By Arthur H. Gunther III
PEARL RIVER, N.Y. -- You don’t need a summer reading list here, in this “expat county” of Eire. The word reading and the act itself are more than fundamental – reading is a way of life, words to soul as notes to a musician. Not surprising -- ever meet an Irishman who wasn’t lyrical?
Once an enclave of German descendants, this hamlet of Orangetown has morphed in post-World War II suburban growth to house the Bronx Irish and a mix of those not far removed from the Gaelic land itself. A parade as famous as New York City’s is held on Central Avenue near the time of St. Patrick’s Day, the local supermarket has Irish treats, and there is a delicatessen that boasts its Irish-Italian partnership, a notation on the Bronx roots. Irish workmen’s caps are as common as baseball hats, and there is a strong tie to the civil service list as Gotham police, firefighters and bus drivers make the daily commute.
Pubs there be, and many, too, with Guinness always on draft, but perhaps the most popular place is the local library, a Pearl River gem that predates the Irish arrival. It is a well-supported house of literature and allowable pretensions to such and has for many decades been an example of community putting its money to proper use.
On a recent day, taking a walk on the small oval that now sits where the old Pearl River High School fields were located, I glanced over at the library and saw its stream of patrons – young, old, of any age really. I expected that – it’s the usual scene.
What I did not imagine was what was spotted on the other side of the walking path, on Central Avenue, where this fellow, perhaps in his 40s, was making his way along the sidewalk. He was looking down with intense gaze, not at a cell phone or digital notebook, which is so common these days, but at a real book, its skin of beautiful maroon, its pages many. He was reading whatever. But he was reading. The fellow looked “Irish,” and you can say that since some people do indeed look Irish, praise be, though they may be far distanced from Eire.
So, putting one and one together, it adds up that this largely “Irish” community, with its popular library and a people known for the wit of the word, the soul of the word and the gift of gab – those words that are the stuff of legend and the flying colors of storytellers – this community is its own magical land, a special place where the music is in the words and the people are the words.