Memo From Mac



The Hutchinson News
Hutchinson, Kansas

'Tis An Air About A Man That Tells You He's From Ireland 
March 16, 1951

'Tis a far cry from this wide, clear land to where the great mountain Sleive-na-mon towers over the misty bogs like the divil's throne, and in whose hollow heart the fairies live.

Sure, and you may never go there, not ever, on a blustering, unaisy night, listen to the banshee cry, not live so long you'd see a real, live leprechaun.

But, the Saints be praised, around the corner or across the section from you lives an Irishman. See him tomorrow on St. Patrick's Day. Faith, and he's a sight to lay your eyes on. `Twill not be the twinkle in his eyes, nor the scent of the wee nip on his breath, nor the flash of green on his coat that marks the day. `Tis an air about him.

For an Irishman celebrates not who he is, not what he's done. He's content to brag about where he's from. And unless he's too long from the auld sod, the smell of peat smoke about him and the laughter in his logic will tell you this is Ireland's day.

His name is a one-word poem like O'Sullivan or McNamee, or Sweeney or O'Toole, Slattery, Dugan, Murphy, O'Connor, Casey, Gallagher, O'Brien, O'Hagen, O'Grady, O'Shaughnessey or Brophy.

Whatever drab, degrading thing he's doing now, or however dull a place he lives in, he knows he came, or at least his sainted grandmother did, from a place called Konoughmore or Skibbereen, from Tralee Bay or Inishmore.

He has as little to brag about as any immigrant. He comes from a small, poor, unhappy land; but he remembers it as a sweet, green, singing land. You can tell him his ancestors were racked by superstition and enslaved by papistry; he will retort they were wise enough to believe while others are merely puzzled by spirits, that Ireland loves its saints as well as other lands their sinners.

If you mention that a lot of names like Kelly and Hague and Flynn and O'Dwyer, turn up in tales of political corruption, he will reply, as we wuz sayin' the other naight at Callahan's wake, that it takes all kinds to make the worruld.

He follows that old Irish belief that three things banish sorrow love and whisky and music.

Of sorrow, he and his forbears have had their share, not a little of it of their own making. But sorrow is defeated first by resignation. It is, any real Irishman knows, only a pinance sint from heaven like poverty, sickness or being born a Protestant.

Sorrow is the famine, the Black and Tan, the unfriendliness of death. But the Irish enjoy sorrow more than any other people. They find pride in poverty, smile when they fight and sing at the wakes of their dead.

Then they banish sorrow with love love first of all of Ireland, and love of a slip of a blue-eyed colleen or a granny named McCree, love, for all the potatoes and cabbage and tyranny of the British Empire, of life itself.

And they saturate sorrow with whisky, which is drunk well by many races but truly appreciated by the Irish. Your Irish friend will tell you he holds his nose and shuts his eyes when he takes a nip, so his mouth doesn't water and pollute the stuff. You will preach temperance and pass prohibition and you may even dry up the rest of the worruld. But until sorrow vanishes until man has done the last bit of his penance for being man you'll always be able to find a wee drop of Irish whisky, golden as the sunset on MacGillicudy's Reeks and rich with the flavor of peat smoke.

And they frighten sorrow with music, singing "The Night that Paddy Murphy Died," "Steve O'Donell's Wake"; and songs like "Danny Boy," hopeful, beautiful "Kathleen Mavourneen"; and the gay, proud, happy songs everyone sings St. Patrick's Day.

If an Irishmen were to tell you what's wrong with the world, he'd say the love's too shallow, the whisky's too weak and the music comes not from the soul but the phonograph record.

The English have never reached Lough Ree in the heart of Erin nor tamed the De Valeras or the Sean O'Caseys. But along with their fortifications in Wicklow they left on Ireland the English language. They changed Baile Atha Cliath to Dublin and Dun Loaghaire to Kingstown.

The Irish have taken this conglomeration of utterings by Saxon and Norman and Roman legionnaires and made it a thing of beauty. Who else has turned the English language to music like Shaw and Joyce, Yeats, O'Faolain, O'Casey, Mac-Manus, and Brian Mac-Mahan? Their prose is poetry, their poems are songs, their songs are the strumming of harp strings.

Your Irishman may wince if you remind him his country, for all its fighting tradition, stayed out of the last war and is timid about this one. But he will argue that any fight where airplanes and atom bombs are used where a shillelagh and a half-brick aren't enough is beneath the dignity of man.

Most likely any Irishman you talk to, whatever is name, has never been to Ireland, is not a tenor, seldom gets into fights, isn't really a drunkard, and is vague about who St. Patrick was.

But, what matter? No one you'll talk to has ever been to Heaven either, but there's a lively tradition about what it's like.

And the Irish tradition shouldn't be disturbed. For, to quote a blatherskite of an Englishman, who nevertheless was a fair poet named Kipling: "Where there are Irish there's loving and fighting, And if we stop either, it's Ireland no more."

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