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UWM's John Gleeson on All Things Irish

Dec. 14, 2011
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Native Dubliner John Gleeson is a UW-Milwaukee professor and advocate of Celtic culture. He sat down over frosty pints at County Clare to discuss Irish bards, notable McCarthys, Christmas boxes and William Butler Yeats' sexual rejuvenation.

You're from Inchicore, a Dublin industrial suburb, but have spent decades here. Resident bards: Bono vs. Pat McCurdy.

When I first came here I caught McCurdy at the Gasthaus at the (UWM) Union. I thought he was good, clever—good songwriter. Bono is a bit too precious for me. He's “Dublin Four.” Four is the zip code of the intelligentsia and trendy elite—a cut above buttermilk and useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. But he is certainly an Irish talent, and has raised the status of Ireland. I wouldn't be too hard on Bono.

Top Wisconsin McCarthy—Joe or Mike?

Mike sure has that Irish look, doesn't he? Rear-gunner Joe actually had a lot of supporters in Ireland. It was very anti-Communist. I guess you could say Joe was a ball hopper and Mike is a ball carrier. Somebody hopping the ball is telling lies or spoofing for effect. Joe stood up in the Senate and said the State Department was infested with Communists. He knew it wasn't true. He was hopping the ball.

Mike McCarthy and the Packers carry the ball—marvelously. The only problem being, if God meant a football to be carried, he'd have put a handle on it. And it's the same green and gold as Dublin's great rival, Kerry. We always say “Dublin for the Sam Maguire (champions' cup), Kerry for your holiday. It's really a beautiful place—if you're on vacation.”

Christmas is coming. How goes Ireland?

In Irish pubs, the bar never buys you a drink—except at Christmas. If you're a regular, you wander in between Christmas and New Year's and you get a large spirit of your choice: your Christmas box. Maybe a nice golden, gleaming Powers whiskey—the heat and light from the fire in the liquid. And the conversation starts bounding along and laughter spreads. Word goes around, too. “Murphys are giving out the Christmas boxes!” So everyone heads for Murphys. If any one person in the company gets a box, the others do too.

So the box is really a glass?

At Christmas it is. You know, James Joyce was quite hard on Dublin—“a city in paralysis”—but when living in exile, he always said he missed Christmas most. There's a great spirit there. It's a time to make up for past rows, arguments and discontent. A person you might hate the rest of the year—you'll shake hands, wish them a merry Christmas and have a drink.

I'm going back for Christmas. But I'm also involved with Milwaukee Irish Arts, and we're doing a dramatic reading of Joyce's short “The Dead” (from Dubliners). It's set at a Christmas party at his aunts' house in Dublin. We'll have the reading here [County Clare] in the Joyce Room, Dec. 18 at 3:30 p.m.

And if you're interested in theater, playwright Dennis Regan over there (sitting at the bar) has written on William Butler Yeats in the form of an American TV game show—quite innovative, and very much to do with the women in Yeats' life. His muses, you know. He was into all kinds of sexual rejuvenation later in life. He'd visit women in England, and his poor, long-suffering wife drove him down to the boat. She was very tolerant.

That piece is part of a larger exhibit that comes to us from the National Library of Ireland. It will be in place at the Golda Meir Library during February and March, with a host of related events during that span. Details will be on our page: www.uwm.edu/Dept/celtic.


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