There Never Were Any Snakes: St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland

So I’m not Irish. Not even a teeny bit.

I’ve never even dated an Irishman, as much as I may have wanted to. I dated a guy from Boston once. Turns out his origins were Eastern European, like mine.

But I have been to Ireland. Multiple times. I’ve even been to Belfast and other areas in Northern Ireland, which, by far, was once of the most intense experiences of my life.

I have also been to Ireland during St. Patrick’s Day. It was, simultaneously, one of the most enjoyable and most chaotic experiences of my early twenties. It was also one of the first things I ever wrote about in this blog (albeit not very well). To this day, it is still the most time I have spent in a police station.

However, after reading this excellent piece on Cracked.com, I thought that if we have ONE day that we’re going to think about a country that I love so much, then I’d like you to consider 3 aspects about Ireland that have absolutely nothing to do with green beer, puking in the streets, or saying that you’re Irish if you’re really not. If you love Ireland like I do, that’s super cool. Why not love it 365-days-a-year? There’s no reason in the world you should select only one day to listen to The Pogues. And trust me- Christy Moore sounds good ANYTIME, not just when you’re feeling like you need to have a connection to some kind of history.

History is important and essential. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be going into the field I’m going into. But always consider the kinds of activities that you engage in, as they sometimes effect other people and their cultural sensibilities. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go have a beer or even corned beef and cabbage. But…maybe hold off on the green food coloring. For me, eh?

1) Literature OK, for those of you in the cheap seats, Oscar Wilde was as Irish as it gets. Which I find awesome. I spent multiple days sitting by his statue in Merrion Square park writing in my journal, while 6 and 7-year old Irish kids skateboarded over and around me. Witty, smart and incisive, Wilde represents some of my favorite aspects of Irish culture: a sensibility that varies from dark to light at the drop of a hat, yet never drops the ball on staying smart.

My experience with Irish cultural fare (plays, music, books, film) is that it has always maintained a strong intellectual sensibility. Even comedy, which many people interpret as being a “lower” form is intelligently done within Irish literature. Wilde’s comedy was (of course) beyond compare, but writer Roddy Doyle has also shown himself to be highly capable of providing off-beat and wonderfully rewarding comic writing in pieces like The Van, and the rest of The Barrytown Trilogy. If you haven’t read Doyle, I highly suggest his work. Another rarely read Irish writer that I enjoy on a regular basis is Patrick McCabe. Dark and definitely not for people who can’t handle a bit of harshness, his work, much like Doyle’s reflects a quirky unusual lyricism (even in the violent sections) that I enjoy far more than most American literature. Obviously you have James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. But you also have Brendan Behan and a man who changed the way I saw comic books forever, Garth Ennis. Not that I should have to say this, but yes, comic books are literature. By the way- did you know that Bram Stoker was Irish? No joke. So, when you move forward to that next round of Guinness with the pals, think on drunkenly hopping on to Amazon and grabbing a book to nurse your hangover with. It’ll be worth it.

2) FILM  Yeah, now we’re cooking with fire. Go look at my shelves. Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy (1997) gets played quite regularly in this apartment. C’mon! Sinead O’Connor as the Virgin Mary? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Sure it’s a McCabe adaptation (it’s the film that got me interested in his literature, incidentally), but Neil Jordan’s film making is exquisite. Having won an Academy Award for The Crying Game (1992) he’s also responsible for a good chunk of other films. I even liked his film In Dreams (1999), but I also have a massive, Godzilla-sized crush on Irish actor and Jordan-stand-by Stephen Rea.

Stephen Rea was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Crying Game

In addition to Neil Jordan, there’s John Ford, who, while American-born, counts in the Irish-filmmaker set. And if you’re a film fan and you didn’t know Jack had the big Irish-pride going, well…shame on you. No, just kidding. But he did. He was first generation, so it meant a great deal to him and it can certainly be seen in his cinema. So, go out, rent The Quiet Man (1952), fall madly in love with Maureen O’Hara like every other opposable-thumb-having person with reasonable vision, and be done with it.

