Helen Thorpe

This morning at Cornaslieve I logged on to the Internet up in the bedroom where my cousin Kevin (now a Web master at a company in Chicago) has set up a computer. I saw that my fellow Irish-Americans have been weighing in down below, on the subject of pub bombings. I don’t have much to say about pub bombings myself. My visits to Ireland have taught me one thing for certain, and that’s that Irish-Americans like us understand very little about this country’s darker side, no matter how much we think we understand. Ireland is a country that is easy to know on a superficial basis and very hard to get to know intimately. So, anything that I might say about violence in Ireland, or the political situation here, would probably be as full of shit as the cows that I have been milking. Still I can’t resist asking my fellow Irish-Americans a question: If there is one true Republican left among us, must he not feel that now it is his duty to bring about his own extinction?

A theme that I have been developing is that Ireland has been changing rapidly. This afternoon I drove to Dublin, where the changes are apparent at every turn: expensive cars, expensive houses, traffic jams, a new hurried rudeness, this unfamiliar thing called opportunity. I was riding through the streets on a green and yellow double-decker bus, taking in the sights–the glossy painted doors, the fresh-faced Dubliners in their fine suits, the familiar sign of Hodges & Figgis bookstore–when somebody’s cell phone rang. “How’s it going?” said a woman several seats back. Up on O’Connell Street, another cell phone rang. Now there were two phone conversations going on at once, commingling with the regular hum of person-to-person chatter and the sound of the bus engine.

I have so many relatives in this city that it would take a month’s worth of diary entries just to introduce them all, but here I will mention just a few cousins to illustrate my point. Caroline and Seamus grew up at Cornaslieve, but they have forsaken the rural lifestyle of their parents for a more cosmopolitan one. Caroline (Donal’s sister) works in the financial services sector, while Seamus (Donal’s brother) works in the computer industry. This evening the three of us, along with a few more cousins, went to see an Oscar Wilde play at the Gate Theater. My cousin Alan, who’s from my father’s side of the family, joined us afterward for a drink. Alan is another computer whiz. A few years ago, he left the Dublin neighborhood where he was born for a job in England, like his uncle Larry (my father) had done decades before. My father met my mother in England, and then moved to the United States with his new wife and baby (me), where they proceeded to have twins (my brother and sister). But Alan moved back to Dublin with his wife and their two children–without even bothering to job-hunt first, so confident was he that he could find a high-paying job here. He did, and now he has just bought a new house down in Bray. Alan is living the American dream–here in Ireland.

Caroline works in the investment business, constantly assessing what funds are worth throughout the day. (Companies around the world have been relocating their back-office work to Dublin, thanks to the advent of technology that makes geographical location irrelevant.) She just moved from one bank to another, getting a huge boost in her salary. “The job market right now is unbelievable,” Caroline told me. It’s hard to describe what it feels like to come back and hear this. I grew up feeling funny about the fact that my relatives’ houses were not as big as the house I lived in, their toilets didn’t flush as well, and their showers didn’t run hot water for very long. I grew up noticing all that and trying not to notice all that and eventually getting beyond all that to the real thing: These gorgeous, fine, warm-hearted people, and my relation to them. But to hear Caroline talking about picking and choosing which job she’d like–it’s deeply satisfying.

I could write more about Alan and Caroline and Seamus and how they represent the New Ireland, but it would probably get tedious. I’d prefer to end with a complete digression. Caroline’s boyfriend, Dermott, is the most entertaining person I’ve met in a long time. Dermott is funny, attentive, whimsical, and a crazy sleepwalker. Recently he started working with a man who’d done time in jail. Dermott (he’s in the construction business) was pleased to get on well with the man, despite their differences. One night they went for a drink in a pub. It was near the man’s house, and afterward he invited Dermott to stay over. Dermott said, why not. The man’s girlfriend made Dermott up a bed. But while he was sleeping, Dermott–his mind distracted by the strange surroundings, or the man’s hard side, or the beer–got up off the sofa, took down a large collection of decorative plates, and carried them into the room where the man and his girlfriend were sleeping. He stacked the plates on the floor, then slipped into bed beside the couple. It wasn’t an easy thing to explain in the morning. Just a few weeks ago, Dermott stayed over at Caroline’s apartment after another late night. Caroline woke up because of noises in the kitchen. She went downstairs and found Dermott toasting moldy bread. He had a slice of blue toast in one hand and a stick of butter in the other and was making lion noises. While the rest of us are asleep in our beds, having negotiated these changes and having spent all our passions, there is Dermott, down in the kitchen, still in the grip of something or other, roaring at a stick of butter.