Sunday, April 10, 2016

Remembering Easter 1916-With The Shamrock Irish In Mind

Remembering Easter 1916-With The Shamrock Irish In Mind

By Jack Murphy

Funny how all the guys I used to hang around with at Harry Variety, then Doc’s Drugstore, and finally at Tonio’s Pizza Palace in our school days around Riverdale about thirty miles south of Boston would claim some Irish heritage every time Saint Patrick’s Day came around. Even guys like Ray Rizzo, a stone-cold Italian guy would go on and on about how, maybe, about six generations back one of his forebears stopped in Ireland and left a little something behind, a little bundle so to speak, and thus could claim kinship to Irish Republican Brotherhood (we were all in the thrall to that name as well as the Irish Citizens’ Army and the then blessed Volunteers even though none of us, the fully Irish included, knew anything about those organizations and the roles they played except the late lamented “half-arse Peter Paul Markin of blessed memory.) That last place, the high school hang-out, the Class of 1970 hang-out, Tonio’s Pizza by the way was owned by Tonio a very cool guy from Italy who was we latter found out was “connected,” connected big time who took our friend Frankie Riley, a full-blooded Irishman with parents just off the boat from Cork a few years before as his “son” to show just how deep the Irish roots went in our part of town, the poor but proud Atlantic section, the section of town nearest to the ocean and the Nappy River from which the town got its name. 

Every time we have a reunion of whoever is left from the good old days in the neighborhood somebody has inevitably brought out the Saint Patrick’s Parade in South Boston “skip school” prank (we are now at the age where the assumption that somebody might not be able to attend because of death or serious illness is a commonplace unlike our first one ten years out in 1980 when “no shows” were because of work, travel or “working out” with some new girlfriend or wife under some silky sheets the latter a fine reason for “no show” then).

Here is how it played out. In those days Saint Patrick’s Day (and the parade) were actually celebrated on March 17th whatever day of the week it was unlike now when it is the closest Sunday to the 17th  and in Suffolk County (Boston and whatever other towns made up the county) that was a holiday. Not because of blessed peacemaker Saint Pat but because of Evacuation Day, the day the bloody British were kicked out of Boston by the fearless rebels who liberated this country from John Bull’s damn yoke. A situation worthy of a holiday on its own hook but in then Irish-dominated Boston everybody knew the real reason, the parade and the fun and drinking associated with it.       

That was fine for Boston, and for Boston school kids because they had the day off anyhow. But we were in Norfolk County (these county names showing the still malignant effect of English rule) and did not have the day off-except if your parent, your mother really, sent a note-before March 17th-saying you had permission to take the day off in observance of Saint Patrick you were considered excused (there were enough Irish in town to force that concession). Usually it was easy for the kids with Irish surnames to get by but what about Jimmy James and Bob Alexander and Ray Rizzo. Well they would play “hooky,” take the day off and take their chances.

This is the punch-line though that half-arse Irishman, meaning only his mother was Irish in that case, Peter Paul Markin, mentioned before for years would claim that he always took those days off, made it a point of pride to tell one and all that he had skipped school. And we dutifully believed him, although in those days if we had thought about it we should have been suspicious because he loved school and was nothing a bookworm and nerd whom we derisively called the “Scribe,” since that was so contrary to what he was about. A few years after graduation one night a bunch of the old crowd was sitting in Jack’s over in Cambridge and Peter Paul began with his “skip school” story. Jimmy Jenkins was there who lived on the same street as him challenged Peter on that skipping, challenged everybody. The way to prove it, prove the skipping school of not the attendance at the parade, was to ask for a transcript of you attendance record from the Riverdale School Department which kept such records on a daily basis for each student then in ink before computers made somebody’s work very easy. Peter’s transcript (a couple of others too)-no days off in high school-period. That’s a true Irishman for you in lots of ways, full of the blarney.     

Of course later after graduation when we could go to Southie without fear, drink hard liquor until we fell down, chased and were beaten down by the treacherous Irish girls, especially the redheads whom I was attracted to in those days, you know the ones who came into the barroom or nightclub with ten dollars and their girlfriends and left with the same, you know exactly who I mean the novena girls with the rosaries kissing their lips and the Bible between their knees. God how did we survive all of that until we learned to ween ourselves off the Irish girls and go find nice Jewish and WASP girls, hell, Yugoslav girls, who actually liked sex, liked to get and receive it for crying out loud without remorse or recrimination, praise be. Didn’t think it was a sign from God or from the Holy Mother to leave a guy with a sore dick from that “no action” scene those red-headed Irish girls learned at Sunday school or some dastardly place like that. It wasn’t until later either, much later that we found out some of those novena with a Bible between their knees girls were “putting out” but just not for the boys in the neighborhood so they could keep their nice girl reputations. Damn them.

Now that was all about the ethos, or what passed for the ethos in the old neighborhood but as we grew older, as “the troubles” in the North blew up and it was a question of taking sides, of supporting the liberation struggle, of supporting the “boyos” up there (meaning for anybody who is clueless the six counties, what is now called Northern Ireland) we got more serious about the roots of our heritage. Got what Peter Paul Markin called “religion” on the Irish question and him right if only a half-arse Irishman and started to do more than attend Saint Patrick Day parades and drink as ocean of rotgut Johnny Walker Black whiskey, started to shift away from My Wild Irish Rose and Rose Of Tralee to Through The Foggy Dew, Kevin Barry and The Rising Of The Moon, while drinking that Johnny Walker. Yeah, it was the music that got things going, and not just the song and be done with it but to listen to what the lyrics said, what event they were commemorating and why. Why Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen rose, rose together, why they did the poor croppy boy in, why Kevin Barry faced the hangman’s noose. Yeah, the music changed us in many ways, changed us from Happy Hour Cape Cod Saturday and Sunday afternoon Shamrock Irish to something more, something grander.                   

But above all it was a half-arse Irishman, an Anglo-Irishman, William Butler Yeats who put the matter to us- who gave us “a word,” who told us about Easter 1916 (a very different proposition than to honor old Saint Pat) in a short poem of that name. Told us about men (and lately as the centennial has been upon us about the bravo woman as well), men of ordinary clay who saw a chance to tweak the British lion’s tail and took it. Told us about the extraordinary transition that a group, granted a small group but hasn’t that ever been the case made in a short time to cause a stir- to bring forth a “terrible beauty.” And these days these centennial days not a man among us from the old neighborhood who is still with us doesn’t think in the back of his mind about the music in old Pete Markin’s  voice when that half-arse Irishman would go on and on about the old sod, about the times of heroic action among our kin. Our day will come.

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