I’m spending St Patrick’s Day in Boston this year. As I stand in the middle of a bar full of drunk Southies singing along with the Dropkick Murphys, I am reminded of a trip to Ireland that my wife and I took a few years back.
I grew up in a small town in Kentucky where the entire city struggled with its varied European roots. My hometown had two Catholic churches — one for the Irish and one for the Germans. About a decade ago, the two congregations struggled to merge. The Germans didn’t like sitting with the Irish. I heard the Irish weren’t too happy about sitting with the Germans either.
I spent my youth in genealogical ambiguity by being told that my family tree contained Irish, Scotch, Scotch-Irish and English branches. Apparently, I am the classic Euro mix-breed mutt from a melting pot of lineage.
As a kid, when my town had its annual St. Paddy’s Day parade, I didn’t know whether to jump on a float with my friends or shoot them the bird and shout: “God Save the Queen.”
After spending time in Ireland, I have proudly claimed my family’s Irish heritage. I learned two things from my Irish conversion.
My feelings for the British were (and remain) strained.
The streets of Dublin are a maze of one-way roads that seem to bend and intersect with each other in no particular manner. On the cab ride to our hotel, I read a London newspaper. It was June 2009, the summer of Obama-love, and the newspaper was calling upon America to pass yet another economic stimulus package — this time to help kindle world trade.
I had been in Ireland less than an hour and I was already pissed at the Brits.
We took historical tours of Dublin and soon understood that the ire these folks felt towards the English was inspired by more than just the opinion page of a tabloid. For instance, we toured the old city goal (jail), which is a shrine to the fifteen political prisoners who were hung for leading the Easter Rising of 1916. Our guide recited their names with pointed reverence.
Nowhere was the historical pissiness towards England sharper than in the pubs of Dublin. On our first night in town, we went to O’Donohugh’s for some traditional Irish folk music. Upon being handed my first Guinness of the evening, the bartender noticed I had pulled British pounds from my wallet. “I don’t take foreign currency,” he snarled.
The week after we were in Ireland, we headed to Ashton-under-Layne (pronounced Line) in England to search of the resting place of my mom’s English ancestors. The family has some old letters from 1898 wherein a solicitor informed my great-great grandmother that her last relative had died in Ashton-under-Layne and had been buried at St. Peter’s.
I contacted the vicar about visiting the family burial site. He replied that the cemetery had been turned into a soccer park.
The Irish reminded me to love liberty
The one thing we discovered about Ireland was that the Irish people love to talk politics. Everyone we met wanted to know our party affiliation. They wanted to know what we thought of President Obama. They wanted to know what we thought of Irish politics.
The week we were in Ireland, a great political debate was happening.
Gangs had begun to run wild in the streets of major cities like Dublin and Limerick. At the trials of these hooligans, jurors and witnesses were being intimidated, and even killed, in retaliation for acting against the gangs.
Politicians were pressing for quick action on legislation to eliminate jury trials in cases involving gang activity.
The Irish people and press all said: “Slow down.”
That’s not a surprising reaction from people whose immediate ancestors were hung in town squares without the benefit of jury trials.
And after reading about that gang debate, I suddenly realized the difference between us and them. Our founding fathers, who had fought for our liberty more than 200 years prior, were historical figures. They were great men, but Americans feel no personal connection to them.
The men who fought in Ireland’s struggle for independence are more than names in a history book. They are from an era where they are old enough to still be somebody’s grandfather.
To espouse a love of liberty is one thing — to die for it another.
My Irish toast to DC readers
So, if you’re in Boston today, drop by McGreevy’s on Boylston. Ask for Courtney and tip her well. Then, we’ll raise a pint to the Irish love of liberty. In order to do so properly, we’ll change all of our “Th’s” to “Td’s” (i.e., “We’ll meet at da pub Tdursdey at tdree tdurdy.”)
So when I die, I ask ye go,
To Ireland, and tden,
Take me ashes to the Cliffs of Moher,
And toss tdem in the wind,
I’ll one last look from way on high,
And list all my regrets,
Then I’ll sail on into Dublin,
Where I’ll whiz on all da Brits.
Erin go Bragh, y’all.
Rick Robinson is the author of political thrillers which can be purchased on Amazon and at book stores everywhere. His latest novel, Manifest Destiny has won seven writing awards, including Best Fiction at the Paris Book Festival.