Terry From Derry: The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Terry from Derry: The Lies We Tell Ourselves
By Terry Boyle

Recently, I’ve been talking to some people about the genius of the Irish playwright, John Millington Synge.  Writing at the beginning of the 20th century, Synge challenged the prevailing perceptions Dubliners had of the West of Ireland.

For urban nationalists, the west was always considered to be the ‘uncorrupted heart of Ireland.’  Westerners embodied the best of what it means to be Irish. Of course, nothing more could be further from the truth.  While it’s true that the Irish language and culture was preserved by those in rural areas, it was also true that those who inhabited those areas were just as flawed as anyone else; a fact Synge reiterated in each of his dramatic works.

The need to create myths to reinforce our ideological cause is not new.  Throughout human history, we have continued to make up stories that, while they hold a grain of truth, are greatly exaggerated for effect. 

For example, Patrick Radden Keefe’s brilliant expose of the killing of Jean McConville during the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’, shows how callously people reacted to McConville’s children after she was murdered by the IRA as an informer. Her children were shunned, alienated, at a time when they needed the support of their community.  The myth that an oppressed community shares its suffering by displaying acts of altruism is sometimes true but not always, as shown in how McConville’s children were treated by their Catholic community in Belfast.

Someone who knows how to exploit the need for mythologizing is the outgoing president.  Throughout his presidency, he has lied, cheated, and undermined the very ideals of American society by appearing to be an ideologue for Christian morality.  His diversion tactics have repeatedly distracted the American people from seeing his selfish, egotistical, need for popularity. 

He has shown his true colours during this pandemic.  Instead of educating and leading his people in a time of crisis, he has demonstrated a lack of compassion for the dying and dead.  He continues to lie and cheat in plain sight, and there are still people who believe his myth making. 

America, during his presidency, has been forced to face the reality that all of what we have believed about this country is false.  The United States has long been seen as a melting pot, providing sanctuary for those mistreated and unjustly discriminated against, a place where democratic principles are supported and upheld by those in government. 

What the former president has done during his ineffectual time in office is to reveal to the world how one man can manipulate, bully, and lie his way to the top without any fear of consequence.  As the president of a superpower, he has blatantly demonstrated his misogyny, racism, and financial corruption. 

Yet, he still the hero of over 70 million voters.  Why?  Because people want to believe his myth making. 

It’s never easy to face up to the truth.  We love our lies.  They offer us a way to overlook our failings personally and collectively.  If we look at the practice of the outgoing president we see that by deflecting reality we choose to delude ourselves.  If we continue to blind ourselves to defending the myth our chances of improving our lot is doubtful. 

And, while I don’t believe the former president has divided the country or made it more racist. If anything, he has simply shown that these despicable elements have always existed in the ‘home of the brave and land of the free.’

Getting rid of one man in power will not change this country if this country does not face up to its own failings.  We can continue to believe in the lies we tell ourselves and lose out in an opportunity to make things better. 

We have a chance now to become something different, something better, something more inclusive and less divisive if we can admit to ourselves the truth of what we are not, a fair society.  A change in government can only work if there’s a change in attitude.  I would hope, as I’m sure we all do, that the newly elected president is able to demonstrate a different kind of leadership.

Synge was not treated well by romantic Irish nationalists.  They didn’t appreciate his suggestion that the God-fearing men and women of the Irish west were duplicitous and less than saints. Indeed, in 1907, Dubliners took to the streets after Synge’s ‘The Playboy of the Western World’ premiered, because they were unwilling to accept anything but the myth. 

Their reaction to his truthful depiction of the west exposed how strongly they were attached to the lie.  It’s never easy to admit that those we admire often fall short of our ideals, even when it’s right in front of our eyes.  We see that even in our own time.

When it comes to the pandemic and the crisis we’re currently undergoing, there are still those who disbelieve the facts.  Risking their own lives and the lives of others, they flaunt their disbelief in dangerous ways. 

Sure, we’d all love to think it’s all a hoax, but that would be a refusal to believe a denial of reality in the evidence that surrounds us.  The conspiracy theorists are like those who fixed the chairs on the Titanic as the ship was sinking.  They act as if all is well and there’s nothing to worry about. 

The very fact that the former president has opted out of every opportunity to give guidance and leadership on the pandemic means that we’re up to our necks in water, locked in a third-class cabin, while he and his business associates are manning the lifeboats. Some lies are too costly to hold onto.  If the master of deflection is focusing his attention on his presidential loss, then we know there is an iceberg ahead, with all of our names on it.


Terry is a retired professor at Loyola University, Chicago.  He writes and reviews plays, while also teaching modern Irish and English drama.  Moving from Derry, N. Ireland to Chicago in 2004, he continues to enjoy is work with the Irish American community throughout America.  He can be reached: [email protected]

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