Blowin’ In: An American in Ireland

Blowin’ In:  An American in Ireland
By Susan Mangan

“Who will go with Fergus now . . .

And dance upon the level shore?

Young man, lift your russet brow . . .

And brood on hopes and fears no more . . .

For Fergus rules the brazen cars,

And rules the shadows of the wood . . .

And all the dishevelled wandering stars.”

(“Who Goes with Fergus?” By William Butler Yeats)

Fergus, a mythical Irish king who leaves his throne to become a wandering poet, is a central figure in the poetry of William Butler Yeats. Like Fergus, Yeats gives voice to the Irish peasants and gods, druids and kings, fiddlers and milkmaids. He is the force behind the Irish Literary Revival, deemed the Irish Renaissance, of the late 19th and early 20th century.

When I first discovered Yeats in college, I was spellbound by his imagery, the scope of his vision, his ability to bring the enchanting mysticism of Ireland’s Celtic Twilight to life.

Croaghaun Mountain above Corrymore Lake Achill

While I grew up in a predominantly Irish neighborhood in the northwest side of Chicago, I was familiar with the Clancy Brothers and my best friend’s mother’s clear Kerry brogue, but I never knew the wonder of Irish literature.

During my romantic college years, I embarked on a journey paved with all things Irish. I studied Irish poets, playwrights, and novelists. I met a young man with black Celtic hair and a wonderful family who later became my own. I wrote poetry and taught the short stories of James Joyce to a class of college freshman when I was a graduate assistant. I lived the dream of Fergus.

I was not alone in my love for the Irish. The early 1990s experienced an Irish Renaissance in culture, film, and music. From the mystical Secret of Roan Inish to the portrayal of contemporary drama within Irish American families in The Brothers McMullen, the Irish were in every restaurant, movie, play, novel, and resultingly, in the hearts of people everywhere. Some love affairs never fade.

For many Americans, it is only a dream to walk upon the land of their Irish ancestors. For others, it is a dream that manifests into reality, a movie set come to life.

Recently, I have talked with a young man who shared with me his current journey into the Celtic Twilight: a progressive expedition through the educational, business, and cultural world of Ireland in the 21st century.

A Train Stop on the Ocean

Born and bred in Rocky River, Ohio, Patrick O’Donnell is a recent graduate of Ohio State University, and a young man who actualized his goal to study abroad as a post-graduate student.

Patrick always had the desire to follow this path as an undergraduate, however, changing majors in his field of study impacted this opportunity. Additionally, the COVID pandemic further doused the dream of study abroad for Patrick.

Despite these challenges, Patrick sought out a graduate degree program at University College Dublin: Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School in Blackrock, Ireland. Upon completing an intense 18-month program, Patrick will graduate with a Master’s Degree in Aviation Finance. University College Dublin is renowned for this field and is one of only a few colleges in the world to offer this niche area of study.

Having graduated from Ohio State University, a school amass with an enrollment of 50,000 and classes filled with upwards of 300 students, Patrick is enjoying not only the smaller class sizes, but also the global diversity present in 21st century Ireland.

Patrick’s colleagues, and now friends, not only hail from Ireland, the UK, and America, but from all over the world: India, China, Jordan, and Mexico. Meeting new people with similar academic and professional interests is important to Patrick, and he is active in the university’s Intercultural Development Programme.

This sensibility resonates with me as a teacher, writer, and seeker. In a world of disquiet and uncertainty, it gives me hope to see motivated young people reaching out to others and bravely forging global connections that will have a lasting impact on our future world.

Tall, handsome, and witty, Patrick possesses the grace and intelligence of a lead actor in one of Edward Burns’ independent films of the early 1990s. When asked about the pub scene in suburban Blackrock, Patrick laughs about the difference between the revelers at the Ohio State bars and the four pubs that neighbor his school: “Mostly [the patrons are] aging Irish men seeking refuge from their wives.” Despite his age and marital status, Patrick fits in quite well, catching up on the football scores or the status of the latest golf tournament, and partaking in a round of darts.

While COVID restrictions have put a damper on some of Patrick’s weekend travel excursions, he was able to visit Achill Island and Newport, County Mayo, and Galway. Additionally, a trek to Edinburgh, Scotland greeted him with tumblers of smooth scotch and plates of haggis. An experienced and avid golfer, Patrick’s journey to St. Andrews was a pilgrimage of sorts, and is now his “favorite place on Earth.”

Patrick enjoys the local food scene in Dublin. While he appreciates a proper Guinness and is on a quest to find the pub with the finest pour in all of Ireland, Patrick also enjoys the meals listed on the chalkboard in every establishment as well.

He quickly put to rest the unfair notion that Irish food has a reputation for being “unsavory,” and regularly tucks into traditional dishes like lamb stew, bacon with cabbage, mussels, and rich soups. Additionally, the global influence has opened Ireland to a whole new world of ethnic cuisine. Patrick has eaten some of the best Indian and Middle Eastern food of his life.

I asked Patrick what he would take back, metaphorically, or literally, to America upon finishing his degree in Ireland: “I would bring back the Irish charm and friendliness of the people; the Irish ‘I’ll get to it eventually’ philosophy.”

Patrick has passed many the odd afternoon at his favorite pub, The Wicked Wolf, with local folks who truly care about his well-being and the quality of his experience in their beautiful country. Authenticity, hospitality, warmth, charm, and kindness, these are the traits of the Irish that will stay with Patrick long after his study abroad comes to an end.

To spend an hour or two in the intelligent company of Patrick O’Donnell, one realizes that the dream of the wandering Fergus can become a metaphor for a life well-lived and an assurance that our world will be in good hands with the mindful young adults of the 21st century.

*On-line sources consulted: Hu, Jane. “Irish Literary Revival.” Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism. February 5, 2017.

*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at [email protected].

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