UNO Professor Hugh Reilly Discusses New Book, “Drinking with My Father’s Ghost”
December 26th, 2017
Omaha, NE—Equal parts history, travelogue, memoir and comedy, UNO Professor Hugh Reilly’s most recent book, Drinking with My Father’s Ghost, is the culmination of nearly forty years of stories from his own travels to Ireland and its pubs and hundreds years’ worth of cultural history and legend.
The pub was, and might still be, something like a forum in Ireland. Cities could have dozens of them within the space of a few blocks. Sometimes opening as early as 7:00am, the pub is the center for conversation, music and political discussion.
The idea of an academic study of Irish pubs began back in the ‘70s with Reilly’s father Bob Reilly, also a UNO Professor at the time.
“He actually applied for a grant saying—well, I think he gave the example of Slovenian dance patterns and all the other kinds of ridiculous things that get funded, and he said what the heck,” Reilly said. “He envisioned two guys saying, ‘Hey, there’s some guy in Nebraska who wants to get money to go visit Irish pubs!’ So he did get a lot of giggles, a lot of laughs and in the end he didn’t get the money.
Reilly’s father continued anyway, taking extensive notes in hundreds of pubs all across the country, observing the banter between pub goers, their anecdotes, the sights, sounds of Ireland. Reilly first ventured to Ireland in 1981 and eventually started taking notes of his own.
Before his death in 2004, Reilly’s father had hoped that his son would finish the book, “The Social History of the Irish Pub,” but Reilly had something else in mind.
Visiting many of the same pubs that his father had years before and comparing notes, Reilly entered a dialogue with him that bridged centuries in the context of a changing Ireland.
“There’s no doubt that there’s somethings that are different. My father started going in 1968, but even in 1981, the first time I went, Ireland was still a third world country, and it is now a modern, thriving, western nation with everything that that entails. Some of those cultural norms are affected by that, so in so many ways it’s better. It’s much better for the Irish that they have all these opportunities that they didn’t have those decades ago, but it does change some of the cultural norms. It’s like Thomas Hardy, you know. You can’t go home again, and there’s really a lot of truth to that. Places change. People change.”
While Ireland has progressed over the years, Reilly notes the importance of preserving such a unique cultural artifact.
“I love it when I go to an authentic Irish pub—when it’s as some of my Irish friends will say it’s not a yuppie pub with the fern plants and all. It’s the dark wood and it’s, smoky—well not smoky anymore—but it’s the traditional Irish music, it’s all of these kinds of things that are part of it and it’s the locals that hang out there. It’s not the tourists that hang out there and all those kinds of things. So is that worthy of preservation? Absolutely, because it can be a magical time. It can be a magical thing. You learn about another culture even though we both speak the same language, and you know, we both have the same ethnic roots American Irish and the Irish. It’s that authenticity that I think is so valuable.”
Though father and son might not have agreed on what type of book should be written about the Irish pub, both were inspired by the country’s rich, and sometimes underrepresented history in regard to politics, its influence on British and American culture and some of the greatest English language writers who came from Ireland. That, and Irish humor and turn of phrase.
Drinking with my Father’s Ghost, by Hugh Reilly is currently awaiting publication.
“It’s part travelogue. It’s part memoir. It’s part family story. I think it’s for anybody who loves Ireland. It’s for anybody who loves the idea of fathers and sons and the relationship between fathers and sons. If you like pubs, that’s a plus, but I think the pubs are the vehicle, but they’re not really what the book’s about. The book is about, to me, a father passing on his love of time and a place to his son, and that’s what I want to do. I have two sons myself and I want to pass that on to my sons. So it’s the love of writing, it’s the love of time and place and moving that on.”
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