• Uncategorized Mon, Sep 9, 2013 No Comments

    “Pinto’ stout, please. . . . Now, with plea­sure, sir! . . . Two Paddys, please. . . . Ah, grand, there you are, sir!” In time individual voices merge into a single animate sound that fills every corner, as warm and reassur­ing as a peat fire on a winter’s day. This is the hour of social communion, an affirmation, its rituals the slow pulling on the pump le­vers that fill glasses with dark stout, the careful scraping off of excess foam with a knife. Gossip abounds. “The Irish are a fair people,” Dr. Samuel Johnson once noted, “they never speak well of one another.” There’s talk of horses and business deals and a catching up on news of friends and rela­tives—for Ireland’s a small place, and the interconnections extraordinary: “Of course I know her; she’s my sister’s godmother!” Promises are here made in the best of spirits, for no one will hold you to them.

    The first warning comes: “Last round, gentlemen!” More drinks are ordered, the tables crowded with glasses. Then, “Time please, gentlemen, ladies. Time, please!” As the patrons depart, the once animated room falls into a silence like death. Out on the sidewalk, benedictions are given, the last words of the day: “God bless, Frank, take care o’ yourself. . . . See you at the next meeting, Declan, God bless. . . . God bless, Mick, all the best. . . . God bless.”

    SOME ASPECTS of the Irish charac­ter, it is said, are traceable to the centuries of British rule. “We’re all lawbreakers at heart, you know,” a poet said with only half a smile. From oppression had come a taste for anarchy, a belief that freedom lay not in institutions but in oppos­ing them; a drift into fantasy, escape of the powerless. George Bernard Shaw had lacer­ated his countrymen for this: “Oh, the dreaming! the dreaming! the torturing, heart-scalding, never satisfying dreaming, dreaming, dreaming. . . !”

    Even the wondrous circumspection in Irish conversation is attributed to English rule—a hark-back to the days when a troop of English horsemen might rein up to an Irish farmer and demand: “Be this the road to Kilkenny?” To which the Irishman, real­izing the fierce captain had taken the wrong road, would reply: “Well now, would ye be wanting to go there by way of Thurles?”

    The English influence cuts another way. I sat one day in the faculty Common Room of Trinity College with Brendan Kennelly, poet, professor, anthologist. Brendan is a Kerry man, raised in the Catholic tradition. He writes of farmers and fishermen, of par­ents and girls and pilgrimages, of history and myth, and of the darker side of love. He draws on Irish strengths: “Our conscious­ness of suffering, our ability to turn suffering into music.”

    Trinity was founded by Queen Elizabeth in 1591; until very recently it was regarded as a bastion of the Anglo-Irish, the descen¬dants of the Normans and English who set¬tled in Ireland over the centuries.

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