It’s Bastille Day. A day for the people to rise up, free the prisoners, and dismantle an instrument of an entrenched corrupt regime.
My favorite Bastille Day celebration occurred in 1964. I was in a student work camp in Glencolumbkille, County Donegal, Ireland. We were digging trenches to lay water lines to bring water service to farm homes outside the village. Here is my journal entry for July 14, 1964.
The French started off Bastille Day by refusing to get out of bed. Finally, Justin’s pleading prevailed. When they finally arrived at the work site, they all lined up with François carrying the tricolor on the end of a shovel. They sang the Marseillaise on the way up and every hour on the hour, rain or shine, and there was plenty of rain. In fact, their high spirits were the only thing that kept us going, although they did hardly any work at all. They were all wearing white shirts and ties.
Today was the first day my pants got soaked and the water didn’t run down my boots. After the first shower I had taken off my rubber pants because it was to hot too work in them. During the heavy shower I just wrapped my sweater in the rubber pants and prayed the water wouldn’t go into my boots. It has rained every day without fail, no matter how sunny and fair it had been most of the day.
About 11:30 am three seminarians showed up with Henri and Burghart. One was American, one French-Canadian, one Irish. All were studying in France for the White Fathers [an order of missionaries in Africa]. The American was Bill Curran from Nebraska. He had relatives in Carrick. After about half an hour throwing the bull, the Irishman took Justin aside and then returned with a whiskey flask full of poteen [Irish moonshine]. I had two swigs of this liquid fire. Henri was very funny after his first drink. He ran to the ditch and started digging like a ball of fire. With a couple of gallons of poteen we’d finish the work in a week.
At lunch we all chipped in 2/6 [two shillings, six pence] for some wine at supper. Mr. McGuire, owner of the Glenbay Hotel, gave us ⅓ discount so we could get two more bottles of Beaujolais, making 7½ [bottles]. He also threw in a bottle of sherry. We toasted every country [France, Ireland, England, Germany, Netherlands, and Denmark] and sang all the national anthems–USA completely out of tune. When we finished the wine and all had a nip of sherry, we sent out for a bottle of Irish whiskey, which the Frenchmen measured out evenly. The party then retired to Mrs. McShane’s pub where I drank 1½ pints of stout. I felt great going home and thought it was a great Bastille Day.
This was the first time in my life that I got seriously drunk. I remember lying in my cot in the evening with my head spinning while others came in and out of the large schoolroom in which we were bunking. The more experienced drinkers kept the party going. From my cot I could see the sign with the motto of our camp that the French had posted above the fireplace, in which we had to burn peat to stay warm most nights.
En Irlande comme en Japon, un homme ivre est sacré.*
*In Ireland, as in Japan, a drunk person is sacred.