Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Irish Bucket List

My last name may be Irish, but I have at least as much English, Scottish, Dutch, and German blood in me, not to mention a drop or two of Spanish and Native American. Nevertheless, the country I most identify with (other than my own) is Ireland. Someday I plan to visit it. When I go, here are some of the things I hope to do...

1. Tour the Guinness Brewery

As a child, one of my favorite books was The Guinness Book of World Records. I was both fascinated and repulsed by the picture of the man with the world's longest fingernails. (I also wondered how he was able to do anything with those hands, such as...well, never mind.) It wasn't until years later that I discovered that Guinness also makes beer. I like Guinness Stout, but one of my favorite beers is Smithwick's Irish Ale, also brewed by Guinness. For a beer aficionado, no visit to Ireland would be complete without a trip to Ireland's number one tourist attraction.

2. Listen to Live Irish Music

I love Irish music, especially the drinking songs my friend David Hawthorne and I used to listen to in college. It was David who introduced me to the Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem, and the Irish Rovers. One of our favorite songs was Finnegan's Wake. It tells the story of Tim Finnegan, a "gentle Irishman" who falls from a ladder—apparently to his death—only to revive during a drunken brawl at his own wake:
Then Mickey Maloney ducked his head,
When a noggin of whiskey flew at him.
It missed, and falling on the bed,
The liquor scattered over Tim.
The corpse revives! See how he rises!
Timothy, rising from the bed,
Says, "Whirl your whiskey around like blazes!
Thanum an Dhul! Do you think I'm dead?"
My friend David Hawthorne was felled by a heart attack six years ago. Unfortunately, unlike Finnegan, he did not rise again. I miss him. If I ever get to Ireland, I will find a band and request Finnegan's Wake in his memory.

3. Follow in the Footsteps of Leopold Bloom

Speaking of Finnegan's Wake, famed Irish author James Joyce wrote a book by that same title. I have never read it. I understand it is a very difficult book to read. I did read Ulysses (well, parts of it) in college. It, too, is a difficult read, but rewarding if you can get through it. It chronicles, in approximately 265,000 words, a single, ordinary day (June 16, 1904) in the life of Leopold Bloom, whose meandering journey through Dublin in some ways parallels the voyage of Ulysses in Homer's Odyssey. Every year on June 16th—"Bloomsday"—Joyce fans gather from all over the world to retrace Bloom's route. Of course, one of the stops is a pub, which brings me to the fourth item on my list...

4. Buy a Round at a Real Irish Pub

I love Irish pubs—the dark cozy atmosphere, the good Irish beer. Of course, a real Irish pub is probably nothing like the Irish pubs we have here, and the Irish pub of my dreams probably never existed. It's the pub in the John Ford classic, The Quiet Man, full of charming locals who sing songs, buy each other rounds of drinks, and take a break from the occasional fist fight to throw beer in each others' faces. If I found such a place, I would buy everyone a round (provided the place wasn't too crowded) and ask them to join me in a rousing chorus of Galway Bay or The Wild Colonial Boy. Or maybe something by U2. I don't care, as long as it's Irish.

5. Visit the Grave of William Butler Yeats

My favorite poet is William Butler Yeats. Nobel prize-winning poet, playwright, and folklorist, he probably did more to define and promote Irish literature and culture than anyone in history. In the last stanza of one of his last poems, "Under Ben Bulben," Yeats describes the place where he would soon be laid to rest:
Under bare Ben Bulben's head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
Someday, I will make that pilgrimage to the island of Yeats, Joyce, Guinness, and at least one of my ancestors. Until I do, I will continue to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in my usual way: sipping a pint of Guinness or Smithwick's, while watching John Wayne and Victor McLaglen resolve their differences in true Irish fashion.


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