Belfast Telegraph

Irony isn’t just for your freshly laundered clothing

By Paul Connolly

 Satirical: The Tele’s front pageIrony is a device little used in newspapers, except perhaps very occasionally by columnists. This is radically different from television, where you'll see it deployed regularly by comedians.

I suppose it's much easier to detect irony when you can see the face of the person who is being, well, ironic.

Humour, too, can be notoriously difficult to deliver in print. (You'll have noticed that many politicians excel at comedy, particularly on radio, or the telly — mostly when they think they're delivering policy statements.)

Our columnist Robert McNeill is a rare specialist in both irony and humour.

Unfortunately for me, the Readers’ Editor's e-mail is often the target of readers who don't get his comic irony. And subsequently don't like having it explained to them, either.

Extensive research for this column on the subject of irony (ok, I looked it up on Wikipedia) reveals a joyous riot of different types, including situational irony, cosmic irony, romantic irony and, of, course the pinnacle of the genre, the much-loved and widely-admired Socratic irony.

The reason behind this odyssey into irony was the Belfast Telegraph's front page on Tuesday.

In case you didn't see it, the page was dominated by a fictitious Situations Vacant advertisement headed “Statesman (or woman)”.

Dressed up as a typical job advert, it talked of a “unique opportunity” to change the face of Northern Ireland politics by being “prepared to work in the best interests of the whole of the province”.

“Be prepared to work alone” the ad stated, ominously, before ending: “Applications in writing to Stormont. Posts need to be filled as soon as possible”.

As an ironic comment on another year of drift and mayhem and of the newspaper's belief of an absence of genuinely selfless political leadership, it made a powerful and courageous point.

Reaction from readers has been entirely positive.

A typical comment came from a man who phoned in to “congratulate you on yesterday's paper and to pass on my thanks to you for giving the silent majority a voice”.

In my book, it was the strongest and most thought-provoking front page of the year so far.

From ironic to iconic, maybe. Meanwhile, if you fancy a bit of light relief, Google “Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard — irony as infinite, absolute negativity”.

I'm not being ironic, I swear. Sarcastic, maybe, but definitely not ironic. Socrates will attest to that.


A paragraph in a Weekend magazine article about a walking trail at Andress House in Co Armagh mixed up some details with nearby Argory House and incorrectly stated that it was the former home of the MacGeough Bond family.

Apologies for the error.

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