An American Poet in Ireland

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The third in my series of articles for The Noise.

“Many a sudden change takes place on an unlikely day.” —Old Irish saying

We arrive in Dublin on National Day of the Sunburn, the sun burning bright and strong on the old streets. Blokes with pink faces and red chests strut the wide sidewalks of O’Connell, carrying their shirts in their fists and lopsided grins on their faces. Cleavage is everywhere burning, happily. Hello, St. Patrick. I bring you my fists full of snakes.

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My entire family is along for this chapter in my international debacle, taking some type of pilgrimage back to our supposed origins. More accurately, it is to be a two-week drunk, thinly disguised as the last “family vacation”—the gran finale to a string of trips running back into my youth.

We board a bus toward the city centre, with mum navigating. I’m sitting on the upper level of the double-decker, stuck between the ripfire sun and tall windows that don’t open. We’re nearing our destination when the bus runs over an electric hippopotamus, the beast screaming and sparking as it goes under our wheels. The bus driver yanks the bus over to the side of the busy street and we all begin to shuffle toward the exit.

Turns out I’m wrong about the hippo bit. The bus driver has had what I’ll hear him describe as “a bit of a smack,” which, turns out, is Irish for “my bus has nearly ripped another car’s door completely off its hinges.”

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“Some genius stopped in the centre lane to let out his girlfriend,” he is going on to explain in a weird, calm voice, the radio pushed to his thin lips, “I had the green and I came up right along it.” Before he describes the rest, I’m already on the sidewalk looking at the girlfriend, who is holding her head in her hands, every part of her body shaking. It was nearly her spine that was bent backwards along with the door of her boyfriend’s good-looking car. No matter, there’s no time for us to stand around, a quartet of tourists gawking at a “bit of a smack.”

There are things to do, such as completing the final steps of the long pilgrimage. We’re only a few kilometers from St. James’ Gate, famous for housing the lead brewery of Guinness & Co.

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Holland is to pot what Ireland is to stout. The Guinness Storehouse is by all accounts the largest single tourist attraction in the entire nation. The 1000+ year-old Christian manuscript known as the Book of Kells, housed at Trinity College? A distant second. An island famous for its drunks attracts drunks for tourists. At the very end of the brewery tour, they offer up the obligatory free pint. Unlikely that a free baptism or pint of holy water is offered after the Book of Keels tour.

“What would the cat’s son do but kill a mouse?” —Old Irish saying

I am son of The Cat. The Cat, aside from financing this fiasco, has been sticking to a strict diet this week, a diet consisting of three basic elements: some potatoes to eat, a graveyard to gawk at, and a pint to wash it all down. This is not a difficult challenge. These things practically fall into one’s lap on this green island. The Cat is giggling now, sucking down the day’s first helping of the alcoholic black milk, clearly in his element.

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We’re at a small pub, crowded around at a smaller table, sunlight pushing through the open door into the dank. The carpet is a dark smear, and the walls recall a friend’s comments about the Copper Queen in Bisbee: “it take a lot of years for tobacco smoke to marinate wood this well.” Nevertheless, smoking in bars and restaurants has been banned in Ireland since 2002. There wasn’t a vote about it, just an overzealous Minister of Health. Nor was there the popular revolt that everyone expected to follow the decision.

We marvel at the menu and its Irish plethora of fried foods and chat up the barkeep as he waits for our pints to settle. “I paid Guinness €15,000 last month, and what did I get for it? Nothin. ‘Kickback’ ain’t the word I’m lookin for, but at least Hinekin passes me a little cap or somethin. Out of every ten pints of stout I sell, nine of ‘em would be Guinness.” For many years, Guinness ran an ad campaign. It was simple. The slogan was “Guinness is good for you.” This was also the era in which pints were prescribed to the sick and to mothers while nursing.

“Never say die, while there’s meat on the shin of a wren.” —A an Irish

Forget shamrocks and leprechauns, there is no more poignant symbol of Ireland today than the cranes that hang over nearly every city. Construction is everywhere, this is an era of progress.

Ireland has been part of the European Union since 1977, and switched to using the Euro currency exclusively in 2002. Today over half of the population is under thirty, and roughly a third of the entire population lives here in Dublin. The youth are obvious. They drip drunk around corners, sunburn on the sidewalks and open their car doors into moving traffic. It’s their time, it’s a hopeful time and they know it.

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There are as many people of Irish decent living in the United States today as in Ireland, but the newfound economic progress has even transformed Ireland into a destination for immigrants. Streams of Poles are immigrating to Dublin, seeking the €7.40 minimum wage, or better.

These Irish never say die. Smacks, drunkery and economic prosperity. What more could a country ask for? I’m son of The Cat and I’ve been killing rats since noon. I can’t walk straight. What more could I ask for on my last family vacation?

“To be red haired to better than to be without a head.”

Indeed.