sráid líosain uacht

Taken with a long deceased Nokia on a spring day in Ireland, May 2010

BEEN HAVING A CRACK AT IRISHNESS recently, or trying to understand or grasp it, reading about the mishaps of Eamon de Valera, that troublemaking New Yorker of dubious origins. Michael Collins couldn’t have been such a saint. He died, and that’s why he’s been sainted, I think, and there have been many books and some films about his heroism and passion. He may have been as close to perfect as an Irish revolutionary can be, embodied all that is good, mighty, glorious and true about the emerald motherland. Still nobody is a saint and while not as cunning and calculating as the long fellow de Valera, I think some of the hero worship is born out of his premature death. He didn’t live to take part in the dirty dealing part that most newly born nations go through (Bolshevik Russia and its bloody purges, the most extreme example). Ireland and its politics give me great discomfort, they leave me quite cold. The car bombs, the assassinations. I can’t understand all of these nuances and factions and brigades, these revolutionaries gesturing with pipes. I understand the Italian mental terrain a bit better. Yes, in my soul, I am an Italian, I suppose, but not quite, not wholly. For I recently found an Emigrant Savings Bank record dated 1857 for a spry retail shop owner named Edward Byrns in Manhattan, formerly of Knockane, County Limerick, and his wife Mary Hartigan and his parents John Byrns and Honora Hooper. There they were, eking out a living on East 31st Street, selling goods. This was my great grandmother’s great grandfather. He came to New York aboard the ship Great Britain in July 1847, which meant they were fleeing the blight. Grey Atlantic waters, lapping at the wharfs, speaking teangacha Gaelacha. Irishness in there somewhere, casting long shadows, like those purple shades of buildings blocking out the rare white sunlight down Leeson Street Upper or Sráid Líosain Uacht in Dublin. There is a comfort there, in Dublin, the lilt of the women’s voices, the buses moving up and down its streets, the university buildings, the green parks, the Dublin of Joyce’s Dubliners in the window panes. There is something soothing and familiar about it. I can’t place my finger on it, but it’s there.

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