It’s here again. As I write this it’s here, and as you read this, it’s over. It’s St. Patrick’s feast day, that day when the first born on American soil celebrated by cooking up corned beef and cabbage, and when my grandfather slammed his beer glass down on the bar at Skeeter O’Neils and shouted, “Tell me again just exactly who it was who could afford corned beef?”

Yes, we’re an angry lot and cynical. No matter how happy we are, we know tears are to come. No matter how happy the story, we know it’s going to have a bad ending.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan wiped his eyes at Jack Kennedy’s grave and said, “There’s no point in being Irish if you don’t know the world is going to break your heart eventually.” And then there was Bobby and then there was Teddy and we knew he was right.

The present generation of Irish, the connected, the wired, the smart-phoned, sun-glassed, big-screened descendants of O’Casey, Behan and Beckett, have mostly lost their purity.

As for myself, there were nine of us once with this ancient name, blessed or cursed with nothing but green blood in our veins and lots of song and beer in the house. It was an old house built by old men, one full of singing and fighting, crying and laughing, and one by one we passed along until there are three of us left with that ancient madness in our brains.

The great Edna O’Brien said it better than I can.


“You are Irish, you say lightly,” she said, “and allocated to you are the tendencies to be wild, wanton, drunk, superstitious, unreliable, backward, toadying, and prone to fits, whereas you know that in fact a whole entourage of ghosts resides in you.” Gimme an amen.

The Irish, as America came to know, love, hate and pity, are gone now to their Irish Jesus. O’Neil, Cagney, O’Brien, Tracy, Fitzgerald, Crosby, Flaherty. All gone.

This new generation, blood thinned and blessedly washed clean of these ghosts, knows nothing of what Moynihan said.

Few read the history of their blood if they read at all, and they have no one left to remind them of whence we came, of the floating caskets that washed us up here and why we left.

There is no one to remind them of the women who died on the way to Cobh, with grass stained lips and babies dead at their breasts. And why should they?

It’s St. Patrick’s Day 2012, a day to celebrate. There are parades somewhere and green beer and river water and the occasional Mass for the dead, and you can see that there are few who will get up this morning for Mass after “the day,” with swollen heads full of Celtic thunder.


There are no more of those old men who put on the funeral suit and joined their families in the pews and lay their foreheads against the polished wood, pretending to say their beads while simply fighting sleep.

Those were men who brought the bacon and potatoes home, who walked the streets with badges and night sticks, who fought fires and worked long hard hours in breweries and coal mines and only wore the clean white shirt on Sundays.

I was born just as the old ones passed on the memories to the first generation of American children. I was lucky enough to hear their last wishes and write them in my heart, promising their ghosts never to forget what it means to be pure Irish.

My mother once had a list of family names to recite at Easter Mass for the dead: Devine, Brady, Conlon, O’Reilly, MacNamara, Kelleher, McCann and Egan.

Bits of all of them float in my veins and inform the way I view the world. This day I lift my glass to them all and thank them for the memories. Slainte.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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