“He was, I thought, one of the most authentically Irish-seeming guys I’d ever met, apart from his being Ukrainian. His family left before the Orange Revolution, and now they were scattered all over. A lot of his (very good) English was perfected in Ireland: his Ukrainian accent had an Irish accent. I can’t describe it, but it suited him.”
“That’s just a story we’re telling ourselves because we’re rich and bored from the Irish point of view, and that’s exactly how I would feel if I were Irish. At the same time do you really want to foreclose on the possibility that cultures might be transmitted across generations and that there might be something in tapping into that? I’ve been a passionate reader of Irish literature over my life, and I’d like to think that I read it more intensely because I felt as if I had some stock in it.”
“That something is in part what draws travelers to the Aran Islands: it takes an independent character to live perversely on three spits of barren limestone in the north Atlantic, the way they do, in a place where you couldn’t even grow spuds unless you created your own sad scrum soil with a kind of layered-kelp composting. If they were to suddenly offer to braid your hair or be smilingly hustling you onto group tours, it would spoil the effect. You go to the Aran Islands expecting to keep a certain distance from the population.”
— John Jeremiah Sullivan, “My Debt to Ireland”
My mother lived in Ireland for two years, and during that time, I visited the Aran Islands thrice. The place is enchanting, but also haunting and savage. The final blip of land before the expanding Atlantic, a land as frozen as it is rocky, where fishermen don’t learn to swim because the water’s too cold anyway. These are some of the pictures I took on Dún Aonghasa. [Nick]
"I landed in Dublin a few days before, having not been in Ireland, other than the airport, since I lived there as a 20-year-old, working in a restaurant, during whatever you call the life phase in which you try to reconnect with your roots — though what ended up happening, as is common in those cases, was I had my whole idea of ‘roots’ and ‘heritage’ and ‘blood wisdom’ and whatnot smacked out of me in a useful way and exposed for mostly self-serving sentimentality. ‘Jesus, Johnny, you’re more Irish than I am,’ said Liam, the little red-cheeked, red-haired chef for whom I chopped vegetables in a railroad kitchen in Cork, after I unspooled for him once more the glory of my Celtic lineage: Sullivan, Mahoney, O’Brien, Cavanaugh, Considine, my Fenian grandfather, my … then he began to berate me for having screwed up the tartar-sauce mixture again, for drinking seven ‘minerals’ on the job one hungover day, for having brazenly lied about knowing even the most basic, life-sustaining things about food preparation when he hired me."