Hold On Tight To Ireland

I’m traveling through Ireland again, which is never a hard thing to do. The Irish culture is, for me, one of the most enduring and delightful experiences to be had in this world. I would travel to Ireland once a month if that’s what I was forced to do.

I have only met one person in my life who didn’t love Ireland. Because I understand that we are all unique individuals, I am forced to forgive her.

Truth be told, this is no Disneyland. And I mean that in this way: one does not drive from big attraction to big attraction. Sure, there are tourist stops like the Guinness Storehouse and Blarney Castle, but the best thing to do is pull up a seat at a pub and stamp your feet to Irish tunes performed by live musicians whose love for traditional music seems to be imbedded in their DNA.

The next big thing to do is to drive over the green and sheep-filled landscape from little town to little town, taking in the old pubs, the rows of shops selling toys or pots and pans or leprechaun key chains and claddagh rings to the tourists.

But this is what I mean: we visit Ireland because of its charm, and it’s charm exists because the Irish truly will it to be so, refuse to let it go, demand that their culture and tradition not be stolen by a world full of McDonald’s and Burger Kings. Passing by a small lake in a little hamlet, you sense there will never be a condominium complex built there with large windows and high association fees. There will only and forever be old men walking down the hilly cobbled lane, or a line of fluffy sheep making their way to somewhere.

Ireland is a place where nationalism is the stubborn ideal the Irish hold up to the world with their fists, challenging globalism and all that it means. They’d die before they’d allow an American chain restaurant to open its doors in a town like Kinsale or Killarney. They’d prefer to head over to the corner cafe for a spot of tea the same place their great-grandmother went to 100 years ago. You can keep your hamburgers and sugary drinks, thank you.

Part of their resistance to change comes from the struggles they endured under English rule. The English wanted the Irish to be English, but for the life of them, they couldn’t get them to stop singing “Danny Boy,” or tapping their feet to a jig, or from drinking Guinness Beer, or from going to church.

The Irish culture is the thing they held up to the English in defiance. The English could steal their land and expel them from their homes, but they couldn’t stop them from being Irish. You can put English lords in Ireland, but you can’t rob Irish-ness from the Irish.

This stubbornness has served the Irish well, creating a people who’ve held on to their roots with astounding pride. I have never meet an Irishman who did not deeply love Ireland, who did not wistfully sip a beer and gaze out the window and say, “I love Ireland,” when asked if they would ever leave.

I’ll tell you a story about Jacky Healy Rea. He’s a politician in Kerry County. When he goes to represent his county, he refuses to wear a suit like all the other stuffed shirts in the assembly, but instead dons a pink t-shirt.

But what he really represents are the people of Ireland who are tired of the rest of the world that comes calling telling them to change.

Rea campaigned on the idea of abolishing drunken driving laws. He argued that farmers outside of town had successfully been driving home from the pubs after a pint of two for more than a hundred years. Never a problem, he said.

But once the drunken driving laws came to Ireland, people stopped going to the pubs. Now, before you start rolling your eyes in feigned sympathy, you have to understand that the pubs in Ireland are the center of community life. It’s where culture is passed by way of Irish stories shared, where music emanates, where news is shared, where the minutiae that makes up generations of life has settled in the old wood floorboards and in the air.

Since people on the outskirts of town were afraid to drive, pubs all over Ireland closed to the tune of 1,500 whose doors were locked and windows shuttered.

Lots of people here think Jackie Rea is a hero not because he’s trying to keep the Guinness flowing, but because he’s trying to stop the always turning wheel of globalization from wiping out the Ireland everybody knows and loves.

Maybe you’re shaking your head and scoffing at the idea of resisting change.

But I’m standing at the garden gate with the stubborn Irish, holding it closed.

I’m of the mind that we have to say no to things that threaten that which makes us special.

I would like to believe that a hundred years from now there will be a woman making tamales in a small house somewhere in Guatemala or that a man will be singing an Irish song with his hand across his chest and his eyes closed, breathing in Ireland as he sings the Ireland he loves and remembers.