Felix Carroll: In the shadow of the shamrock


MONTEREY >> Our perpetual novenas to St. Patrick lead to his feast day March 17 that serves as an annual holy day of obligation to drink ourselves silly and get maudlin about the motherland. My oh my, what hyphenated American other than the Irish-American barks from behind his hyphen with such volume and self-possession?

Bartender, a beer. Hold the green, plastic hat.

Did you know the famed Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote of his brethren, "We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry"? I'm hoarse from quarreling with others this political season. Join me, fella. Bartender, pour this man a pint. On behalf of my fellow Irish-hyphenated-Americans, permit me to quarrel with myself. Stop me when I start crying.

I want to go home to the home of my forefathers. I want to roll in peat and swim the western sea on Christmas Day. I'm proud to be Irish because it relieves me from the burden of being American. Am I talking too loudly?

Too cute by half

I hate these paper cutouts of shamrocks dangling from the ceiling, don't you? And I don't care for corn beef and cabbage, either. Do you think the Irish have grown weary of us Irish-Americans yet?

Just look at us. We demand our Irish to be charming and mischievous. We want them dressed in impossibly bright shades of green. We want their roofs to be thatched. We want leprechauns to show us where the treasure is buried.

I've been to the Motherland, and, pal, not all her natives are cute. Some are uncute. Some are jerks. But you know what else? The treasure is never buried. They know that. Follow the tin whistle and the pounding of bodhran. Point your sights to heaven, and you'll get earth thrown in. C.S. Lewis said something to that effect, or maybe I said that. I probably didn't say that. Am I mumbling? You'd tell me, right?

Notice how all the other hyphenated Americans — Polish, Italians, Mexicans — can raise their glasses to their homelands, prepare their native foods, sing their native songs, but then can get on with being American. Why can't we? We sit upon barstools and declare diplomatic immunity. I really hope the Irish aren't sick of us.

Baptized with spit, my grandparents were put on the coffin ship. They treaded lightly upon this land knowing they tread upon the dreams of their progeny. Have we let them down, I wonder — our grandparents. Have we taken the easy life for granted — this food, these shoes, these asphalt shingles, these dentists? And still with every passing year we grow more restless, right?

Bartender, get Ireland on the line. Hey, Ireland, I just want you to know a few things. Don't believe what you hear. We sons of the Motherland never assimilated in America. We just "co-exist."

You need another pint, pal? I do. Another round for my friend and me.

Here's my sadness: One cannot be a proud American anymore. I hear "proud American" and it's code for political trash talk. America's shared experience has faded to sepia. We share nothing now but a suicide pact. "The ceremony of innocence is drowned. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Yep, Yeats again, see?

Ireland, at least your passion and pain breed poetry. At least sweet-peat music slashes through your strata of mourning. Over here, we parse out our mourning through poll numbers and consumer confidence reports.

Take me back, Ireland. I can take a punch. I won't question your obsession with morning dew. I'll overlook the fact Galway now has excellent Indian restaurants. And it's not a deal breaker that Shane MacGowan has a pub named after him in London.

Obscuring hyphen

So say, for instance, I paid you a little visit. Just a shoulder bag is all I'd bring. Would you let me in? Has too much time gone by? Has my hyphen gotten in the way? Would you still have portraits of the Pope and JFK on your mantle? Would you have an old letter in a tin box informing you of my birth? Yes, that's a tear in my eye. Please, please tell me you have an old letter in a tin box informing you of my birth.

Ireland, I'm antsy. I'm on the wrong side of Greenland. I'm on tippy-toes, peering above my hyphen. I can hear your Angelus bells. Re-wrap me in your indomitable Irishry. "I carry from my mother's womb a fanatic's heart." Yeats again. With each verse — verse after verse after verse — I'll put this coffin ship in reverse.

But, my oh my, I know, I know: It's a long way to Tipperary.


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