San Jose Mercury Herald
By P. H. MacEnery
Tomorrow in many climes, in many lands, and, perhaps on many seas, too, Erin’s feast day will be celebrated. It will be celebrated not only by the descendants of the kings of Tara, but by every nationality in Europe and in the New World. For the Cian-na-Gael is ubiquitous-somewhat like the bird of their celebrated kinsman, Sir Boyle Roche. And people born under other skies, races against whom the Irish have a long pent-up and ineradicable racial antipathy, will for the day drown the Shamrock as lustily, improvise an Irish gait, and give as realistic an exhibition of Hibernian joviality, as ever did any bouncing lad or boy, demure and pretty colleen tripping their way over the rocky road to Dublin. Truth to tell, it is not for any deep seated regard or reverence for the saint who long ago, in the waving meadows of Meath, unfurled the standard of Christianity that these ex-Hibernico feasters join in the sacred revelry of that little remarkable island set in western seas. It is-and I speak particularly of the English now-from promptings of warm appreciation for the Irishman’s companionable true masonry, for the true Bohemian instinct, which permeates weft and woof of the Irishman’s character, which makes him unrivaled as a raconteur and lord of the manor in any social diversion. It is, too, because they recognize, in the prosified words of the poem addressed to the gallant knight, that though Paddy may love riches and golden store he loves honor and virtue more. You may not be always ready to condone, as you are seldom able to account for his aggressive ebullitions, but you never can and truly you never do endeavor to depreciate his qualities as a partner in mirth. The Englishman who is as loyal to the flag of John Bull as is the Irishman to the green banner has almost as keep a conception of the truthfulness of the lines-
“Dear to the Gael is the clash of steel,
but dearer still is the ring of rhyme,
as has the Irishman himself.”
I have thus far purposely refrained from referring to the American’s disposition toward Ireland and the Irish. I do so because I cannot conceive of an America without the Irish, State statistics, which I have good reason to know are hoary liars, have been produced at nauseam, showing the ratio of European races in the United States. These credit the Irish with having the preponderating number of colonists in this country. But preponderating is not the word I would use to describe the strength of Ireland in America. I will rather point the moral of my suggestion by recounting a well known historical fact which deeply impressed itself on my mind when first told to me by T. D. Sullivan, M.P., in the House of Commons, some years ago.
The night after the exhausting battle of Fredericksburg the two hostile armies encamped for a well earned rest, after a hard day’s fighting, on the opposite sides of the river. To cheer his brother officers Captain D. J. Downing, a Dublin man, who is, I believe, still living in the Eastern States, sang his favorite song with the bold opening refrain
“Deep in Canadian woods we’ve met,
From one bright island flown;
Great is the land we tread.
But yet our hearts are with our own;
And ere we leave this shanty small,
While fades the evening gloom,
We’ll toast old Ireland,
Dear old Ireland!
Ireland boys, hurrah!”
When Captain Downing ceased singing the above stanza it was only to hear with indefinable delight the chorus being sung with one acclaim by the two armies on both sides of the river and for six miles along its banks. And yet there are those who ask what part have the Irish taken in building up the American republic.
I mean these facts to emphasize my assertion that it is no surprise to see Ireland’s national day celebrated by an undoubted and spontaneous demonstration in this country-by upheavals of national strength, such as San Francisco will witness to-morrow.
But all these big displays give no idea, or, if at all, a very crude one of St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. There is something … in the gregariousness of the immigrant Irish. A crow of Irish-Americans and a crow of the Irish at home have no common identity. The lofty spirit of deep mutual affection and strenuous, ardent, pure, unselfish friendship is seemingly washed out in the former. The moments of alternation despondency and hilarity, the broad, honest laughter of the men, the soft rosy cheeks and captivating generous smile of girlhood, are foreign to these multitudes. This is not surprising. The wonder would indeed be the Irish of all other …conquer that absorbing, that embracing current-that leprous … which is the strenuous … centers, eats up the finer, nobler, more ethereal qualities of man-and very often, alas, of women too. The air of great cities is polluted with a gangrene, which is most devastating on the soul and body of the tender-natured, gentle-bred rustic boy and girl. Through friendship dies hard in the rustic breast it falls an easy prey to the cosmopolitan temptress.
