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Sidewalks with Tom Deignan
Go Ahead! Drown Your Sorrows!
October 1, 2008
Sidewalks by Tom Deignan
THE Emerald Inn is a cozy Irish pub with a white stone front on 69th Street and Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. It has been there since the 1940s, though it apparently will not make it to the 2010s.
The Emerald Inn’s landlord is nearly doubling the pub’s rent to $350,000 a year, according to the New York Post. So yet another piece of old Manhattan will go away, surely to be replaced by something shiny, healthy and high-end.
Or maybe not. I don’t know much about being a landlord, but this does not seem like the greatest time to toss out a reliable tenant.
In fact, there is an old adage about certain businesses surviving even the worst economic times. The mafia used to brag that it could survive any downturn.
You might say a bad economic turn -– like the one we are living through right now — is the best time to stick with a comforting Irish pub.
The words “Great” and “Depression” have been thrown around with disturbing frequency these days.
While campaigning in Ohio on Monday, Senator John McCain said, “A vote for Barack Obama will leave this country at risk during one of the most severe challenges to America’s economy since the Great Depression.”
McCain should know. He was born during the Depression, and his mother -– who is still alive and kicking in her mid-nineties -– had to endure the whole bleak ordeal.
Of course, when McCain is not making references to the Great Depression these days he is telling drunken Irish jokes. While speaking to an Irish American crowd in Scran-ton, Pennsylvania, last week, McCain dusted off a joke about drunken Irish twins which was surely got big laughs back in the days of vaudeville.
But a bad joke is a bad joke, hardly a crime against Hibernian humanity. Yet here came the Ancient Order of Hibernians, as if on cue, objecting loudly in a statement which, in part, read, “It was really an insult to a whole nationality to be stereotyped as drunks. The Irish are a jovial people who enjoy life, work hard, help the needy, support our community and our country yet get depicted as drunkards and partiers. As you stated in your speech yesterday the Irish have a great education and work ethic.”
As the risk of offending the AOH, I have only one thing to say if we are indeed sinking into some sort of new Great Depression — drink up, you jovial sons and daughters of Ireland!
No, not because we are chronic “drunkards and partiers,” but simply because we can. After all, when the Great Depression first struck in the late 1920s and early 1930s, America was still a dry, alcohol-free nation stuck in the throes of that noble experiment, prohibition.
Later this year, we will commemorate the 75th anniversary of prohibition’s end. It is as good a time as any to look back on how such ill-advised ideas become the law of the land. After all, America is debating some very serious issues related to our economy and our immigrants right now.
You might think the old stereotypes about Irish drunks played a big role in the passage of the prohibition amendment in 1920, and to a degree it did. But it was more than that.
The Irish were a large part of an even larger problem, in the eyes of those who wanted to ban booze. It was believed by right-minded prohibitionists that big cities were incurably decadent.
Yes, they drank too much in Boston, New York, Philly and Chicago, but they also spoke many different languages, belonged to exotic and dangerous religions (Catholicism and Judaism) and ventured into radical politics. The sheer volume of people crowded into the cities seemed offensive to large segments of middle America.
Prohibition was seen as a way to tame the wild big city Irish and the other ethnic groups living next to them.
All of this made the Ku Klux Klan a political powerhouse during the era of prohibition, and led to Irish Catholic New Yorker Al Smith facing burning crosses when he ran for president in 1928.
And the poor guy couldn’t have a legal pint when the day was done.
We may, once again, be spiraling into the abyss. But at least we can have a shot and a beer on the way.
Just don’t tell any jokes about Irish twins.
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