In a Word . . . Devastated

We ‘indomitable Irishry’ seem ‘devastated’ all the time

 

How remiss of me. And I thank esteemed colleague Frank McNally (I bow three times facing Monaghan!) for reminding me in an Irishman’s Diary last month about German Nobel prize winning writer Heinrich Böll.

Sixty years ago, in 1957, his book An Irish Journal was published and helped shape Germany’s uber-tinted views of Ireland thereafter.

I know. I was a beneficiary.

In student days, a friend and myself hitched the almost 400 miles from Frankfurt to Munich all along the autobahns in search of summer work. You do not hitch on the autobahns in Germany. It is very, very verboten. But we had no money and it was never our custom then to allow the law get between us and necessity.

Nor did it stop those law-abiding Germans from giving us lifts, even if they thought we were English. What was soon remarkable was how each driver’s demeanour changed so dramatically towards us when they discovered we were Irish – something we hastily told them when they asked where in England we were from.

They could not be more friendly. This happened so frequently it made an impression. A Scottish guy in Stuttgart said “Och aye, ye’ll be fine. Thay luv tha Ayerish heeerrre.” And he told us about An Irish Journal.

I never knew. Or that Böll had a house in Achill.

Attitude

I spent years looking for the book which had not then been published in the UK and found it eventually at Compendium Books in London’s Camden. An American publication.

Even then the Ireland Böll portrayed had faded. But it was not gone. There were still the remains of that casual attitude to time and suffering.

“When something happens to you in Germany, when you miss a train, break a leg, go bankrupt, we say: It couldn’t have been any worse; whatever happens is always the worst. With the Irish it is almost the opposite: if you break a leg, miss a train, go bankrupt, they say: It could be worse; instead of a leg you could have broken your neck, instead of a train you could have missed Heaven ..,” he wrote in the Journal.

Now we ‘indomitable Irishry’ seem “devastated” all the time. At missing out on the Lotto jackpot, the rain, or seeing the Dubs win again! It could be worse!

Devastated from Latin devastare “to lay waste completely,” from de- “completely” + vastare “lay waste”.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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