Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Saint Patrick's Day

A Saint Patrick's Day Post: What Three Millennial YouTubers May Tell Us About Their Ireland, Compared to Ancient Memories of Mine (Warning: Long)

I say "may" because I may be wrong. The perceptions of a septuagenarian Irish-American regarding societal change in Ireland -- based on recollections of a six-week sojourn there in the Summer of 1968 -- may not be the best basis for social or psychological assessments of the work of these three "lads" and what they have to say about the Ireland of today. But of course, I'll press on regardless! Judge for yourself how "off" I am.  If you want to skip all the stuff about me, go straight to the subheading "Sgt. Ducky!"


Let me speak about my starting point in 1968. I was living in Rome with my Air Force pilot family while slowly recovering from what we thought had been a near-fatal case of Hepatitis B the previous year.  My parents decided to reward me for surviving by sending me for six weeks to Ireland, where they had recently visited.  I was to spend time with my grandfather, Richard "Dick" Sweeney, my mom's dad, and also a great-uncle on my mother's side, James "Uncle Jim" Hynes. I had met both before in America.  

My grandfather emigrated to the USA in the 1920s, making the transition from an Irish rail worker to a New York City bus driver and strong "union man."  Family legend has it that as a teen he was a runner for the IRA.  I do know that he took some enjoyment at the Republican bombing on October 6, 1966, of a Doric Column in O'Connell Street in Dublin, on top of which stood a statue of Lord Nelson.  In 1967 he was a widower, spending his time between a New York apartment in the States and Claremorris, County Mayo, where he had grown up and still had relatives.  His presence in Ireland that summer was one of the reasons for my visit.

The other was Uncle Jim, a retired Radio Officer in the British Merchant Marine and veteran of the Battle of the Atlantic, who I had met in New York in the 1950s when he was serving on the SS Ocean Monarch of the Furness Bermuda Line.  He had retired with his wife to the tiny village of Ballyporeen, County Tipperary, subsequently in the news when Ronald Reagan visited the place as his "ancestral home" in 1984. He ran a one-room pub there, on the village's main and one real street -- as recently as 2016 the village tallied the population "at 318 with an additional 603 in its rural hinterland."  Little did I realize what lay in store for me there.  

I arrived in Dublin on a flight from Rome via London and spent a few days there with my grandfather.  We saw where Nelson was blown off his pedestal, 

National Library of Ireland

the National Museum of Ireland, Trinity College, Phoenix Park, the interiors of a number of modest city restaurants, and an equally modest hotel.  My pocket was picked by some street urchins, putting a huge dent in my already modest finances.  I visited no pubs.  

Dublin struck me as a small capital city, lost in a time warp somewhere between the 1920s and the late 1940s. Economic activity seemed minimal.  I saw plenty of people sitting around on park benches with nothing to do.  Grandpa and I agreed to meet again in Galway later in my trip because he insisted there was "nothing to see" in his native Claremorris.  I had the feeling he desperately wanted to "head me off at the pass" because he was embarrassed by the place.

I next took the train and other transportation to Ballyporeen.  It was a shock.  There was literally a single main thoroughfare, and no other roads to speak of.  Worse still, the affable man I remembered as a child in New York City displayed fits of anger in retirement.  He may have suffered PTSD from his wartime experiences or some inner fury that his modest retirement here was all that was left to him.  I cannot know, but it put me ill at ease.
The best times were spent seeing the local countryside.  Uncle Jim drove me to the Rock of Cashel, round the Ring of Kerry, and to some remarkable vistas in the local Galtee Mountains. We also visited one of his local farmer friends, who was with a farmhand about my age.  Uncle Jim interrogated the youth somewhat rudely, and I was stunned that I could barely understand a word the young man said!  It was also disturbing that he avoided all eye contact, preferring to stare at the ground. Self-effacement to a fault.  

I saw the same thing evenings in the bar, where Uncle Jim tended to a small gathering of local farmers who spoke barely a word and avoided all eye contact with me.  I thought of myself as an unwelcome presence, so I spent some evenings reading upstairs or watching sports on television in the living room.  But the best sport of all on Irish TV that summer was observing embarrassed, tongue-tied senior members of the Irish clergy dying while trying to explain what Pope Paul VI meant in his anti-abortion Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which was issued on July 25, 1968.

The thing about sex in Ireland in the Sixties was this.  It was never discussed publicly because clearly, the very idea of it was shameful.  To my eye, the segregation of the sexes was a thing the Church sought to enforce rigidly, through boys and girls parochial schools, and educational and religious indoctrination.  And, when my parents made their earlier trip to Ireland to visit Uncle Jim, they couldn't believe their eyes on entering the local Church for Sunday Mass as they saw that the men were all seated on the right side of the aisle, and those sinister women -- agents of such temptation and sin in the world going back to Eve and the Apple -- were seated to the left. (More on this a bit later).

