Every year around this time I find myself eagerly anticipating my favorite meal – corned beef, cabbage, carrots, rutabagas, potatoes, pickled beets, and Irish soda bread. That and a pint o’ the bitters to wash it all down are, as they say in the big city, to die for.
My roots are Irish. My family’s lore has it that some of my ancestors came from County Westmeath, which is still known today as “Dillon’s Country.” I’m very proud of those roots.
Some of my earliest memories are of spending as many Saturday afternoons as possible listening to Notre Dame football games on the radio. I have fond memories of the Notre Dame-Oklahoma game in 1953. Johnny Lattner, who just happened to be Irish-Catholic, was all over the field. He ran for close to a hundred yards, caught a couple of passes, and intercepted an Oklahoma pass. The Fighting Irish won the game, 28 to 21. Oklahoma went undefeated for the next 47 games under legendary coach Bud Wilkinson. That incredible record, which still stands, was broken in 1957 when Notre Dame running back Dick Lynch, also Irish-Catholic, scored the game’s only touchdown. While we Irish can’t lay claim to special intervention from “Touchdown Jesus” in those games (the mural wasn’t dedicated until 1964), we think there was probably a leprechaun or two traveling to Norman both times with the Fighting Irish to weave their special magic. Some might disagree about the magic or the notion that there are even such things as leprechauns, but we who are truly Irish know better.
There’s a creation myth that’s circulated for many years. It’s about the good Lord’s creation of the people of Europe. He began with the Greeks and their grasp of philosophy. He created French for their love of really good food. Then it was the Italians for their love of art. The Russians? Their dark, powerful literature. He saw a need for science, engineering, and mathematics and created the Germans. He crossed the English Channel and created the British to become skillful creators of massive bureaucracies. He was quite pleased with what He had done, but there was something missing. He saw that no one was having any fun. In order to remedy that problem, He created the Irish!
As proof of the Almighty’s creative power, I’m calling a few of Ireland’s great writers to the dock. I’ll begin with Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright. He was extravagant to a fault. He once said, “Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.” He made a few enemies over the years and learned to forgive. As he said, “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” I’m taking his advice today. I have a few enemies here in town. They’re all forgiven. I feel really good about that. I hope they’re as annoyed as I am happy. Wilde even had a bit of humorous advice for educators. I offer this pithy little quote for our local cadre of academics. “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”
Next, I offer James Joyce. When asked about what the point of “Ulysses” was, he often said, “I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality.”
Then there’s Brendan Behan. He was a notorious drinker. He once said of the British, “They took away our land, our language, and our religion; but they could never harness our tongues.” To underscore his love of a good drink he once bragged, “I saw a sign that said ‘Drink Canada Dry’… So I did.” For those who claimed the Irish were cynical, he offered this response. “It's not that the Irish are cynical. It's rather that they have a wonderful lack of respect for everything and everybody.” He often found himself at odds with authority and lamented, “I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse.”
We Irish have lost many battles, but we’ve never really been defeated. As Ireland’s great Nobel laureate, William Butler Yeats wryly observed, “Any fool can fight a winning battle, but it needs character to fight a losing one, and that should inspire us; which reminds me that I dreamed the other night that I was being hanged, but was the life and soul of the party.”
We Irish have had our troubles. We’ve survived wars, famines, and clumsy attempts at cultural cleansing. We’ve walked many a stony path, but the troubles have made us stronger.
In closing, then, I offer you this simple Irish blessing:
“If God sends you down a stony path,
May he give you strong shoes.”
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, Emporia!