It is only in rural Ireland that we can look for, and on a St. Patrick’s Day gathering that we can see, evidence of some such mutual regard as that of Damon and Pythias, which softened the heart of Dionysius himself. But friendship in our cities and in our crowded days covers a wider area and as in the case of all extensive developments it has lost intensively. It has become, as Swift described it, “the friendship of the middling kind.” The emphasis of the element of the choice of friendships with its concomitant, the banishment of the element of spontaneous affection, may have done much to render true friendship impossible and to bring about its present decay. It is unfortunate in a utilitarian day that we cannot likewise choose our parents. Friendship, indeed, has …from it’s ideal. The friendship described by Bishop Hall nearly 200 years ago as “diffusing it’s odor through … season of absence” is exchanged for the slenderest of acquaintanceship’s, whose value is duly marked by our different nods of greeting. Instead of friendship we have visiting lists. So far have we gone in our scorn for … day-by-day personal contact that we roundly declare we have no leisure for it, just as the American speculator impetuously, but not untruthfully, groaned that he had not the “durned time to live.” Plato regarded friendship between the opposite, or, as the misogimist would put it, the opposed sexes, as perfect, being ideal sympathy. Some murderer of the English language has designated this as platonic friendship. But does even this kind of friendship exist in our great cosmopolitan centers? It does, but what a travesty of that which Plato meant.
For at least a week prior to the 17th of March boys and girls, men and women are on the alert for the coming festival. At the rural schools of the country for days before the pupils are persevering artists, their stock in trade being eggs, a writing pen and a blue lead pencil. With this material they draw crosses variegated colors which they proudly flourish on their caps on St. Patrick’s Day. For the adult population the day is one of tremendous sport, but I should qualify that statement by writing that the sport is often very hard work, for it is none other than the struggling pleading of a gay Lothario with a teasing maiden, and only those who have had the pleasurable experience-as doubtlessly many of my readers have had-can even partially estimate the depth, dexterity and, fortunately it can be added, the duplicity of that teasing. The earnest pleading is all on the man’s side, and the badinage, baffling, beautiful and bewitching all on the girl’s side. Were these love sick Irish youths not endowed somewhat with the gift of mind reading, with a superaddition of perseverance-at least in an amorous pursuit-despair and love disappointment would have been as disastrous to them as emigration and eviction. But many of the love-friendships fostered or contracted on a St. Patrick’s Day have, it is a pleasure in some sense to be able to say, materialized in after years far from their native glens and winding vales. These and many more idiosyncrasies of the Hibernian wooer are very faithfully given expression to in Carleton’s writings, and more faithfully so in that great novel, the reading of which permanently lingers in the mind, and to the Irishman is always redolent of soothing feelings and recollections-Charles J. Kickam’s “Knocknagow.” I do not say that these works give adequate pen portraits of the peculiar coquetry of Irish girlhood as you would see it in that infatuating damsel, in all her magnetic abandon on that ever gay and care less day-St. Patrick’s Day.
“The lasses, too, with eyes so blue,
And smiles so sweetly stealing,
Around each face of heavenly grace,
Its inmost heart revealing.”
Space does not permit me to refer to the doings of the piper and fiddler, to the dance at the cross-roads in the waning twilight, and the “kyol” that is carried on there. Many of the songs which are sung on these occasions and which are pathetic unto weirdness, and anon side-splitting in their comicality truly reflect the variations of Ireland’s life-“Erin, the tear and the smile in thine eye.” The composers of these songs, too, have not forgotten the pristine glory of their land, for many of their subjects deal with the days long ago, when their country justly won the title of the “Island of Saints and Scholars”-a position which it bids fair to regain under the fostering care of the non-political Gaelic language movement. To those good people then we tender their own generous toast, “Here’s to St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning.”