Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
-William Butler Yeats ‘Easter 1916
Yeat’s words were to mark the famous or infamous Irish Easter uprising of 1916 in that vain attempt to throw off the shackles of Saxon domination. It was ugly and it was bloody and if you walk past the General Post Office on Dublin’s O’Connell Street you can still see the bullet scars on the walls.
We’re sat on a coach in the early morning, departing the west coastal town of Galway and looking out across Galway Bay towards the Aran Isles at the mouth of the bay. Somebody asks our tour guide if he will sing Galway Bay for us. Not an odd request of him as he was a man of wonderfully fine voice – a characteristic shared by many of his compatriots. And he said: “Sure and I will but you must mind that the song is what we call ‘Bing Crosby Irish’, not true Irish.” And he then launched into such a fine version that it might have put Der Bingle to shame. Likely there were a few damp eyes on the coach.
I have traveled fairly extensively over the years and can honestly say that Ireland is one of the most agreeable places I have visited. My first wife and I spent 10-days on a coach tour in April of 1981. The ‘coach’ part was her idea as I wanted to rent a car, but being the unspeakably agreeable person I am, I acceded to her wishes.
It was our second visit to Ireland, as we had visited Ulster a few years earlier. Politics notwithstanding, both parts of Ireland are stunning in their beauty and the charm of the people – at least the people we encountered. And the women. Irish women are often, with their rosy cheeks and fine bosoms and red hair and lilting accents – you know, the ‘full’ Maureen O’Hara – capable of evoking almost physical pain in the hapless male beguiled by their charms.
Geographically Ireland is stunning in almost all its bits of turf – an’ sure an’ dere’s a lot o’ turf and you see it piled up against the whitewashed cottages on the west coast. At the same time, it has a great deal of history and not all of it is agreeable. Virtually every town and village will have a memorial to some poor bastards who were ‘martyred’ in the name of a dubious freedom. A freedom that did not, until relatively recent times, remove the shackles of the Holy Mother Church that would not permit divorce, and sent those who did not want to knock up good wife Bridget for the 10th time off to England or the Isle of Man to make a condom run.
It was also a morally conflicted state in which hookers rode the Dublin buses – believe me, it is so – and then would pray after they had turned a trick.
All of that stuff and yet a glimpse of the sumptuous horse farms with their white fences outside Dublin, and the streets of Killarney with its multi-colored houses and painfully lovely countryside near the lakes, and you can easily forget it all and think, I would like to live here. Sure an’ tis a fine bit o’ sod.
But the reality is never far away. A tour coach guide who noted, almost gleefully, as we passed by Mountjoy Prison (isn’t that an ironic name for a slammer?) outside of Dublin, that the majority of inmates were IRA Provos and asserted with no small relish “We still have capital punishment in Ireland.” It’s the same twist that renders it illegal to sing a republican song in a public place, so no renderings of ‘We’re Off to Dublin in Green’ if you don’t want to be busted.
These meandering thoughts were all influenced by the fact that St. Patrick’s Day looms on the horizon and I can easily say I’d make a return trip any time.