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St Patrick's Day in America

• It is said that in America, there have been two kinds of Irish -- the "Lace Curtain," patronising a cultural event on the great day; and the "Shanty," in a bar, having a fight.

So there we were on a March 17 evening, my favourite Irishman client and I, enjoying dinner at the decorous Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Hall, Pittsburgh, awaiting the address of Irish historian, Professor John Murphy, whose apparent survival of a high school history production of less than damning reference to Oliver Cromwell was of great curiosity to us.

Having also read J A Froude's three-volume history of Ireland, whose heroes, alleged he, could neither emulate the Scots by taking the field on their own land and defeating the English, nor match the Welsh, by negotiating with impunity the peaceful preservation of language and culture, spending instead centuries of futility achieving neither the one nor the other; having studied the comparative histories, I could not but anticipate the professor's learned opinion of his illustrious predecessor in the field.

What initially presented themselves as casual introductory remarks on the concurrence of 1970s' issues among the nations, disappointingly expanded into consecutive dissertations on the economy, nuclear power and the environment.

Startled, we awoke to the strains of the good professor's redeeming, a cappella rendition of that great Irish standby, 'Carrickfergus', at once elevating himself to the status of a true Irish presence among us.

"You can imagine, Brian," said he, "the trouble I got into for daring, in a high school history book, to reconsider the benighted status of Oliver Cromwell.

"But I will say this: Froude seems to lack Lecky's quality of sympathy for the Irish."

So there we stood, conflicted by our academic antipathy toward Milton's "chiefest of men", the Cromwell of our history books, and the inspiring poetry out of his secretary's dissertations on 'Paradise Lost', 'His Blindness', the slaughtered saints of Savoy, 'Lycidas', sadly drowned ere his prime and the masked ball 'Comus' ("what hath night to do with sleep?").

And who would not grieve for Froude's romantic hero, Morty O'Sullivan, whose dashing 18th Century maritime exploits single-handedly brought down the mast of an English frigate out of Kinsale.

And what of his Cromwellian antagonist, Colonel Goring, the other "Chief of Dunboy" whose skilled, "West Country" wards exploited the tin mines of that same peninsula, but whose children were denied by an ever-oppressive Dublin Castle the right to educate their own children in the faith if their fathers.

No wonder the Irish, native and settler alike, contributed so much to the building up of "The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave".

Brian O'Leary Lexington, KY; and Baltimore, Co Cork

Irish Independent