want to say it is a pleasure to visit you here in your beautiful state of California. During my times, now more than a century ago, many of my countrymen, fleeing a great disaster in their own land, came here to settle on the lands of this fine peninsula, some establishing themselves not more than a few minutes walk from where I stand. 

Ireland or California? Both of these western coasts have represented the edge of civilized life for eight centuries.
Many of these Hibernians found rights, privileges, and opportunities denied to them in the eastern United States, enjoying feelings of relief at having reached this distant lovely western land by the sea, so reminescent of the green valleys of the West of their Ireland, washed as they are by the warm waters of the Gulf stream.

These and countless other similar tales that made their way to us from California in the last century bring to mind the observations of that medieval bishop, Gerald  of Wales, on his visit to Ireland in 1183. Gerald's report The History and Topography of Ireland remains one of the fullest descriptions of late medieval times in that island, which alone in Europe had never felt the yoke of Roman conquest. Gerald found in Ireland a land of health and springtime, in which there were countless marvels, fish with teeth of gold, a woman who made love with a goat, birds born of barnacles, a stone cup that flowed over with wine. In many odd respects the Ireland of these days might be taken as the model of California as this land was found by the early American settlers. Indeed even today I am told that many eastern Americans consider California to be a place of exotic and even outrageous character, not too far different perhaps than the way Gerald saw Ireland some eight hundred years ago:

And there, when I had seen many things not found in other countries and entirely unknown, and at the same time worthy of some wonder because of their novelty, I began to examine everything carefully: what was the position of the country, what was its nature, what was the origin of the race, what were its custom; how often, and by whom, and how, it was conquered and subjugated; what new things, and what secret things not in accordance with her usual course had nature hidden away in the farthest western lands? Just as the countries of the East are remarkable and distinguished for certain prodigies peculiar and native to themselves, so the boundaries of the West also are made remarkable by their own wonders of nature. For sometimes tired, as it were, of the true and the serious, she draws aside and goes away, and in these remote parts indulges herself in these secret and distant freaks.
It has sometimes been said of the Irish in America that they refused to enjoy their good fortune and success that though many of them settled here and raised families and established their churches there was about them a certain restless fatalism, a tendency to go from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves within a few generations.[1] There are those who would attribute this misfortune to the unsteadiness of the Celtic spirit.[2] But I am going to suggest to you that there may be other reasons too, having to do more with the ancient Celtic perception of the unsteadiness of the world, the inconstancy of nature's blessings. The Irish. like the Jews and the Armenians and certain Asian peoples, consider themselves as exiles. As Gerald says, quoting the Roman Lucan the gods easily grant great blessings, but do not easily maintain them.

It may be said by many that it took the coming of the Protestant, namely Leland Stanford and his wife, to bring order and harmony to this place, to transform the land from a wild and abandoned wilderness into the garden that it is today. And it is true, as you shall see, that nature cooperated marvelously in this transformation, causing the rains to become more steady and gentle as they have been these past hundred years. But there is a fair question to be asked here. Was there not a bit of passing luck to all this? Is it not possible that has time now run out? Are we not sensing a new kind of irregularity returning here, and to the world at large? Are we not seeing once again in the air about us a kind of inconstancy, the suggestion that nature has now withdrawn her favors and is now becoming peevish? This is a great question, one that I know you ask yourselves in many ways, and it is the question that I shall, after a short quotation from my writings and some suitable autobiographical diversions, proceed to address. 


[1] It is  true enough, to cite a local example, that Dennis Martin of Menlo Park (named after his Irish village) died a poor man, having bitterly quarreled with his daughter and losing his hard-earned wealth and land in litigation.[2] See for example Mathew Arnold: Sentiment is, however, the word which marks where the Celtic races really touch and are one; sentimental, if the Celtic nature is to be characterised by a single term, is the best term to take.  An organisation quick to feel impressions, and feeling them very strongly...keenly sensitive to joy and to sorrow...If the downs of life too much outnumber the ups, this temperament, just because it is so quickly and nearly conscious of all impressions, may no doubt be seen shy and wounded....[3] The Irish believe that they came to their island from Egypt where they had been especially favored by Moses.