Category: Archive

My long distance love affair

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

There’s a few things I don’t like about America: nukes, twelve years of the Bush family, illegal renditions. Plus the fact that, for some reason, I can never quite fathom, my home television is now stuck for eight hours a day on the Disney Channel.
My novel “War of the Blue Roses” – though a comedy – picks up on some of these complaints.
But it also looks at the age-old kinship and friendship between our two countries, as personified by the taoiseach and the new U.S. president, when they meet up in the White House on the opening page.
In the book, the “bromance” between Ireland and the U.S. culminates in the Yanks sponsoring a massive flower-growing competition outside Derry, this to take some of the sting out of the marching season.
The Brits, typically, conspire to screw everything up. And before long, all sides suddenly find themselves in a no-holds-barred, global chase to find the holy grail of the horticultural world – the blue rose.
It’s an Irish Da Vinci Code, only with flowers, fertilizer and better-looking characters.
It’s apparent though that the American-Irish love affair is not just a one-way relationship where the U.S. bails its much littler buddy out of messes, props up its failing economy and helps it face down the dastardly neighbors.
America, as the taoiseach is never done advising the president, owes Ireland.
After all, it was an Irishman, St. Brendan the Navigator, who discovered the country.
We also built your roads and your railways; we provided you with all your greatest leaders; we police your towns and cities, and we taught you how to sing. We gave you Scott Fitzgerald, Neil Armstrong, Grace Kelly, John Ford and John Wayne. Not to mention Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago. Forty million U.S. citizens claim Irish ancestry and 23 of your 44 presidents had Irish roots.
Derry, my home city, is of particular significance to Irish Americans as it was the port from which many of their forefathers and foremothers departed for the New World.
I myself could well have been a U.S. citizen, as my grandfather Bertie was all set to join his uncle Robert Downey in the United States of the 1920s, this until his mother stepped in and found him a shoemaking apprenticeship in Donegal.
I’ve often wondered if Great-Great-Uncle Robert was anything to the actor Robert Downey Jr. It would explain an awful lot.
During World War II, Derry was the largest allied naval base in northern Europe, and the Yanks had a huge camp here.
The GIs were great mixers and were never afraid to spend money. Many of them even married locals. Their generosity, coupled with the fact that they had already sent the Brits packing from their country, won them our eternal respect and admiration.
Before the U.S. troops set off for D-Day in 1944, General Mark Clark took their salute from a balcony on Derry’s Guildhall Square. And so, it was only fitting that, 50 years later, President Bill Clinton would stand on the same square and tell the world that, after 800 years of war, Ireland was now at peace.
My own love affair with America began as a young teenager when I was given “On Broadway.” a collection of short stories by Damon Runyon.
Rapid-fire dialogue, merciless humor, ruthless nicknames and never predictable plotlines. I found the whole experience hypnotic. Still do.
Then, in 1994, I landed the dream assignment of reporting on the World Cup in New York and got to understand firsthand exactly what Runyon had been talking about.
My 2005 book “Off Broadway,” was written as a thank you to Runyon, and to the Big Apple.
Fifteen years ago, on July 4, I sat on the rooftop of the Cunningham’s apartment block in Queens, watching the Manhattan skyline light up with Independence Day pyrotechnics.
In muggy heat, we drank too many toasts, played Irish-American music too loudly, and admired John Gotti’s way-too-flashy alternative fireworks show. I don’t think I ever enjoyed a birthday party like it.
My temporary visa, however, meant I was never going to stay, and anyway, you can always get too much of a good thing. Probably.
Most importantly, though, I had a wonderful wife-to-be at home in Ireland. And much though I loved the U.S. – and still do – I love her more.

Garbhan Downey is an Irish novelist and journalist. His last book, “Yours Confidentially: Letters of a would-be MP,” was listed as one of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s top international crime reads of 2008. “War of the Blue Roses” is published by Guildhall Press, www.ghpress.com.

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