Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Wreath Upon the Dead

This Saint Patrick’s Day, I will not be drinking the requisite green beer, nor will I be drinking the offensively named ‘Irish car bombs’ (How would Americans like it if they went to Ireland and were offered a drink called ‘United Flight 93 death trap’ or ‘World Trade Center suicide jump’?), nor will I be doing shots of Bushmills whiskey (who discriminate against Irish Catholics in their hiring practices). I most likely won’t be drinking anything at all.

Why, you may ask? Well, for starters, I have no interest in celebrating a non-Irish saint who attempted to eliminate a rich, indigenous, Irish tradition, replacing it with the anti-female/anti-sexuality/anti-earth Hell-fire of Catholicism. Nor do I see how getting shit faced is a fitting tribute to my ancestors who left the poverty and political turmoil of Ireland for the discrimination and hardship in America (like “no Irish need apply” or dying in the anthracite coal mines like my great grandfather). I have about as much interest in commodified Irishness as I have in Brittany Spears.

At least Scranton- where my sister called me from today’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade- is a true hotbed of Irish republicanism. (Republican meaning desiring a united Ireland, not as in elephants and Rush Limbaugh). Scranton is not just the boyhood home of VP Joe Biden, or the setting for “The Office,” it also has one of the largest St. Paddy’s Day parades in the country. While the bars open at 6 AM and there are plenty of drunken, overgrown boys in rugby shirts, Scranton is also home to a very politically active Irish community. Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness came to Scranton, instead of NY or Boston, during the infancy of the Irish peace process during the Clinton years for this very reason. (Clinton, in fact, was the first US president to grant them visas to visit the US and invited them to the White House, much to the chagrin of the British government. In fact, Adams’ and McGuinness’ faces weren’t even allowed on British TV during those years because of their affiliation with the IRA. So much for freedom of the press.)

I’m disheartened by the recent killings of 2 young British soldiers in Antrim and a Catholic police officer in Belfast by republican splinter groups. (‘Had they but courage equal to desire?’) But am encouraged by the strong denouncements from republicans, including Martin McGuinness, the erstwhile leader of the IRA turned statesman. His comments show how far we’ve come in the past 10 years: Of the attackers, he said they are "traitors to the island of Ireland..."

They have betrayed the political desires, hopes and aspirations of all of the people who live on this island….I was a member of the IRA, but that war is over now. The people responsible for [Saturday night's] incident are clearly signaling that they want to resume or restart that war. Well, I deny their right to do that…I will stand for all democrats against their attempts to plunge us back into conflict; to see soldiers on the streets; to see more checkpoints; to see houses being raided and to see people being dragged back to interrogation centres….Those days are over. They can never come back again.

So this Tuesday, instead of singing Danny Boy, I'll be thinking of Derry and Belfast, and will continue to be hopeful about peace in Ireland. 800 years has been a long time to wait.

Tiocfaidh ár lá!

1 comment:

  1. From Seamus Heaney:
    Orange Drums, Tyrone, 1966

    The lambeg ballons at his belly, weighs
    Him back on his haunches, lodging thunder
    Grossly there between his chin and his knees.
    He is raised up by what he buckles under.
    Each arm extended by a seasoned rod,
    He parades behind it. And though the drummers
    Are granted passage through the nodding crowd,
    It is the drums preside, like giant tumours.
    To every cocked ear, expert in its greed,
    His battered signature subscribes 'No Pope'.
    The goatskin's sometimes plastered with his blood.
    The air is pounding like a stethoscope.