I finally thought it best to give Uncle Jim and his long-suffering wife, Nora, a rest and take my leave.  I didn't want to overstay my welcome, and the time I was to meet Grandpa in Galway was drawing near.  But rather than go there directly, I headed by train for Cork, offering my thanks for their hospitality and goodbyes (never to see them again).  Cork is a famous port on the Southern coast of Ireland, and it was the place where my late grandmother, Helen Hynes, grew up.  That meant it was on my must-see list, and surely there would be more to do there than in Ballyporeen!

But, sadly no.  You see I was traveling on a Sunday, and when I arrived in the early afternoon, there wasn't a single open establishment in the downtown area.  Virtually everything, aside from the bed and breakfast where I stayed, was closed up because on the Seventh Day the Lord rested.  I did find an open Chinese restaurant for supper, but that was it.  And aside from the occasional bench sitters staring off into space there was hardly a person to be seen anywhere.  But the sun was out and as I strolled through the port area, viewing the occasional, seemingly derelict barge, I wondered what the City was like when my grandmother grew up there.  (As to what I saw, think of the downtrodden, shopworn images of Newcastle on Tyne in the original version of Get Carter (1971) with Michael Caine!)

I must confess here that the City fit my mood.  My last year in Rome had been hell coping with hepatitis and internal family turmoil sparked by a phenomenal case of PTSD that my father brought back from his year in Vietnam.  The slightly pessimistic mentality that I carried through childhood had metastasized into a massive case of chronic depression under the pressure of those events.  It would be a cliche to say that it dogged my every step in Ireland with complete ferocity and that it has affected me to a greater or lesser extent every year since, but that is the truth of it.  That truth may also cast some light on my version of events during the last leg of my trip.

Of all the places I visited in Ireland, I liked Galway the best.  Freed of the pressure to see the sights in Dublin, Grandpa and I simply hung out during the day, and the City's location on the West Coast fronting on Galway Bay offered a wonderful view of the Atlantic and the setting sun.  Grandpa was an enormously withdrawn and taciturn man who kept his own counsel, but we liked one another and I was able, finally, to draw him out, learning many of the things about his past I've written about here.  However, I save the best for last.

We had had lunch and were sitting on a bench on the seaside promenade, with the sun high in the sky, when Grandpa turned to me and said in an Irish accent I can't phonetically spell:
"Ya know Brian, there's somethin' that I've always wondered about, and I'm wonderin' if ya can tell me th' answer."

"Sure Grandpa, what is it?"

"Well, I've always wondered whether tis the Earth that goes around the Sun, or the Sun that goes around the Earth.  Do ya know?"
I almost swallowed my tongue and gasped at the implications of the question.  I knew the Irish education system was tied closely to the Catholic Church, but heavens were they still unwilling to admit that Copernicus was right and Ptolemy was wrong?!  The question staggered me like a blow to the solar plexus, and I gasped for a few moments how to phrase my answer.  

I settled on, "Well Grandpa, it's been established for some time now that the Earth goes around the Sun. You can rely on that, so I wouldn't trouble myself about it anymore."  Whereupon he thanked me.  That exchange came back years later when I spent time at his deathbed in a hospital on Long Island, saying my goodbye.

I have two more incidents to recount in Galway, to set the stage for what is supposed to be the main point of this post, those three millennial Irish YouTubers.

The first occurred on that same strand from sunset into the evening.  Grandpa wanted to stay in our room, so I was alone, in one of my solitary dark moods wondering where the hell I was going with my life.  In time I detected the presence of someone behind me.  I was a bit concerned and annoyed and wished him away, but there he remained, an occasional noise signaling his continued presence.

Finally, I turned around and asked him if he had anything that he wanted to say to me.  (Could I not suffer in silence?)  He was twice my age easy, in his late thirties, I supposed, and modestly dressed, a step above working-class clothes. (It was Saturday evening after all).  His response explained a lot. "Are you an American?"

There followed a conversation that I might liken to the first talk between Ishmael and Queequeg in Moby Dick, without LGBT innuendo, two very different people discussing anything and everything, secure in the knowledge it wouldn't go beyond the two of them.  He was an agricultural worker, an older version of the farmhand I had seen in Ballyporeen, and single because he still couldn't afford to marry, which was quite the thing in the Ireland of those days.  He was very taken with the life and death of JFK, whom he looked upon as a great Irish hero who "really showed them."  (How Irish that the man should be murdered and martyred).

Ultimately, the conversation turned to relationships and women, and I found it painful to hear this near-forty-year-old confess that he was still celibate, wondering, adolescent-like, what such a relationship was like.  I couldn't enlighten him, as I was uninitiated myself, but at least half my life wasn't over.  I think we both profited from our talk when we went our separate ways, and I can only add that I have never forgotten our discussion.

