Akron Irish: Seanadh
by Lisa O’Rourke
A group of women are staggering around, bent over with laughter. The cause is everything and nothing. It is the invisible thread, the shorthand of long-lasting relationships; the understanding of the ridiculous that transcends verbiage.
This last weekend felt like my friends’ version of “The Big Chill.” It was high school reunion time; we laughed, we cried, and we wallowed in the particular type of nostalgia that oozes out of this type of gathering. They are a great group of people that accept and enjoy each other. After such a time, how could I not think about friends.
The title of the article is a word that I stumbled across, and the meaning was prophetic about the weekend to come. It is a word that in English would most closely mean loyalty. In literal translation, the word at the beginning, sean is the word for old and the second part of the compound is adh, which is luck.
There is no doubt in the minds of anyone acquainted with Irish culture that loyalty and friendship are traits that are highly valued. Perhaps those are rivaled or surpassed by family and spiritual life, but not by much. In a category above is the category of loyalty and old friends.
There are so many levels of friendship that exist in the world today. The digitized world has created both more connections and more loneliness among people, in direct proportion to each other. There are Facebook friends that you have never met, coworkers, neighbors, people who enjoy your interests, and real friends. The last group is the gold standard of friendships.
We have written words describing friends going back as far as Aristotle, who proposed that we humans are social by nature. He was also the man to note that there are different kinds of friendship and those ideas still hold.
There is a friendship of utility, a friendship of pleasure, and a friendship of good. While we understand the other types of friendship, the work buddies, and the weekend friends, it is the last one that is the standard. The friendship of good, the friend in need is a friend indeed, the winter spring summer or fall, all you have to do is call friend.
Many sayings in Ireland speak to the blessing of having great friends. Of course, the Irish can also forget anything but a grudge. Both are true there as much as anywhere else, but I think that the former more so than the latter.
Ireland, being so rural so long, was and still is to a point, a place where most people take care when they choose their battles. It takes a significant transgression to warrant a grudge and by the time you are there, you have worked hard for the privilege. One of my favorite examples of Irish friendship is the movie, Waking Ned Devine. In the film, the population of a very small town find themselves in a large and unique situation that causes them to behave in ways that are unorthodox but have their own morality.
The character in the film who is irredeemable and reprehensible is the one who acts out of greed and self-interest. In the US, that person might be portrayed as a heroic individualist. Generations of hard times have strengthened the need to work as a community in Ireland. Friendship is also survival, acting together and sharing what you have.
Friendships are an interesting phenomenon; they are intensely personal and individual by nature and yet there are national characteristics too. Roddy Doyle, the Irish author of several well-known books set in Dublin, like The Commitments, once commented that Irish men are pretty dependent on their friendships. Maybe even more so than the populations of other Western cultures.
They make eye contact more and speak more to each more on the street, even if they are strangers. Pub culture is about socializing more than drinking. If you don’t want to speak or be spoken to, stay home. The women in Ireland that I am friends with are more stoic and less needy than their American counterparts. You won’t meet too many Irish women that you would accuse of “too much information” unless they thought that it was too funny of a story not to pass on.
The blessings of good friends are no lie. We may no longer be that rural society that depends on the help of friends and neighbors, but we do. No less than your resilience to life’s setbacks is shaped by your connections to others, even four-legged ones.
Friendships are transformational, people change through relationships. Saying that, relationships are idiosyncratic. What is the right thing to one person may be the wrong one to another. While we can be sensitive and change to an extent, we also need to find where we fit.
You may be the McDonald’s of friends, a person with broad appeal or you may be a more esoteric treat with a loyal following. It is difficult to judge the relationships of others. One group may want to cry it out, and another want to laugh, forget and move on. Friendships cannot be judged by outsiders. There are not universal rules, but a cork for every bottle.
Our Irish friends are different. There is an ease in company and an expectation of hospitality. You always offer food, drink and even accommodation. We have been on both ends of this equation and I can only say I had a surprising number of guests in Akron.
I’d be terrified to move somewhere exciting. Comfort is informal, favors are taken for granted and there is an element of timelessness. It is hard to explain, but the relationships that I have with people there are very important to all of us, and they are renewed each time we meet. So, keep in mind the saying of an old auntie of mine, and keep those old friends for they are gold.
There are good ships and there are wood ships, Ships that sail the sea, But the best ships are friendships, may they always be.
*Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron. She has a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. Lisa is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge. She runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She enjoys spending time with her puppy, cats and fish. Lisa can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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