St. Patrick’s Day was always a big deal for me and my other Irish friends. One year at the college where we both taught my friend and colleague, Denis Joseph Francis Callahan made a special presentation on the white slavery of the Irish. He had an ulterior, political motive at that college in which most of the students were Hispanic, Filipino or Black, and that was the un-PC point of, “Shut yer gob. We’ve all had a rough go.” America’s tradition of white slavery is a bit of history that many white nationalities have experienced coming to the new world and which is never — OK, very very seldom — taught in history classes. Many people were shocked. I do not think the lesson stuck, but at least it was out there.
There were other celebrations, too, particularly the reading of Irish literature at D. G. Wills bookstore in La Jolla where Irish books took prominence on the shelves.
In my family, too, Kennedy, dontcha’ know, there was the eating of the corned beef and cabbage, the buying of soda bread at the store, whatever else there was Irish that we could do. Sad to say, the parents weren’t whiskey drinkers. Me mum drank Bourbon and me da was after a finger or two of Scotch. The beer in my house was Schlitz. For meself, my favorite poet is an Irishman, William Butler Yeats, and ’tis of no importance that he was a Northern Irishman, he was Irish, still.
As for me, I’ve passed for Irish so well that in an Irish pub in San Diego, accompanied by a friend from Ireland, a pub patronized by ex-pats (see what I did there?) a foine young man, a few sheets to the wind, asked me when I’d last been “home.”
And now? All my research has shown me that in me blood, I have but a drop of the ould sod.
The British Celtic races from which I’m descended came from the Scottish highlands (see picture above). Looks like I’m more Indigenous American than Irish. So here I am this St. Patrick’s Day, feeling nostalgia not for me ancestral homelands of the Green Isle, but feeling nostalgia for the time when I believed I was Irish.
The truth can be a hard thing.
Erin go Bragh! anyway and here’s my favorite Yeats’ poem, the “Song of the Happy Shepherd.”
The woods of Arcady are dead,
And over is their antique joy;
Of old the world on dreaming fed;
Grey Truth is now her painted toy;
Yet still she turns her restless head:
But O, sick children of the world,
Of all the many changing things
In dreary dancing past us whirled,
To the cracked tune that Chronos sings,
Words alone are certain good.
Where are now the warring kings,
Word be-mockers? — By the Rood
Where are now the warring kings?
An idle word is now their glory,
By the stammering schoolboy said,
Reading some entangled story:
The kings of the old time are dead;
The wandering earth herself may be
Only a sudden flaming word,
In clanging space a moment heard,
Troubling the endless reverie.
Then nowise worship dusty deeds,
Nor seek, for this is also sooth,
To hunger fiercely after truth,
Lest all thy toiling only breeds
New dreams, new dreams; there is no truth
Saving in thine own heart. Seek, then,
No learning from the starry men,
Who follow with the optic glass
The whirling ways of stars that pass —
Seek, then, for this is also sooth,
No word of theirs — the cold star-bane
Has cloven and rent their hearts in twain,
And dead is all their human truth.
Go gather by the humming sea
Some twisted, echo-harbouring shell,
And to its lips thy story tell,
And they thy comforters will be,
Rewarding in melodious guile
Thy fretful words a little while,
Till they shall singing fade in ruth
And die a pearly brotherhood;
For words alone are certain good:
Sing, then, for this is also sooth.
I must be gone: there is a grave
Where daffodil and lily wave,
And I would please the hapless faun,
Buried under the sleepy ground,
With mirthful songs before the dawn.
His shouting days with mirth were crowned;
And still I dream he treads the lawn,
Walking ghostly in the dew,
Pierced by my glad singing through,
My songs of old earth’s dreamy youth:
But ah! she dreams not now; dream thou!
For fair are poppies on the brow:
Dream, dream, for this is also sooth.