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How an Irishman Taught me the Meaning of Patriotism

Posted by GayPatriotWest at 12:22 pm - March 17, 2006.
Filed under: Patriotism

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I relate to you a story that took place when, a few years after college, I was Eurailing across Europe and ended up in a pub in Sligo in the West of Ireland where an Irishman helped me learn the true meaning of patriotism.

After I graduated from Williams, I lived for three-and-a-half years in Europe, approximately half in Freiburg, then-West Germany and the rest in Paris. Like many multilingual Americans who travel to the Old World, I was a bit ashamed of my native land, preferring the apparently more sophisticated Europeans. They were more conversant in ideas and literature than my fellow Americans.

The longer I lived in Europe, however, the more I observed the pretensions and cynicism of the educated Europeans (and their American hangers on) and grew to appreciate my own country once again. And while I regretted that Americans were not as well-read as I would like, at least we remain more open to new ideas and new friendships throughout our lives. (Many Europeans seem to believe their friendships are set in adolescence.) As I turned away from the narrow-minded, haughty European intellectualoids, I became increasingly fond of the ordinary Europeans, many of whom had a very high opinion of the United States and many of whom, particularly in the rural areas, were as warm and welcoming as their urban counterparts were cold and distant.

I found that Italians and Greeks (outside the tourist meccas — and even occasionally inside them) were particularly friendly and the Portuguese couldn’t have been more friendly and gracious (even those in Lisbon). But, when it came to kindness and warmth, no one surpassed the Irish. As it was nearly impossible to travel the Emerald Isle’s west coast by bus or train, I hitched from Sligo to Tralee and only once had to wait longer than 15 minutes for a ride. And that time, while I waited two hours in Bangor in County Mayo, only six cars drove by. When the seventh picked me up, the driver wondered what had happened to his people that an American would have to wait so long for a lift! Every time a driver picked me up he (or she) was grateful to be able to make my stay in Ireland a bit nicer, with one (a nun) even insisting on buying me lunch!

A few days before I had waited so long in Bangor, I had gone to a pub in Sligo. They say a pub is an Irishman’s living room. And in this particular living room, I had barely taken the first sip of my Guinness, when an older man, noting that I wasn’t a native, sat down next to me and introduced himself. He insisted on paying for my beers and was doubly delighted when I thanked him in Irish — Go raibh maith agat.

Whenever his friends came in, he would introduce me as the American who spoke a bit of Irish. All were as friendly, as open, as kind as he. One man, a shorter man, wearing a tweed jacket and doffing a hat which seemed somewhere between a bowler and a fedora, asked me what I thought of Ireland.

Recalling the kindness of its people and the beauty of its landscape, I replied honestly, “It’s the best country in Europe.”

“It’s the best country in the world,” he added.

I disagreed and replied that the United States was the best country in the world.

“You can say that,” he acknowledged with a twinkle in his eye, “because you’re from America.” “And you can call Ireland the best country in the world because that’s your home,” I replied with a smile. He smiled back at me as each recognized the other’s love for his native land.

A few days later perhaps, during my two hour wait in Bangor, I realized that each of us was a true patriot, an individual who loves his native land as he appreciated that someone from another country could love his homeland just as strongly. This Irishman helped me see that patriotism was more than just love for one’s own country, but also the ability to understand what someone in a land foreign to our own could have the same affection for his land as we have for ours. And to appreciate what it is about his land that he loves. For if we understand why another might love his homeland, we might very well be better able to see what is great about our own.

And given my experiences in Ireland — and with its native folk (and many of their American cousins) — it’s quite easy to see how an Irishman could love the Emerald Isle just as much as I love the good ol’ U S of A!

Tá Éireann go híontoch!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com

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15 Comments

  1. Well said, Danny me-boy-o. I offer that conversation has been repeated with the same result for thousands of American lads visiting Ireland’s small towns and villages, pubs and B&Bs, farms and mountain lanes. It is a great country –whether America or Ireland.

    Comment by Michigan-Matt — March 17, 2006 @ 1:08 pm - March 17, 2006

  2. The Irish word for patriotism – tir-ghra (both vowels long) expalins it pretty well – simply “land-love”. The more your love your own country, the more you understand how someone would love theirs.

