“[T]he Kennedys were the spiritual and political leaders of the most nauseating, ignorant and sentimental of any US ethnic minority.” Do you recognize yourselves in that description? Didn't think so, but that's how the Irish Independent's Kevin Myers described us this week.
The Irish media has a strange love-hate relationship with Irish-America. It's pretty common to hear or read comments about Irish-America or Irish-Americans that would lead to sanctions from Ireland's media watchdogs if they were said about any other group of people on Earth.
In some ways that's fair enough. We're all family, right? And family is always more critical of family. Still it would be nice if those family members in Ireland knew what they were talking about when they talked about Irish-America.
Myers says Irish-America is “composed of a series of grotesque and infantilised east-coast communities of maudlin, tone-deaf necrophiliacs who bawl songs celebrating murder in a far-off land which most of them have never visited, not least because the plane door has not been made which can accommodate their huge rectums.” Myers is hoping to shock and outrage us. I don't think we need to rise to the bait. We can calmly point out that Myers doesn't have a clue.
You see, Myers also professes his admiration for “Americans of Irish ancestry, who have been some of the greatest patriots in US history, from the many Congressional Medals of Honor winners, to heroes like Michael Collins of Apollo fame and General Stan McChrystal today.” See what I mean by love-hate?
Myers, like so many others here, wants to claim us when we do something of which he approves and deny us when we go against him. And – here is where Myers has the most company – he will denigrate and insult us if we dare to hold on to aspects of our Irish identity that we inherited from our parents and grandparents, but which modern Ireland has decided to discard as the refuse of a better-to-be-forgotten past.
Myers finds the singing of rebel songs about a “a far-off land” offensive, but for most Irish-Americans they are simply songs and no different than singing how “we fired our guns and the British kept a comin …,” which can be enjoyed even if you've never been to New Orleans.
The songs are a link back in time to parents, grandparents and further to the emigrant ship. Maybe that is “maudlin,” but it can also simply be part of our history. Myers would approve our celebrating our connection to the Fighting 69th, but not to anything that might have happened in Ireland. That simply makes no sense. We are products of both histories.
For Myers astronaut Michael Collins is an American of Irish ancestry to be admired and not one of those Irish-Americans from the east coast who sings rebel songs. But how does Myers know? I sure don't know, but I do know that Collins' grandfather was from Ireland and Collins' father was one of 11 children and served in the Army his entire career. Collins' father retired a Major General, but he was also the son of an immigrant. He could easily have been both a successful, admirable (in Myers' eyes) American and a singer of Irish rebel songs.
As for Collins the astronaut, again I don't know. He did, however, marry a Finnegan from Boston. So quite possibly Collins could have a father and father-in-law who sang Irish rebel songs. Using Myers' stereotype-based reckoning it seems almost certain. Collins himself may even enjoy a rebel song or two.
What makes Myers' stereotype view of Irish-America more galling is that he somehow believes that the Irish neighborhoods around Boston and New York couldn't possibly produce the kind of Americans he admires. We all know that's not true. Those same “grotesque and infantilised east-coast communities” that bother Myers so much have in the past produced some of the most patriotic Americans.
I daresay I could find many Irish-Americans from those communities serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today; young Americans Myers recently described as belonging “to the bravest generation of soldiers the United States has ever produced.”
That's who Irish-Americans are. Proud Americans and proud of our Irish roots. Maybe if Myers got off his own “ huge rectum” and paid an open-minded visit he might learn a thing or two about us.
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