Monday, March 30, 2015
Sunday, March 29, 2015
From The Pen Of [The Late] Peter Paul Markin, North Adamsville Class Of 1964:
“A Terrible Beauty Is Born”, a recurring line from the great Anglo-Irish poet William Butler Yeats, Easter, 1916.
At the corner of Hancock Street and East Main Street, forming a wedge in front of our old beige-bricked high school, ancient North Adamsville High School now of blessed memory although that hard fact was not always the case after passing through its portals but that for another day, stands against all weathers a poled plaque, sometimes, perhaps, garlanded with a flower of flag. From that vantage point, upon a recent walk-by, I have noticed that it gives the old school building a majestic “mighty fortress is our home” look. The plaque atop the pole, as you have probably already figured since such plaques are not uncommon in our casualty-filled, war-weary world, commemorates a fallen soldier, here of World War I, and is officially known as the Frank O’Brien Square. The corners and squares of most cities and towns in most countries of the world have such memorials to their war dead, needless to say far too many.
That plaque furthermore now, as it did not back in the 1960s, competes, unsuccessfully, with a huge Raider red billboard telling one and all of the latest doings; a football game here, a soccer game there, or upcoming events; a Ms. Something pageant, a cheer-leading contest, a locally produced play; or honoring somebody who gathered some grand academic achievement, won some accolade for a well-performed act and so forth. In due course that billboard too will be relegated to the “vaults" of the history of our town as well. This sketch, however, is not about that possible scenario or about the follies of war, or even about why it is that young men (and women) wind up doing the dangerous work of war that is decided by old men (and old women), although that would be a worthy subject. No, the focus here is the name of the soldier, or rather the last name, O’Brien, and the Irish-ness of it.
A quick run through of the names of the students listed in, our yearbook, the Magnet for the Class of 1964, will illustrate my point. If Irish surnames are not in the majority, then they are predominant, and that does not even take into consideration the half or quarter Irish heritage that is hidden behind other names. My own family history is representative of that social mixing with a set of Irish and English-derived grandparents. And that is exactly the point.
If North Adamsville in the old days was not exactly “Little Dublin”, the heritage of the Irish diaspora certainly was nevertheless apparent for all to see, and to hear. More than one brogue-dripped man or woman, reflecting newness to the country and to the town, could be heard by an attentive listener at Harry’s Variety Store on Sagamore Street seeking that vagrant bottle of milk (or making that bet with Harry’s book on the sure-fire winner in the sixth at Aqueduct but we will keep that hush since, who knows, the statute of limitations may still not have run out yet on that “crime,” although the horse certainly did, run out that is). (Of course when we were young it was possible to go to Harry’s without fear of rancor or harm but when we came of corner boy age, came to understand that you needed to belong to some group for protection if nothing else, then Harry’s, the bastion of whip-chain wielding Red Radley and his older bikers and hangers-on, girl hangers-on, became a place that no Jack Slack’s bowling alleys corner boys like me and mine, would go within ten blocks of even on a desperately hot and sultry day for a soda, no way, no way at all.)
Or at Doc Andrews’ Drugstore, yeah, good old Doc over on the corner of Young Street and Newberry seeking, holy grail-seeking that vagrant bottle of whiskey, strictly for medicinal purposes of course. And one did not have to be the slightest bit attentive but only within a couple of blocks of the locally famous, or infamous as the case may be, Dublin Grille to know through the mixes of brogue and rough-hewn strange language English that the newcomers had “assimilated.” And, to be fair, those same mixes could be heard coming piously out of Sunday morning Mass at Sacred Heart or at any hour on those gas-guzzling, smoked-fumed Eastern Mass buses that got one hither and fro in the old town. That North Adamsville was merely a way-station away from the self-contained Irish ghettos of Dorchester and South Boston to the Irish Rivieras, like Marshfield and heathen Cohasset and Duxbury, of the area was, or rather is, also apparent as anyone who has been in the old town of late will note.
And that too is the point. Today Asian-Americans, particularly the Chinese and Vietnamese, and other minorities have followed that well-trodden path to North Adamsville from way-station Boston. And they have made, and will make, their mark on the ethos of this hard-working working-class part of town. So while the faint aroma of corn beef and cabbage (and colorful, red-drenched pasta dishes, from the other main ethnic group of old North Adamsville, the Italians) has been replaced by the pungent smells of moo shi and poi and the bucolic brogue by some sweet sing-song Mandarin dialect the life of the town moves on.
Yet, I can still feel, when I haphazardly walk certain streets, the Irish-ness of the diaspora “old sod” deep in my bones. To be sure, as a broken amber liquor bottle spotted on the ground reminded me, there were many, too many, father whiskey-sodden nights (complete with the obligatory beer chaser) that many a man spent his pay on to keep his “demons” from the door. And to be sure, as well, the grandmother passed-down ubiquitous, much dented, one-size-fits all pot on the old iron stove for the potato-laden boiled dinner (that’s the corn beef and cabbage mentioned above for the unknowing heathens) that stretched an already tight food budget just a little longer when the ever present hard times cast their shadow at that same door.
And, of course, there was the great secret cultural relic; the relentless, never-ending struggle to keep the family “dirty linen” from the public eye, from those “shawlie” eyes ready to pounce at the mere hint of some secret scandal. But also this: the passed down heroic tales of our forebears, the sons and daughters of Roisin, in their heart-rending eight hundred year struggle against the crushing of the “harp beneath the crown” (and even heathens know whose crown that was); of the whispered homages to the ghosts of our Fenian dead; of great General Post Office uprisings, large and small; and, of the continuing struggle in the North. Yes, as that soldier’s plaque symbolizes, an Irish presence will never completely leave the old town, nor will the willingness to sacrifice.
Oh, by the way, that Frank O'Brien for whom the square in front of the old school was named, would have been my grand uncle, the brother of my Grandmother Markin (nee O'Brien) from over on Young Street across from the Welcome Young Field.
Easter, 1916-William Butler Yeats
I HAVE met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
A terrible beauty is born.
Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.