Irish Tales I: “Alive Alive-O”

By Brian Arsenault

There she stands with her cart, sweet Molly Malone, just below the intense shopping of Dublin’s Grafton Street. She’s selling cockles (whatever they are) and mussels and she is delightfully well endowed. Perhaps that’s why the locals sometimes call her “the tart with a cart” and her bosoms have been polished to a whole different sheen than the rest of the statue — by what?

Molly Malone
Molly Malone

Oh well, one shouldn’t think bad thoughts. I think there’s an Italian saying to that effect.

Immortalized in song Molly is. Yet many of us miss that last verse where she dies “of a fever and no one could save her.” It was a cholera epidemic, the sadness of Molly’s life in a country where sadness seems so much a part of its history. Perhaps that’s why ’tis so easy to find a smile and a kind word there. Don’t cost nothin’. Be grateful for a good day.

Lots of Irish songs are sad. Chesterton wrote that “all their wars were merry and all their songs were sad.” Neither side of that equation is completely true but it makes a point about Ireland and the Irish.
And Irish songs on the whole tell a story. Often an historical one, frequently a hysterical one. Ever hear the one about the value of a rooster in getting hens to lay?

Feeding the swans in St. Stephens Green

So you have this musical/poetry tradition but what do you get on Irish radio? Uh, Whitney Houston and Tony Bennett and here come the Eagles. Musical drones blasting away the native habitat. It seems like a kind of cultural imperialism — a reason to not exactly hate us Yanks but maybe resent the hell out of us. Yet the Irish are so welcoming and they do seem to like our music. American pop is worldwide.

Maybe it’s why the Stones can draw huge crowds to a show in Abu Dhabi or Tokyo. I know, I know the Stones are Brit by birth, so stay calm and carry on but don’t most of them live in the States by now? And where do those blues tunes come from?

River Liffey flows to the sea.

So you get used to Irish radio stations that sound like American oldies broadcasts.

It’s television that’s the real horror. It’s bad enough that “Two and a Half Men” plays endlessly. The Sheen episodes are occasionally funny and the show has the redeeming quality of ceaseless crudity and bad taste.

But “King of Queens”!!! Never funny, never and endless promotion of the American male as emasculated twerp.

Then throw in the episodes of “Law & Order” that are so old that the lead detective has passed away. CSI and other letter shows to boot.

It’s enough to make you apologize to every Irishman you meet. Except I think they might watch the stuff.

Two differences though.

In Irish pubs from Dublin to the West at least a couple nights a week you can go hear the music of the country, old and new, played by talented local musicians and gifted singers. Kath and I were just usually too tired after a day of trying to walk across Dublin without passing a pub — Bloom doubted it could be done — to do much after dinner but read a bit and nod off.

Second difference: we were in two Irish homes during our stay and in neither one was the telly turned on.

Ah, it’s like the Irish to wage guerilla war against an oppressor.

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Photos by Kathy Arsenault.

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

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