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EXILE, ATTITUDE, AND THE SIN-É CAFÉ: NOTES ON THE “NEW IRISH” EAMONN WALL in his foreword to his 1993 anthology Ireland in Exile: Irish Writers Abroad, which features the work of writers in their twenties and thirties, Dermot Bolger notes that the terms “exile and departure suggest an out-dated degree of permanency” and that “Irish writers no longer go into exile, they simply commute.” Furthermore, Bolger states that a problem he encountered while editing Ireland in Exile “was remembering who was now back [in Ireland] and who was away.”1 Clearly, the Irish diaspora isn’t what it used to be. I belong to that generation of Irish people, born in the 1950s and 1960s, who got Irish emigration rolling again. We left Ireland en masse—our exact numbers are in dispute—and, as Dermot Bolger’s anthology indicates, we can be located in every pocket of the earth. In the United States, we are referred to as the “New Irish.” I commute between exile and Ireland, but it’s an expensive business. I often wish I were another person: if that were the case, I wouldn’t always have be saving up my money to go “home” and neglecting all the other fascinating parts of the world. Commuting makes assimilation impossible. Before coming to the United States, I worked as a teacher primarily: my purpose in coming here was to attend graduate school, and experience America Wrst-hand. This essay will provide notes on poetry, music, and the Sin-É Café in the East Village, which was the center of expatriate artistic activity when I lived in New York. But I’ll also look back to Ireland to see how those of my generation who have remained at home have reacted to the loss of their neighbors and friends, their brothers and sisters, and I’ll try to describe the “attitude” that renewed emigration has planted EXILE, ATTITUDE, AND THE SIN-É CAFÉ: NOTES ON THE “NEW IRISH” 7 1 Dermot Bolger, “Editor’s Note,” in Ireland in Exile: Irish Writers Abroad, ed. Dermot Bolger (Dublin: New Island Books, 1993), p. 7. in the hearts and minds of my generation. An “attitude” is that edge to a person which indicates an undeWned degree of dissatisfaction— if you know teenagers, you know what I mean. As for becoming an exile, well that’s just something I sort of fell into. I didn’t actually decide in some rational manner that I was going to stay in the United States, I just realized at some point that I was staying, since the work was here. Just like one of Diarmuid Mac Amhlaigh’s navvies, I am happy to follow the work, and am happy with my lot. But Wrst, let’s look for a minute at emigration itself and at the type of person who ended up drinking coVee or Rolling Rocks and eating pie, while listening to poets read or musicians play at the Sin-É Café on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village in the early 1990s. Perhaps he or she has emerged from the following mold. In his introduction to Ireland in Exile, the novelist Joseph O’Connor describes candidly and bitterly the appearance in University College, Dublin, of a photographer from the Industrial Development Authority who had been “commissioned to take pictures for an advertisement that would persuade rich foreign capitalists to open factories all over the Irish countryside.”2 The resulting photograph and its legend therepublic of ireland: we’re the young europeans is familiar to all of us who have entered Ireland in recent years. I see it in Dublin Airport at the end of the walkway when I emerge bleary-eyed from the plane. Why does O’Connor adopt such a bitter and ironic tone? It’s because most of these educated people whose faces appear in this photograph—all personally known to O’Connor—have emigrated from Ireland because they have, in common with many other university graduates, been unable to Wnd satisfactory work or opportunities. O’Connor believed that his future , and that of his contemporaries, was in Ireland, but this lie which had been planted in the optimistic Sixties and early...


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