The Other Presences in Irish Life and Literature



Sir John Mahaffy once said, “In Ireland the inevitable never happens, the unexpected always.” It is partly for this reason that the traveler there frequently comes away with an absurd rag bag of generalizations, quaint stories and customs, for example, that are often dazzling distortions of fact or captivating embellishments of truth. Once having publicly expressed them, however, he can return to Ireland only at the peril of good natured, but nevertheless, embarrassing derision. Perhaps some satisfaction comes in knowing that the Irish themselves are not much more accurate at analyzing their motives and emotions, institutions and histories. At worst they read their own publicity and imitate themselves shamelessly; at best they live lives of charming disorder and hospitable individuality. Indeed, the Irish, no less than the visitor, are perplexed by ambivalent beliefs, victimized by beautiful green hills and sparkling brooks, beguiled by mysterious Catholicism and pagan mythology. Therefore any study that undertakes a clarification of the Irish character must also be an apology, for no matter how careful the writer, how sound the argument or fresh the insights, error is likely to blunder in. But it is the very likelihood of error that makes the Irish endlessly fascinating.


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