March 17, 2008
Because it's you-know-who's day and all that, and because Hoboken takes it upon itself to celebrate the day beginning two weeks in advance, I am driven to record some stuff about Ireland and the Irish. In Hoboken, they may even need to be reminded that this is actually St. Patrick’s Day.
The many aspects of Irishness give us a magic lantern to illuminate our lives with a glimmer of poetry and the distant chime of music. There is that haunting wistfulness in our somewhat Irish hearts that prompts an elegant turn of phrase. It was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who, upon learning of the assassination of Robert Kennedy, said, “You’re not Irish if you don’t know your heart’s meant to be broken…”
I could praise Ireland’s homely, soul-filling food like corned beef simmered for hours with cabbage and potatoes or caraway-scented soda bread, or its heart-wrenching characters like those portrayed in the classic film The Quiet Man (rent it if you haven't seen it yet).
Ah, there are many beautiful movies that transport us to the Emerald Isle -- Once is still on my must-see list. I could say something about walking about in chilly Dublin on a grey April day in 1971 -- please don't remind me you weren't born yet -- and finding a beautiful restaurant-pub called where the Irish coffee warmed us to our toes and changed our bleak impression of the gritty, grey little city. (I could also tell you of our immense disappointment at both the offerings we saw at the Abbey Theater that year -- a student production of Synge's "Deidre of the Sorrows," which we forgave because it was indeed a student production, and the unforgivably poor mounting of The Playboy of the Western World the next day.)
Even world renowned institutions stumble from time to time.
Since the turn of the last century, the English-speaking stage has been sparked by the talents of Irish writers. From John Millington Synge and Sean O'Casey (and those with Celtic roots, like Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw) through today's Brian Friel, Hugh Leonard, and Conor McPherson, we have the Irish to thank for many evenings of unforgettable theatre. At my own theatre in South Alabama, Jubilee Fish, many remember our haunting productions of Da, and the poetic Sea Marks by Gardner McKay, presented in the 1990’s.
This was before I appeared in Fairhope’s Theater 98 production of Dancing at Lughnasa, playing the role of Kate, the elder sister. This one was directed by a man whose name is quite similar to Sean Thornton, the John Wayne character in The Quiet Man.
When left to their own devices, the Irish have lots to give us besides potatoes and shamrocks. Just writing this, I am hearing the lilting Gaelic music that has become so popular in the last ten years, and I think of all the Irish singers of Irish songs over time. Hollywood celebrated generations of Irish tenors, including Dennis Morgan, who, it turns out was actually of Swedish descent, with the real name of Stanley Morner. But there is that lilting voice and that open face that spoke of Ireland to us nonetheless.
Reading this, you may suspect I have a modicum of Irish blood myself. Have a cup of Irish coffee today and think of me. You just might find me in an Irish bar in Hoboken, wearing that boa of dyed-green chicken feathers I bought for the parade two weeks ago. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!