John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


A Trip to Ireland and Its Past

Posted on August 15, 2018
Coming home is such sweet sorrow.

Of course, it’s great to see Clark Kent the Wonder dog.

He makes any homecoming so much better.

But reentry back to America from Ireland is tough.

Especially these days.

My first trip to Ireland was in 1985. I was a student travelling abroad, studying at the University College Galway for a summer semester.

Ireland was a far different country back then.

The troubles were still white hot. When we crossed the border in Northern Ireland, armed British troops boarded our bus and made sure we weren’t carrying any contraband.

The Irish economy struggled under a socialist-lite regime that was heavy on dole-benefits and high on the tax front. Stories about the non-existent peace process filled the headlines and it seemed like reaching an agreement between Catholics and Protestants would never happen.

Galway was a much smaller town than it is today, and you could still smell turf fires in almost every home. It was common to go any Irish pub and hear music from locals who brought their instruments and just played. Guinness was served warm and after you got used to it, the warm pint went down easy, too easy for a college Junior.

Back in 1985, Ireland made news in its support of the Live Aid event, organized by Bob Geldoff. The Irish gave more money per capita than any other country in the world, and beat the pants off of the British.

They took great pride in that accomplishment. The famine runs deep in the Irish psyche.

My wife and I got married in Ireland in 2003, a little more than fifteen years after my second trip to Ireland (in 1987). In 87, I had gone to grad school for a second summer semester at UCG, and also threw in 5 week stint working as an illegal immigrant in Dublin at a stock-brokerage firm called Goodbody James Capel.

They paid me in cash, which I used for living and drinking expenses. What I made in Ireland, stayed in Ireland.

Working in Dublin for a white-shoe investment firm exposed me to a whole different group of Irishmen than had populated academia.

These Irish were capitalists.

And eventually those capitalists would win the day over the socialists whose economic theories plagued the Irish economy since the founding of the Irish Free State seven decades before.

In 2003, when I got hitched, the Troubles were beginning to fade into the background as the Celtic Tiger started to roar.

Bertie Ahearn doesn’t get the credit he deserves for throwing in with the capitalists and making Ireland one of the best places in the world to do business.

He was a deal-maker who worked from his pub-office constituent office to find ways to please his voters as he found ways to reach a peace deal in the North.

The Good Friday agreements sent a signal to American investors that your money was good here.

Fifteen years later, my family (as well as four other families from our little parish school on Capitol Hill), would go to Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral, the same place where the wife and I said “I Do”.

The priest was in no mood to mince words, in the days following the massive rejection of the Church at the polls.

According to Pew, only 15% percent of Church goers truly practice what they preach.

I can see why the priest was so downtrodden. After years of being pontificated to about the evils of homosexuality and the even worse evils of abortion, the Irish public basically told the Church to pound sand. They approved referendums to allow gays to marry and to give women the right to have an abortion.

Perhaps the Catholic Church would be on stronger ground on the moral stuff if it did a better job of keeping priest pedophiles away from kids. Hard to throw a bunch of stones at the sinners among us from an Ivory temple made of glass.

The church is in trouble in the Republic, but St. Mary’s is a beautiful place to go to Mass nonetheless, and I am still a believer in the Catholic Church, although I admit I cast a skeptical eye on some the clergy.

It used to be said that fear of the church is what kept the North divided from the rest of the island of Ireland.

That excuse is gone.

The Catholic Church has no more of a stranglehold over the Irish people than the Washington Nationals have over National League Eastern Division.

Brexit is another reason why Irish Protestants should seek union with the Irish Republic and leave the union with the United Kingdom.

It is obvious now that the vote for Great Britain to leave the EU is going to be a disaster for the British economy.

And it makes plenty of economic sense for the Orange Order to change it color and embrace the green of money if not the green of Ireland.

But they probably won’t do that.

The reason is that they simply are racist against Irish Catholics.

Always have been and always will be.

