Bainbridge Avenue in the Bronx, they assured us, would be 'like Galway on a Saturday night'. I assumed this meant the place would be teeming with Irish people, hearty and green, enjoying a good night out. A vision leapt unbidden to mind, embarrassing in its insistence and sentimentality, of a prelapsarian Ireland, the Ireland of The Quiet Man, of fresh-faced cailins and freckle-faced lads, soft brogues, mischievous matchmakers, innocent fun, uileann pipes, sea-wind in the hair. Even if you swap John Ford's Ireland for something more urban and contemporary, say that of Roddy Doyle, in which a good night out is more likely to involve soul music and a 'ride', it is still possible to find yourself idealising: Ford and Doyle (pre-Paddy Clarke and Family, at least) offer essentially the same vision, promise the same reward - the uplifting sensation that comes from watching easy-going people, a little rough around the edges but with hearts as big as their sometimes foul mouths, struggle against adversity without ever losing the twinkle in their eye, the smile on their lips or the song in their heart. This portrait of my country and its people is fanciful and romantic, but in my weaker, more atavistic moments, I am, like many Irish people, and perhaps thirty to forty million Americans (estimates vary), susceptible to its emotional undertow.
LRB 6 April 1995 | PDF Download