when do you have to agree with people to defend them from injustice?
A few weeks ago I set up a merchandise table at an Irish festival in the hills of Pennsylvania. Sales were few and far between. This I am used to. Even in the old days when things were popping this was true. I am well-accustomed to the look of horror some get when viewing the merchandise. It doesn't bother me when merrymakers move as far across the aisle from me as they can get.
Okay, I did talk to a few interesting people, a sprinkling of Americans, a young man from Armagh, another from East Tyrone. And I suppose it is necessary to make our presence known. But except for me, all other traces of Irish Republicanism have been removed. From noon on Saturday until very late that night none of the performing groups played so much as a single rebel song.
Now to be fair, in other years when rebel music was played, most of the people there didn't have a clue what it was all about. Any song in 3/4 time was just another excuse to lumber around the dance floor in a glazey-eyed waltz. The musical selections this year went back and forth between ceili music and drinking songs, with an occasional Tin Pan Alley selection thrown in for good measure.
It gets worse. The guys who sell the 69th Regiment merchandise were not there. The guys with the Mollie Maguire things were not there. The vendor across from me was selling every imaginable shape, size and flavor of rawhide dog chew. Behind him was somebody named Miguel selling sweaters (that's jumpers for those of you in Ireland) made in Ecuador. Two booths to my left was a company that installs storm windows. Then there was the usual assortment of Notre Dame "Fighting Irish" attire, in sizes from Newborn all the way up to Triple X. Alcohol-related items were popular. "God Created Whisky to Prevent the Irish From Ruling the World." For all I know, maybe She did.
That rebel music has disappeared from the scene was not too surprising considering the current political climate. From what I hear, it is not being performed much in Ireland either. But the coalmining and labor union songs were gone too. People used to jump to their feet for them. They were "national anthems" for Carbon, Schuylkill and other adjoining counties. Gone. Just plain gone. (My Spell-Check just told me that there is no such word as coalmining - I guess Bill Gates has never been to Pennslvania, where coalmining is most definitely a word, or at least it used to be. Spell-Check is recommending calcining, whatever that is, as a suitable replacement for coalminig. Okay, calcining it shall be.)
Now when you take the struggle for Irish freedom away, there is not a lot of Irish history left over to tell. Irish history consists of founding a monastery one year, fighting the Norsemen the next, founding another monastery, fighting the Anglo-Normans, and so on. There is nothing else. Monasteries and uprisings, uprisings and monasteries. Yeah, the Titanic was built in Belfast but nobody wants to bring that up.
Okay, I'm a dinosaur. I still think Ireland has 32 counties. And I still want them all. Labor unions are a thing of the past, replaced by "globalization", which is a clever way of saying the bosses get richer and the workers get poorer. Maybe it's just as well they have eliminated all mention of both. People might get ideas.
The big loser is Ireland. For when the Irish become "respectable", which is something many seem to desperately want, they become boring. Excruciatingly boring. They lose that Irish spark, that special something that sets them apart from the rest of the human race. They exported that spark all over the world. It could be found at Valley Forge, where the majority of Washington's troops were Irish, at Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and countless other "burgs" during the Civil War, and it could certainly be found in the front lines of the labor union movement.
Now revisionist history has been popular ever since the days of the pharaohs. But most countries only change bits and pieces around - they do not completely eliminate it. With Irish and Irish-American history wiped out, we are left with people happy enough to walk around with a pitcher of beer and watch stepdancing. This, of course, was always the view of the Irish the English preferred us to have.
If it's gone, it's gone, and there's nothing I can do about it. If the Irish in Ireland want to sit in British parliaments, that's their business. If the Irish here want to be delegates to the Republican National Convention and spend their money on made-by-children-in-some-third-world-country merchandise, who am I to question? I'll just sit here and wait for Bush to start up internment, passing the time softly humming rebel songs. Or maybe I'll irritate myself by going to the shopping mall and searching for even one made-in-USA item, hopefully with a union label.
INDEX: Current Articles
6 June 2002
Other Articles From This Issue:
Paul A. Fitzsimmons
2 June 2002
Killing of Children
Is To Be Done? What Is To Be Thought?