More recently, we have had some absolutely exquisite Irish cinema. While amazing Irish actors have been a constant through the ages, the film work has been especially great as of late. It is very likely that this  recent growth has been due to the fact that funding for Irish cinema has gotten better thanks to the Irish film board, and, as an archivist-in-training, I know that funding is essential for any kind of success and growth. One of the best films of 2008 was a phenomenal piece that I own and sob and laugh over regularly called In Bruges  by Martin McDonagh. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this film. The acting, the writing, just amazing. I have also heard that 2011’s The Guard blew its audience’s out of the water. I’m pretty devastated that I missed that one. Due to my adoration for, and faith in, Brendan Gleeson’s skill as an actor, I may just buy this one sight unseen!

Colin Farrell & Brendan Gleeson inIn Bruges. This may be one of the most watched films in my whole collection. I have upwards of 700+ films. I last counted a few years ago.

Irish Cinema, much like literature has a flavor that is singular, original and entirely its own. There is no mistaking an Irish film from any other cultural product. Even films that deal in and around “The Troubles” like Long Good Friday (1980)  were British cinematic product, regardless of the fact that John Mackenzie was actually Scottish and had a reasonable history working in politically-aware material. Irish cinema is one of my favorite genres due to the fact that even when it’s light, it’s dark. Waking Ned Devine (Kirk Jones, 1998) is a comedy but…about a death. On the other hand, what can you really expect from a country that has had to endure some truly hellish experiences over its history? I love Irish cinema because while you have the darkness and the historical “never forget” films like In the Name of the Father  (Jim Sheridan, 1993), you can have a pint and sing along with the celebratory ethos of The Commitments (Alan Parker, 1991). In summation, Irish cinema is a genre that takes itself seriously yet celebrates every bit of that to the nth degree. I love that.

3) Community  I loved Ireland because I got to sit on the docks in Galway and listen to the Pet Shop Boys, write in my journal, and see a father and son in a boat in the distance, returning to the mainland, waving at me, a perfect stranger. You know what I got in other countries? Some really weird looks and guys thinking that I would automatically go home with them because I have a few tattoos. All I received in Ireland was pure, unadulterated warmth, from every single person I met, young and old.

Oh, and the honesty! If only we were more like that here! I loved the older man in Kilkenny who looked at me, squinted a little, put down his beer and said “What ya got all that shit in yer face for?” We proceeded to have an extensive conversation about my various piercings, his granddaughter, he bought me a drink, and we laughed. A LOT. He hated the way I looked, but he was so genuine, inviting and nice.

This was what I received from everyone I met. I may have smiled more and enjoyed myself more with Irish people than I did with anyone else in any other country. I traveled alone for three weeks and people talked to me, asked me about myself, my life, bought me drinks, took me places. People took me to their houses! I remember one night in Galway, after hanging out at Sally Long’s (which might be my favorite pub in the world, by the way) the folks I was chatting with simply invited me to their place to hang out for a bit.

But with all of these amazing warm fuzzy moments, I was especially struck by the way that Belfast was constructed. As someone who has been dealing in the visual for the better part of her lifetime, Belfast became burned into my brainscape due to its visual dynamism. If you are unaware of the conflict that has been going on between England and Ireland for an unprecedented amount of time, you are either a) too young to remember the “big” stuff or b) don’t do a lot of time with international matters. In either case, Belfast is best told by pictures and not by words.

Not unlike the infamous one that separated the two portions of Germany for years, there is a wall in Belfast. It's called the Shankill Peace Wall. This is a picture of a youthful me, writing a message for peace.

This is also part of that same place, Shankill Peace Wall. "Before the video game..."

Bobby Sands died after 66 days of hunger striking, at age 27. He is commemorated here. He was a political activist, poet, and was the leader of the 1981 Hunger Strike, where 9 other Irish republican prisoners besides himself died, attempting to fight for Special Category Status (essentially POW-type privileges).

This mural commemorates the Great Hunger which took place between 1845-1852, and most people know as the Irish Potato Famine or something similar. A terrible tragedy, it affected the whole country forever.

I never went to the Louvre, but I saw this.

