In a Word... Amer­ica

The Irish Times - - Bulletin Page - Patsy McGarry in­a­word@irish­times.com

I still love Amer­ica. Though it has be­come so much harder to do so.

Even on this Amer­i­can In­de­pen­dence Day.

Like those other great in­sti­tu­tions that have also shaped my life – the Catholic Church and Fianna Fáil – I would ar­gue (humbly!) that it too has drifted away from what it stood for. Not me.

I have re­mained, in the words of a hard-left col­league at univer­sity in Gal­way, “a lib­eral gob­shite”. And even if, as is said, “a fool­ish con­sis­tency is the hob­gob­lin of lit­tle minds”, I would in­sist the con­sis­tency in this case is not fool­ish.

Rather it is rooted in learned com­mit­ment to an in­clu­sive so­ci­ety such as I was taught by civil rights Amer­ica, a com­pas­sion­ate Catholic Church, a so­cial demo­cratic Fianna Fáil.

Amer­ica taught me there could be a so­ci­ety where equal rights were pos­si­ble for women, for peo­ple of colour, for gays. Or, at the very least, that a so­ci­ety could ex­ist where such rights might be achieved.

I will take to my grave the feel­ing of ex­hil­a­ra­tion on ar­riv­ing in New York that first stu­dent sum­mer as forked light­ning lit up enor­mous sky scrap­ers in the dusk and the streets ran tor­rents in an ap­par­ently calami­tous thun­der­storm as we ar­rived by bus from Kennedy air­port.

“Only in Amer­ica…”, I thought then, savour­ing the pun and the sen­ti­ment. Such di­ver­sity of peo­ple, free Tchaikovsk­y (with real can­non) and other con­certs in Cen­tral Park, the Vil­lage Voice weekly, all that in­ter­na­tional cinema in Man­hat­tan. It helped too that my ac­cent, the very thing which caused peo­ple in Lon­don to freeze around me the pre­vi­ous sum­mer, meant I was cel­e­brated in New York.

Then Amer­ica is also fam­ily. My grand­mother spent her youth in New York. I met a grand-un­cle there dur­ing those stu­dent sum­mers and stayed with won­der­ful sec­ond cousins. My un­cle, back in Ire­land those years, is now there again as are my cousins, his five chil­dren and their chil­dren.

Since the 1980s two of my broth­ers have lived in the US, with their com­bined eight chil­dren and 21 grand chil­dren, It means there are now more McGar­rys of that lat­ter gen­er­a­tion in Amer­ica than there are in Ire­land. So, I still love Amer­ica. But I grieve for her too.

Amer­ica, after nav­i­ga­tor Amerigo Ve­spucci (1454-1512) who claimed to have dis­cov­ered it.

‘‘

I will take to my grave the feel­ing of ex­hil­a­ra­tion on ar­riv­ing in New York that first stu­dent sum­mer

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