Monday, September 21, 2009

Why There's No Bad Guy in Ireland

See the family. See Tom. See Mom and Dad and sister Cindy. It's 1961 Seattle, and this photo is taken only a few miles from the Boeing Aircraft plant. Back in those days, and as a first grader in nearby St Philomena's School, we'd get lessons in hiding under desks as Russian missiles rained down. On the television, and every now and then, the broadcasters would test their Civil Defense System. I can still see the grainy black and white photo of the CD logo in the back of my mind, and the announcer saying, "This is only a test of the Emergency Broadcast System!"

Then, a wild whistle would emanate from the old speakers on our RCA set. Later on, and a bit older, I realized that it sounded distinctly like the whistle of a melting phone in the Cold War film "Fail Safe" - the sound that the phone made as it was melted in the heat of a thermo nuclear explosion. Ah the joys of childhood!

Growing up in Cold War America had its pluses of course. We could make fun of Kruzchav and the Russians and get away with it. Hollywood was constantly coming out with new films that scared us all silly (think of those great 'B' movies: "Invaders from Mars" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still".) Both films pitted good guys against bad - even Red against Blue (Invaders from Mars). But occasionally, one wondered who was the bad guy and who was the good (the Robot Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still was no bad guy, let me tell you. He had a cool heat ray, didn't he?) And living in Seattle as we did, we occasionally got to see some of the very latest 1960s Western technology (think the Space Needle and the MonoRail - those beat the Rooskie stuff any day.)

In the United States in those days, we knew who the bad guys were, and we had Superman to help us out when those bad guys dared to show up.

In Ireland back then, they had no such bad guy to pick fun at. There were the English, of course. Seems to me that there had always been the English. Four hundred years of servitude makes one think that the Irish would have thrown them out sooner than they did, but that didn't happen until the 1920s. And even then, the Irish were divided in a bloody Civil War over the whole mess. For hundreds of years, the Irish were trapped in a country occupied by an oppressor who didn't do a whole lot for the society. The English banned Mass and the Irish language. They shipped hundreds off to penal servitude - or worse! - emigration to Australia. The English did their best to transform this little country and its people into a jewel in the British Crown. All that happened, of course, was a feeling of resentment that eventually gave vent to war.

And when the Irish at last threw off the yoke of the oppressor, the government did their level best to isolate the country from the rest of the world. Censorship limited imports. The Catholic Church limited free thinking. Films such as "The Man from Aran" portrayed the typical Irishman as a solitary man, alone against the elements, but winning none-the-less. The average Irishman, suffering the slings and arrows of a stagnant economy in those early days of the Republic, must have laughed at the idea of an Irish "Superman", knowing that they didn't have a hero to save them. Only Eamon De Valera, and all he was doing was refusing to mix with the rest of the world which caused only more hardship on an already marginalised economy and people.

Of course, Ireland and the Irish are no longer isolated. Even at the height of recession, this country has one of the highest per capita export industries in the world.

And yet, one thing the country still doesn't have: bad guys to poke fun at and a Superman to save the country. I guess Ireland would have had to go through a Cold War to experience those. Who knows? At the rate the country is going, we may experience a Cold War yet.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tom,
    I'm researching moving to Ireland and found your blog. I am an American food/travel writer, and fell in love with Ireland during a recent visit (not too far from you, actually - I was in Co. Louth!). If you wouldn't mind, I'd love to email you some questions privately. Thanks so much for your time and I hope to hear from you. My direct email is

    Thanks again,
    Clare Kleinedler