Do you remember Citizen Smith on TV? It was a 70s sit com by John Sullivan who also created ‘Only Fools and Horses’. “Wolfie” Smith, (Robert Lindsay) and his feckless friends imagined they were urban guerrillas in South London’s Tooting. “Power to the People” and “Freedom for Tooting” were their slogans. Wolfie’s role model was Che Guevara.
There was nothing unusual about that. Every anti-establishment teenager had a T shirt with Che on it. They were virtually compulsory.
Now the mother and father of a row has kicked off in Galway. It’s over plans to erect a memorial to the Marxist revolutionary. Apparently his granny’s family went from Galway to Argentina in search of a better life in the middle of the 18th century and Che was born there in 1928.
While the young Che was a student he became convinced that the poverty and corruption of Central America in the 1950s were the, “consequences of capitalism at its most crass and cruel,” as Conor Pope described it in the ‘Irish Times’.
Unlike Citizen Smith, Guevara was an effective guerrilla. He was also extremely charismatic and, by any measure, one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. He is both revered and reviled in roughly equal measure. He was feared and loathed by America’s CIA, but to this day, 45 years after his death, he’s still a popular hero in Cuba. (Guevara was captured and executed by CIA backed forces in Bolivia in 1967.)
Galway may not want a memorial to the long-dead revolutionary for fear of upsetting Americans so maybe we could have him here in Derry?
It’s not that we haven’t got enough revolutionaries of our own but it’s a bit early to start putting up memorials to them. We can all think of politicians who’d be outraged if we honoured our own urban guerrillas. They’d milk it for all it would be worth but they probably wouldn’t care if we were to claim Guevara as one of our own. His family ties were with the west of Ireland and we loosely qualify on that score.
In fact the city already has something of a shrine to the boul “El Che” as he was often known, so we’re already ahead of Galway. Popular city centre watering hole, Sandinos is adorned with many pictures of the Marxist icon. It’s a fine example of retro revolutionary chic in interior bar design. It’s an extension of those ubiquitous T shirts of the 1970s.
So, what about a new piece of urban art for the City of Culture thing? Why should Galway have it all its own way in the struggle to be seen as the Irish Mecca for radical idealists and dreamers?