St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC, St. Patrick’s Day
Jean Shepherd traveled to Ireland several times. He was there on St. Patrick’s Day:
I remember this morning on
St. Patrick’s Day. It was gray.
Here I am standing in Dublin.
If you’re curious,
I have my credentials.
My grandmother’s name was
Flora Florence Rafferty.”
Sure and begorrah, it’s time for another one of New York’s nuttiest days. Sure and begorrah, it’s St. Patty’s Day! I don’t think there is any holiday that gets New York as completely involved as St. Patrick’s. Now, a lot of people are going to say Christmas, but I don’t think so. I think there’s something about St. Patrick’s Day that completely involves this nutty town. And I’ve never seen it anywhere else—even including Ireland! Which is the nuttiest part of it all.
We’re both looking into the mirror and Shamus suddenly says to me, “It’s a shame I can’t be in New York at this time of year.”
I say, “What’s the matter, Shamus?”
“There’s nothing like New York on St. Patrick’s Day.”
I say, “Nothing like New York—on St. Patrick’s Day?” I say, “But Shamus, we’re in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day!”
“Ah,” he says, “Nothing, nothing. St. Paddy’s Day in Dublin is just another day.”
Oh, I’ll tell you, New York! Do you mind if I do a little reminiscing about Ireland tonight? One of the most poignant countries is Ireland. I can’t explain it. I’ve been in many countries. I’ve been pretty much all over the world and each country is beautiful in its own right. There’s no question about it, because we’re living on a beautiful earth….
Ireland. Ireland is a poignant country. In a curious sense, hanging over all the hills. I remember one time I was driving to Dublin. I was all by myself in this little English Ford and I stopped by the side of the road, and off in the distance you could see these light blue hills, and between the blue hills and the road there were maybe three or four miles of peat bogs. And there was a soft, grayish blue, vaguely pink smoke rising. A few little houses between me and the mountains, and it was absolutely silent. I looked over this long, low, rolling field, this peat bog. You could smell the grass and you could smell the peat and smell the smoke. It was all mingled in the air, and in the distance I could see this low-lying hill, a low ridge of hills. They were purple, vaguely grayish, and kind of misty, like clouds drifting away. Behind me on the left was another short hill that rose. It was green. You know Ireland really is green. It’s a combination of its geographical location and the sea air that’s always sweeping in over this country. It’s absolutely green—it’s beautiful.
And I don’t know why, but I had a feeling, not of how beautiful this is—which it was—I didn’t have a feeling of what a great place to be—which it was—but a feeling of how sad all this is. What a sad place Ireland is. In a curious kind of way, and yet it’s a place where there’s a lot of fun, and a lot of joy. Don’t misunderstand me—it’s not that the people are sad—not at all, but there’s that poignant quality, that quality of something vaguely lost.
And with that bluish tint, that always-hanging gray, blue, green, soft haze that is in Ireland, after you’ve been in Ireland maybe a month, you really do believe in elves and fairies and little people—you honestly do. Because, if they’re anywhere in the world, they’re in Ireland….
Shamus and I were going out to lunch. Shamus is a writer in Ireland. Almost all Irishmen are writers in one way or another, even if they never write, even if they only talk. Again, maybe it’s that sense of something lost and gone which cause Irishmen to be what they are and talk the way they do and think the way they think. And we went into this tavern.
The curious thing about Ireland too, is the love/hate quality about it. That all Irishmen love Ireland and hate Ireland. Maybe it’s like life itself. Maybe this is why Ireland has a unique place in the hearts of everyone all over the world. Because I suspect that more of life—I mean the real quality of life is—can be found in Ireland than anywhere else in the world.
Just like your own life—you hate it and you love it. It’s hard to know which is the more important. And you keep going back and forth, drifting around between those two poles—love and hate, love and hate. And in Ireland it’s always there. You look around and it’s green and soft, you can smell the sea, hear the birds and bells, and there’s that drifting haze and peat bog and smoke and the magnificent horses and the beautiful cattle and the roads, the winding roads and the old castles. And you have the sense of love and hate. And it’s not really hate, it’s sadness really, more than anything else, because I don’t think most people hate life, they get sad about life. And at the same time they don’t really love life, they exhilarate in it. They ecstasy in it.
And this is the way it is in Ireland. You can’t say you love it, you can’t say you hate it. And the Irishmen themselves, you notice—most Irishmen leave Ireland and then spend the rest of their lives writing about it. Sean O’Casey, James Joyce, Frank Sullivan, you can go on down the line and there they are, all of them.
You know, Ireland is a country I don’t talk much about. Well, I have Irish blood in me and you can probably tell that. The Irish are born storytellers—and, well, there’s a word for it. My grandmother was a Rafferty….
And I’d been in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day, which is very different from being in New York on St. Patrick’s Day. Very different indeed.
And the river flowed on. And there it was. Ireland. That strange, indefinable, peculiar, tugging, poignant, beautiful, gray, green, soft, shadowy country. Where there really are elves and there really are fairies, and they really do eat fried, buttered mushrooms on a quiet Friday afternoon.
Yes, Jean Shepherd has some Irish in him. And he loves Ireland.
He does not tell his usual kind of stories when he talks about Ireland–
what he does is evoke the place in a poetic way.
In the way of an Irish writer, an Irish poet.
Jean Shepherd loves Ireland.