Patrick Carroll | Dublin – 50 Years On
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Dublin – 50 Years On

“On a quiet street where old ghosts meet…

Raglan Road, Patrick Kavanagh


On the 18th of February 1965 I arrived for the first time in Dublin.  I was then a 22 year-old aspiring song lyricist and versifier fresh from the folk music fleshpots of New York’s Greenwich Village. On the 18th of February 2015 I spent most of the day retracing some of the initial steps taken during my first few days in Dublin and observing the changes 50 years had wrought in the city, and reflecting on some of my early experiences and impressions of it.  An initial phenomenon noted was that there are now no “quiet streets” in central Dublin; the city buzzes night and day. Admittedly, and unsurprisingly, my peregrinations constituted a modicum of sight-seeing combined with what – but for the early starting hour, might have been a mini-pub crawl.  The most important of these stops would have been, and in time was, O’Donoghue’s at 15 Merrion row, just off St. Stephen’s Green.  

Before leaving New York I had been told by an old family friend that O’Donoghue’s was the place where all the ballad singers gathered.  (The general international Folk Revival of the 1950s and ’60s was in Ireland popularly, and inaccurately, called “The Ballad Boom”.)  The old family friend was a man named Sean Cronin, now deceased, who had been chief-of-staff of the IRA during the 1956-’61 campaign in the Six Counties, and who wrote the disarming proclamation which ended that phase of hostilities.

A few hours before arriving at O’Donoghue’s I began my tour of places I first knew in Dublin at Eden Quay.  Here, facing the River Liffey, next door to the Seamans’ Mission and around the corner from the Abbey Theatre, stands the building that once housed the Waldorf Hotel, where I stayed during my first week in the city.  Easily distinguished from its New York semi-namesake, the Dublin Waldorf was then a modest establishment charging, as I recall, 30/ a night.  It had not the pretensions of the Shelbourne or Gresham hotels but was a cut above the Lower Gardiner Street B&Bs.  I didn’t pass much non-sleeping time in the hotel.  My most abiding memory of it is of my introduction to British and Irish popular culture as conveyed by the radio in my room.  Back in New York, via the listener-sponsored radio station WBAI, I had been exposed to The Goon Show.  I didn’t then get all of it but I could, in the idiom of the period, dig that it was pretty far-out.  In sharp contrast was a thing I heard one Sunday morning on the BBC Light Programme called, apparently, The Clitheroe Kid.  That I really didn’t get.

Once the Waldorf

Once the Waldorf


The former Waldorf Hotel and an adjoining building now house the Clifton Court Hotel & Bar and Lanigan’s pub and restaurant.  The only remnants of the place I stayed in 50 years before were two tile mosaics set into the pavement, one reading HOTEL and the other WELCOME.  I did look into Lanigan’s, thinking someone might be able to to give me a few dates and details of the premises’s history and progress, but such staff as I could see were too busy ignoring a new face at the bar and, in any case, it was a tad early in the morning for a rosiner.  Even in Dublin.

Shortly after that first stop I walked south across O’Connell Bridge.  I don’t think the Traveller woman sitting against the bridge parapet holding out a begging cup was the same one who had been there regularly 50 years ago, but the picture was familiar.  I recalled my first image of the bridge.  It was the occasion when what were supposed to be the remains of Sir Roger Casement had been brought back to Ireland to be reburied.  The fact that after his execution Casement’s body had been thrown into a lime pit argued that there might not have been many remains to be re-interred but the symbolism was potent. There was an Irish Army colour guard accompanying the flag-draped coffin and I noted that one soldier had made rather a hash of lacing up one of his pristine white leggings, a sight I found oddly reassuring.

