Paul Greenberg

"Ye have heard heard of Saint Patrick's Day, haven't ye?" said Hennessey, "or did word of 'im nivir reach County Mayo?"

"I wouldn't be puttin' on airs if I was from Donegal, " said Mr. Riley, eyeing the shillelagh on the wall and wondering if it might could do with a little practice. "Iv course I know who Saint Patrick is -- the Frenchman who came to Ireland and left her so poor not even a snake could live there."

"Joke about annythin' you like," said Hennessey, looking unamused. "But not about Saint Paddy! Or else...."

"Or else what? Ye'll take yer bad debts elsewhere? I've been sarvin' free dhrinks to th' likes of ye fir nigh onto twanty years now, and I've nawthin' to show fir it but the bad company. The closest I've ivir come to seein' any green is on the free lunch."

"Well," said Hennessey, "thank th' Lord fir the color of it annyway, as Mrs. Muldoon said when she heard her sister-in-law had the gangrene."

"The problem with Saint Paddy's Day," said Mr. Riley, "is payple like you, Hinnissy, who feel a solemn oblygation t'be happy once a year. But ye can't ordher somewan t'be happy, Hinnissy. Happiness isn't a command but a condytion. It usually arrives whin ye're caught up in sawmthin' else, like a game of poker or good old-fashioned, leave-your-weapons-at-th'-door Irish free-for-all and general brawl. Happiness is a side dish, Hinnissy, th' cabbage and not th' corned beef.

"I can't raymember," Mr. Riley continued, "whither 'twas George Bernard Shaw or Kelly th' streetcar conductor who said it: Th' Irish have an abidin' sense of tragedy which sustains us through transient periods of joy. 'Tis a great cawmfort, th' Irish sense iv tragedy. It takes your mind off yer troubles. You should cultivate it, Hinnissy, 'tis an art. Happiness is only a craft, like makin' sweaters or writin' fir the noospapers. Takes no real talent a-tall."

"All right," said Hennessey. "Be sad then. Show the worrld what ye think of yer hurtage. Be as gloomy as a Protystant Sunday. Save yer sillybratin' fir th' Queen's Birthday fir all I care."

"Wait a blessed minute," said Mr. Riley, pouring two shots of the house's best. "Don't be tellin' an Irishman whin t'be happy or sad. Not on his own premises. Not on th' day when th' whole wurrld is Irish -- or wisht it was. Alcohol is necessary for a man so that he can have a good opinion of himself undistarbed be the facts. Today ye'll have to dhrink op free of charge. Erin go Bragh!"

"And E Plurribus Unum to you," toasted Hennessey in return. "Which I think means: From many to Irish!"


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.