WASHINGTON — Washington--So here it is St. Paddy's Day, when even good fellows who aren't Irish wear green ties and pretend, giving themselves a fine excuse to celebrate alongside those whose roots run back to the Auld Sod.
In dedicated Irish pubs in New York, Boston and elsewhere, sentimental drinkers drop more cash this time of year into the bar-top kitties ostensibly collecting funds for the waifs and widows of Northern Ireland. Late of an evening, a glass is raised here and there to the Irish Republican Army -- all in good fun, of course.
While I did not have the personal privilege of joining in, I can imagine there were toasts aplenty to the Provisional IRA's mortar attack last month on the British prime minister's office at No. 10 Downing Street -- despite disappointment that nobody in the Tory leadership was hit.
But not everyone thinks the IRA is amusing. Down in Florida last month, a judge named Gonzalez (apparently not Irish) sentenced three alleged IRA agents for what they did before St. Patrick's Day last year. The three are Kevin McKinley, Seamus Moley and Joseph McColgan. They were convicted of trying to buy a Stinger anti-aircraft missile, the kind used so successfully against Soviet planes by Afghan guerrillas.
They were arrested in West Palm Beach after a two-month investigation that included hours of secretly-recorded conversation with undercover agents, and talk about how the missile would be used to shoot down British helicopters in Northern Ireland. Their defense attorneys argued that they had no intention of firing the Stinger themselves, they were just going to ship it to others for use.
I would like to think such offenders are equally treated by the law, whether the judge's name is Gonzalez or Gilhooley. Not all Irishmen are amused by the IRA -- not even all Irish-Americans, who are often more bloody about being Irish than the Irish themselves.
Two citizens named O'Neill and Foley come to mind. Tip O'Neill, as speaker of the House, made clear his disdain for the IRA whenever asked. Tom Foley, who succeeded him as speaker, will do it without being asked.
The other morning, we were talking about cutting the Social Security tax rate when all of a sudden he thought of the latest IRA outrage, the bomb attacks on two London railroad stations that left one man dead and 40 wounded. Although the first bomb, at Paddington Station, inflicted no casualties, the second, in the main concourse of Victoria Station, sprayed glass and shrapnel across a crowd of early-morning commuters. Among those hurt were three children.
Tom Foley, proud to be an Irishman, slammed the IRA bombers as "cowardly murderers" who are no friends of the Irish people. A few minutes later, we had moved on to the congressional resolution authorizing the president to use force in the Persian Gulf, when -- Whap! -- he was off again. He condemned violence on all sides in the dispute over Northern Ireland and said problems there will never be settled except by popular vote there.
But the IRA, said Speaker Foley, "wants something else -- it wants war between Northern and southern Ireland. That's unacceptable. No American Irish should have any romantic feeling about these people. They're sick people."
The only thing they deserve is "contempt and opposition from anybody concerned about the Irish people," he declared.
Anyone who saw and heard Mr. Foley knows this was not calculated wrath, catering to American voters. Even Irish politicians, even Catholics in Belfast, were dismayed, too. One Mitchel McLaughlin, northern chairman of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, called the death of the London civilian a "tragedy" for the movement. "In terms of public opinion, this goes down as a catastrophe," he said.
But the boys at the pub are not listening to anyone but themselves, as they sing and toast the IRA, propagating the myth that terrorizing innocent civilians is the way to change people's minds.
This day is special to anyone named, or even nicknamed, Pat. Anyone who knows of the humble and charitable St. Patrick can drink to him without hesitation, confident that the name can never be blemished by those who celebrate it with murder.
Ernest B. Furgurson is associate editor of The Sun.