Primer for the Trump Apocalypse: God Save Ireland!

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General Post Office, Dublin, Ireland. (Credit: Kaihsu Tai)

(Dublin, January 2017) Weathering under the foul winds of the Trump Apocalypse, I have been improving my soul by a visit to the Land of the Saints. One never comes to Ireland for the first time; one merely returns to a place as familiar as the fading memories of your grandfather’s or grandmother’s house.

At the airport the cabdriver greets you with a welcome and a broad smile. You have been told to mistrust the joviality of the Irish; it is a caricature—you have been told—used to control foreigners. But you cannot help to respond agreeably: when was the last time you were greeted by a cabdriver in the States with anything but a surly expression?

After pleasantries the talk inevitably turns to the recent US election. In gentle terms, the cabdriver expresses his unbelief at the fact that we spurned a candidate as intelligent and prepared as Hillary Clinton and elected a “crazy man” as president. I heard the underlying tenor of his words: it was the same one yelled indignantly by W.B. Yeats at the rioting crowds in the Abbey Theatre upon the premiere of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars: “You have disgraced yourselves—again!”

I couldn’t agree more, and therefore hung my head in shame.

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Studio portrait of Countess Constance Markievicz (née Gore-Booth) in uniform with a gun, circa 1915. (Credit: National Library of Ireland)

My first visit was to the legendary General Post Office building in Dublin, where during the Easter Rebellion of 1916, Padraic Pearce proclaimed the Irish Republic:

The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.

At Merrion Square, the bust of Michael Collins stands along with that of South American liberator Bernardo O’Higgins, and both are found in the very grounds that harbor a memorial to Oscar Wilde. On the hallowed grounds of St. Stephen’s Green, where the deeds of the Irish Citizen Army under Michael Mallin and Constance Markievicz against the might of the British army are memorialized, there stands a statue to W.B. Yeats. Dublin is a city of heroes and poets. The River Liffey, crossing through the heart of Dublin, is bridged by structures honoring Tom Clarke, O’Donovan Rossa and Rosie Hackett, as well as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Sean O’Casey.

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Lake in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, 23 October 2010. (Credit: Chad and Steph / Wikimedia Commons)

I went on a pilgrimage to the Abbey Theatre. After a lifetime of loving Irish dramatic literature, I had the same sensation, entering the Abbey, as Christians must feel at the Vatican or Muslims experience at Mecca. The simplicity of the building, the easy access to the theatre, the devotion of the Irish audience at a performance of a new version of Anna Karenina, made palpable the illustrious history of the theatre: its conception in the mind’s eye of Yeats and Lady Gregory; the riots at the opening of Synge’s Playboy of the Western World; the first performances of Bernard Shaw’s The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet; the theatre company’s participation in the Easter Rising. In Ireland, poetry and the theatre are not mere entertainment, but rather an urgent need, a precious instrument for the forging of the national soul and the welfare of the state.

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Exterior of Abbey Theatre, 20 November 2006. (Credit: bjaglin / Flickr)

Something of the secret worth and magic of the Irish was revealed to me at the Molly Malone statue, somewhere between Trinity College (where Samuel Beckett once taught French) and St. Patrick’s cathedral (where Jonathan Swift was once Dean). The statue represents a traditional song:

In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow through streets broad and narrow
Crying cockles and mussels alive a-live O!

A-live a-live O! A-live a-live O!
Crying cockles and mussels alive a-live O!

She died of a fever and no one could save her
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone
Now her ghost wheels her barrow through streets broad and narrow
Crying cockles and mussels alive a-live O!

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Statue of Molly Malone at its temporary location (2014-2017) on Suffolk Road, Dublin, July 2014. (Credit: Ken Eckert)

Indeed the young people of Dublin are pretty, for they are real people—not faddish mannequins—with a musical turn and a forthright, open manner in their speech. They are working people—like Molly Malone—who treasure work, and are impeccably good-mannered with strangers.

Molly Malone’s song should have warned me about the ghosts that haunt Dublin’s streets. But I was still surprised one sleepless night when I went outside, after the pub customers had left behind their drinks of choice. In the mist and light rain falling upon quiet Dublin streets, I encountered the slim gray ghost of George Bernard Shaw, who grinned at me with a trickster smile, and quietly, in a soft Irish brogue, questioned me:

“How do you like my native city?”

OG

(to be continued)

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George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, photographed by the press in 1909. (Credit: Library of Congress)

 

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