Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh

by Adam Reger

(That is, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!)

A pair of songs in honor of the day, both from The Pogues, one of my favorites. First, a nod to Irish folklore:

And next, an homage to the Irish immigrant experience (which I’d say St. Patrick’s Day is really about):

I find “Thousands Are Sailing” pretty powerful stuff. Particularly moving are the lines around the 4:28 mark: “Wherever we go, we celebrate / The land that makes us refugees / From fear of priests with empty plates / From guilt and weeping effigies.” It seems a nice summation of the Irish experience in leaving home for America.

Finally, name-checked in “Thousands Are Sailing” is the Irish writer Brendan Behan. (Pogues songs are fascinating to me in part because they are so densely referential; they could benefit from footnotes a lot of the time. Listen again to “The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn” and count all the names of people and places dropped in there. It’s staggering and adds a richness to the lyrics that more than offsets the occasional mystified feeling I get listening to the Pogues.) I’d thought Behan was an old-time Irish hero, a la Michael Collins or Wolfe Tone, but ah, not so. He’s a writer who wrote in English and Irish, and is the author, most famously, of Borstal Boy, a memoir.

I just started Borstal Boy yesterday, but man. It is already giving me chills. Here’s the opening:

Friday, in the evening, the landlady shouted up the stairs:

“Oh God, oh Jesus, oh Sacred Heart. Boy, there’s two gentlemen to see you.”

I knew by the screeches of her that these gentlemen were not calling to enquire after my health, or to know if I’d had a good trip. I grabbed my suitcase, containing Pot. Chlor, Sulph Ac, gelignite, detonators, electrical and ignition, and the rest of my Sinn Fein conjuror’s outfit, and carried it to the window. Then the gentlemen arrived.

Behan, 16, has just arrived in London with orders to carry out a terrorist bombing. He’s taken to prison, which is grim, and a lonely prospect for a 16-year-old:

As I stood, waiting over the lavatory, I heard a church bell peal in the frosty night, in some other part of the city. Cold and lonely it sounded, like the dreariest noise that ever defiled the ear of man. If you could call it a noise. It made misery mark time. (pg. 9)

Ah, there is nothing like Irish writing when it’s good. (On that point, see here.) I’m looking forward to the rest of the book more for the casual bits of poetic prose that are all but guaranteed, much more than the sure-to-be-dire story of Behan’s time in a “borstal”—an English reform school.

Anyway, Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh, everybody. Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh