two flags

Those of us who compulsively read guide books about where we’re going and where we are, read this sensible lesson: “Don’t tell the Irish that you’re Irish too, just because your ancestors were from Ireland.”

OK. We don’t have ancestors from Ireland anyway, so it isn’t going to be a problem.

“So, do ya know,” asked John Murphy of Kinsale fame, lager in hand, “what percentage of tourists here are from America? Twenty six percent! That’s a lawt!” he said. “Lookin’ for their roots, ya know.” He didn’t seem to mind.

And true enough, as a graduate of no fewer than four East Coast Catholic schools, I saw my friends’ last names everywhere. When I was at Georgetown, there were seven guys named Brendan Sullivan, two of them from Rhode Island. Most of my friends of Irish descent have been to the Emerald Isle at some time, often more than once. Norwegian Airlines will fly you nonstop from Providence to Cork for just about $350, and Boston-Dublin is practically a shuttle.

“They come over here,” John Murphy says, taking a gulp out of his Guinness, “and they say, ‘Oh, your name is Murphy. Do you know my Aunt Kathleen Murphy in Belfast?’ Which is way the hell and gone, ya know?”

But what I never knew is that the Irish also feel deeply attached to America. They fly to Boston, which Dingle folk say is the next parish west, though one ocean away. Also New York, Florida, and all up and down the east coast, visiting cousins or just curious.

The Irish in Ireland brag about the American Irish who made good in the new world: George Clooney, whose father was from Kilkenny, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, John C. Reilly, Christine Aguilera, and Mariah Carey. Muhammad Ali once visited here in Ennis, where one of his great-grandfathers came from. Our tour bus driver showed us the home of John P. Holland, inventor of an early submarine, which sank. Let us not forget Barack Obama, with ancestors from Moneygall, and of course the Kennedys, out of County Wexford.

Speaking of which, “Yer president’s an eejit,” said one of the chatty drunks I met in Dublin. “That last one, the black one, he wasn’t bad. But the best one, they shot him.” (Death is always right close here.) A more sober new acquaintance asked if perhaps there was a Kennedy who was now ready to run for the Democrats?

The Irish seem to actually love Americans. They will talk long and colorfully to anyone, but they seem to seek us out as though we were bright and shiny objects. They feel as if we’re all cousins. Maybe we are.

“Ya fra Murka?” asked a wobbly fellow in a pub where we stopped for coffee. After we figured that out, we acknowledged we were. “Wherena Murka?” he asked. “Oregon,” we said. Head scratching.

“Donnear Texas, izit?”

No, no, West Coast.

“Oh! Well, I got me a niece in Long Island. Kathleen Moriarty. Ya know her?”