posted on June 25, 2009 19:00
Should you ever find yourself in Paris and need to visit the Irish embassy, head to the opposite side of the Arc de Triomphe to the Champs-Élysées. The exact address, though, always raises a puerile snigger from English speakers; it’s on the corner of rue Rude and avenue Foch.
Fortunately for our battered national image, the name of that legendary army general is pronounced “fosh”. Monsieur Rude, meanwhile, was a noted sculptor – and in French ‘rude’ simply means rough or difficult, not vulgar or bad-mannered.
The other major Irish landmark in Paris has a more dignified and appropriate location. Le College des Irlandais, or the Irish College, is situated on rue des Irlandais, or Irish Street, just behind the Panthéon and near the Sorbonne in the historic 5th arrondissement. The building, a former seminary, is quite beautiful – in particular, the quiet courtyard and small chapel are blissfully tranquil.
It’s no longer a college but home to the Centre Culturel Irlandais, the Irish cultural centre in France. Each year dozens of Irish Erasmus students stay in the student residences there, as do visiting Irish artists. Many of those artists visit the centre to give readings, recitals or exhibitions. The centre has an active and diverse programme that also includes screenings of Irish movies and language classes for would-be gaeilgeoirs.
Even this much would be enough for us to recommend the Centre Culturel Irlandais. But then they spoil us with their médiathèque, or multimedia library, which opened to the public early last year. Ex-pats and non-Pats alike can borrow the essential classics of Irish literature and Irish studies, read Irish newspapers and watch Irish movies on DVD.
The CD section of the médiathèque has always concentrated on traditional music - and now they’ve gone and stocked up on Irish rock to such an extent that they could offer a masterclass on the subject, with all the essential course material on their shelves. The library has bought wisely and well, and is a valuable resource for any Paris resident who wants to gain a complete picture of traditional, classic and modern Irish music.
Here’s a measure of their good taste: they have the big U2 records (‘Achtung Baby’, ‘The Joshua Tree’) but not their bland recent albums. You’ll also find My Bloody Valentine there – not just ‘Loveless’ but also ‘Isn’t Anything’. (Do you have both MBV albums?) And for more indie cred, you’ll find Whipping Boy’s ‘Heartworm’, ‘Troublegum’ by Therapy?, the first Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers albums, ‘Songs From The Deep Forest’ by Duke Special and a Microdisney compilation. Also, three of the first five from the CLUAS Top 50 Irish Albums 1999-2009 are there: ‘For The Birds’, ‘O’ and ‘Free All Angels’.
In fact, most of the main contenders for ‘Best Irish Album Ever’ are stocked – as well as ‘Achtung Baby’, ‘Loveless’ and ‘Heartworm’ there’s ‘Astral Weeks’ by Van Morrison, ‘Ghostown’ by The Radiators and Rory Gallagher’s ‘Irish Tour ‘74’. There are also plenty of albums from The Pogues, Thin Lizzy and Sinead O’Connor – in total, eight of the top ten Best Irish Albums Of All Time as voted by CLUAS in 2004.
Our point is that, with the breadth and depth of its collections and its busy programme of varied events, the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris puts to shame most public libraries in Ireland when it comes to promoting our art and culture. If you’re planning to stay in Paris for a while, you should pay a visit.
We'll take this opportunity, then, to play a song that deservedly resides with 'Ulysses' and 'Waiting For Godot' in the Paris pantheon of Irish culture - here's Therapy? with 'Screamager':