Londonderry Air

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Derry-Girls-Ep-2-2054-1068x623In honor of the wearin’ o’ the green and all things Irish today, St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to recommend a hilarious Netflix comedy called Derry Girls. The comedy series was not on my radar until my very Irish friend Maura recommended it on Facebook. In no time at all, I had binge-watched my way through the trials and tribulations of four teenage girls and one male English cousin living in Derry, Northern Ireland, in the 1990s.

The featured teens in Derry Girls have a delightful mixture of innocence and bravado as they navigate the social scene in their Irish Catholic enclave. They don’t realize how economically disadvantaged they are until they try to sign up for a school trip to France and find out that none of them has a trust fund, and in fact they are all quite poor.

But their economic and social limitations do nothing to cramp their irrepressible style, and each episode features new shenanigans and repercussions from their parents and their school. The girls (and cousin) attend an all girls Catholic high school presided over by a scene-stealing nun, whose dry wit and jaded attitude make her the perfect foil for both troublemaker and goody two shoes alike.  When the girls fall for a dreamy young priest, Sister’s facial expressions alone are priceless.

It seems unlikely to find humor in a show about a divided country that pitted Protestants against Catholics and in which car bombings and assassinations were commonplace. Indeed, toward the end of Season 1, things take a darker turn and only deepen the viewer’s appreciation for the life-affirming and youthful spirit of these young people.

So grab a pint of Guinness, put your feet up, and enjoy an episode or three of the fabulous Derry Girls. Your Irish eyes won’t be the only things smiling!

 

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When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

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Tomorrow is a favorite holiday for Irish-Americans and, well, just about everyone else: St. Patrick’s Day. In Chicago, the river will be dyed an unnatural shade of green, and a big parade will course down (ironically) Columbus Drive to the wild cheers of the Chi-town throngs. Hardier partiers will start their pub crawl at an ungodly hour, and green beer will flow.

Being Irish has always been an enjoyable part of my life. My Dad loved to sing old Irish songs, some of which are very plaintive and touching. So did my red-haired Uncle Jim, who favored the  funnier ones, such as “Who put the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?” I myself loved to listen to and create funny limericks, thought to be named for an old Irish song, “Will You Come Up to Limerick?” (Of course, I was never privy to the bawdier versions of these poems.) And Irish tales of leprechauns and banshees and other magical lore from the Emerald Isle were endlessly fascinating to me.

On St. Patrick’s Day, our Catholic school took a holiday, and we would wear our kelly green sweaters. My mom would make corned beef and cabbage, the traditional Irish-American fare, for dinner. If St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday, the Catholic Church would even give us a dispensation from going meatless on Lenten Fridays. One year my parents even braved the crowds downtown and took us to see the parade.

As I got older, I delved into the history of Ireland and learned that being Irish certainly did not come with a pot of gold. The story of my ancestors was one of privation and persecution. A particular story I read in English class, “The Sniper,” made a big impression on me. It’s a story about the sectarian war in Northern Ireland, and the reveal at the end of the story is that the sniper ends up being killed by his own brother. It  is a metaphor for the tragedy of civil war and the age-old enmity between brethren.

I also learned to appreciate both the beauties and the struggles of being Irish from reading Frank McCourt’s trilogy of memoirs, beginning with his Pulitzer-prize winning book Angela’s Ashes. His memoirs are filled with laughter amidst the sadness, which is a very Irish way of looking at the world.

I think that’s what I love about being Irish most of all. It’s an irrepressible zest for life coexisting with a maudlin sense of doom. The Irish are drinkers, dreamers, story-tellers, and poets, singers and dancers and revelers. That’s the side of being Irish we celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day.

And it’s in that spirit that I say, Erin Go Bragh! Ireland Forever!

Am I Depressed Or Just Irish?

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Since I was old enough to understand the possible reasons behind family members’ strange behavior, I have realized that I may possess the genes for some type of mental illness, be it depression, bipolar disorder, or addiction. This has caused me a lot of worry over the years.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have bipolar disorder. In fact, I could use some of the energy from a manic phase or two. But depression is another story. I have lived my life with a sort of low level sadness. Whether this is due to the fact that my mother died when I was 13 months old or the biochemistry in my brain, I don’t know. But a friend once told me, “You’re not a very happy person, Mary.” I had to admit it was true.

I also come from a long line of pessimists. We are “glass half empty” sorts who expect the other shoe to drop at any time. (We are also corny and full of cliches, apparently.) This may derive from our Irish potato farmer ancestry. (Actually, I have no idea what my Irish ancestors did for a living – possibly tatted lace.) I realize this is a broad stereotype. Once my husband mentioned to a colleague that I was Irish and German. His response was, “Oh, a depressed perfectionist, eh?”

Yet I think there is a little grain of truth to stereotypes. Along with my gloomy outlook, I also love to laugh, love stories, and enjoy sentimental songs such as “Danny Boy” that make me weep into my beer. (I don’t actually drink beer, but wine didn’t sound right.)

The other reason I wonder whether I truly suffer from depression is that I have never had any devastatingly low points during which I couldn’t get out of bed or lost my will to live. Someone once described herself as a functioning depressed person, and if there is such a thing, that diagnosis fits me pretty well.

My husband likes to tease me about my morose temperament, but there have been times when my tendency toward gloom and self-pity has exasperated him. I also have to struggle not to lay my downbeat attitude on my children.

There are some benefits to my somewhat negative personality, however. When the inevitable bumps pop up in the road of our lives, I am prepared for the worst. And when things go well, I am happily surprised.

Being a functioning depressed person is not the worst thing in the world. How’s that for “glass half full” thinking?