Yes, I know I’m late posting, but I”ve spent the day with my family. We consider this one of the high holy days, and spend it together–usually at a restaurant as far removed from an Irish bar as we can get. Because, you see, we’re not amateurs, and we don’t see a need to mix with them.
St. Louis has a monstrous celebration: fourth largest in the country. We have two parades: one downtown that is the big public one, and one in the area we call Dogtown where the original Irish immigrants settled, put on by the Ancient Order of the Hibernians. Usually those parades are separate, because the downtown parade is always on a Saturday and the AOH parade is always on St. Patrick’s Day. And yeah, they coincided this year. The AOH parade is completely family oriented–well, as much as it can be when bars are open. And all the bars and restaurants with an O in the title rent tents and pour green beer. My very favorite site in St. Louis, John D. McGurk’s, actually puts up a wire cage, like Blues Brothers, to keep the crowd from falling over the traditional Irish music band that plays.
So I refuse to wear shamrock glasses or F#$# Me I’m Irish buttons or silly green wigs. I figure if you take one look at my face, you get the idea. But it’s a very important day for my family. Mostly I guess because of my mom. She was Irish with a capitol I. Wept at sad music(is there any other kind?), celebrated any Irish triumph, railed against the British(she used to point out the fact that there were no trees in Ireland. “It’s because the English tore them down to build warships in the 1800s”, she’d say. “Couldn’t they have planted them again any time in the last, oh, say, eighty years they’ve been an independent country?” I’d ask. She’d smack me. After all, what’s the point of replanting the forests if that takes away the chance to blame the English for taking them down in the first place? Fortunately, Ireland is much more sensible than my mom. They’ve started replanting.
If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written, you’ll see how important Ireland is to me. It infuses everything I write. My themes tend to be guilt and redemption. My heroines are usually named something like Maggie or Molly. My families are dysfunctional(have you read Angela’s Ashes? I know those people. I’m related to them–fortunately, one ring out on the family tree, so they’re interesting instead of devestating). I find the dynamic of the Irish character endlessly fascinating. A land of madmen and poets, Ireland is called. So true; so true. I can’t tell you the times I’ve walked into a music pub and seen a pathetic, drooling, can’t-clean-himself drunk passed out on the bar until somebody with the band says, “Tommy, lad, will you give us a song?” And suddenly, for the length of time it takes him to finish a song–maybe twelve verses of it–he lifts himself, opens his rheumy eyes, his mouth, and a sound of pure beauty pours out from him. Then, finished, he lowers his head again. Amazing.
Yeah, I go to Ireland frequently. (Here are a couple of my pictures.) I can’t help it. I was just saying tonight that I missed it–especially in the spring. There are so many places on earth I want to see, but every other year, like a salmon hearing the call of the river where he was spawned, I have to return to the west coast of Ireland and sit out on a headland and write longhand in a notebook. I sit the whole evening in the music pubs, and if I’m lucky, sing the old songs(I actually have a collection a friend gave me entitled “It’s not an Irish love song if nobody dies”). It’s therapy. We figured I’ve been over thirteen times. I can’t wait to get back. It’s where God lives for me. It’s where countless generations of ancestors call to me, and the cousins who are still there welcome me with family stories. It’s where I tap into the core of creativity(more on that in a later post).
So if you’ll excuse me, I”m going to put on the movies Into the West, then Matchmaker and Ryan’s Daughter and sigh for the most beautiful spot on earth. In the meantime, Slainte! I hope your St. Patrick’s Day was nice, be ye Irish or not.
Eileen and Kathleen, the evil twins