Proceeding along D’Olier Street I passed the building that in my early Dublin days housed the Red Bank; a restaurant specializing in sea food and named for the famous oyster grounds off the west coast of Co. Clare.  My girlfriend at the time was a woman named Anthea Joseph who was a prominent figure around the British folk scene, having in the early ’60s been one of the organizers of the legendary Troubadour club. Anthea had moved to Dublin upon getting a job as a record-plugger and general factotum for EMI.  We would regularly go to the Red Bank on the Friday nearest end-of-the-month payday.  On one occasion we were seated at a table next to another where two priests were dining. The more senior of the pair was a grizzled 60ish man of full habit whose rubicund physiognomy hinted that he did not stint himself in matters gustatory.  He managed to demolish a meal consisting of a dozen oysters, a bowl of lobster bisque and a salmon steak, accompanied by copious glasses of white wine.  I don’t recall what Anthea was having but I was getting outside some kidneys, they being not only tasty but also less expensive than anything else on the menu.  During the course of the meal we could discern the burly older priest expressing his deep disapproval of the couple at the neighboring table who were eating meat on a Friday.

The Red Bank was subsequently converted into a church by some New York Redemptorists.  Dublin in those days – unlike now – was something of a culinary Sahara and many of us felt that the last thing the city needed was one more church and one less decent restaurant.  The building is now a hostel catering for backpackers and such.  I don’t know if the management is lay or clerical.

Opposite, on the corner of College and Fleet Streets is a pub called Foley’s.  Under a different name in 1965 – I think it was one of the Mooney’s chain – I had my first Dublin pint in its upstairs lounge.  To my lasting shame it was a pint of Grotney’s Red Barrel.

Crossing College Street to the Trinity side I noted that the statue of Thomas Moore – with what James Joyce called “its cloak of sloth” – was gone.  Beneath the statue in earlier times was a public toilet known to Dubliners, naturally, as “The Meeting of the Waters”.  One of my first 1965 pilgrimages was to Eccles Street where I spent an hour sitting opposite No. 7 communing, I hoped, with the spirit of Leopold Bloom.  My 50th anniversary visit would, of course, have been incomplete without pausing for a few minutes by the statue of Joyce just off O’Connell Street that, in accord with the local tradition of giving nicknames to statuary, is known to Dubliners as “The prick with the stick.”

Two pricks with two sticks

Two pricks with two sticks


Walking past the gates of Trinity College, in the centre of the triangle of statues featuring Henry Grattan, Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith, I remembered another incident of my early Dublin days.  I had entered the college grounds via a small side door then in Pearse Street and crossed the quad to the main entrance at College Green.  As I came out I noted a tour bus disgorging a party of American visitors.  One lady, pointing at the base of Goldsmith’s pedestal, asked me in awed tones, “Is that grass real?” Suppressing the urge to say, “It sure ain’t Astroturf, honey,” I put on my best brogue and merely said, “I believe it is, ma’am.”

This 50th anniversary amble then took me along Grafton Street.  Before reaching St. Stephen’s Green I looked at but did not go into McDaid’s, the pub much frequented by writers and poets of the post-War, or, in Ireland, post-Emergency period.  I remembered once being in company with the above-cited Patrick Kavanagh when the talk concerned some tipsily Jesuitical distinctions as between poetry and verse.  There was a time in my later Dublin days when the entire bar staff of McDaid’s left to work in another pub, Grogan’s, in nearby South William Street, taking most of the clientele with them.  The only case, one wit observed, of the ship deserting the sinking rats. Although I didn’t go in I noted that McDaid’s had considerably gussied up its frontage.

Opposite the pub there is now a statue of Phil Lynott complete with his bass guitar. (If this one has a sobriquet I don’t know it.) I was only barely acquainted with Phil but he was good mates with friends of mine who later formed the core of the hippie-period band Dr. Strangely Strange.  There was a house in Lower Mount Street then known as The Orphanage.  It was a kind of students’ and post-students’ digs. One of the residents was a young woman known as Orphan Annie.  I never did know if the house was called The Orphanage because she lived there, or vice-versa.  An album of the pre-Thin Lizzie band, Skid Row, featuring Phil Lynott, was called “Shades of a Blue Orphanage”. Another of the Orphanage residents was a lass named Jeffa who was a tailor/seamstress.  She once made me a pair of trousers from a length of Donegal tweed I’d got from the Dublin Woolen Mills shop on the Capel Street side of the Ha’penny Bridge, and also a double-breasted leather waistcoat, later commandeered as stage-wear by my old New York blues singer/songwriter friend Major Wiley (of whom more shortly).

