Akron Irish: Actually
By Lisa O’Rourke
Looking back at last year, already Christmas is in the rearview mirror. The changing of the year is arbitrary, man made, but, just like objects in the rearview mirror, it feels further away than it actually is.
Time has that relativity. Holidays and such are so charged that they create their own biospheres. They recede reluctantly into memory and occupy more space than the actual passage of time that they represent.
That is kind of how it seems with many things that rest on the landscape of emotion. That idea includes how we feel about a place.
Many people talk about how much they love Ireland and connect to it. What is that? It is a beautiful place and that never hurts when it comes to creating a favorable connection.
I remember finding it pretty, but pretty forbidding too. I think that it was all that gray. I like a rainy-day break as much as the next person, a chance to enjoy indoor pursuits without regret.
But incessant rain is another category completely. The gray soaks and becomes the landscape on those days. Beyond beauty and weather, I think that there is something else that strikes a chord in many tourist too.
Landing in Ireland, one thing that was immediately apparent was that it was a bit behind the times, at least in contrast with the non-Amish United States. I could write a solid page on the things that I couldn’t get there thirty years ago.
Of course, that is “small stuff”, but it felt indicative of where the culture was at then. However, a few weeks in, I didn’t miss a thing. And later on, I was delighted that I was free from some of the things that I thought were important to me.
By then they had me. Instant nostalgia had enveloped me in its cozy Aran sweater.
It was never just things either, but the way that people behaved. Neighbors came and visited. People seemed much more grounded and direct than many in my experience.
There was a lot of laughter and small talk that felt so charming and uncomplicated. I had that lovely feeling that I fit right in; sure, I was a Yank, but I had that idea that I could go anywhere, Connecticut Yankee and kind of “aw shucks” my way into any society.
So many Americans feel that simplicity can cut to the heart of any other culture on earth’s society; that there are simple fundamental truths that we know and can share. That naiveté is our Achilles’ heel. We are as the Irish would say, gobshites, as far as sophistication goes.
In so many things, Europe has it going on. We know that when they want to, those people can summon a level of craftsmanship, often specialized in locations, that we just don’t have the chops for.
Calm down, I am not knocking things made here in the U.S., we have our own kind of ingenuity. But when I am looking at a clock, for example, I want German or Swiss. I want that deep level of engineering, know- how, craftsmanship and whimsy that go into those type of things.
And so be it, we have Swiss chocolate, English raincoats and on and on. We still look to European goods when we want quality.
So, what is the Irish specialty? What could it be but words? Words survive depravation and poverty. The Irish have carried them with them shaped and manipulated them into their own creations. Hundreds of years of skilled writing and oration have made them verbal Olympians.
Like many cultures, the Irish live in each other’s shadows. Getting along together is a survival skill, and you need to know when to hold them and when to fold them, as Kenny Rogers would say.
Bless Your Heart
The Irish person does not directly share exactly what they think. Just like the Southern lady who damns with the faint praise of rhetorical fluff, using words like “sweet” and “bless your heart,” be wary of what is being said to you.
“Their decades of familiarity, which seemed like a comfort at the beginning … weave themselves into an impenetrable thicket: its layers obscure every action and every motivation till they’re near indecipherable to an outsider … This effect is deliberate and practiced, an elementary and natural precaution,” said Tana French in The Searcher.
We tend to see the world in terms of surface, and they see it in layers. Those layers including who you are, what you might want, and what you might do in the future. The words that sound casual are carefully chosen to keep you in exactly the correct box.
What we forget is that in Ireland lies centuries of navigation around colonizing prigs, rapacious landlords, traitorous neighbors, and a legal system that was not always just. There is an inherent canniness, fluid intuition, call it what you will, but ability to size things up both quickly and accurately. In that we are mere amateurs.
This is not meant to be off-putting, merely preparation. Don’t be silly and cynical, play the game. Anytime when you know you are out of your depth, be prepared, bring your water-wings.
Surely the most innocent seeming farmer at the side of the road, giving you directions, is going to have it all over you, probably even get in a riddle or two before he is done. Smile, it is all relative, and will be in the rearview soon enough.
*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 and runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal, has two sons, Danny and Liam, and enjoys art, reading, music, travel and likes spending time with her dog, cats and fish. She can be contacted at ol*****@ic****.com.
Please send any Akron events to my email!