An Abiding Sense of Tragedy

I've written a lot about the Swedes. (Some will undoubtedly say ''entirely too much''). I think there must be more Swedish blood in Galesburg than in some parts of Sweden. But it is much harder to write about the Irish. Even in Galesburg's history, what little that has been written about the Irish doesn't deserve repeating. All reports echo the hard fighting, hard drinking, 2nd class citizen stereotype that the Irish have been tagged with over America's short history. After all, the Irish were hired by both political parties to disrupt the parades and rallies of the other, in a not too distant bit of Galesburg's history.

I'm guessing that the Irish have a genetic propensity to drink--probably caused by a food allergy of some type. When this is combined with their morose nature, fights often follow. This sadness of the soul is what makes so much of the traditional Irish music so haunting.

While traveling a few weeks ago, I noted an ''Irish Store'' across the street from the hotel. Being hooked on genealogy and with a name like Hogan, how could I not stop in? I saw a number of beautiful things, but there was a sweatshirt that stopped me in my tracks. Perhaps more correctly, it was the quotation on the shirt.

I had no interest in spending $38 on a sweatshirt, but I did, covertly, copy down the quote:

''Being Irish,

he had an abiding sense of tragedy

which sustained him

through temporary periods of joy.''

The quote was attributed to W.B. Yeats. Being mass produced on a green Irish sweat shirt was probably not what Yeats had in mind when he penned this insightful observation of the Irish. It probably would have made him depressed.

I liked the quote so much that I printed it out on a fancy script, with the aid of a computer program, suitable for framing. I put one up in my office and mailed one to a brother. I received an e-mail back that he put it up in his office. The Irish genes must be obeyed.

I believe my wife might easily have commented similarly about her spouse. I found that my favorite childhood character was Eeyore, the donkey, the friend of Christopher Robin. Christopher Robin, Piglet, Owl, and all the rest left me cold. They had no character development. But Eeyore and I were soulmates. I understood his world. ''I felt his pain.'' Apparently it was also obvious to our young daughters, to whom these bedtime stories were read.

Years later, our younger daughter, back from college, brought me a stuffed Eeyore for my office. She said it was companionship for me on those bad days. Like any good father, I took Eeyore to work. He sits on the lower, recessed shelf of my computer stand, in a mournful, ignored pose. When squeezed, he gives a mournful little sigh. He is not easily observed by office visitors, but is by me, and I suppose by the office-cleaning folks, as well. I shudder to think of what they make of a child's stuff toy in an ''executive's office.'' But as Eeyore might say, ''Oh well, it doesn't matter, I'll get by.''

There is a certain consolation about attributing one's gloominess to his ancestral history. It makes it easier to fully wallow around in one's despair and pessimism without the need to feel guilty about it. It's not me, it's those morose Irish ancestors of mine.

Perhaps with the help of a little genealogical research, you too can find the appropriate ancestral line to explain the particular personal trait that drives your spouse crazy. If you are entirely ''bull-headed,'' look for Germanic roots. Do you reach the boiling point a little more quickly than a saint, perhaps you can find a little Italian mix in the gene pool. If you worry during the good times that it won't last, and worry during the bad times that it will, look to the Swedes. *

It is well worth the effort. It's not my fault, it's just my Irish roots expressing themselves. It is all the more tragic knowing that I am innocent of the responsibility of my sense of tragedy. Genealogy will set you free!

Being Eeyore, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy (with apologies to Mr. Yeats).


*If through deliberate generalizations, I have offended someone, please write to the editor. He loves the mail and the column needs a little controversy. And don't worry about me, I'll get by, sigh.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online January 12, 2000

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