The Longest Day of the Year

March 17th, 2011

Is it over yet?

Those of us who are Irish (or, to put it more elegantly, “of Irish extraction”) have to face up to St. Patrick’s Day once a year.  It brings into view all the worst aspects of the Irish character, a character that has more than its share of worst characteristics.

Remember, this small — even tiny — country is responsible for “Lord of the Dance,” “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” Mickey Rooney, the peat bog fire, Barry Fitzgerald, leprechauns, most of the cops in Boston, and Bono.  And, of course, drinking.  And more drinking.

I’m fine with being Irish, to the extent that I am.  My family always identified as Irish, even though my mother’s father was German and my father’s mother was Swiss.  But we were Irish enough to buy into the vision of Ireland as a land of poets, rain, and fist fights.  We were, or at least I was, secretly proud that my father’s father had dropped the “O” in O’Hallinan at Ellis Island or wherever he entered the country.

But even when I was a young snob, as opposed to the old snob I’ve grown into, St. Patrick’s Day offended me.  The thing that appealed to me about Irishness was melancholy, not drinking and doing the jig and making dialect jokes and sodden sentimentality and the wearing of the green and all that awful music.  What I liked was old grievances, broken hearts, cloudy skies, and poets: Yeats and Synge and even Wilde, who spent a lifetime denying his melancholy and gave into it only in Reading Gaol, when he wrote the greatest words of his life.

If I’d been consulted before I was born, asked which ethnic or national group I’d like to be a member of, I probably would have said the Jews.  Lots of classical musicians, composers, physicists, novelists, poets.  Lots of internalized loss and grievance.  Lots of humor.  A cohesive sense of looking out for one another, as demonstrated in the way most of my Jewish friends can identify second cousins and other relatives far enough from the tree to marry legally.

And those characteristics are shared with the Irish, which is probably why there are those who hold that the inhabitants of the Emerald Isle are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.  But those aren’t the characteristics St. Patrick’s Day celebrates.  It celebrates the twee, twinkling, leprechaun, isn’t-alcoholism-entertaining image of the Irish character.  And you can keep it.

I can’t wait until it’s over.

10 Responses to “The Longest Day of the Year”

  1. EverettK Says:

    I’ve never been to Ireland, but from what I’ve read and seen (TV and movies), it’s gray and wet and windy and dreary enough, for far too much of the year, to make ANYONE melancholy. No wonder they drink to excess! And I’m from western Oregon, which has it’s own share of similar weather for 5-6 months out of the year. But at least we get a decent sized break.

    However, yeah, a very little bit of the isn’t-alcoholism-entertaining stuff goes a long way, whether you’re of Irish extraction or not.

  2. John - your friendly neighborhood Lindquist Says:

    St. Patty’s Day always brings out the leprechaun in this Norski. Few things are more fun than tipping over a step dancer who has imbibed one too many. There he goes on the floor – still kicking, not missing a beat, and (bonus!) starting to perform a slow spin.

  3. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    I think it is interesting that you mention the Jews. I hail from that background, and it is very culturally rich, valuing learning and the arts. I feel fortunate to have that background, but here comes the melancholy. The dark side of that is the kind of rarified atmosphere which makes us sound elitist, and somewhat removed from regular work life which we aren’t. In the last few years, I have discovered Irish writers, along with other fans, and I find myself drawn to the atmosphere and the immense talent I find there. (I don’t know if you qualify, living in sunny Southern California. Is this a rumor that the Irish are a lost tribe of Israel? That would explain the affinity I have for the Celts, the Scots, oh hell, all the Britons. Probably no connection at all.

  4. micael hallinan Says:

    Women are from Venus, men are from Ireland. Thats all we need to know about Ireland…..Also ” two Irishmen walk out of a bar” It could happen. Anyway, unlike my no fun brother I love St Patrick’s day. Tonight I am eating three times my body weight (the humming bird diet) in corn beef and cabbage with soda bread. Whats that, no potatos? O.K. Potatos too. Yes Muns, you can come by.

  5. Gary Says:

    Yet each man kills the thing he loves
    By each let this be heard
    Some do it with a bitter look
    Some with a flattering word

    Tim really loves St. Patrick’s Day. It’s just that he can’t bring himself to say it.

  6. Debbi Says:

    Hey, Tim, you forgot to mention those annoying Riverdance people with their arms hanging useless down their sides and their feet going all clippety-cloppety.

    Enough of that shite, I say.

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Ahhh, the Ould Sod – it draws them every time.

    Everett, Oregon is the American Ireland, but more politically correct. Also higher in software engineers and game designers, in place of potato farmers, bartenders, and revolutionaries.

    John, the phrase,”the leprechaun in the Norski” opens up whole new vistas of hangover awfulness, hangovers so bad that the part of your head that feels best on the day after is the part you fell on, the night before. Thanks so much for bringing that into my life.

    Lil, I’ve heard it theorized repeatedly that the Irish are the descendants of one of the ten lost tribes, specifically the Tribe of Dan, which is kind of an informal name for a lost tribe. There’s also a lost tribe of Simeon, which is not where Simeon Grist’s name came from.

    micael gets the funniest line, women are from Venus, men are from Ireland. I hope you enjoy your dreadful meal and I hope the windows are open while it’s being cooked. The stench of cooking cabbage has a half-life measured in centuries. I used to have a great recipe for potato soda bread though. Damn, it was good.

    Nice Wilde quote there, Gary, and from Reading Gaol, too. Some do it with a pint of beer/Some with shillelaghs drawn. I know, “drawn” doesn’t rhyme with “heard,” but I get points foe “shillelaghs.”

    Debbi, I thought I hated Riverdance until I saw The Lord of the Dance. Compared to The Lord of the Dance, Riverdance is Swan Lake.

  8. Gary Says:

    Yet others sneer at what they love
    Treat Patrick’s Day with scorn
    Some do it with a pint of beer
    Some with shillelags drawn

    There you are. And I give it to you for nothing.

  9. Laren Bright Says:

    The lesbian girl at the pizza place where we picked up our traditional Irish pizza last night called it amateur drinking day.

    I’ll drink to that.

  10. Suzanna Says:

    I think it’s safe to say that we all have racial stereotypes aimed our way that are insulting but honestly I hadn’t considered that St Patrick’s Day may be insulting to some on so many levels until now, so thanks for enlightening me.

    Hope you had a good day despite all the St Pat’s fanfare.

    Raining. Here. Again. Ugh.

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