In the Alan Lerner musical, Brigadoon (fictionally located in Scotland, another Gaelic nation), a small village comes alive every hundred years. I feel that way writing from Listowel, speaking at its annual Writers' Week.
Of course, Listowel is alive at all times, even if I only come here once a year. But it is one of the last remaining Irish local towns that an American might visit, due to this conference. In this place of 5,000 inhabitants, I stay at the Listowel Arms. From the rear of the hotel you look over a river and bridge leading to the large grass horseracing track. From the front you see the small town square, and beyond the church steeple, grassy hills.
(A note on cultural differences. One PT blogger insists there are no significant difference among world cultures. Everything I am interested in is impacted by culture.)
If God were designing a way of drinking, it wouldn't be the Irish way. The Irish have the lowest rate of daily drinking (2% of men) and the highest rate of binge drinking.(half of men) in Europe. Low levels of daily drinking prolong life and intellectual acuity; binge drinking accomplishes the reverse.
When you are introduced as an addiction expert in Ireland, people immediately begin reciting their alcoholic relations ("five of my uncles" . . . etc.). And the Irish are capable of being almost - I say almost - as Puritianical about alcohol as Americans (for example, Ireland is the only European nation where there are serious discussions about raising the drinking age to 21).
At the same time, drinking is mythical, prodigious, and acclaimed in Ireland - at a reading by Nobel-Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney last evening, my hosts asked if I wanted something to drink and brought me a beer while I listened with pleasure - an experience I have never had at a public reading in the U.S.
Writers' Week was begun by John B. Keane - a well-known Irish playwright and writer. Listowel's low-slung downtown is filled with pubs - and one of them was owned by Keane, and is still run by his family. I went there last night with his daughter. The place - like all the other pubs - was packed. And everyone there was smiling and talking. People came in groups, but strangers were also welcomed and quickly assimilated.
You can't buy that kind of social support, and the psychological and physical health it encourages, in the U.S.
How to combine the good and the bad elements of Irish drinking? Keane's daughter told me, "My father introduced us to beer (like the Italians and Spanish introduce their children to wine), and my mother refused to serve anyone who was intoxicated or misbehaving."
Ah, I shall miss Brigadoon when I return to the U.S.