Ireland has changed, but the Orange Irish haven’t and won’t.

But hope springs eternal.

We stayed primarily in County Kerry on our week-long vacation, basing our operations at the Beaufort House, a lovely manor house originally constructed at the same time as Oliver Cromwell was terrorizing the Irish Countryside.

We had our reception there in 2003, and it was still an idlyllic setting for a group of Americans looking to have fun.

The fun a decade and a half ago revolved around hiking, drinking, dancing and partying.

This time, the fun was watching the kids swing on the swings, fish on the trout stream (my six-year old caught her first fish there), pet the cows, kick a soccer ball on the expansive lawn, and play hide and seek in the Manor House.

Not sure that is what Cromwell envisioned when he knocked down the part of the original structure of the house we stayed in as he slaughtered innocent Catholics in middle of the 16th century, but as we all know, times change.

We can be nostalgic for the past, but everything seems to look better in the rear-view mirror.

We concluded our trip in Dublin.

Dublin is such a great city, with such a vibrant history.

We visited Trinity College, a place where the Irish aristocracy has gathered together for more than five centuries.

At its very beginnings Trinity as a bastion of the Anglo-Irish, a place where the colonizers found ways to distinguish itself from both the native savages and from the true elites in London.

Luminaries like Jonathan Swift, Edmund Burke and William Butler Yeats attended Trinity, but not the greatest of all Irish writers, James Joyce. You see, Joyce was a Catholic.

But the Irish are no mood to disown the Protestants among them.

They claim Samuel Beckett every bit as much as they do Seamus Heaney.

As long as you lived in Ireland and did well, the Irish are happy claim you as their own.

They do the same with Irish golfers. Rory McIlroy? Paddy Harrington? Graeme McDowell? David Feherty?

Doesn’t matter what side of the border or what your religion. You are Irish because it is damn good to be an Irishman.

We were at a casual dinner party hosted by the mother of one of our good friends.

She too has become a good friend, and earlier in the day she took us to the General Post Office that had a most excellent museum dedicated to the Easter Rebellion of 1916.

The Rising was a disaster for Dublin. It destroyed huge parts of the city, and most of the rebels were either killed during the battle or executed by the British afterward.

Like Ireland itself, the rebels were a mismash of different traditions, beliefs and heritages. They all unified under one vision though and that was it was time for Ireland to rule itself.

Had the British been a little smarter about how they handled the Irish rebels, they might have averted the later full-fledged rebellion that would lead to a costly defeat for the Empire.

But they had no time for subtlety as they fought in the trenches of France against the Axis powers and they didn’t think about the long-term consequences of executing a man sitting in a chair, too weak to stand up from a leg wound.

Donald Trump came up during our conversation as he often does in any conversation in Ireland.

They don’t like Trump in Ireland, but they didn’t really love Bush or Reagan either. Of course, they loved Moneygall’s Obama and Bill Clinton, who helped to deliver them the Irish peace process.

The Irish still get very weepy about Jack Kennedy, of course.

(On side-note, anybody who still has deep feelings for the Kennedy family should watch the film Chappaquiddick. I watched it on the flight back. Turns out that they aren’t really all that awesome).

But Trump has some ties to Ireland through business (he owns a golf course) and his Administration is littered with all kinds of Irish Americans who love Ireland with great fervor and depth.

And indeed the Irish and the American government has a very good working relationship, exemplified by the fact that you can clear customs in Dublin as you return to America (which is awesome, by the way).

In any event, during our conversation about Trump, the idea of national identity came up.

Ireland needs to become more self-sufficient and needs to protect its own sense of Irish identity. So said one of those at the dinner who is not a fan of Trump, although she unconsciously transposed Trump’s talking points for America for her own devices.

National identity is hard to define but easy to fall in love with.

It’s a challenge for both a small country like Ireland and a bigger one like America.

Clark Kent the wonder dog cares little for national identity. He is just looking for some love, dog food and a place to take care of his business.