By Patrick J. Walsh
Patrick J. Walsh is a writer in Quincy, MA. He holds a graduate degree in Anglo-Irish literature from Trinity College, Dublin and has written for The Weekly Standard, Modern Age and several other publications.
Peter Kavanaugh, brother of Ireland’s last great poet Patrick Kavanaugh, used to say that “Ireland was a racket centered in Dublin.” Today, it is a racket centered in Brussels. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of the European Union. It is no longer a Catholic country. After struggling for hundreds of years for their own independence, the Irish put their own constitution in mothballs.
Ireland is now, like the rest of Europe, in apostasy against its Faith and history.
To be Irish is always to be in a kind of exile. On St. Patrick’s day, those of Irish descent can still take a kind of holiday in the heart based upon their own experiences of exile.
Looking out to sea one sunny day in Carna, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland, my uncle Micheal Breathnac quipped in Gaelic that Boston was the “next parish”—because so many had emigrated there. Our house stands in the area known as the Gaelteacht (Irish land). The language is still spoken here as once it echoed over all of Ireland.
Many people don’t know that Gaelic/Irish is a distinctive language and culture from that of England. They think that being Irish is speaking English with a funny accent or brogue (an Irish word for shoe).
The Irish are a Celtic people. Julius Caesar fought them in his Gallic Wars. Descendants of the Celts still inhabit Ireland, Scotland, the Hebrides, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man, and Galicia in Spain.
Like my parents, Mary Anne MacLeod (Donald Trump’s mother) was first taught English in school. She was a native Gaelic speaker, born on Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, who emigrated to New York. She named the home President Trump grew up in in New York, “Tara,” the ancient seat of Irish kings. And Donald (Domhnall, pronounced “Doonal”)—in Irish means “world leader,” which the president has proven to be!
With a Scottish mother and a wife born in Slovenia, Donald Trump is very close to the American immigrant experience.
First-hand accounts of the early immigrant experience in America are few.
Hungarian immigrant and historian John Lukacs wrote of the trauma of immigration: “Superficially speaking the Americanization of immigrants was often surprisingly easy; but the psychic process was much more complex and difficult, than people—including writers and historians—have been accustomed to believe.”
George Santayana, a Spanish immigrant, admired “the unkempt polygot people that turn to the new world with the pathetic but manly purpose of beginning life on a new principle.”
Walking the Carna road when returning to graduate school at Trinity College, Dublin years ago, I was conscious of a sadness rising as I pondered the difficulties of members of my family and all those who walked this same path of immigrating to America, leaving the old world and old ways behind.
Along the road, people greeted me with “Hi,” until I answered in the native tongue. After I had gone by, I could hear them whispering in Irish—“nil strainseir”—that I was not a stranger. Yet I always felt myself to be a kind of stranger, wandering between two worlds.
Being Irish, I believe, is a kind of exile of never belonging. Few people realize we have a native Irish language. Irish culture has also suffered from distortions of well-meaning nationalist at home and a sentimental pantomime of her culture abroad exhibited on St. Patrick’s Day.
Today, Ireland is in a kind of exile from itself, its Faith, its tradition, and its sovereignty subsumed under the confederation of an utterly secular EU. Ireland, which was once responsible for spreading the Christian Faith throughout Europe, now belongs to a union which fails to mention Christianity in its founding constitution.
Sadly, modern man has closed himself off from the eternal dimension of reality. He has camped down on Earth and forgotten Heaven. He lives without faith, or art, or history, or poetry.
Patrick Kavanagh, whose brother Peter understood him to be a Catholic mystic, wrote, “poetry is of the earth where the Holy Ghost is manifest. The purpose of art is to project man imaginatively into the Other World to discover in clay the symbols, the Divine pattern.”
What afflicts Ireland is the same disease affecting Western Europe. T.S. Eliot summed it up very well: “The World is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.”
William Butler Yeats, the Anglo-Irish poet, urged Ireland to remember to resist the “filthy modern tide.” My father, too, cautioned us with a recitation from Virgil’s Ecologues to “Feed your cows as before, breed your bulls and keep the old ways.” I’m proud to declare myself an unreconstructed Irishman and Roman Catholic. On my Saint’s day, I joyfully attend Mass.
Longing souls—those of poets, priests, and artists—know that seeking the eternal is an essential part of man’s being and will continue to strive to find that crossroad where time, place, and eternity meet.
Exile leads one to an understanding that man is a wanderer—homo viator. St. Patrick, who converted Ireland to Christianity, understood mankind to be on a journey. He knew our homecomings without a home point to another parish, to a country beyond time—a realm we all hold passports to.