Primer for the Trump Apocalypse: God Save Ireland! (Part Two)

Bundoran_Strand,_Co._Donegal

Bundoran Strand Co. Donegal, with surfers, on the Atlantic west coast of Ireland, June 2010. (Credit: Osioni / Wikimedia Commons)

(Bundoran, January 2017) George Bernard Shaw first led us to the National Gallery of Ireland, where a statue of the Irish sage (the very semblance of the ghost that haunted me) welcomes visitors. In his last will, Shaw donated a third of the royalties from his plays to the Gallery, “to which I owe much of the only real education I ever got as a boy In Eire.” I had always expected that if one were to meet the ghost of Shaw it would be in London, where he spent so many years, rather than in Dublin, which he left behind in his twenties and about which he would write:

To this day my sentimental regard for Ireland does not include the capital. I am not enamored of failure, of poverty, of obscurity, and of the ostracism and contempt which these imply; and these were all that Dublin offered to the enormity of my unconscious ambition.[1]

When we boarded a bus to the seafront town of Bundoran in the eastern coast of Ireland, I thought we had left the ghost of Shaw behind.

At Bundoran, the Institute of Study Abroad Ireland was sponsoring the Transatlantic Connections Conference as part of their educational and cultural trips to the Republic. In conversations with the attendees we learned why the Irish landscape was always green even in winter and why the temperature of the ocean waters in Ireland made Bundoran a surfing capital (I forget the scientific explanation). Being from the temperate Caribbean, I confess I was doubtful until I saw two surfers, surfboards under their arms, running past me on the street heading towards the beach front. Frigid Bundoran, we were told, “has four seasons, but all in the same day.”

Main_Street,_Bundoran_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1410339

Main Street, Bundoran through the town center, 22 July 2009. (Credit: Dean Molyneaux)

During the conference I was most interested in discussions about the efforts of Irish cultural leaders and the Irish government to revive and sustain Gaelic language and culture. (I saw great parallels with my own interest in reviving and maintaining the native languages and Spanish heritage of the North American southwest.) One of the featured speakers, Dónal Donnelly, an IRA activist who escaped from prison in Belfast in 1960, presented a documentary clip—without a trace of bitterness or regret—of a tour of his former jailhouse in the company of one of his former prison guards. At a memorable address by Judge Helen Shores Lee (daughter of Arthur Shores, a Civil Rights attorney involved in cases leading to the integration of the University of Alabama and Brown vs. Board of Education), the same Donnelly posed the question: “Why didn’t African Americans side with Malcolm X [rather than Martin Luther King] in the sixties?” Judge Lee’s answer: Malcolm X died before his time.

Our sponsors (Niamh Hamill and John O’Connell) explained the secret of Irish gentility and hospitality. “We like people,” Hamill explained. “It is as simple as that.”

During our stay in Ireland, Meryl Streep chastised Donald Trump at the Golden Globes Award ceremony; and Trump, in inimitable fashion, characterized Streep as “overrated” because “she doesn’t know me but attacked.” The irony of being in a republic where artists are crucially engaged in the political discourse and are valued for doing so, while this incident was taking place in the US, was simply rich: Streep—a national treasure– was making a statement for a nation in turmoil; and Trump—a national disgrace—was berating her for doing so.

George_Bernard_Shaw_notebook

George Bernard Shaw writing in notebook at time of first production of his play “Pygmalion,” 1914. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Our last evening was spent at a rock concert by Johnny Gallagher, a renowned Irish musician who still calls Bundoran home. As I was standing behind the last row of seats, I turned around and there in the flesh was the ghost of George Bernard Shaw. But he wasn’t Shaw; the Old Man in front of me was the spitting image of Shaw’s statue at the National Gallery—tall and just under six feet, white flowing beard, but dressed in sweater and jeans. He was a singer of traditional Irish songs who spoke to me with an urgent message:

“This guy [meaning Gallagher] is a great musician. All our young people are playing American music,” said the Old Man. “He tours all over Europe, but our music is not touring as much as it used to anymore.”

“Where can I hear your music?”

“We have found a venue in Dublin. You’d have to come to Dublin.”

“I will.”

“Our culture is dying,” said the Old Man.

“I hope I can hear you sing someday,” I said.

The Old Man embraced me. We parted as friends.

Weeks after my stay in Ireland I still cannot figure out the Old Man’s words. My impression of the Land of the Saints had been—still is—that it had an energetic cultural life, respectful and proud of its heritage, vibrant in the present, (and much unlike our own) hopeful of the future. But his words troubled me: I am one who believes that the old that is beautiful should be recovered, even if we allow time to ravage what is not, and I had promised the Old Man I would listen to his songs.

“We think of ourselves as working people.” I heard this in various ways and at several times in Ireland, and this is the kind of people I like to be around. So when Donald Trump deports me for being foreign-born, for speaking Spanish, because his tawdry persona repulses me and because I dissent from his Philistine world-view, I will insist that his immigration thugs ship me to Ireland, if it will have me.

I’ll arrange with my natural-born children for my Social Security check to be sent there, and will contribute all I can.

OG

[1] Michael Holroyd, Bernard Shaw (New York: Random House, 1993), vol. 3:500 and vol. 1:59.

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