Following around to Chatham Street I passed Neary’s, much patronized in my day by theatrical and film people.  Reaching the top of Grafton Street, and before I turned to walk along the Green, I looked across South King Street at Sinnott’s public house.  During some of my time in Dublin the upstairs lounge of Sinnott’s had hosted weekly Poetry & Music sessions.  I was the poet of the evening on one occasion.  I was received politely but was not – in retrospect unsurprisingly – re-booked.  On another occasion the featured performers were the aforesaid Major Wiley, and the highly-respected Irish language poet, translator and scholar, Maire MacEntee (or more properly in Irish, Maire Mhac an tSaoi) – with whom Major struck up an immediate rapport.  Toward the end of the evening the poet’s husband, Conor Cruise O’Brien, arrived from Leinster House where, as an Irish Labour Party T.D., he had been attending a session of Dail Eireann.  Major was aware that  The Cruiser was a big pot of some sort but being only hazily aware of the exact nature of his pot-hood, on being introduced greeted him with charming warmth, only just tinged with a slightly patronizing tone, saying, “Why, are you this lovely lady’s husband?” 

Continuing along the Green, as I passed the Shelbourne I recalled an occasion when I noted a middle-aged couple standing by one of the sculptured, lamp-holding Egyptian ladies. The woman’s transparent raincoat, the gent’s multi-coloured fisherman’s hat and their general aura betrayed that they, like the Trinity grass lady, were Americans.  Coming in the opposite direction was young man who was obviously a student.  He had longish hair, a college scarf and his bohemian clothes were of the mode then-prevailing among the youth – this would have been c.1967.  As he and I passed each other the lady, in fine, flat Midwestern labials, observed to her husband, “Look, Harry, they have them here too.”

And so to Merrion Row.  The short stretch of Merrion Row that runs between the Green and the junction of Upper Merrion Street and Ely Place, with a few exceptions, is totally altered from my early days in Dublin.  The enclosed Huguenot cemetery is still there and, indeed, has comparatively recently been tidied and refurbished.  Further along on the north side of the street there is still a pub, now also called Foley’s. Under a different name in 1965 it was the only public house, saloon or gin mill from which I’ve ever been barred. This occurred one Saturday night when a trio of us found that O’Donoghue’s was so packed that one couldn’t physically push open the front door.  My two companions were a Cornishman and a Glaswegian.  The Cornish lad was a migrant worker who followed the crops around Ireland, Britain and the Continent.  His attire featured a sleeveless sheepskin tunic which he wore inside out. The Scottish chap was an art student who wore a small, notably un-jaunty cap which he also wore inside out. Both at the time were working night shifts in a glass bottle factory on the Dublin quays.  In sharp sartorial contrast I was wearing a nifty black mohair suit, the only remnant of my Broadway hipster period wardrobe to have made the trip to Ireland.  We crossed the street and entered the pub and were immediately scrutinized dourly by the man behind the bar.  Before we could begin to order he said, “We don’t cater to your sort here.  You want to try across the road.”  I subsequently learned that the publican had previously been a Co. Wicklow undertaker who’d inherited the pub from his brother.  He was, I thought, a prime example of a certain type of landlord who fundamentally despises the kind of people who go into public houses.  I never set foot in the pub again until after the proprietor had required the services of someone in his former profession.

Back across on the O’Donoghue’s side the only two premises, the pub apart, that still appeared to carry on the same function as they did a half a century ago were an estate agent and a combination newsagent/post office, the latter apparently under Asian management.  The frontage of O’Donoghue’s did not appear markedly changed since my day: the sign-board is unaltered and while there are a few exterior indications that the house is well-aware of its international reputation as a mecca of traditional Irish music, there’s nothing too blatant.




