Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In England, Maeve Binchy Discovered Her Irishness

We don't let St. Patrick's Day go so easily, around here.

We saved for today these excerpts from an essay the Irish writer Maeve Binchy wrote for the New York Times on her calling. Like James Joyce and others, she had to leave home to discover the treasure of her own voice.

I have extracted the excerpts rather freely - that is, cloddishly, for expediency. You can see the whole piece on the NY Times site simply by searching "Maeve Binchy." It was published on 4 November 2002.

The Irish don't really think about writing, it is just a natural extension of what we do all the time, which is talking. In Ireland talk was always great, any old kind of talk.

Why be anywhere unless you could say something? Why pause and wait for an important thought to arrive? Suppose it didn't arrive?

When I moved to England, I knew I presented a bit of a problem to them because of all this incessant talking. Particularly at bus stops. In Ireland it is discourteous not to greet your fellow travelers as you wait. In London it is something done only by the insane.

If you address people at a London bus stop, they think you are going to follow them home and live with them, and they begin to panic and move away. Similarly, if you wait in a line for theater tickets or to be served in a store, Irish manners would insist that you talk briefly to whoever is beside you. English manners demand that you stare ahead as if you were alone in the middle of a hundred-acre field.

Those amazing etiquette books that advise four talkers and four listeners at a dinner party have no place in this land. Where would you find the listeners? And why invite them anywhere?


We hope you had a good St. Patrick's Day with much laughter and talk. Any old kind of talk.

Stephen Patrick Burke
for Ithaca Blog

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