There’s something nice about walking along a deserted beach, one that you’re sharing with just a few dogs and their owners. Should I mention that the dogs looked rather joyous when their miserable-looking owners called for them to go home on a windy bone-chilling rainy day? The day’s weather seemed to be enforcing social distancing, even before we knew it would be a good thing. But if the weather was nicer I might have been sharing my solitude with lots of other people. Sort of defeats the purpose of solitude, doesn’t it?

So I left the beach and walked a few yards to Skerries Bookshop, where I stood dripping outside his door for a few moments. I felt it would be less damaging to his books then shaking myself off like one of the dogs.

I was new in town, looking for a good book and recommendation for a good lunch.

Paddy MacNeill helped with both. As part of a wide-ranging conversation he recommended more books than I could read and more food than I could eat. While we were interrupted by a few locals picking up their special orders [Paddy pulled their books from a nearby shelf while they were still outside playing with umbrellas], my accent and his name brought us to the topic of blow-ins because the morning’s paper had another story about the border with Northern Ireland – one of those space-filler columns written by a writer on deadline with an 800-word hole to fill and nothing new to say.

Paddy pointed out that his name was MacNeill, with Scottish roots, rather than O’Neill, of Irish origin. As our conversation wandered from digression to digression, we recalled 1798 and the United Irishmen. It was possibly the last time when Irish Catholics and Presbyterians fought on the same side of an issue. We then time travelled back to the 17th Century Ulster plantation to ask the question, “Are you still a blow-in if your family has been in town for 300+ years?” Without an answer, we shook our heads and I bought a book about the trial of a Belfast boy in New Zealand along with a book of poetry by a local author. Skerries Bookshop was full of words that day – on the shelves and from all of us talking with Paddy. June 8 is looking like the big day, when he’ll re-open and be able to once more extend his hospitality to everyone.

And after I left the store? I neglected my books over lunch while my left and right brains continued the conversation.

  • Does calling a town Derry or Londonderry have more to do with today’s politics than yesterday’s history?
  • Should we be asking indigenous populations if there’s a difference between European settlement and invasions?
  • Is there a difference between an immigrant, a settler or a conqueror?
  • Or is it as simple as opposing the next generation of newcomers to the place where you’ve only been for a few years? [And ignoring those who preceded you to the same place.]
  • Hazing new students and recruits by “veterans” who’ve only been there a year or two longer is still a common practice, if frowned upon.
  • I’m used to hearing local Cork accents spoken by people with Polish surnames – and Yank, Aussie and British accents coming from Irish-surnamed people.

If self-centered tribalism is human nature is it better to be inhumane? I recall African waterholes where nearly all of the critters got along – except for the lions. The elephants made a point of keeping them away from the others.

I still have more questions than answers. 

A story about what happened to a Belfast boy in New Zealand.

Some poetry to help with my mind exploration

This piece is just one of a number I’ve written about my long-term love affair with books. If you’d like to see more simply click on the “Books” category below. You can also subscribe, so that you’ll see these blogs as they’re written, as opposed to social media’s algorithms. As the saying goes, if you like my writing, tell your friends. If you don’t, tell your enemies.