, benign-authoritarian father has left us with generations of young men who, as Bly observed, are “numb in the region of the heart”. Because young men are never allowed to come away from their mothers, they stand on the threshold of manhood but cannot enter.

The umbilical cord has been severed, but little more. Still tied to their mothers’ apron strings, more and more of our young men carry knives to announce their manhood. With their fathers cast into silence, they are starved of the wisdoms and mythologies that might sustain a healthy male existence. In our obsession with minoritarianism, we have overlooked some of the most vital constituents of a healthy community.

Adrift in the numbness that engulfs them, many of our young men now walk with an outward appearance of normality but inwardly lurch uncontrollably – from, for example, a learned piety to intense rage – all the time seeking something to provide some illusion of feeling while simultaneously keeping the numbness at bay. Sometimes the cultural conditions cause their defences to break down and another calamity ensues.

The great pioneer sociologists believed that, when understanding social deviance, it is erroneous to focus solely on individual wrongdoing. When someone commits some act that scandalises society, they believed, he or she is, in part at least, acting out some repressed, unacknowledged sentiment of the tribe. This understanding is supported by the coherence of certain dark statistics – murder, suicide, addiction – which tend to follow unique and consistent patterns within a given society, year on year.

A century ago the French sociologist Emile Durkheim argued that communities are psychic beings, with distinctive ways of thinking and feeling. The suicidal individual’s sadness, he wrote in On Suicide, comes not from “this or that incident in his life, but from the group to which he belongs”.

He also diagnosed a condition he called “anomie”, resulting from circumstances whereby the normative regulation of societal relationships by rules and values has collapsed and caused individual feelings of despair, isolation and meaninglessness to erupt as individual pathologies and civic disorders. He defined the underlying collective condition as “the malady of infinite aspiration” – wanting more and more of what has already failed to satisfy.

In due course, those responsible for the Phoenix Park stabbings will be paraded before us on their way into court. We will shake our heads and arrive at some narrow moralistic conclusion, in accordance with which the culprits will be sentenced.

But if, as a society, we fail to see that it is we who made these young men what they are, we will have lost another opportunity to understand what has been happening to us. It is at least as mindless as what happened last weekend to talk of “testosterone-fuelled thugs” gone mad in the park.