Oct. 19, 2003: This Is No Blarney: The Irish Are Great

Remind me not to go out of the country again without first letting you know. I tiptoe off to Ireland and leave you a mess: An Austrian bodybuilder with a bad accent who is married to the only Kennedy that ever had a day job is elected King of the Land of Fruits and Nuts. Rush Limbaugh pops too many pain pills and thinks freedom of expression applies to white guys. A U.N. official says in a speech, “1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews.” If this doofus is giving odds, I want some of the action. And, of course, the Atlanta Braves fold like a tent in the post-season, as they always do.

While you were coping with these traumas, I was touring the land of leprechauns and limericks with a bunch of good folks from around the United States and having a grand old time. It is easy to fall in love with Ireland. The scenery is spectacular and so are the people. The Irish love their country passionately and don’t mind showing it. Their history is one of cruel oppression. For eight centuries, they were subjected to slavery — robbed of their right to an education, to vote, to worship as they please and even to sing and dance. They were burned out of their homes and deliberately starved to death.

When the Potato Famine of the 1840s caused over half the population of the country to either emigrate or die, the Irish were routinely refused help. To get fed in the soup kitchens, they even had to change their names to avoid being identified as Irish. Ever wonder why so many Irish are named Green, Black, White, Farmer, Cook, etc.? They did it to stay alive. In the future, I will think of the Irish when I hear anyone rant about oppression. If you want to know what oppression is, talk to the Irish. These folks are experts on the subject.

As much as I admire the country, I wish Ireland would do something about cigarette smoking. This nasty habit is not the stigma in Europe that it has become in the United States. On our tour were people from California to New York; to my knowledge, only one was a smoker. Seeing the number of young people in Ireland who smoke is disheartening. Evidently, no one has told them that in a few years their lungs are going to look like the Berea tar pits.

The people there are curious about our upcoming presidential election and whether or not George Bush will be re-elected. This is not just idle curiosity. Everything the United States does affects the rest of the world, which is why people are so interested in who runs our country. I told them the Democrats won’t win because the current candidates are too beholden to special-interest groups to appeal to the mainstream. The Irish didn’t seem assuaged. George Bush is still an unknown quantity to them. Everybody I talked to liked Bill Clinton, in spite of his well-documented misbehavior. The Irish have even erected a statue in Ballybunnion of Clinton playing golf. Quite a tribute to a man who, in the presence of a reporter, once took 200 swings in 18 holes and recorded a 72.

As great as the trip was, it is always good to get home, where football is king. I spent half my time in Ireland trying to find out how my beloved Bulldogs were faring on Saturday afternoons. The only thing the Irish media seemed interested in was something called the Rugby World Cup, where guys in short pants from one country beat the hell out of guys in short pants from another country. Not one word about Georgia football. Makes you wonder about their value system.

You will be pleased to know that there was a serious aspect to my trip to Ireland. I made sure to kiss the Blarney Stone. My understanding is that this action will guarantee me a lifetime of eloquence. The way I figure it, that should be just enough time to satisfy all my friends and exasperate all my enemies.