"They drag them out by their hair," my friend observed.
"Not by their hair? Really?"
"Sure," my knowledgeable friend went on, "they get drunk and rough, as the Irish sometimes do, and they pull them out to the street by their hair, then they kick the hell out of them."
And sure enough, as I gazed about the Olde Bell Tavern in Kilburn, the Irish ghetto of London, I could see all the Irish guys thoughtfully grew hair long enough to get pulled out by.
"That fellow there," my Irish friend continued, "was dragged out three times in one night. Kept coming back, but the third time he got the point and I guess went on home. He didn't come back the next day. But the next day after that he did, and it was as if nothing had ever happened."
As I got the picture, through my friend's instruction, Olde Bell has been a tavern forever. Maybe Caesar got a small bitter or Guinness here. But it was only in the 18th century that the Irish started coming in numbers, and since then the Bell has been far more than a neighborhood bar, though it remains that. It has also been a nerve center for the Irish lad new to London, and now it is a center for those who believe in the Irish Republican Army and the cause of uniting Ireland, and the cause of getting the British out of that island forever.
If an Irish prisoner dies, in a hunger strike, for instance, the Bell fills up. The bar has a little closet or anteroom, in which black flags and imitation coffins are kept, and these are brought out. Men in the bar take them and emotion runs high as they sing nationalist songs. Down the street a ways is a wide place, where men from the Bell join others in protest to what they consider English intransigence and heinousness in maintaining the northern counties of Ireland as a Protestant preserve in generally Roman Catholic Ireland -- a preserve closely tied to England.
My friend brought a girl with him, beautiful and rather fierce. We visited the Bell together -- they go regularly -- a few days after the wedding of the prince and princess of Wales in London. Everyone expected two Irish prisoners who had been fasting to die at any moment.
"But I've never seen the Bell so quiet," my friend said. There were about 50 men and four or five women in it.
"They don't seem to bring girls here much," I observed.
"No," said my friend's girl, "they don't."
Most of them, I gathered, think politics and protest and, for that matter, bars, are for men, and women should stay home and mend socks or else go to church and pray like hell for the Cause.
And certainly somebody does. The local Catholic church has nine masses a day to accommodate the crowds.
"Well, thank God the royal wedding went off without any disturbance," I said.
"Yes," said Tim (as I shall call him). "It would have set the Irish cause back to offend world opinion by making confusion at the prince of Wales' wedding. And besides, the English royal family has nothing to do with the Irish anguish and would hardly be a target."
"They would be quite an appropriate target," said the girl.
A man got up to sing. He had a guitar, and an amazing dog who never dozed more than four feet distant from him. This dog had thick fur, but no two hairs were the same length. He was not a wolfhound, nor a Kerry Blue, nor a setter, the three elegant breeds of Ireland. He was a mutt, and no heart in this world or the next could keep from melting at him.
The Irish are not merely the barroom brawlers of common legend, though they did not get the reputation by accident, most likely. But they are also a people of great style and elegance. The White House in Washington, by an Irish architect, is a typical example of that elegance, and other examples are the proud Irish hunters, glorious horses certainly, and the long-legged high-strung red setters, most elegant of all dogs, and the superb wolfhounds, unique in their combination of rough vigor, high spirit, tender soul, and slender beauty.
Irish girls, for that matter, are not surpassed in freshness with their blue eyes and glossy black hair. Some say they go to pot quickly, but then all human beauty tends to do so. The Irish also produce an unusual quantity of good writers. They burst all bounds. They fall easily into stately numinous rhythms, and they soar into glory whenever they dare, which is the last sentence of every paragraph, usually, and they are unsurpassed for passages about the tears of things, and while this leads them often into bombast or shallowness of heart or softness of sinew, still it often leads them into magnificence, too.
Many of the Irish, I soon learned, attribute the glory of the English language at its heights to Irish influence if not actual Irish typewriters.
"Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer were of course Irish," I said to stir them up a bit, "and so were Donne and Dr. Johnson." None of them remotely Irish, of course.
Well. Maybe they had Irish nurses.
"Ten years ago the IRA was just a group of hoodlums. But now they are the leading and inevitable force of Irish Catholics in the north. A young Irish male cannot get work in Belfast. He lives in a Catholic street, and he sees only Catholic friends. The IRA solicits the young, and the young man has nowhere else to go except right into their arms. Even from their own point of view, of damping down the IRA, the English are stupid. They have arranged things so that a young Irish male is drawn into the IRA inevitably."
The girl believes the English held on to Ireland for the value of its industry in the northern counties.
"What would you say if somebody said the English would have been enchanted to get rid of Ireland once and for all and forever and never have to think of the damned place again?" I inquired.
"It's a bit late for them to think of that now," she suggested.
"Then why do you think the English remain in northern Ireland?" I asked.
"Because they are ashamed to be seen to be pulling out when the northern Protestants say they want to be part of England," she said.
"Shouldn't the majority of the north, the Protestants, be allowed to determine their own political destiny, and remain with close ties to England?" I asked.
But it was a pointless conversation. With people far gone in revolutionary rhetoric, ordinary arguments avail nothing. From her point of view, it was as if her mother were being raped, while a fellow suggested a calm review of the situation, with due historical notes on the general good points of the rapist.
The songs, which had gone on for quite a while to the endless satisfaction of everybody in the bar, had much to say about how one's body was broken and wracked with pain and it was all for the great cause. The songs did not have literary merit, so far as I could see, and they sounded largely like spinoffs from "The Streets of Laredo," and they were not deficient in the sentimental glorification of righteous battles. They were good enough to bring the same tears that easy glosses of sorrow always bring. As in soap operas, or as in pictures of little girls with a wounded puppy in their arms. The substance of soap operas is indeed often horrible, and a wounded puppy is indeed a terrible thing, and yet one soon learns to distrust both the crap of television drama and the too-easy appeal to tears in pictures of children with dogs.
We dropped by the girl's flat. It had furniture and pictures that suggested great familiarity with the fashionable world, and it showed a strong settled taste for the highest excellence in design. Nothing was trite or conventional, really, but everything was an expression of careful and informed judgment. I hate to say it of her, but her apartment fairly shouted that this was the lodging of a sophisticated and even polished young woman.
She spoke of China, admiringly, I thought. She spoke well of the Left.
"Communism has one drawback, don't you think," I said, "in that if they decide you yourself are of the wrong class or have the wrong tastes and attitudes, you're pretty much out.
"You don't think much of liberal or bourgeois values," I went on, "and I'm not arguing with you. Merely pointing out that you don't get purged if you don't hold them."
The girl bothered me. Not merely because she was beautiful and a bit perverse (a combination men often find disturbing) and not merely because I could see a certain fondness that she had for violent things -- as the enchanting child in that Salinger story was sure that squalor must be marvelous -- but also because I felt she was not merely going through a little phase of delight in radical chic. On the contrary, I suspected she was a revolutionary at a deeper level than drawing-room chatter.
She could see clearly the injustices to the Catholics of northern Ireland. She did not seem to me to see at all the other side of the coin. It did not seem to me that reason or balance or a search for prudent or compassionate solutions to a knotty political and social problem had anything to do with it, nothing to do with her outlook or her feelings.
We said good night and her friend drove me home.
"The American Revolution must have been a little like this," I said, "with a lot of utter bull---- bandied about, and a lot of heated rhetoric generated for specific political purposes with little regard to the truth. Are all revolutions like that? Ninety percent pure hokum with 10 percent honest core, and the core somehow carrying the day in spite of all the rest?"
"I don't know," he said. "I think so."