My father moved to Dublin in 1963, fresh out of Yale, when he was twenty-three years old. The Dublin he lived in could not be more different from the Dublin I arrived to in 2001. Over the past fifty years Dublin–indeed, Ireland–has changed profoundly. On May 22nd, it will change again. Though my father and I are powerless to effect this change, as Americans who have called Dublin home, we feel quite strongly about the outcome.
So, without further ado, my father, Michael Gates Gill:
The Irish Dark Ages~~Time to See the Light?
Arriving to live in Ireland in early 1960’s was like going back into a kind of cultural Dark Ages. As a student at Yale College, I had just been taught that James Joyce was “the most important writer of the Twentieth Century.” In Ireland I discovered that he was banned. I couldn’t buy Ulysses in the city in which it’s set.
Even the movies that were shown were mainly from the 1930’s. Groucho Marx was okay, but no films or books or plays that showed skin or hinted at Karl Marx. Becket was not being performed. If you wanted to see a play of his you had to go to Paris or London or New York.
Brendan Behan had a hit play at that time running simultaneously in London and New York—but his artistic efforts were banned in Ireland.
The artistic fire that had flamed in the turn of the last Century with Yeats and Synge seemed to have been fanned by the tension between the Irish culture and the oppressive English attacks. There were whispers that the Irish really needed the English oppression to fight to express their own unique culture artistically. And now that Ireland had won its freedom—at least in the South—the Catholic Church—so long the underdog—couldn’t wait to exercise all the power that it could. Especially culturally, and the church seemed eager to censor all the arts.
In America we had just elected our first Catholic President. Beautiful, witty, cosmopolitan and sophisticated Jack and Jackie brought a whole new enthusiasm for the arts to the White House. Jack and Jackie led America to a new respect for the arts. Culturally, they were leading the way!
In Ireland at the same time there was a cloud of suspicion over some of the Irish artists that were so famous and so well regarded in the outside world. It would be like a woman going to Saudi Arabia today where women are still not allowed to drive or show their face.
In Dublin, in the l960’s, a single woman was not welcomed in most pubs—even in Dublin, let alone in the country. The bars were dark with old men in damp overcoats. Yet still it was thought that a young woman was taking her virtue too lightly if she entered such a place. Would it be too tempting for these sad old men to see such a cheerful young face? And this fearful code of behavior affected every aspect of life.
Once, having lunch in a hotel in Kerry, I ordered a steak. The young waitress looked at me as though I had committed some sin that was sure to land me in hell. I didn’t understand.
So I just repeated my request.
“Sir,” she said slowly, obviously getting up the courage to say something that really need not be said, “It isFriday.”
“Friday?” I asked. And then it came to me: Catholics should not eat meat on Fridays!
Okay, “ I said, “what would you recommend?”
“Fish, Sir, some fish.”
So this was the power of the culture at that time to expect that even a young American visitor would know and obey such deep seated religious codes and artistic censorship that were full of “NO”. If you said “YES” to meat on Friday or read James Joyce you were on the way to Hell.
This was a country at that time where most of the ambitious, creative youth had left. On Grafton Street there might be one old man playing a fiddle. Few cars. I was told that Dublin was a Danish word meaning “dark pool” and I could well believe it!
In America we were just entering the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. In England there was “swinging London” and soon the “British Invasion” of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones would infect America with its music and the idea that the young had the answer to fun and happiness.
Patrick Kavanagh said at the time I was in Ireland: “The Irish live in the deep cave of the unconscious and they scream when they see the light.”
There was little light of any kind at that time. And the silence, even in downtown Dublin, was profound. You could hear your own steps echoing— often the only being on the sidewalk. And there was no sound or talk of new, influential Irish songs or plays or artists of any kind!
Recently I discovered that this has all changed! “Changed utterly,” as Yeats might say.
Last November I went back to Ireland to attend the wonderful wedding of my daughter Annie. Annie, although born and raised in America, has chosen to live in Ireland. There she found and married an equally creative and talented man. Annie is a successful actor on stage and in films, a writer who has a blog and is also very involved in establishing her own improv performing group. Her husband, Conor, is also in the creative arts. For more than a decade he has been a creator of major street fairs and the successful City Spectacular! Conor has also started a Podcast featuring prominent creative people who are now living and having so much impact in Ireland and around the world.
Annie and Conor, by the nature of their creative careers, could live anywhere. Yet they have chosen to live in Ireland!
This is the new, creative Ireland of what I might call Ireland’s greatest Artistic Age—rather than the old Dark Ages I knew so well.
This is such an irrefutable and positive fact about how much has changed in modern Ireland in the arts. On example: despite the fact that Annie was born in and lived in and performed on the stage in New York City, she has also chosen to live in and act on stage and in films and write and center her life in Ireland today.
What a dramatic evidence of how much has changed from the Dark Days of my day!
Annie and Conor’s wedding was another testimony to this transformation of Ireland. Friends and family gathered from around the world to celebrate this loving, joyous union.
Annie and Conor were united in love and also officially, legally married. As we all know you can’t live and work and be married in any country without that significant and important and essential legal documents.
Yet after the wedding I was shocked to hear that such a legal wedding is still being denied in Ireland to gay and lesbian couples who also love each other and wish to get married.
This inequality is not now true in the rest of the advanced world. And it seems so shocking and sad that in this case of not allowing love and marriage, Ireland is still in the Dark Ages.
It is so out of time and tune with everything else I saw. I was convinced that in so many other ways Ireland had left the Dark Days so far behind! New light and love and art has been born since those dark, old days.
In fact, the dramatic proof to me is that my daughter Annie who has chosen to live in Dublin instead of New York City or LA (where she also lived) there is a lot more light and life in Dublin than anywhere else!
Young people of every age striding with such confidence on Grafton Street—on all the streets—and in the theaters, bars, cafes, among the gourmet food, the music in the air, and poetry, novels, plays—all being created by some of the most talented people anywhere—and all encouraged by a kind of Irish Renaissance of the original Irish spirit and the unique Irish arts.
Queen Elizabeth comes over to Dublin and speaks Irish, an endearing effort to please this new and vibrant, artistic Ireland, and her effort is courteously accepted by the female President of Ireland. How things have changed, and how they have improved!
In America, we have yet to elect our first female President, and for Ireland it is now a matter of history!
Isn’t this the Ireland of the Irish that made history by keeping the light alive— that as the best-selling book described “saved Civilization” during an earlier Dark Ages?
Ireland has left the Dark Ages I first experienced so far behind.
Dublin, like London used to be, is today one of the most “happening” places for the latest, best in artistic expression and the happy art of loving and living.
That is why that it is so tragic and out of joint that it is still impossible in Ireland to have two loving people who wish to marry not be allowed to come together in a profound legal reality. It seems that Ireland is still saying NO in a sad way that reminds me of the old Dark Days.
Let’s hope that Ireland, like Molly Bloom, cries out a resounding YES and moves forward with love and light and life as it should be–and will be–lived today and in the future.