My very first trip to Ireland was when I was 19; it was during St. Patrick’s week, and my friend and I were both just barely into college. She is the oldest of five, and was still living with her parents; she still had some classes to attend the week I was there, and the rest of her family, parents and brothers and sisters all, had discreet but intense custody squabbles (in Irish, so I wouldn’t know) over who was going to get to play with me while she was in class.
One day it was her father and her younger brother Donal. They brought me to Blarney Castle, where her father kept persuading me into a series of staged photos – kissing the Blarney Stone, “looking for fairies” on the grounds, and the like. Meanwhile, Donal was a very witty and snarky boy of fifteen, so he would periodically throw in wise-ass comebacks to some of my questions.
But I did see Donal get serious once that day.
After visiting the castle, the three of us went to browse in the gift shop, where they had a big collection of the kind of tat you can probably find at any “Irish import store” in the states – shawls, sweaters, linen hankies, and a whole wall of china emblazoned with shamrocks in different configurations. We’d split up once we hit the store, and I kept wandering, hoping to find some kind of unusual something.
After about five minutes I noticed the music they were piping in – a series of chirpy perky choral Muzak arrangements of songs like “How Are Things In Glocca Morra” and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.” Exactly the kind of music that made me roll my eyes back home. I tried to keep it under wraps, though – hey, for all I knew that was okay here. But every so often the music would switch to something even more corny and I kept glancing up at the speakers in dismay.
Donal must have noticed, because after about fifteen minutes he came up to me with a grave look. “I just want ye to know,” he told me earnestly, “this is the sort of music that embarrasses us.”