Is it just me or has Ireland become a nicer place since the Celtic Tiger developed a toothache? I hadn’t been back in eighteen months and the change was both startling and pleasant.
Like many I was delighted with the country’s economic boom and its newfound confidence. However, Ireland’s many masters of the universe are no different than our New York breed: arrogant, self-serving bantam cocks who, as my mother used to say, have “lost the run of themselves.” Thankfully, they were far less in evidence this trip.
But let me diverge from my own prejudices and predispositions. I recently took a group over to Ireland with the purpose of showing them the “literary, historical, political and musical” side of the country, God help us - a tall order in six weeks, let along 6 days. They were a mix of Celtic Crush listeners - a show I host for SiriusXM Satellite Radio - and Black 47 fans.
Almost all were visiting for the first time so let me give some of their observations.
First and foremost, Guinness made a huge impression. There’s nothing quite like putting back a lunchtime pint of plain for building a solid foundation, thereby setting a contented course for the rest of the day.
My fellow-travelers – all of them hard-working, intellectually driven people – used such glowing terms as “mother’s milk,” and “liquid Quaaludes,” to describe Arthur’s porter, now in its two hundred and fiftieth year of brewing. They were, however, aghast that young Irish people seem to have forsworn black magic for American alcoholic beverages “with all the body of an anorexic flea” as one lady from California put it while ordering a third when we had just stopped for “the wan.”
You have to wonder about the future of this “nectar of the gods” in the Emerald Isle since I never saw a person unthreatened by mid-life crisis raise a pint of plain. Ah well, I hear business is booming in Nigeria and we have a host of new converts recently arrived back in the US eager as Mormons to spread the word.
Putting aside the booze for a moment, I think we should petition Bono to espouse a new cause – the addition of a sunroof over Ireland, for there are few countries with such marvelous scenery when the rain stays in Spain. Apart from a few blustery showers, we were favored with warm and breezy weather. Perhaps, the black stuff was working its magic but the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, Connemara, the South Wexford coast, West Cork and the Kingdom of Kerry never looked better.
My group was beyond impressed by the ever-present sense of history. Some months prior to departure, I had given them a list of books, movies and poetry to digest so most had some sense of Ireland’s literature and past. But whether it was Yeats in Sligo, Sarsfield in Limerick, Joyce in Dublin, Cromwell in Wexford or Mick Collins in West Cork, we seemed to have ghosts peering over our shoulders everywhere.
But let’s not forget the living. The Irish people we encountered were invariably warm, witty, welcoming, humorous, and unfailingly kind and polite. There have been times over the last decade when I felt that I’d better book a month ahead to make sure that old friends might fit me into their harried schedule. Perhaps it’s the general economic downturn but everyone seemed to have time for a chat – and a pint.
The Irish have always been noted for their love of words and conversation. Having forfeited our own tongue, we took the English language, twisted and turned it into something unique and malleable, rinsed it out with good cheer and humor, and infused it with spirit, soul and a delight in the hearing and telling a good yarn.
Much of that seemed to have vanished in the boom years when one was more likely to be regaled with bulletins on rising house values, the latest holiday in Thailand, and a host of vapid consumerist exploits.
Booms may be good for the bank balance but busts seem to gain more traction for the soul. In our own tough economic times maybe that’s something worth remembering – and when all else fails, how about a pint of black magic to put all manner of things in perspective.