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Monday, October 11, 2004

Irish (in America) Smugness

After we returned to the U.S. in '97, several activities kept me alive. Set dancing at the Burren Pub in Somerville, MA on Monday nights was one. I had no background in dancing of any kind, but Irish associations of the music and the setting, and of course the presence of many Irish in the place, as well as the sheer physicality of dancing, allowed me emotional release from the anxiety of return.

After the 8-10pm lessons were over we would all move out to the front of the pub where a session picked up at 10pm. Even if the front room were crowded our instructor, Ger, would organize a set there near the gently amplified session, and I like other realtive newcomers hoped to be deigned worthy to join a few of the long-time dance regulars in the Plain or the Sliabh Lucra set. It helped a bit to be a guy, because most of the pros were women. It helped to have a bit of coordination. A personality didn't hurt either. I knew I qualified on the first two! An extra hour of dancing was worth the trepidation of so subtly not being chosen, and the chance to whirl through the midst of a crush of bodies--even especially the violent career into and through the drinkers--we were subversives, dancing aloud amid the cool and the drunk--left me exhausted, which was a good state to be in after an extended pent up anxiety.

One particular night I was dancing with my partner in the front room, and a surly Irish guy in the room was giving an increasing amount of agro as the set dancers upset his space. On one gallop through I heard him make a Yank comment, because he assumed most the dancers were Yanks. He disliked the dancing, but he enjoyed disliking it so he could slag Americans. At that moment I unleashed a stream of anti-Irish invective to my partner I didn't know was in me until that moment.

"I got enough of that "stupid Yank" nonsense in Ireland where I had to put up
with it, but I'll be damned if I take any here in Boston from a fucking

Some Irish enjoy a certain smugness in regard to the t'ickness of Americans, and some continue to enjoy it here in this country. For all that Americans indulge in annoying blarneyed stereotypes, so do Irish. The Irish defense of their "Irishness" involves easy assumptions of those darn "Irish" Americans, and they--the Irish, some--practice the generalization that every Irish American is guilty of the same ignorance.

There weren't any "stupid Yanks" in that dance set. Most were Irish or first gen. with strong, real ties to Ireland. But more importantly, none of them were practicing plastic paddyhood and "wannabe" endeavors, and none were bad dancers on account of their "non-Irishness." They just liked to dance. None of them, including me, would appreciate having to defend their interests or their Irishness. All of them, however, would undertsand the issue.


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