    Though come to think of it, while my tir-ghra stops at the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades, my patriotism does extend to the Atlantic.

    Wonderful story, too.

    Comment by Jim — March 17, 2006 @ 3:33 pm - March 17, 2006

  3. Although Vera has old, long lost relatives, and many past lovers over on the emerald isle, she questions the superiority of any culture that considers boiled meat acceptable fare, or potato’s a separate food group.

    Nonetheless, culture consist of more than food and drink, and the hospitality and generosity of the Irish are legendary the world over.

    And their music (which always struck Vera as a cross between country & western and the blues) never fails to bring tears to Vera’s jaundiced eyes, at the mere mention of their sainted mothers.

    Cheers to all my Irish friends….

    Comment by Vera Charles — March 17, 2006 @ 3:52 pm - March 17, 2006

  4. Nicely said Vera, Jim. Neat.

    Comment by Michigan-Matt — March 17, 2006 @ 4:02 pm - March 17, 2006

  5. Erin Go Bragh!

    Regards,
    Peter Hughes

    Comment by Peter Hughes — March 17, 2006 @ 5:03 pm - March 17, 2006

  6. Came by you via onefortheroad via oddobobo

    What a great post you have today. I heartily concur.
    St. Paddy’s is my 84th BDay and your opinions were a present.
    All The Best
    Lucyd

    Comment by goldenlucyd — March 17, 2006 @ 5:15 pm - March 17, 2006

  7. Bravo, Dan. A beautiful piece for a special day.

    On my father’s side, the family was British to their core. But, on my mother’s side, my grandfather was baptized Saint John Saint Augustine Saint Louis Haney. So I’m wearing a bit o’ green today.

    Comment by Jack Allen — March 17, 2006 @ 11:22 pm - March 17, 2006

  8. My father’s family was Scotch-Irish and consequently, I look much more like a Celt than a Jew. I’ve never visited Ireland but I have always wanted to — I’m really drawn to pictures of it. How are they toward the Jews?

    Comment by wessel — March 18, 2006 @ 2:30 pm - March 18, 2006

  9. The US as a nation is much more heterogeneous than Ireland: Patriotism here tends to be much more abstract than a localized “land-love.”

    Comment by Tim Hulsey — March 18, 2006 @ 3:36 pm - March 18, 2006

  10. Aww, what a sweet story!

    What’s with this “Live preview of comment” thing? I can still read it in the text box, why do I need to see it down below too?

    Comment by Bla — March 18, 2006 @ 5:03 pm - March 18, 2006

  11. 10: You probably don’t use HTML code in your comments. The “Live Preview” comes in handy if you do.

    Comment by Tim Hulsey — March 18, 2006 @ 5:53 pm - March 18, 2006

  12. In Bangor you would have also seen another stellar example of patriotism (and compassion). There is a group of people that, anytime/any day, show up to shake the hands of service men and women coming back from overseas.
    After Vietnam, this group said that they’d never again have a member of the military come back from service without anything short of a “thanks” and handshake.
    For all its problems with gays and lesbians, this is a prime example of why I became a Republican.

    Comment by 207guy — March 19, 2006 @ 9:40 am - March 19, 2006

  13. GPW – because of you I offered some stranded visitors to my city by the Bay a ride to their hotel when their cabbie dropped them off at the wrong hotel.

    Comment by ralph — March 20, 2006 @ 1:42 am - March 20, 2006

  14. 9. I see your point but disagree. My experience with people who are devoted to the Constitution, defend and uphold etc, is that they are also devoted to some particular part of the country.

    Vera,

    ” (which always struck Vera as a cross between country & western and the blues)” – There’s a good reason for that, although you have it backwards. Celtic music is one of the sources of both types of music.

    Comment by Jim — March 20, 2006 @ 1:14 pm - March 20, 2006

  15. […] And not only does Stephen Spillane read GayPatriot, but he blogs as well. Check out his site. Seems there’s a budding Irish GayPatriot for it ’twas on the Emerald Isle that I learned the true meaning of patriotism. […]

    Pingback by GayPatriot » Intolerance of Gay Conservatives in Europe — April 15, 2008 @ 2:06 am - April 15, 2008

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