Today, before you venture out in a green article of clothing (to avoid being pinched), take time to read Eags' semi-Elegiac tribute to his ancestral homeland written a week ago. As usual, Eags, teaches some pretty good Hibernian history and folklore along the way. If this is a (fair & balanced) study of ethnicity, so be it.
[x NY Fishwrap]
By Eags (Timothy Egan)
Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing
Between the Guinness and the leprechauns, the rivers of green and the buckets of blarney, we’re going to experience a lot of paddywhackery over the next week. Patrick’s high holiday, honoring the Roman British outcast who never drove the snakes from Ireland, may generate more than the usual excess of Celtic pride.
For this year is special, the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, a failed rebellion against English occupiers in Dublin that has become a foundational story for the land John F. Kennedy called “one of the youngest of nations and the oldest of civilizations.” Following Britain’s brutal overreaction — the rebels, including one who could not stand on his own, were shot by firing squad — the outrage eventually led to a free state.
It is important, then, not to let the near geologic layers of hatred mar this anniversary. Some within the global Irish diaspora of about 70 million people want to return to the sectarian barricades and tear at the intent of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. That pact ended — at least formally — the Troubles of Northern Ireland, the roots of which go back hundreds of years.
Granted, many things remain unsettled, and crimes on both sides unresolved. And the continued presence of the British crown in any part of that tortured island will never sit well with some. But the power-sharing agreement that was worked out in the peace pact is infinitely better than days of terror and endless cycles of revenge.
What should be celebrated this week — in verse, song, speechifying and toasting — is the triumph of the Irish spirit, a lesson about humanity’s resilience. The challenge of the Irish has been to translate a history of famine and oppression, exile and humiliation into a life of possibility. To see the past clearly on a little island where culture, religion, language, sports and property were taken from the native people, is not to hate.
The ghost of African-American [sic] slavery was never far from the history-making of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And yet King never lost his skill to cast that institutional crime in the bigger picture, a forward-looking thrust. “The arc of the moral universe is long,” he famously said, “but it bends toward justice.”
So, too, is the grand narrative of the Irish people. Full disclosure, and a shameless plug: I’ve been touring on behalf of a book about the Irish-American experience, as told through the life of one man. It’s been a great boost to hear so many family stories with a common theme: pride in a heritage of survival.
“To be Irish,” said Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “is to know that in the end the world will break your heart.” And it’s true that Irish history is an epic of misery and tragedy, interrupted only by occasional periods of joy. For almost 700 years, it was a crime to be Irish in Ireland.
And yet, the world does not have to break your heart. The Lennon family left County Down for Liverpool, eventually to produce John of the Beatles. The Kennedy family left County Wexford, eventually to produce another John, this the first Irish-Catholic president. And the Kearneys left County Offaly, eventually to produce another president, Barack Obama, who has distant cousins still in Ireland.
Memory, for the Irish, is a burden and a prompt. It can move you to ensure that Irish tragedies of the past are not repeated.
You remember those barefoot children starving to death in County Mayo during the Great Hunger of the mid-19th century, when a million Irish died, as you see skin clinging to bones in modern Haiti, Somalia or Yemen. Those Irish perished at a time when the British Empire was flush. And those children die today at a time when many nations of the world have never been more prosperous.
You remember dirty-faced, foreign-sounding, vaguely threatening Irish exiles pouring into Boston, New York and Philadelphia following the famine, as you see desperate people coming ashore — Syrian refugees — on Greek islands today. Then, they came across the Atlantic in disease-breeding coffin ships, fleeing a disaster. Today, they crowd into tiny boats in the Aegean Sea, fleeing a more modern disaster.
You remember those petty criminals stuffed into paddy wagons and filling the jails of New York City, when you hear Donald Trump call Mexicans rapists, criminals and horrible people. Substitute the world [sic word?[ Mexican for Irish and you have the same language.
“I am sorry to find that England is right about the lower class of Irish,” wrote George Templeton Strong, the 19th-century New York lawyer and diarist, a pillar of the city’s Protestant elite. “They are brutal, base, cruel cowards … creatures that crawl and eat dirt and poison every community they infest.”
So yes, let’s certainly raise a glass and pull some wonderful phrase from the bottomless barrel of Irish lyricism this coming week. The Irish saved civilization, the story goes, in protecting European treasures during a time of plunder elsewhere. But in the tale of how a people emerged triumphant from centuries of sadness, there’s something even greater. Ω
[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]
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