There is now only one front entrance to the pub.  In the old days there were two, one to the right looking at the frontage that led to what – before my time – had been the snug and to stairs rising to the upper floors, then living accommodation.  That door is now permanently shut.  Previously, to the right as one came through that door there was a coin-box telephone and a cork notice board.  O’Donoghue’s in those earlier days had been not only a pub and a gathering place for musicians but also an office, employment bureau and poste restante.  The notice board regularly held messages and correspondence from an amazing number of sources.  A famous example was a post card from somewhere in South America simply addressed “Ronny, Irland”. Obviously some wide-awake operative in the Dublin G.P.O. had correctly deduced that this missive was intended for Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners, and knew where to forward it.  The walls around and above the space where the phone and the notice board once were is now covered with a series of charcoal portraits of a half-dozen and more original, past and later members of The Dubliners.  In a small space on the wall below these portraits there was photograph, about the survival of which I was curious.  I am somewhat gratified that it is still there.  The photo is of myself as a fresh-faced, bespectacled, tweed-jacketed young man of 25 or so.  The irony of the photo is that it was taken, not in O’Donoghue’s, but in another pub, Toner’s, located some 50 yards southeast of O’Donoghue’s in Baggot Street.  The photographer was the aforementioned Orphan Annie – true name Patricia Mohan. My wife took a new photo of her husband, the 2015 edition of P.T.C., standing next to the earlier, mid-60s black and white version.  In this latter photo, above my head, the upper half of Ronnie Drew’s face can be seen looking down at me rather balefully.  It reminded me of the time Ronnie called me out for the pretentious affectation I had picked up in imitation of Josh White of placing a lighted cigarette behind my ear.

PTC Past and Present

PTC Past and Present


My wife, frankly, found an almost-deserted, early afternoon O’Donoghue’s quite eerie.  I could appreciate why and was happy to be left by myself with the ghosts.  The house has over the years become something of a museum of itself.  During the day there is a continuous loop of old Dubliners’ recordings, and the place is in many ways a shrine to the group who first made the pub a haunt of musicians after asking Paddy O’Donoghue if they could use the back room as a rehearsal space.  The walls, in front where the snug once was, the mirrored one facing the bar, and especially those in that back room are all covered with photographs.   On this day, 50 years after my arrival in the city, I took a seat where I had sat many times before in those early days when there would be almost continuous sessions from 10:30am opening time through to 2:30pm and resuming at 3:30 after the Holy Hour, and then going on till closing time – 11:00pm in winter, 11:30 during the summer.  The faces that surrounded me of both the living and the dead, needless to say, gave rise to much recollection and reflection.

To the left of where I was sitting is the partition wall between the back room and the bar and what had once been the kitchen.  The section of the wall to the left of the serving hatch door opening from the bar was, I believe, the first to have had photos fixed to it.  In the lower-left corner is one of Paddy O’Donoghue sitting with Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. A non-photo, now gone, that once hung on the wall opposite to where I was sitting was a reproduction of a French Impressionist painting that featured a woman apparently singing with one hand pressed to her ear.  This, of course, was known to regulars as “Ewan MacColl in Drag.”

Others on that original partition wall included one of four or five on the back room walls of Joe Heaney. In one of the photos he looks like a champion middleweight sean-nos  singer and in another like a Texas oil tycoon out of “Dallas”. There also are Seamus Ennis, The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem; the Clancy’s younger brother, Bobby, and sister, Peg; Deirdre Kelly, wife of Luke; and several others who I couldn’t, at this distance of time, positively identify.  I knew Joe Heaney quite well in those days and some years ago wrote a play for BBC Radio 4 called “Scattering Day” that was in part inspired by him. The character in the play was nothing at all like Joe but I did use as background some of his experiences and treatment in the British folk club scene of the late-’50s and early-’60s.  When in the early-’70s he went off to live in New York I wrote a poem marking the occasion which appeared in the Irish periodical Hibernia.  A few days before Joe’s first trip to America he was talking in O’Donoghue’s with Luke Kelly who asked him at one point, “Are you nervous of the flight, Joe?”  (Joe had never previously been in an airplane.)  “Jesus Christ, Luke, I am.  But I know the driver very well.” This was a reference to a man named Dick Quin who was then a senior pilot for Aer Lingus and flew twice-a-week between Dublin and New York and, along with the Clancys, formed a link between O’Donoghue’s and the late, lamented Greenwich Village bar, The Lion’s Head, that became known to many of us as O’Donoghue’s West.