On my final evening in Galway, I finally decided to socialize and entered a dancehall there.  On one side of the hall were "the bhoys," shall we say, and on the other the "goils," but never the twain did meet.  Instead, when the music started they all stood transfixed, staring at the other side of the Hall as if the gap between them were as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon.  I then watched amazed as a few couples started to dance, but it was the girls dancing with the girls and some of the boys dancing with the boys as well.  I swear this is the truth.

On my flight back to Rome I thought a lot about my visit to Ireland.  The overwhelming impression I had was of a small Country that had shot its bolt achieving independence from Great Britain, only to fall prey to a weak, agricultural economy that provided very little economic opportunity for its people.  Socially, I saw a Nation absolutely repressed by the crushing influence of what the locals called "RELIGION," a subject none of them wanted to get into when I asked about it.

If you've stayed with me this far, thank you.  It's the best introduction I can fashion to what follows.


I am an inveterate YouTube surfer, especially during the pandemic. You can meet the most interesting people there, posting on all the things that interest mankind, and pick and choose to your delight. I like the channels of young people, and how they see the worlds they live in. 

I'm not sure who pointed me to Sgt. Ducky ("Ducky" for short) but I was intrigued by the idea of an Irishman with a raw sense of humor.  However, nothing prepared me for what I saw when I clicked on the link to his channel.  Think of it as Beavis & Butt-Head merged into a Celtic Donald Duck.  Rage is the operating motif, as in the 1945 Disney classic cartoon, Cured Duck -- and yes, you can also find that cartoon on YouTube.  

Sgt. Ducky is seemingly angry about everything in his life, beginning as his Channel did with a series of posts about the soul-killing business of being a clerk in Irish Retail Hell.  There's a Playlist called "Retail Work Rants" where, after ten years working in the trade, he vents his spleen on the whole business. There's another called "Ducky's Stupid Customers Series" in which he eviscerates patrons whose behavior still sticks in his craw.  

But there's more, much much more.  Directly relevant to my subject is his growing Playlist called "The (Kinda) Accurate Guide to IRELAND" where he discusses subjects like Irish mothers, the Garda (Police), alcoholism, public transportation, sports, Irish farmers, and Northern Ireland.

Finally, there are innumerable stories devoted to "the Lads" and their encounters with the fair sex, just themselves getting into trouble, and a personal series of videos called "Living with a Woman," in which he takes a quite unvarnished look at his relationship with his significant other -- don't worry, she's aware of them, and even participates in one labeled as a podcast.  Gone forever are the days when the Irish wouldn't dream about discussing sex in a public forum, with ickiness and eww's included!  And some of it's pretty rough and off-color, I must say.

Of the three Irish YouTubers profiled here, Ducky is by far the most successful, with 144K subscribers, so many that he was actually able to escape from Irish Retail Hell and is earning a reasonably comfortable living as a full-time YouTube content creator.  But, you'd be wrong to write Sgt. Ducky off as an egotistical Thirty-Something who's "made good" through creative crudity.  

It's all an act, in a sense.  Ducky's growing list of podcasts, including one with P.J. of "Just the Tipp" and another with Magic Dara, disclose that these three are long-term friends from County Tipperary.  And beneath Ducky's Celtic braggadocio lie many the fears, existential concerns, and angst that I detected in Ireland decades ago and have experienced in my own life.

As I mentioned in my story, my Grand Uncle Jim was an angry man.  I speak from personal experience in saying that a psyche frequently on the verge of bursting into flames is symptomatic of a depressed personality.  All three of these YouTubers speak frankly of their own struggles with this malady, and some of the root causes of it.  It is remarkable how corrosive to the soul their commentary shows that depression can be. I can relate.

From the podcasts, I see a number of causes (though I hasten to add I'm no professional here!)  Their uniform rejection of Catholicism as a "code" to live by deprives them of the certainty of an existence after death and a dread of it is evident in their words--of loved ones, themselves, and even pets.  Ducky has a post on his Channel called, "Why I Hate Dogs," but it's actually a paean to the pleasures of pet companionship and care.  What he hates is not his dogs, but the fact that they are certain to die before he does, leaving him with the acute pain of loss.  His insistence in being with one of his dogs when it died, to provide the animal with companionship at its end, is a testament not just to his love of animals, but also to his basic humanity.  