Then there's the UFF murals. Scary, intimidating, also intense. It was a real distinct change to go from one type of mural to the other.

I suppose it was inevitable that I ended up going into the field I'm going into. Instances like Bombay Street and the visual outgrowths (murals) that were resurrected to commemorate it fascinated my. In August of 1969, Northern Ireland EXPLODED. Bombay Street, part of a residential area in Belfast was burnt to a crisp, and approximately 1800 families were left homeless. This mural commemorates those riots...

What doesn't change, no matter what country you are in, is the children. These little boys followed us around a bit, playing football, curious about what we were even doing there. I think I loved that more than anything. These boys are now young men, maybe married, who knows? That child-like playful innocence so far gone. It's hard to believe that this was 12 years ago.

My time in Ireland and especially Belfast was well-spent, and I would highly advise anyone and everyone to visit or at least investigate the cultural riches that the country offers, whether it is through its history, theater, cinema or literature. As an archivist, I am dying to return to Dublin so that I can go to Trinity College again and ask for a tour of their archives!! I think Trinity College library is where they send all good little librarian type girls when they die and go to heaven. No, really!

Trinity, will you marry me???

In any case, I hope that you all have a lovely St. Patrick’s Day. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend going to see the band Ollin. You honestly cannot get much better than that. If I didn’t have finals, that would be precisely what I would be doing. If you are not within Los Angeles-area, just take Ireland into consideration as a real country, with a real history and a real culture and not something to be reappropriated as Super Party Day. I like to have a drink or two just as much as anyone else, but hey- isn’t that what New Year’s is for?

*this message brought to you by someone who thinks Guinness tastes better in Ireland than in England*

So hoof and mouth was HUGE when I was living in the UK. So much so that they cancelled the St. Patrick's Day parade (the animals), they refused to bring any tourists to Stonehenge, and when you flew you had to do a MASSIVE foot wiping when you got on/off the plane. Thus...this graffiti. And, if you were curious, the advert above it? It's an advertisement reminding you to making sure to check yourself for testicular cancer. Out of all the photos I have ever taken, this is one of my absolute personal favorites.

My time in a Dublin Police Station…

Y’know, traveling is a fun AND a funny thing.

You get to have all KINDS of experiences. ESPECIALLY on holidays.

Especially on HOLIDAYS in FOREIGN COUNTRIES.

st-patricks-day-1

So St. Patrick’s Day has a long and involved history, right? Involving religion, and snakes, and all sorts of fun stuff. But to a few 20-21 year old kids going to college in the UK, well, it was……about going to St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. Not so much about historical pretense. Even if we were well educated individuals who actually did (and still do) care a great deal about the ways in which theology and history intersect to create ritualistic celebration. However, one must admit- it’s changed quite a bit from St. Patrick and his Snakes, no?

In any case, there we were. In Dublin. March of 2001. I was 21 years old. We had decided to go to Ireland, oh…maybe…72 hours previous.

I was with my Partner in Crime, my Ultimate Traveling Companion, the girl I met at school in the UK who hailed from Wisconsin. What *is* it about Wisconsin??? Constantly meeting awesomely people from there. Must be in the custard or the brats.

At any rate, there we were.

We’d done the “night.”

We’d hit the pubs, drank the Guiness, seen the madness, and were ready to call it a night.

…only we couldn’t. And funny thing? Neither could the folks we came with.

See it was almost comedic. I do say ALMOST. It was quite like those movies where you watch in horror as the people disperse into disastrous chaos and simply laugh. And why do we laugh? Because we know, according to filmic convention, that, in the end, It Will All Be Just Fine.

This didn’t seem like one of those movies when we were standing on the street, freezing our asses off, and all the bars were closing at about midnight or 1am. Yeah. That’s what we thought too. A bit early.

See, Ireland gets super cold at night and…..we were c.o.l.d.

I admit- our planning was POOR, at best. We, um, well….were gonna wait until the bus station opened at 6am, then leave. BUT, we were hoping that there would be stuff going on until at *least* 2, and then? Well, we hoped we could find a diner or something

No such luck.

Oh, the stupidity of youth. However, that stupidity makes for GREAT storytelling. Eventually. Once the hypothermia wears off.