Directly opposite my seat in the back room was another photo of Paddy, Tom and Liam Clancy together with Tommy Makem.  Those three Clancy brothers have all, sadly, gone under the wire.  I had a two-fold connection with them.  Apart from the folk music/O’Donoghue’s nexus, there was that fact that the mother of my older son grew up in the Clancy’s native Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary, where her father had been director of the tannery that was the town’s principal industry.  When, c.1970, I started a music publishing company – called Ard Ri Music in honour of Seamus Ennis – Paddy Clancy agreed to be a director and advanced me £100 as start-up capital.

Some other photos on that wall were of people familiar to me in my early Dublin days.  There is one is of Johnny Moynihan in a jacket and tie, looking the clean-cut architecture student he then was.  In his later incarnation as a founder member of Sweeney’s Men he played on a song called “Old Woman in Cotton” co-written by Andy Irvine and myself that was recorded as the ‘B’-side of the Sweeneys’ version of  “Waxies’ Dargle” which in 1968 reached No. 5 in the Irish singles chart.  A little to Johnny’s right I spotted one of Christy Moore’s sisters.  My eye moving further along that opposite wall encountered two Americans.  One was a heavily bearded Philadelphian whose true name was Mike Miller, although that is not the name on the photo.  Mike was an excellent guitarist who said of me at one point that he had been glad to meet up with a fellow-Yank in Dublin who was able to show him the ropes without lynching him with them.  Mike once went into Gill’s – then almost Dublin’s only delicatessen – and, wanting a little something to nibble while walking in the Green during the Holy Hour, asked the counterman for a quarter pound of Blarney cheese.  “Just a quarter?!” said the counterman indignantly.  “Well, we only have the one trap,” replied Mike.

The next American on that wall is my friend Major Wiley.  We had known each other since, aged sixteen, we attended – as he has been know to say – “…different schools together.” At my urging Major visited Dublin c.1971-’72 and he and his music made a considerable impression.  He performed at various venues, appeared on Gay Byrne’s Late Late Show (sharing the bill with Acker Bilk) and was subsequently cast in an RTE television play.  The Late Late Show appearance inspired a phone call asking if Major would appear at a barn dance in Galway.  The “barn dance” turned out to be the annual hooley of the East Galway Hunt, with several hundred people attendance, a circumstance that called for a quick re-negotiation of the originally agreed fee.  Apart from this episode and the previously recounted Music & Poetry evening in Sinnott’s, three other incidents from that visit resonate with me.  I’ve reported elsewhere in my memoirs of an evening I spent with a Greek singer named Fleury Papadononki at New York’s Village Gate night club when the bill consisted of Thelonious Monk, The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem and a South African “click” singer named, as I recall, Leeta Mbulu.  I’ve always thought of this as the last word in Greenwich Village cabaret eclecticism but the night when Major shared the stage at Mick McCarthy’s Tallagh establishment, The Embankment, with the legendary Irish theatre polymath Michael MacLiammoir – he giving the audience an excerpt from his Oscar Wilde one-man show – was in the same multi-cultural league. While staying in my flat in Upper Fitzwilliam Street Major wrote a song called “Trying to Be Free” which included a line invoking “…the man with the child in his eyes”.  We were always rather curious as to how that particular line turned up (coincidentally?) several years later in a song of Kate Bush’s. While in Ireland Major was unavoidably exposed to a good helping of the prevalent “Country & Irish” music as purveyed by various of the show bands of the period.  One day as were walking along Baggot Street toward O’Donghue’s Major said to me, “Tell me, Paddy, do the Irish fuck in 3/4 time?”

