The best song the Pogues have ever done, in my opinion. It’s a poignant look at the relations between Ireland and Irish America.
There is a strange hypocrisy in Irish culture: the country itself is consistently put on a pedestal as an abstract source of joy and wonder, despite consistently failing and disappointing its people.
With love comes guilt, with hatred comes longing, with beauty comes pain.This song beautifully sums up the dichotomies many Irish descendants still feel today about their culture and their history.
There is a longing in many of us to revisit the ancestral home. We have a tendency to glorify the Irish legacy - there are countless accomplished Americans with names like Cohan, Armstrong, and Kennedy. We latch on to Irish culture as the Irish will happily lay claim to their prodigal sons.
But what caused our ancestors to leave in the first place? Starvation, desperation, crime, desire for a better life. What did they encounter here? More of the same, tarnished with the falsehood of opportunity.
Yet this is a culture of denial. We blindly celebrate Irish heritage here, without really thinking about the immense pain and suffering of our ancestors; without thinking about the political and religious turmoil; without giving much thought to those who sacrificed everything to sail here on a coffin ship to escape Ireland. Instead, there’s a focus on the accomplishments and the false veneer of “heritage.” Even the cliched stigma of alcoholism is blithely celebrated once a year at countless American St. Patrick’s Day parties.
The US had stepped up immigration laws around the time this song came out in the late 80s - so those leaving Ireland at the time, hoping to make a better life for themselves, were showing up here encountering the same problems as Irish immigrants always had. Green card lotteries, unemployment difficulties, assimilation difficulties.
In the end of the song, we discover that strong sense of Irish cultural identity is all that remains: despite our troubles, we’ll still have music and poetry in our veins….it may be incredibly wrapped up in guilt and shame, and subsequent release from that guilt and shame, but it is our shared legacy, through the lens of optimism, for better or worse.