Sun | Sep 23, 2018

Irish wit and wisdom

Published:Tuesday | September 9, 2014 | 12:00 AM

My March 16 column, 'Did wit or luck of Irish prevail?', might've given the impression I'm anti-Irish, so I hasten to prove I know the Emerald Isle has contributed much greatness to the world, especially its own peculiar philosophy.

Yet, even the Irish are prone to poking fun at themselves. For example, Irishman James Joyce (1882-1941), best known for Ulysses (1922), was one of the 20th century's most influential writers. He's been quoted as saying, "Ireland sober is Ireland stiff", which sums up the Irish 'spirit' rather well. Still, the rest of the world prefers routines like that of Irish comedian Dara O'Briain, from Bray, County Wicklow, who said, "There are three states of legality in Irish law. There's all this stuff here under 'That's grand'; then it moves into 'Ah, now, don't push it'; and finally to 'Right! You're taking the piss' And that's where the police sweep in."

As another great Irishman, Raymond ('Gilbert') O'Sullivan, once wrote (and recorded):

There is too much attention

Paid to people who believe

That the world we live in really isn't round.

Yes, there's too much attention

Paid to people just like me

Who'll confess their only aim in life is down.

Who knew Edna O'Brien, author of The Country Girls, was Irish? What gave it away? Not her last name, surely? From Tuamgraney, County Clare, she was a stout defender of Irish character, about which she said: "When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious." Reads like something my favourite living author, internationally celebrated luminary of poetry and prose, Rachel Manley, might write.

Irishman Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde, born (1854) in Dublin, was a sublime poet, playwright and novelist. You might know him as Oscar. Fiercely nationalistic, Wilde said, "I'm Irish by race, but the English have condemned me to talk the language of Shakespeare." Yet, we promote the Irish stereotype of a drunken, monosyllabic Paddy.

There is too much attention

As to where we all should be

And to how much we should know inside how long.

Yes, there's too much attention

And the reason I believe

Is because we are what we are right or wrong.

Right or wrong, one of the greatest poets was Irishman William Butler Yeats, of Sandymount, County Dublin, about whom it was said: "Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy."

Unapologetically irreverent, terminally troubled iconic Irish actor Peter O'Toole once quipped: "Irish women are always carrying water on their heads, and ... their husbands home from pubs. Such things are the greatest posture-builders in the world."

So forgive me when I tell you

I ain't got no place to go.

I ain't got no one to talk to;

Got no one left to say hello."

But nobody summed up being Irish better than Under the Net author, Jean Iris Murdoch, from Phibsborough, Dublin: "I think being a woman is like being Irish ... . Everyone says you're important .... , but you take second place all the time." Any list of great women must include the multi-talented, much maligned and misunderstood Sinead O'Connor, from Glenageary, County Dublin, who said of the Irish, "We've a tradition of passing our history orally; singing a lot of it; and writing songs about it. There's kind of a calling in Irish voices when they're singing in their Irish accent."

Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish-American author of Angela's Ashes, Francis McCourt, was born in Brooklyn but, at age five, returned, with the family, to Limerick: "When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived ... . It was, of course, a miserable childhood: ... . Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. Nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious, defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years."

There is too much attention

Paid to him who shot at he

And to how he got away but didn't quite.

Yes, there's too much attention

So much so that we'll believe

He's not guilty of the crime which he's being tried.

The Sinead O'Connor flip side is that great Irish men must include U2 front man, Bono, who quipped: "Irish males are a piece of work, are they not?"

God bless the Irish.

Peace and love,

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to