Two Irish TV Shows I’ve Watched Recently

This is kind of a strange one! Before I get into it, here are a couple quick updates:

You may be excited to know that I have started writing a novel, and it is going well! I have not worked on the first draft of a novel since 2020, when I wrote the second half of a novel that I started in 2015—which was the last time I started writing a brand new novel. So this is my first time starting a brand new novel since 2015!!! Needless to say, I am killing it, best thing I’ve ever written, guaranteed career-making title, etc. etc. I won’t be posting updates about it very often, because that’s tedious, but here is a teeny tiny sneak peak at the opening paragraphs. You will see nothing else of it until it is finished.

As for some writing which you’ll be able to read a little sooner, though: in May I will be publishing “Is Magic School Still Worth It?” as a zine! It is a very good short story about trying to put a price tag on our nobler aspirations, i.e. magic. And higher ed. The zine will be available for free, just like “Cartographer” was. Drop me a line at FrancisRBass [at] gmail [dot] com if you want one! I will be making more noise about this as release date gets closer, so no rush.

Okay, onto the post! These are two Irish TV shows I watched on youtube recently. I don’t normally write about TV shows, and I’m not doing so now because I have anything tremendously insightful to say about them. But these shows are pretty damn terrific, and I expect you would never hear about them (unless you’re Irish) if not for this post, so you’re welcome.

Also there’s a new 1-page comic at the end :^)

Hands was a documentary TV series, composed of 30-minute episodes, released between 1978 and 1989. There were 37 episodes in total, each covering a different artisan craft still being practiced in Ireland at the time of recording. The episodes will usually focus on one craftsperson, or a family business, but sometimes they take a broader survey of several practitioners.

I’d describe the tone as generally nostalgic and patriotic, in a way that is charming rather than obnoxious. The show is warm and mild, and mostly just wants to celebrate the crafts that it spotlights.

Each episode has a different narrator, and many of them bring character and liveliness to their episodes, animatedly recalling scenes from their own childhood when things like horse carts and shoemakers were more common.

The strength of this show is combining that warm, human delivery with a clear and thorough depiction of the various crafts. The process of weaving a rug, or repairing a leather book, or constructing a currach, is shown from start to finish, with good, steady shots of the handiwork. It is immensely satisfying seeing raw materials slowly become a finished good in this way. The work is slow, but bit by bit the embroidery, or the harp, or the hurl, becomes whole, and you got to see it every step of the way.

The show does veer away from its ostensible mission (i.e. celebrating Irish handicrafts) sometimes, showing the workings of power looms or brick kilns, but I found these episodes just as fascinating. Those power looms, once harbingers of a new era, are now old relics themselves, and it’s terrific to get to see them in action.

Part of my obsession with this show has been as a resource for writing pre- or early-industrial settings. Handicrafts, and mills as well, can be extremely difficult to understand in text, but intuitive and clear when you watch them in practice. For anyone writing fantasy or historic fiction, this series is a treasure.

If there’s a particular craft which interests you, you could browse through the episodes and start with that one. If I’ve totally sold you already though, I would say just start at the start. The first nine episodes cover various facets of the textiles, and fit together to give a complete picture, from wool shearing to spinning to embroidery. Some of these episodes feature early industrial equipment, so you’ll get a taste of that as well.

If you only watch one episode though, watch the one on English Silk. It’s an hour-long special showing the extremely labor intensive process of making silk with hand block printed patterns. Just weaving silk is already labor intensive, but wait till you see what it takes to create even a single hand block for a pattern. Astonishing.

Strumpet City is based on the James Plunkett novel of the same name, and it follows the lives of several Dubliners leading up to and during the 1913 Dublin lock-out. This was a major labor action in Dublin where employers demanded that their workers pledge not to join the ITGWU union, and locked them out of their jobs when they refused to do so.

I think it’s best to describe this show as very novel-like, in the tradition of the great novels of the 19th century. Its scope is historical; its cast covers all social strata, with characters crossing paths in unexpected combinations; and the characters themselves are sharply drawn, yet not one-note. The contemptible characters, such as the condescending, anti-labor Father O’Connor, are truly contemptible—yet clearly recognizable as real people, acting from ego, or casual indifference, or entitlement, not out of pure evil. The lovable characters are lovable, but as capable of vanity, pride, or hot-headedness as anyone. Living in a deteriorating tenement, forced to choose between feeding your children or maintaining the strike, there is no truly virtuous decision to be made.

The performances all feel a little stage-actor-y, which is not a bad thing by any means. Like I said, these are pretty crisp, clearly defined characters, and the actors match. At their best, they’re highly compelling, absorbing, moving; at their worst, they are only mediocre, but still serviceable.

The show moves at an extremely brisk pace. The novel it’s adapting is 600 pages, and the show is only 7 50-minute episodes, which seems to be just the perfect amount of condensation. There are some major time-skips though, which can feel abrupt—the worst one being in episode one where the two leads first meet, and then have fallen in love just ten minutes later. Other than those jumps, the pacing is perfect, each episode packed with drama.

The ending also is pretty abrupt. Some characters get fairly definitive endings, others are left open-ended, and altogether the show does not really come to anything; it doesn’t offer the viewer a scene, a moment, an image, to sit with and reflect on the totality of what they’ve just watched. The end credits, along with a slightly extended version of the theme song, are all we get.

Still, those endings, and where it leaves off are satisfying conclusions, I feel. They just are delivered rather unceremoniously.

So if you’re getting a bit tired of the prestige TV of today, if you want to watch TV but feel like you’re reading a great novel by Dickens or Zola, if anything I’ve written here sounds intriguing, I highly recommend Strumpet City.

New Comic!

Here’s a new little comic that I’ve made! I would like to put together enough of these things to make a 16-page collection by the end of the year. Or maybe I will finish “Bread Bible”. Anyway, here’s this 1-page comic for now!


1. [8-BALL and RATWITCH are standing outside a rowhouse, each holding a mug. RATWITCH is standing, 8-BALL is seated on the stoop.]
8-BALL: So, what about you? How’s your love life going?
2. RATWITCH: You know, there are good—
3. RATWITCH [Placing their mug on a windowsill.] There are really kind, intelligent, deserving people out there.
4. RATWITCH: So many—thousands—who are missing out,
5. RATWITCH: On this! [They swing their leg up onto the stoop railing like a dancer stretching on a ballet barre. 8-BALL flinches in surprise.]
6. [8-BALL laughs.]
RATWITCH: [Still balancing one leg on the railing.] And it breaks my fuckin heart, y’know?
Signed FB 03/24/23.

Okay kind of a strange post but whatever! You probably liked it if you read this far, right?
Next post will be about machine writing, or The Last of the Wine.

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