Without a doubt, another root cause is the uncertain economy that exists in present-day Ireland.  The Country enjoyed real prosperity as a tech center in the Eighties and Nineties, earning the sobriquet of "Celtic Tiger," but the Great Recession of 2008 ended that definitively.  Ducky feels lucky that he's no longer trapped in a soul-killing retail job where the minimum wage is quickly outweighed by increasing, uncompensated responsibilities that make the work not just boring but ultimately unbearable.  But he's also aware that being a YouTube creator is a fickle existence.  You can be at the top of your game one day, but lose everything tomorrow.  Life is uncertain, and when there have been some evenings when you've actually gone to bed hungry, well, what more need be said?

So check out Ducky's Channel, and especially his podcasts if you want a real look at Ireland today and what it's like to live there.


I only learned about P.J.'s Channel, Just the Tipp, from a post of Ducky's in which he mentioned that he played a part in a friend's post.  I checked it out and discovered a Channel that described itself as "Animated shorts inspired by the locals of my home town in county Tipperary Ireland. Only names events and places have been changed. Ignorance is bliss."

The Channel contains a mere 12 posts and 4.72K subscribers, but the content is comedy gold.  The animation in which Ducky plays a part, 
5G Corolla Virus Conspiracy is instantly relatable, and hysterical, with characters who provide the illusion of real "locals," right down to a riff between two of them that reminds me of the unintelligible Irish accent from the adolescent farmhand I had met near Ballyporeen decades earlier.

I was caught, hook, line, and sinker from that point on, and devoured the entire contents of the Channel at one sitting, though still left hungry for more at the end.  Careful examination through multiple viewings discloses not simply "animated shorts" but an evolving storyline and character development that has made me want to see more of these characters from three generations.

Much of the action takes place in "Ryan's Bar and Lounge and Bar," where Pat, the grey-bearded old proprietor, plays the role of peacemaker between two squabbling regulars:  Frank, a middle-aged man whose unkempt hair and thinness suggest a person of limited means, and Seamus, an overweight farmer in his sixties.  Frank constantly mocks Seamus about his weight, and Seamus retaliates by mocking Frank for his poverty, as the episode's plot develops around another theme.  The oldest member, in his seventies at least, is Mushy.  Like my grandfather, details of his militant career are sparse, but it's clear he played a role in "The Troubles." Despite his age, he maintains an arsenal of machine guns, a Barrett sniper rifle, a portable rocket launcher, and a car trunkful of plastic explosives "just in case." As the plot of each short thickens, occasionally some of these items get used.

The younger generation is represented by four "lads" in the main: Frank's nephew, Declan, plus Billie, Joey, and Pockets.  Collectively they can be considered "Boy Racers," a species of Irish youth who are obsessed with street racing in souped-up Japanese import cars.  They use the phrase "If it's not Jap, it's scrap!" And in fact, many of their mounts end up as such, and the vehicles do no small amount of damage to manicured playing fields and roads.  It should go without saying that no one I encountered in Ireland was remotely like this lot.

Enjoy the fruits of P.J.'s labors, but be careful, because there is almost always a razor in the apple at the end.  The shorts often turn dark in a surprising way, as the themes focus on unemployment, depression, anomie, poverty, and the eternal, existential question, "Why are we here?"  These pieces aren't just comedy: they are the work of a thoughtful but unrecognized Irish artist.  I'd like to help change that.

I see some continuity between these shorts and some classics of Irish literature, such as The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story about the Hard Life, by Flann O'Brien (1941) and Frank McCourt's memoir, Angela's Ashes (1999).  I simply can't recommend the Channel too highly.


Last but not least I'd like to make some mention of Magic Dara, the third member of this trio of friends, whose Channel with 1.22K subscribers is here.  "Welcome to Magic Dara's channel, where you'll learn the tricks of the trade and discover some of magic's most closely guarded secrets." 

His Channel with over 56 posts is little known, perhaps, I suppose, because people cherish their illusions.  He's been a semi-pro magician for years and knows the trade very well indeed.  His mission to reveal its secrets finds a parallel in his strict atheism and rationality, for he is a robust defender of disbelief and the acceptance of life with all its vicissitudes.  He's a teacher by profession, and part of the Irish Diaspora, for he lives in the UK.  A man of principle (I know the pitfalls of that) he could not find a teaching job in Ireland because the education system remains Catholic-based and the authorities could not handle the idea that an atheist could teach comparative religion (and English).

Dara is the only one of the trio to appear in the flesh in some of his posts, and he is instantly likable, unfailingly polite, and respectful of all.  He loves the dialogues in his comment sections and has recently uploaded a series of podcasts on weighty subjects, viz., "Does The Soul Exist? - A Magician's Thoughts."

I recommend you dive into the dialogue.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.  I wasn't.


So here you have it, my homage to my Irish heritage -- forgive the length, please, or just skip over it to the YouTubers, as this old man had something to get off his chest in the writing of it.  I do hope you visit all three channels of these three creative Irishmen.  I feel a real kinship with them and want to see them all succeed.

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