PTC's flat at 4 Upper Fitzwilliam Street

PTC lived in the top flat of 4 Upper Fitzwilliam Street


In the far left-hand corner of O’Donoghue’s back bar is the partition-guarded door to the ladies toilet. The sight reminded me again of Dick Quin, with undemonstrative gallantry, carrying in his arms to the loo his wife who suffered from multiple sclerosis.  On the wall opposite the partition is a photograph of another good friend of my early days in Dublin. He was a Somerset-born chap, sadly, now also gone under the wire, named Trevor Crozier, then attending T.C.D., with whom I shared, among other things, a devotion to the works of P.G. Wodehouse.  The photo shows him in a costume including a tricorn hat taken when he was a member of the cast of a musical play called “O’Donoghue’s Opera”, which featured many of the pub’s regulars, including most of The Dubliners.  Trevor’s most notable contribution to the folk-ish canon was a song, in broad zumerzet dialect, called “Don’t Tell I, Tell ‘Ee”.  This gem was recorded by Adge Cutler & The Wurzels and still features in some, particularly West Country, repertoires.

Standing up and examining some of the photographs above where I was seating I studied two in particular that again connected me with recordings of songs I had co-written.  One was of a fellow named Jesse Owens.  He was, with his blonde, movie-star looks, easily distinguishable from the great, equally handsome but darker, American Olympic athlete of the same name.  He and I collaborated on a song call “‘Til The Wild Birds Nest Again”, which was recorded as the title track of a Fontana L.P. by The Tinkers, in those days a popular attraction in the British folk clubs.  Next to Jesse’s photo was one of The Johnstons, then consisting of the two Johnston sisters, Adrienne and Luci, Paul Brady and Mick Moloney.  In 1968 Transatlantic Records under Nat Joseph released simultaneously two Johnstons’ L.P.s; one of traditional songs and the other, titled “Give A Damn”, of contemporary material.  It included a song called “I Don’t Mind the Rain on Mondays” that I had co-written with John Bowen, the son of an old university chum of my father’s.  The song, unsurprisingly, used to get an occasional Monday morning play on Irish radio. Also included on the L.P. was The Johnstons’ version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”. Shortly after that song’s release as a single in America on the Tetragrammaton label it reached No. 90 in the Billboard best-seller charts, whereupon Jac Holzman of Elektra Records immediately released the Judy Collins version of the song which went to No. 2.  The L.P., licensed to the American label by Transatlantic, apparently sold reasonably well but as Tetragrammaton Records subsequently went bust none of us ever saw any benefit.  Paul Brady, of course, remains justly prominent in the Irish and international folk world. I’ve been told recently that Mick Moloney presently lectures at Columbia University in New York City. (Bill Cosby was once one of the directors of Tetragrammaton. I figure that if I had the money he owes me I could afford another pint or two.)

All of these “old ghosts” finally reminded of an afternoon shortly before I left Dublin to live in London.  I was sitting in this same back bar with Andy Irvine.  Andy then, like many of the notable Irish musicians of the early- and mid-’60s did not frequent O’Donoghue’s  much any more.  Work, families, travel and other distractions made life no longer conducive to impromptu, middle-of-the-day sessions. After having cut up some old touches about the place, Andy said to me, “Pat, not only were those The Good Old Days, we knew at the time that they were The Good Old Days.”

PTC with the old ghosts

PTC with the old ghosts


In November 1977 the ownership of the pub passed, after 40 years, from the O’Donoghue family to Desmond Hynes, already then the owner of The Merrie Inn in Fenian Street. Although then living in London I was asked by Karl Dallas to write a retrospective piece about the pub for the paper Folk News, and to have it in his hands by noon the next day.  In the article (delivered, I may say, on time) after, as above, naming many of the singers and musicians who had visited and frequented the house, I wrote the following: “But among them all, famous, unfamous and infamous, there have only ever been two stars in O’Donoghue’s: Maureen; who always vehemently maintained that the shop was first and foremost a working man’s pub and, while always keeping a beady eye on the clientle from her spot behind the kitchen hatchway [usually referred to as The Confessional], would never see a genuine person go hungry nor tell you a thing that wasn’t true.  And Paddy; round and grizzled head, an ‘actually’ in every sentence, and never working less than eighteen hours a day.  He is one of the nicest men you’ve ever met, no matter how many nice men you’ve met.” 

In 1988 the pub was acquired from Mr. Hynes by Oliver Barden and John Mahon.  Mr. Barden and his family are the present proprietors.  I revisited O’Donoghue’s during the evening of that 18th of February. By the 9:00pm the house was jam-packed – not bad trade for midweek night in February. There was live music but I can’t say I found it of much interest.  Still, I expect it will be part of someone else’s ‘good old days’.

