Some reasons to be grateful for Ireland on St. Patrick's Day

March 16, 2014 

St. Patrick's Day is one of the oddest quasi-holidays of the year. People in America, one of the largest and most powerful countries in the world, spend the day paying tribute to a small and distant island. For the most part, we do that by drinking beer and whiskey, which is certainly a part of the Irish tradition.

Ireland's about the size of Indiana, with about the same population. As far as I know, no one has ever suggested creating a holiday on which we pretend we're from Indiana.But, seriously, Ireland's a pretty cool place and worth celebrating.

I don't know that anyone's done an exhaustive study, but I think it's a fair guess to say that Ireland has given us more great music, theater and literature than any other geographic area of similar size and population. So here's my very incomplete and completely subjective list of why we should all be thankful for Ireland, on St. Patrick's Day or any other day.

(Full disclosure: My family has deep Irish roots. My great-great-grandfather, who had the same name as I, came to New York City on a ship called the SS Isaac Wright in 1850. I'm an unabashed Ireland-ophile.)

Let's start with music. U2 is still one of the biggest bands in the world, and a lot of people who like music that lulls them to sleep think Enya's cool.

But to me the best Irish band of all time is Them, the Belfast band that was lumped in with the British Invasion groups of the '60s. Them gave us the garage-rock classic "Gloria" and other great songs by its singer, Van Morrison, plus some great blues covers.

Close second is the Pogues, who seamlessly mixed traditional Irish melodies and instruments with a punk sensibility.

In literature, the Irish greats are too numerous to mention. (One of the coolest things about Ire

land is that when you go to pubs, they have photos of poets and authors on the wall.) Shaw, Synge and Joyce have all shaped our culture, but no writer's ever been more purely entertaining than Oscar Wilde.

Even the eminently quotable Dorothy Parker paid tribute to Wilde's pithiness: "If, with the literate, I am/

Impelled to try an epigram/ I never seek to take the credit/ We all assume that Oscar said it."

The Irish tradition in theater is much alive, thanks to such great contemporary writers as Brain Friel (Asolo Repertory Theatre is currently staging his "Philadelphia, Here I Come") and Conor McPherson, the writer of "Shining City" and "The Seafarer."

Ireland's not known as a hotbed for cinema, but the tiny indie film "Once" ranks among the favorite movies of just about everyone who's seen it, and the stage version, adapted by Dublin born Enda Walsh, is one of the best shows that Broadway has given us in recent years.

There are plenty more examples -- Planxty, J.P. Donleavy, My Bloody Valentine, Christy Brown, Daniel Day-Lewis (who holds Irish citizenship), "The Commitments." And there's "Danny Boy," one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

On the other hand, Ireland has also give us the Irish Rovers, who inflicted upon us "The Unicorn," perhaps one of the most insipid and annoying songs ever. But that was written by Shel Silverstein, who's definitely was not Irish, so we can't hold Ireland completely to blame.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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