Monday, March 17, 2014

Yeats, the Gaol, and Thin Lizzy: Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride  
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:  
A terrible beauty is born.

These words from Yeats's masterful poem "Easter, 1916" rumbled through my head last month when I visited Dublin, and Kilmainham Gaol, because of the strange beauty of its architecture.

The gaol was a place of unmitigated suffering from its opening in 1796 through to the
famine year 1845–1852, when the poor were truly incarcerated for stealing bread, to the early 20th century when the leaders and followers of the 1916 uprising—fourteen at least— were shot by firing squad on the grounds.

Here's the thing about being an American visiting Ireland: We were a colony of England, and when that no longer felt tenable, we had a Revolution. It was bloody, and lasted 8 long years, April 19, 1775  until the surrender at Yorktown, September 3, 1783. Then it was over and we were free of British Crown Rule.

The Irish tried the same, and ended up with 800 years of bloodshed, and a third of their country still under the crown. Such different fates for two countries with the same goals.

We have always found the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English. Winston Churchill

Since the Good Friday Agreement, signed 10 April 1998, sanity returned to the two isles, and the daily/monthly killing of the 1970s was finally over. Economic prosperity has come and gone in the Celtic Tiger and the banking collapses.

Dubin Today: Irish Is Spoken & the English Like to Visit
What struck me most last month were the cultural things. For instance, the amazing resurrection of Irish, the Gaelic language.  The English language is so associated with Ireland through the brilliance of Joyce, Yeats, Shaw, Cavanaugh, etc., that it's easy to forget that it is the language of the conqueror. Forty years ago or so Ireland made a conscious effort to revive their native language. Today: official signs are in Irish first, then English; there are Irish language soap operas, sports shows, and talk shows, as well as columns in print and online; and you hear the Elven-sounding language spoken casually on cell phones.

I was also suprised how many young English guys and girls were visiting. At the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, at the dinner/show with traditional Irish music, there were lots of and lots of Englishmen. One couple was on their honeymoon. Seems that the progeny of the conquerors are lucky to be able to enjoy the extensive charms of the vanquished, who were never entirely done in.

And in fact, are the coolest, quirkiest bunch of people on the planet. Case in point: outside of my hotel was a statue of Phil Lynott, late of Thin Lizzy, Ireland's first great rock band to go international. He was born in England to an Afro-Guyanese father and an Irish mother, and went to live with an uncle in Dublin when he was 4. Friends said that he insisted on being called Irish and wiki lists his "origin" as Ireland. Below a smoking performance of "Whiskey in the Jar."

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh