Irishmen sometimes refer to the Atlantic Ocean as a lake of tears. Because so many of them have crossed it to the U.S., the Irish are seldom far from the thoughts of Americans. This is particularly true right now. For months, something not unlike civil war has been simmering in Ulster. This is the week of Eire's national elections. If that were not enough, June 16 is Bloomsday. It is a good time to reflect on the ways and woes of the Irish, and TIME asked Novelist Wilfrid Sheed to do so. Sheed is...

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