 * * * * * * * * * *

A side effect resulting from the foregoing phantasmagoric jumble of impressions, memories and reflections has led me to cogitating, as I do periodically, on 50 years of expatriation. I am often told, “You certainly haven’t lost your accent”, but this is usually evidence of an uneducated ear.  Years of living in Dublin, London, South Somerset, Bristol and Cornwall have rather beveled the edges of my native Lower Manhattan notes: I no longer, for instance, pronounce the name of the city where I was bred and buttered as “Noo Yawk”.  And American people think I now talk very funny.  And then in my cultural bloodstream there is a plasma of musical, movie, literary, sporting and general popular Americana, which has resulted, among other things, in large clots of trivia.

In certain areas of the U.S. Republic one may see bumper stickers reading “America – Love it or leave it.” This has always seemed to me a particularly puerile example of that strand of an American tradition going back to the “Know-Nothingism” of the 1830s and beyond (and presently observable in the phenomenon of Trump-ism).  The phrase competes (apologies to Julian of Norwich) in fatuity with that psycho-babble favourite “unconditional love”.  This term is often used to describe the feelings of mothers (and sometimes fathers) toward their newly-born infants.  As the statistics addressing post-natal depression and “baby blues” attest the love usually survives but observation, experience and knowledge will tend to knock a few holes in the unconditional part; unless the critical faculties are to be adjourned, and love really is blind.  We love who and what we love despite the object of affection’s faults, frailties and failings. Particularly when we recognize that these are often the obverse of the attributes and virtues that excite and sustain the love.  Just as the affectionate parent will correct the errant child, and the clear-eyed child will detect parental shortcomings and absurdities, so your best friend may well be your severest critic.  I can easily imagine what the reaction of a Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, William Lloyd Garrison, John Jay Chapman, H.L. Mencken or Noam Chomsky would be if presented with the bumper sticker injunction.

Having left initially to see and experience the country from which my forebears came, I’ve remained on this eastern side of the Atlantic for a wide variety of personal, professional and family reasons.  All a matter of biography.  On my occasional visits back, mainly to New York City, I enjoy wandering around the old neighbourhood; going out to see a ballgame (Mets not Yankees); having a few ales in McSorley’s or the White Horse; and seeing such of my old friends as are still alive and still living in the city.  While not often in sympathy with the tub-thumpers  for “States’ Rights” – historically a camouflage for segregationism and other forms of reactionary, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic cloth-headed buncombe – I, when living there, was sometimes a quiet advocate of Home Rule for Manhattan.  All of that apart, I don’t drink coffee; I don’t drive a car; I take no stock in any monotheistic religion; I’ve never suffered any confusion as between my reproductive organs and firearms; I’ve never used an underarm deodorant in my life; and I’m a socialist.  

I’m sure the bumper sticker patriots haven’t missed me over the last 50 years and I sure as hell haven’t missed them.  Especially now, nearly two years after my 2015 Dublin visit, when Mencken’s prediction that one day the ‘plain folks’ of America will achieve their hearts’ desire and put a complete moron in the White House has come to pass.

Dublin still demonstrates

Dublin still demonstrates

Final Note:  During our Dublin sojourn of February 2015 my wife and I stayed in Buswell’s Hotel. When we arrived to check in we found Molesworth Street filled with  hundreds of people furiously protesting about the Irish government’s slashing of funds for pre-school education, the speakers using Buswell’s steps as a rostrum.  The sight took us back to our own demonstrating and protesting days – which are not necessarily over – and the evidence of a continuing tradition of militancy added to my feelings of nostalgia for the Dublin I had known 50 years before.

A Sadder Final Note: On Good Friday of this year my old friend Major Wiley died.  It has been said that to die on Good Friday is to be in pretty auspicious company.  Unfortunately, as far as we know, Major did not – at least physically – Rise on the Third Day, and he appears to many now only in memory. Some of my own memories of him are scattered through some other posts on this Notes of a Footnote website.  Especially those found in Chapters 9 & 10 of the Memoirs category. 


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