Michael Brown

The Paradise Wars and Clark Ransom Thrillers

Shannon, Ireland

It turns out that my Dad, who thought he was half Irish, didn’t have a drop of Irish blood in him.  His father resettled several generations back from IMG_0034East Germany or Poland and his mother’s family — whom he believed to be Irish — descended from Rene Cartier who had settled in Quebec from France in the 1600s.

A few years after my father died, my cousin sent me the family tree revealing that at the turn of the 20th century the Grenouille branch of the Cartiers emigrated from Quebec to North Dakota and then to Denver, where my Dad and his two sisters were born.

Crossing into North Dakota, my Dad’s maternal grandparents had changed names from Grenouille to Greenough, a questionable decision, given the treatment of Irish immigrants at the beginning of the century. This for us was new information, information which my father never knew. So he died, thinking that the nectar of Blarney ran in his veins and believing that such nectar explained his excessive drinking.

So, soon after learning I was not half Irish, I had the opportunity to travel to Ireland for a conference on software localization.  There had never been any chemistry between me and things Irish. I was simply resistant to Irish charm: land of shamrocks, leprechauns, a nauseating amount of green, and of course a lot of drinking. I loved to travel. That was a treat. But to Ireland?

Ireland turned out to be enchanting, magic, and with the most appealing people I had ever met.

There were moments of shock.  In an 800 year old quaint village, seemingly unsullied by modern commercialism, I rounded a corner and saw a swarm of teens in black AC/DC t-shirts, all with headsets plugged into their neon-colored iPods that hung from their necks.

But the defining Irish experiences took place in pubs, listening to spontaneous performances by Irish tenors, while growing a new addiction to fresh Guinness, right from the tap.

From the first night in Shannon to the last some three weeks later, a typical evening would involve telling the gentleman next to me that I was an aspiring novelist and learning that he had read the entire canon of English lit as had the man the other side of him.  I thought this had to be the most literate group of people I had ever met.

I told them how different this was from my experiences at the local bars in Rhode Island, where except for one friend with whom I discussed the current novels we read, the talk was local gossip or as we got more drunk, a rehash of stories we all had heard before.

The Irish gentleman in this Shannon pub said he knew what I meant.  Americans, he said,  were eager to drop their drawers, their dirty laundry.  He had been in Chicago and within five minutes had learned that the man next to him had just divorced because his wife had run off with another woman and now he was wondering if he were gay.  He said that would never happen in Ireland.

It was true.  Our Shannon conversations were about the trinity of literature, politics, or sports. Yet, there was an intimacy to the conversations, a real connection, that was missing in the confessional babble I was part of back home.

In spite of the drinking, and there was a lot of drinking in Ireland, the people had a strength of character, of identity, that made them sure enough of themselves to listen to someone else’s opinion . . . and consider it.

I wondered if it was a matter of several centuries to build that identity against a backdrop of conflict and disaster.

Maybe we in the States are still too young, too unchallenged, to be anything but cocky in our insecure brashness, whining about how we think our wife might be a dyke or how the world of publishing hadn’t yet realized our talent.

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