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We’ll always keep hope burning

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I was again in the real but also mythical fishing village of Doolin on the Clare coast just as the current election campaign was trying to get into its stride through the cold winds and driving rain.

It was murky and you could hardly see the Atlantic even when you drove down to the Doolin Pier a mile past Gussie O'Connor's famous musical pub.

Two election posters that had been ripped off the telegraph poles kept pace with the car on the way down there, the hopeful faces of the candidates getting a woeful scourging against the roadside walls as they were driven along by forces outside their control.

There's a moral there somewhere is what I thought to myself as I watched the image of Timmy Dooley of Fianna Fail and Pat Breen of Fine Gael, all lashed and ripped, being finally driven over the pier wall and into the surf that was rattling the rounded stones against the chilled shoreline.

The car rocked with the force of the wind from the west. I still stopped for a few minutes like always.

It occurs to me that the social and economics of this campaign, and our overall dire plight according to all the gurus, are well illustrated by some of the realities of a fishing village famed through the whole world for its craic, its beautiful scenery, its unending river of musics in the pubs, it's inherent paganism maybe -- eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die sort of spirit.

I love that and always savor it to the last, but there is another Doolin reality too. Every now and again, quite unpredictably, a huge freak wave comes roaring across the pier, completely out of the blue, and snatches away one or two souls.

They might be tourists, they might be locals, but it always happens just as surely as the Cliffs of Moher down the road a couple of miles have latterly become a favored location for suicides. I won't dwell on that, but it is a fact.

On the radio, as I drove back down towards the village again, the debating between yet another panel of gurus was fundamentally based on the common premise that all of Ireland is on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, shivering, shuddering, poised to end it all.

On the telegraph poles the independent candidate James Breen and Labor's Michael MacNamara were hanging on for dear life lest they be plucked away to the same fate as Messrs Dooley and Pat Breen.

As I parked the gurus had moved on to discuss this Vanity Fair article which has caused so much of a furor over here because the writer, Michael Lewis, suggested that the Irish love misery and hardship. I've not read the piece yet but he is powerfully correct of course … as far as he goes.

That comes from the Catholic template and the teachings that this is only a "Valley of Tears" to be endured for a while until such time as we emerge from 10,000 years in Purgatory and eventually reach Paradise.

Lewis does not, however, in the extracts I saw, deal at all with the Irish love of music and craic which, incredibly, like uncut opium in Hong Kong, often exists concurrently with the darker side.
Like in Doolin on a February evening.

When I entered O'Connor’s I was entering another world. The music from five musicians was hopping gaily off the rafters, there was a smile on every face, toes were tapping, glasses clinking.

This was an election-free zone, a recession free zone, with men and women of all ages and nationalities, eating and drinking, chatting, singing along. You would not imagine anyone in the house had a care in the world except perhaps the bar staff rushing to keep the glasses refilled and new ones served.

You glimpsed the Celtic Tiger's eyeballs, I swear, in every corner. I saw no candidates, no canvassers, no evidence at all of any of the storms of all kinds raging outside.

I called my coffee because I was driving, and when I got it I sat and listened to the music. It tasted like the finest brandy.

A young woman with blueblack curls and a voice like an angel got complete shush when she sang a gorgeous version of "I Know My Love," and then the music rolled back again.

Am I mad in the head that I get a mighty opiate effect from atmospheres like that? I honestly don't think so.
The Irish might have a high tolerance indeed for misery, but by heavens they somehow know to enjoy themselves as well. And there's no change in that mood up around ancient North Clare anytime soon, recession or not.

The good God gave me a priceless gift for a man in my trade. People have always talked very freely to me, even total strangers.
I think it helps that I am physically slight, older nowadays, look perhaps a little bit like one of the poets they love, and certainly don't resemble a fighting man.

I stayed about an hour, and in that time, from a table of Mayo folk nearby, I was told a most beautiful story which reflects all facets, both light and darker, of the Irish equation. The truths and the traditions, the hopes and the living dreams.

A middle-aged couple who live in bleak Bangor Erris, out near Belmullet, still actively farming,
in Clare for a ruby wedding, told me the story.

Last week, just before the election began, a young neighboring couple called to their farmhouse. The wife had her baby.

The husband had a metal bucket in the boot (trunk) of the car. The bucket contained two glowing turf sods from their fire.

Their factory had shut down, they were emigrating to Boston the next day, and in a centuries old tradition which is deeply touching, they asked their older neighbors to "keep" their fire for them until they are able to return and revive it on their own hearth!

In the old days, when the turf fires never went out, being raked up at night, but when the emigrants' possibilities were much narrower than now, few ever returned from America to rebuild their hearths again.
This young couple though, according to my new friends, have family members already in Boston, both have skills, and there is a live chance that they will indeed be able to return when things here are better.

But what the young couple did not know, as the husband emptied his bucket on to the big open hearth, was that there two other fires being "kept" there already, as well as the one native to the house.

There is hardship there, is there not, but also hope and a continuation of one tradition of what we are.
I don't think Vanity Fair reports on things like that.

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