It’s a curious thing about the death of Katy French, that the media seem determined to find a greater significance in it than just a personal tragedy. Some of this has just been silly – I’m thinking especially of Paul Williams in the Sunday World managing to blame Katy’s death on the Provos, via an alleged Provo-Farc conspiracy to flood the Emerald Isle with cocaine. Even for Williams and the Sunday Roast, that’s stretching credibility. More generally we’ve had the sentimental view that Katy represents some kind of death of innocence for the Celtic Tiger.
I suppose though that it does illustrate some aspects of our modern Irish society. WorldbyStorm has already reflected on this, but there are one or two things I think might be worth flagging up. The first is that up until quite recently I’d never heard of Katy and was very hazy as to what she actually did. In fact, just over a year ago hardly anybody had heard of her, but all of a sudden she was everywhere. This had an awful lot to do with her close collaboration with Dublin’s new breed of celebrity gossip columnists, who manufactured her profile in a quite conscious way. Ireland being short of real celebrities – just look at Charity You’re A Star! – it’s very easy to get a media profile very quickly.
The other thing I would ponder on is, yes, how the drugs question relates to the Celtic Tiger. It’s funny, but in recent years I’ve become much more attracted to the old Workers Party bugbear of the lazy Irish bourgeoisie, something that seems to me to have a lot of truth in it. If you think about it, what has Irish capital contributed to the long boom? A sober economic answer might be, frig all. The Tiger has been almost entirely based on inward investment – to be sure, there have been spin-off benefits for Irish capital, not least the construction industry in a wildly overdeveloped Dublin, but the Irish bourgeoisie, as such, has been very much parasitic on the boom.
So booming Ireland hasn’t really developed a culture of enterprise, but it has certainly developed a culture of conspicuous consumption. Look in the Turbine most Sundays, and you’ll see photos of ludicrously lavish society parties, not to mention weddings that even Premiership footballers might think a bit OTT. And this has drastically changed the drugs culture in Ireland. Twenty years ago, the word “drugs” summoned up images of shivering junkies shooting up in inner-city sink estates. What you now have is a very affluent section of Irish society where cocaine use is well-nigh endemic.
To a large extent we’re talking about the younger end of D4, which is why Justine Delaney Wilson’s The High Society reads at times like she’s interviewing Ross O’Carroll-Kelly. But this goes way beyond the Ross types. We’re not really talking about the Irish establishment, but yeah, the sons and daughters of the establishment are as likely as not to be sniffers. And not even just in Dublin – in provincial towns you’ll hear quite open talk about such-and-such from this rich family who’s a notorious cokehead.
And this was the layer of society that Katy moved in. That particular slice of Irish society where socialites, journos, luvvies and the like mix, in clubs where the term “powder room” carries a very definite double entendre. A lot of these people seem to have gone to ground over the last week or so, no doubt due to the fear that a whole lot of drug scandals could be unearthed by the guards or enterprising hacks. Perhaps the death of Katy French will in the end make some contribution in helping to lift the lid on moneyed Ireland’s dysfunctional relationship with drugs.