Shepherd takes several trips to Ireland and speaks of it a number of times on the air. He indicates that it is one of his favorite places. His programs about the country tend not to be story-telling affairs. He entertains us not with such exciting tales as being on an aircraft carrier or in the Negev Desert or traveling with the Beatles or jamming with former headhunters of the Peruvian Amazon. He entertains by evoking a sense of place—the Irish countryside, small towns along the way, daily life of the people, and little, detailed descriptions of his encounters. You feel that you are there. With this he keeps us spellbound. It’s little wonder that, as a great storyteller, he claims to have Irish blood in him and that one of his favorite books is James Joyce’s Dubliners. Though told on different St. Patrick’s Days, both of the following evocations seem to refer to the same occasion in Dublin.
One of the most enlightening St. Patrick’s Days that I ever spent was in Dublin. I was in the hotel in Dublin—they don’t celebrate it, you know. I celebrated it once in Dublin, I celebrated it in Cincinnati, I celebrated it a couple of times in the army, but of course, St. Patrick’s Day goes by like any other day in the army. However, in Dublin—very interesting.
When I travel, I travel very early in the morning. I reverse my total lifestyle when I’m travelling. I’m out at the crack of dawn, because most of the cities that you can travel around in are really at their most interesting before and during the morning rush hour, to see how people go to work.
For example, people going to work in Amsterdam—a fantastic sight. Almost the entire population is on bicycle. You see a whole crowd of women all on bicycles, and guys dressed up in suits with their briefcases. They all have these goofy-looking bicycles. They look very heavy, not elegant at all in our style, very practical, functional bikes, very dull-looking. Hundreds of people all going along and they move like sparrows—great crowds of them go from light to light.
Early morning is very groovy in countries, wherever you go. One of the great early-morning towns is Dublin. The end of winter and they have a long, foggy, curious kind of spring and yet it’s always green there, it’s never really winter as we have. They don’t have great drifts of snow, but it gets very cold and dank. It’s Ireland. 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. And there I am in Dublin in a bar at eight o’clock in the morning. In Dublin you go to the bar at eight in the morning—this is breakfast for this particular Dubliner I was with who was a writer for the Irish Times. Eight o’clock in the morning. This is not my scene, but this is where he went so the bartender comes over and he’s got this rag and he’s wiping away. Ireland’s a funny country. I don’t think there’s a country in the world that you more immediately feel at home in than Ireland. This is a fact about Ireland.
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.
St. Patty’s Day in New York
I’ve been in Ireland several times, and I remember one day, I’m in Dublin and I’m standing in the bar in the Shelbourne and I’m hoisting a few. After all, when you’re in Ireland you must do as the Romans do. I’m having a little of the Irish mist and looking into the mirror and standing next to me is probably the most Irish of all the Irishmen I’ve ever known. A genuine Irishman. Can you imagine an Irishman with a name more Irish than Shamus Kelly?
Old Shamus looks at me and I look at Shamus. We’re sipping the dew, and I said, “Shamus, we’re in Dublin.”
He says, “Ah, Dublin.”
We look back in the mirror again, and over the mirror they had this painting of this naked lady, very large naked lady, an Irish naked lady. She has red hair and she looked very Irish. That’s one of the reasons why that painting was over the mirror in the bar there—because she is so Irish.
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. It’s beautiful from the eye of man. This is the way we define beauty.
So, if you’re standing in the Negev Desert, I find it beautiful. I’m in the streets of Bangkok with that hot, searing, oriental sun racking down, I find it beautiful. I find Ireland beautiful. A superb country. But each country has a word—in my own mind—that kind of captures it. For example, you must say this about Israel. Israel is exciting. America is a dynamic country. Everybody I know who comes to America says there’s something in the air about America. It’s a dynamic, strange country. I’ve been to countries that could be called languid—you step out of the plane and you walk down the street and it’s like you’re in the middle of some kind of soft, warm syrup—it’s a languid country. Then I’ve been in countries that are lascivious. Oh yeah. They’re not the ones you think they are. People generally think of Sweden. Not at all. I find Sweden one of the great, last bastions of true prudery.
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.
Off to my left was the sea and a short hill. And rising out of this hill there was a mound of red and gray granite stones—what was left of an ancient castle that had slowly given up, drifted down into the darkness of the ancient past, and now all you could see was this pile of stones outlined against the sky. This was not tourist country, it was an old, old stone home that had finally lost the battle. And I could smell the smoke. It was silent. But you could hear bells ringing on cows. There’s always a cow somewhere near you in Ireland.
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.
by Mark Roberts
You really do believe in elves and fairies and little people.