I have images of our somewhat inebriated compatriots waiting for the bus or taxis back to the hostel in County Cork (a good WAYS off). We kept passing them, as we searched for somewhere to hang out for a few hours. And no, it wasn’t pretty.

It looked like the damned zombie apocalypse was coming, because we weren’t the only bad planners. There were a whole bunch more, only………they were SERIOUSLY drunk and my friend and I? Well, we were actually only pleasantly celebrational. Like, as in, we could stand, walk, ENJOY ourselves.

However, we were caught up in the rest of the folks banging on hotel doors to let us in for a few hours of respite.

No such luck.

And we kept passing our poor friends who were still waiting for the cabs.

Finally, exhausted, after a few more mishaps, we just didn’t know what to do.

A kind soul took pity on us.

“The police station, “ they said, “Just go there. They won’t bother you at all. You can sit there as long as you want.”

We looked at each other in disbelief. Neither of us were, um, too keen on the idea, shall we say? However, what did we have to lose?

We headed down towards the station. And entered the next part of our adventure.

ladycraved

OK, so we were in the damn Dublin Police Station for St. Patrick’s Day.

Can you get much more bizarre than that? Well, yes you can. She and I sat there. Staring at the wall, shivering and wondering a) how the hell we got there in the first place, b) how the hell we were gonna stay awake until the bus station opened and c) what we would say to the nice Irish police officers, should they ask us why we just barged into the police station and sat down, without saying a word to anyone.

Dublin Police Station

Dublin Police Station

Just as we were coming to terms with our fate…….SHE came in, accompanied by another woman and two of the aforesaid Irish Police Officers (who, for the record, completely ignored us except for once, if I remember correctly, for the entirety of our “visit”). One of the women was taken back “behind the scenes,” while the other? She became our friend for the evening.

And boy oh boy, was she our friend. Aside from the nice homeless man, eating bread and listening to his walkman in the far corner, she was the only person in their with us. And we were her captive (and I DO mean captive) audience.

“Ah, but she’s sech a good gerl, she shouldna been done fer tha drunk drivin’, ye see, she’s a good gerl, y’see,” she kept telling us.

We nodded in agreement. Of course she was. Of course.

Then she asked us some questions, I think. Her sobriety, of course, was….less than reliable. We mostly just froze and agreed with Everything She Said. Because she Wouldn’t Stop Talking.

You think *I* talk a lot? You never met HER.

Mostly about what a good girl her friend was, and how she just “shouldna been done like tha’” of course, but she really was what my mother would call a “character.”

If you think this lasted forever, well you’d be right. IT DID.

And there wasn’t much we could do but listen to her. It’s entertaining now, but woah nelly.

At some point, she realized that as an audience we weren’t much, and started to try to figure out what to do about LEAVING.

That’s when the REAL FUN began.

She started to flip the lights on and off. She started running around the room. She started to knock on the bulletproof glass where the policeman/receptionist sat. Not only did this disturb him, but our Homeless Friend started going bonkers. He removed himself from underneath the seats, and started to be, um, not so happy with her, making sounds of protest, quite zombie-like, where he had been perfectly well behaved and just calm and walkman-listening before. Now he was ALL about the bread-chomping and pissed off at her proclivities towards flashing lights on/off and generally disturbing the peace.

The woman went a bit loopy, to say the least. At this juncture, our friend was spoken to. Firmly. By her friends, the nice police officers who had taken her friend in. They informed her in no uncertain terms that if she did not QUIT IT IMMEDIATELY, she would join her friend, the “nice gerl.”

Pouting, she sat down.

My companion and I sighed with relief as the tension left the air.

Shortly thereafter, she was escorted from the premises to meet her friend (we assume?), and it became light outside. The Dublin bus station opened, and my Partner In Crime and I removed ourselves from the freezing chairs (they left the doors open all night- it was no warmer inside the station than it was outside), and got ourselves to the airport.

FAST.

So, my friends, that was my story for this St. Patrick’s Day. Hope yours is well and good! Please be careful and well, keep safe and most of all, stay outta police stations!!