Irish spunk vs. authority

When Irish-born Mary Doherty took her husband Jim on his first visit to Ireland, they drove the twenty minutes across the border into Derry/Londonderry.  This was in 1973, during the Troubles when the tensions between the people of the Republic of Ireland and the British government were at their peak.  The rogue IRA (Irish Republican Army) was doing its best to rid Ireland of the English, ultimately to have a Free State consisting of all 32 counties and not just the 26 agreed upon in 1921 after the War of Independence.  Vehicle and pedestrian checkpoints were manned by armed British soldiers as the possibility of IRA bombings and shootings was ever-present.

As they walked into the sidewalk checkpoint hut, a female British guard extended her arm to take Mary's handbag for inspection.  Mary declared she was a United States citizen and would not be cowed into complying with British demands.  No one was going to rifle through Mary's bag, no matter how strongly the matron insisted.  Notice would have been taken that Mary's slight brogue was not the Derry twang — she was from the Republic.  The push was on, and the argument continued round and round.  The male guards watched, shifting from foot to foot, and Jim already had it figured his wife would be hauled off.

You see, Mary was raised on a farm in Keelogs a mile up the road from Buncrana and remembered the bitterness that the war brought to County Donegal.  The bloody Black and Tans, the British irregulars, would raid the farms in the areas, searching the cottages for arms and grown sons.  Mary's brothers hid out in the damp bog fields while the soldiers tossed their Grannie's house.  One time, annoyed that no hidden arms were discovered, one Tan swept his arm across Grannie's cupboard, crunching on the shattered cups and plates on his way out the door.

Mom never did get her handbag searched, and Dad eventually stopped sweating.

Among the governmental policies to remind those Irish of who was in charge in the U.K.  counties of Northern Ireland, the insidious ploy of hiring Irish Catholic women while leaving Catholic Irish men without a source of employment was the meanest.  What it told the man was that he and his abilities were worthless, but the wife has something to contribute.  The family would live on what she earned while the man of the house could idle away his time.  Not only was this playing with Irish income, but it was playing with Irish heads.

When any government proposes to tell you what you are worth, you are in danger of believing it if you have no internal resources to fight back.  Efforts to belittle you because of who you are or what you think will succeed as long as you allow it.

When any government proceeds to make you dependent on their largesse, you will lose your self-esteem and worthiness.  Efforts to make you feel comfortable by paying you to remain idle at home are a dangerous step.  Those Irish men had no choice because no jobs were open to them. 

Americans have a choice.  Sitting on your duff while collecting a check may make you feel smug inside when it should make you squirm.  When the payments stop, you may have lost the ability to secure employment at a level with which you are comfortable.  And a bit of your self-worth just slipped a rung.

Irish men went "on the dole" by collecting government handouts.  While the wife worked, the husband waited.  Many a time a pint in the pub brought scant solace.

Americans are "on the dole" when the government relieves them of paying rent, pays them to stay home, and pays their college debt.  They won't have to worry about others belittling them because the degrading process has already begun — and it will have been self-inflicted.

Now that I think of it, it's hard to imagine anyone demanding Mary Doherty loop that mask behind her ears.

Molly Maffei Baldwin is a retired New Jersey elementary teacher.  She now lives comfortably in small-town Texas.  She may be contacted by email at

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