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Remembering Larry O'Rourke...and why I stopped using "stage Irish". (standard:non fiction, 649 words)
Author: pjtAdded: Feb 14 2001Views/Reads: 2090/4Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
A cautionary tale about an encounter with an Irishman called Larry O'Rourke who gave me a short, effective lesson in culture and linguistics.

My father (first generation Australian from Irish parents) used to tell
me that there were only two nationalities in the world: The Irish and 
those who would like to be Irish. Now, I don't want to debate it; I 
just want to report it because I think that it is an appropriate 
introduction to the following cautionary anecdote. 

The story is set in the western Queensland mining town of Mount Isa
where, in the mid-fifties, I worked as an accountant for a large 
construction company. 

In those days Mount Isa bore a strong resemblance to the stereotypical
town of the Wild West. Its workers were mainly migrants (known in those 
days as New Australians) and came from almost every corner of Planet 

There were Greeks, Italians, Russians, Germans, Poles and, well, you
name it! 

One of these migrants was a charming Irishman, about forty years old.
His job was Warehouse Manager and, although we became friends, he told 
me very little about himself. Yet, somehow this taciturn streak seemed 
to be quite compatible with his Irish gregariousness. His name was 
Larry O'Rourke 

Two things about him that fascinated me were his mellifluous Irish
brogue and the fact that he had once owned and run a delicatessen in 
Rome for eight years: one of the few facts I ever elicited from him 
about his personal life. That element of my fascination was enhanced 
when I spotted him one day chatting to a group of Italian workers. I 
stood entranced for a while, listening but comprehending only that he 
was talking with them in Italian with an Irish brogue. Well, that's how 
it sounded to me, anyway. 

Now, because my roots are firmly planted in a strong Irish background, I
suppose one could say that I came (and still come) into the second 
nationality of my father's tongue-in-cheek statement about there being 
only two nationalities in the world. 

I quite often demonstrated this by telling Irish jokes to my friends and
feeling quite proud of myself, not only because of the hearty laughter 
which my stories generated, but also because quite often, many of my 
listeners would compliment me on the authenticity of my Irish brogue. 

And so we come to the reason why I described this story as a cautionary

On the building site where Larry and I worked, starting time each
morning was eight thirty. We used to exchange morning greetings as we 
passed each other on the way to our respective offices. Now, because of 
the pride I felt at being able (according to my friends) to reproduce a 
true Irish brogue (and, by implication, valid Irish linguistic items) I 
was in the habit of greeting him with something like, "The top o' the 
mornin' to ye, Larry me boyo! And the rist o' the day to ye! And how're 
ye doin' at all at all?" 

Larry usually reacted to this flood of "authentic" Irish brogue with a
"good mornin' Patrick" in a soft voice accompanied by a slight smile 
which I interpreted as a sign of approval. 

One morning after we had exchanged greetings Larry indicated that he
would like to say something to me. So I stopped, thinking that he was 
about to compliment me on my ability to produce a credible Irish sound 
combined with an appropriate use of language. How wrong I was! 

He looked me straight in the eye and gave me the following advice:
"Patrick", he said, "they may use that kind of language in that kind of 
accent on the vaudeville stage, but I assure you that no one talks like 
that in Ireland!" Then, with a friendly smile, he turned and walked 
steadily off to work. 

I walked on to my office, a sadder but a wiser man. 

I never ever used "stage Irish" again! 

Moral of the story: “This above all, to thine own self be true....” 


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