An Open Letter to Ireland
In 1988 and 1989, I experienced your country as a college student at St. Patrick's College Maynooth. I lived in a small, unheated house in a regular family neighborhood. I walked two miles past cow and horse pastures to go to school, take showers, buy groceries, do my laundry, buy Cadbury Dairy Milk bars at the newsagent, withdraw 20 quid from the "DrinkLink" ATM for many a pint of Swithwick's at The Roost. I hitchhiked to Galway, Donegal, Dingle and all points in between. I breathed the intoxicating smell of peat moss burning in every fireplace. I watched a hurling match on St. Patrick's Day. I busked on Grafton Street. I made incredible friends that I still have to this day. It was the greatest year of my life.
In 1990, I returned to work for a summer. I struggled to make ends meet, breathed unhealthy amounts of second-hand smoke at the nightclub that employed me (for my exotic accent), and subsisted on greasy dinners at Barrell's Fish 'n' Chips. But the summer was unseasonably warm. Pub patrons sat outside, pale and shirtless. Children waved Irish flags to celebrate the country's first-ever World Cup birth. And I loved every minute of it.
In 1997, I scaled the cliffs of Slieve League (pictured in this blog's header) in Donegal to propose to my wife. We ate salmon in Killybegs and sugared rhubarb on a Limerick dairy farm. We shared the best stories of our lives in a pub in Yeats' home of Sligo. Yet, when I revisited my college pub, I noticed a disturbing change. Gone were the warm sounds of conversation, replaced with the cold clatter of a British boxing match on a mounted TV set.
Now comes word from a Washington Post article that more than 1,000 rural pubs have closed across the country. The culprit: wealth. Rather than sidling up to the bar for a pint of stout, Ireland's new yuppie class is heading home after a long day of work to swill a glass of Chardonnay in front of the television. More cars. More traffic. More work. Bigger homes. No smoking. Fewer pubs. Fewer conversations.
Please go back to the way it was, whatever it takes. Lower your educational standards. Raise your business taxes. Give those billions in investments back to the EU. I long for your days of 20 percent unemployment, famine-based black humor, Incense Catholicism and airborne carcinogens. Tear down the Leixlip Intel plant. Replant the cow pasture. Bludgeon the dual carriageway that transformed Maynooth from a sleepy village outpost to a Dublin bedroom community. Reinvigorate your expatriate tradition. Return your finest youth to London, Boston and Sydney. And return your culture to the way it was meant to be: The way I remember it. The way I need it to be.
Please stop being so selfish.
Missing in Maynooth