Glenties is a village in Donegal, current population under 1,000 souls. A hundred years ago a lassie named Mary Jane Byrne left Glenties, sailing on the SS California. It was a “nine-day journey,” according to one of Byrne’s nieces, political columnist Peggy Noonan.

“Every day the ship’s surgeon…examined (Mary Jane) for signs of acute or long-term illness,” Noonan wrote in a recent column, during the height of the global Ebola scare. Noonan still has the “health card” her great-aunt wore on her coat.

“Keep this card to avoid detention at Quarantine,” Noonan’s family memento reads.

Noonan adds: “If she failed the physicals she would be held at Ellis Island or sent back.”

Did Mary Jane Byrne object to this potentially harsh treatment by the authorities of her new nation, the way some folks loudly objected to being quarantined over Ebola fears?

No. Instead, she “accepted with grace the needs and demands of her new nation, took no offense, and acknowledged the utility of a quarantine or ban.”

Noonan adds: “I miss such humility, don’t you? … Whatever happened to courtesy to the collective? We should bring it back. We could answer the current quarantine question if we faced it with the calm of a 1909 immigrant.”

Let me state that I agree with Noonan, a former Reagan aide who serves as one of the more reliably conservative voices in the punditry chorus.

I was sympathetic to Kaci Hickox, the nurse who traveled to Africa to fight Ebola and was thanked for it by essentially being thrown into a medical version of solitary confinement.

But, yes, it would have been nice if Hickox had cared a bit more about, as Noonan put it, “courtesy to the collective.”

Isn’t it interesting that a reliable conservative voice in Washington, a skeptic of government, has suddenly found an important role for government to play?

Isn’t it interesting that some our favorite Irish American conservatives have suddenly become not only champions of strong governmental authority but also proponents of a collective, common good?

Bill O’Reilly stated that Hickox “should be taken into custody.” Sean Hannity blasted Hickox because she was not willing to bow to authorities, calling her “selfish,” presumably because she put her own rights ahead of the broader public good.

Aren’t these the same people who like to claim that we are currently living under a dictatorial government run amok? A government always looking for ways to trample on our individual rights, in the name of a broader public good -- or “communism,” as the common good is known in Fox News land?

Let me get this straight. You wish some do-gooder nurse would submit to arrest for the common good. But trying to get more people signed up for affordable health care is a symptom of some kind of dictatorship?

Suggesting that folks fill out some paperwork to prove they are not mentally disturbed so that they may horde as many firearms as they wish, that is a trampling of our liberties that has nothing to do with the “common good”?

Many have interpreted the recent midterm elections as a rebuke of President Obama, who Republicans see as a symbol not only of government ineptitude but dictatorial brutality. (New York Post columnist Rich Lowry blasted Obama for using “mob tactics” this Tuesday.) But now that they made gains, Republicans still must decide what -- if any -- purpose government serves.

Noonan, O’Reilly and Hannity had a fit of rationality when they admitted government can keep the public safe when it comes to Ebola. But what about guns or health care or even natural disasters?

Don’t forget, this is a Republican Party whose members in over 20 states -- including Irish Americans Sean Duffy and Paul Ryan -- voted against any Hurricane Sandy aid.

One hope is that the Ebola scare will sway more conservatives to see that government has a role to play, beyond making it easier to fund elections and speed up global warming. The trouble is, Ryan and his crew may very well decide that government intrusion into the next Ebola crisis would be “dictatorial”?

Ridiculous? Almost as ridiculous as believing government should not help folks whose homes have been demolished by hurricanes.

Contact “Sidewalks” at