|Queen Elizabeth delivers a speech at a state dinner in Dublin Castle last week as Taoiseach Enda Kenny looks on|
The year is 1961. Could an Irish American couple in Brooklyn, or Boston, or Bayonne, have comprehended the dizzying events which unfolded in Ireland these past few days?
What would they have said? What could they have said?
Let’s use our imagination. Speculate a little bit, shall we?
“I had the strangest dream last night,” the man -- let’s call him Patrick -- says, as he settles down at the breakfast table next to his wife. Let’s call her Kathleen.
“I dreamt the Queen of England went to Ireland,” says Patrick, who is past his 60th year, and who was born in Ireland but came to the U.S. when he was still in his teens.
Kathleen was born here, though her parents were born in Ireland. They have raised their children and can now spend certain mornings leisurely talking about the events of the day, or their family or, on occasion, their strange dreams.
“Not only was the bloody Queen in Dublin,” Patrick says. “But she actually went to Croke Park.”
“I don’t believe it,” Kathleen says.
“What’s not to believe?” Patrick responds. “Twas my dream, not yours.”
“I don’t believe it,” Kathleen says, “because that’s nearly as bizarre as my dream.”
Patrick has been married long enough to know he should not point out that his wife has this habit of always trying to top him. Instead, he just listens.
“I had a dream the president was in Ireland.”
“Kennedy?” Patrick says. “Imagine that. Half the kooks in the states weren’t willing to pull the lever for JFK because the randy fellow is Irish Catholic.
Can you imagine what would happen if he hauled off and went over to Ireland. They’d shoot him, they would.”
“It wasn’t Kennedy,” Kathleen says calmly. “That’s what’s so weird. It was the American president, all right. He paid a visit to an ancestral home, a little place in Offaly. But here’s the crazy part.”
“He was Protestant, wasn’t he?” Patrick offers dryly, sipping coffee.
“He was black.”
“No, the president. In my dream.”
Patrick had to admit, this time around, his wife had successfully topped him. The only thing left to wonder now was what they had had for supper last night, because whatever it was led to bizarre dreams.
“It’s just as well,” Patrick now says. “If the Queen ever made a trip to Ireland like that she’d never make it back to Buckingham Palace.”
“It could happen,” Kathleen ventures. “Some day.”
“Not until they iron out that mess to the north.”
“It’s been quiet.”
“Lord knows for how long.”
“I simply meant it could happen,” Kathleen says. “Unlike my crazy dream.”
“What’s stranger?” Patrick wonders. “A president in Ireland? Or a black president?”
“A black Irish president!” Kathleen says, astonished. “He was shaking hands with an eighth cousin or something. He said is feidir linn to the cheering crowds.”
“What does that mean?” Patrick asks.
“Yes, we can.”
“We can what?”
“How should I know?” Kathleen responds. Before Patrick ventures, “I guess it could happen.”
Now it is Kathleen’s turn to grumble. But Patrick says firmly, “Oh, do you think every lad and lassie who came over here during the last 100 years swiftly met a companion from Cork or Kerry? My granddad told me stories of uncles and cousins who came over to New York, the Five Points, and places like that.
“He said some of the blocks looked like Ireland and Africa had gotten together for a long, wild party.”
“But still,” Kathleen says. “A president?”
“We got a Catholic one now.”
“And look how hard that was. And with all that racial business still down south?”
“It’s been quiet.”
And now Kathleen points out that it is not likely to stay quiet for long. Patrick and Kathleen are then quiet for a moment. They sip their coffee and chew their toast.
“If anything like that does ever happen,” Patrick says. “It will be long after you and I shuffle off to a place that may or may not be better.”
“Perhaps even our children, too.”
“I hope not.”
“It makes you wonder, though,” Kathleen adds with finality. “If there is a day down the road where these things can happen, what does the future after that hold.”
(Contact “Sidewalks” at [email protected])