Category Archives: Irish

Mar 17 – An Innis Aigh, The Happy Isle…

One of my favorites…some say a land of poets and saints?  I have been twice.  Very different.  Very old.  Can’t wait to take Mara.

I studied Irish (Gaelic) for a very short time at irish-american.org. Hard.  There is no “yes” or “no” in Irish.  Which explains SO MUCH!!!!!

And just remember, lads and lassies, if there is ever a topic which is uncomfortable to speak about in a family, the Irish way is to just ignore it!!!!  Maybe it will go away?  Right?  (It never does, but at least we can pretend?)  Remember, too, whenever someone does something uncouth, like burp or fart loudly, or does something truly stupid, just say, as within Irish families it is known to do, “You’re SO Irish!”  

I will cherish forever my Mother’s question, very discreetly, after I informed her of a date I went on.  There would be a very pregnant pause. (There is no small case of pause pregnancy, no?)  And then it would always come. “Is she one of us?”  Either way, my Mother would always give or feign approval.  Saying, regarding any deviation from the preferred answer, “Well, that’s very nice, too.”

Seinn an duan seo dhan Innis Àigh
An innis uaine as gile tràigh
Bidh sian air uairean a’ bagairt cruaidh ris
Ach se mo luaidh-sa bhith ann a’ tàmh

Càit’ as tràith an tig samhradh caomh
Càit’ as tràith an tig blàth air craobh
Càit’ as bòidhche ‘s an seinn an smeòrach
Air bhàrr nan ògan ‘s an Innis Àigh

An t-iasg as fiachaile dlùth don tràigh
Is ann ma chrìochan is miann leis tàmh
Bidh gillean easgaidh le dorgh is lìontan
Moch, moch ga iarriadh mun Innis Àigh

‘S ged thèid mi cuairt chun an taoibh ud thall
‘S mi ‘n dùil air uairibh gu fan mi ann
Tha tàladh uaigneach le teas nach fuairich
Gam tharraing buan don Innis Àigh

O ‘s geàrr an ùine gu’n teirig latha
Thig an oidhche ‘s gun iarr mi tàmh
Mo chadal buan-sa bidh e cho suaimhneach
Mo bhios mo chluasag ‘s an Innis Àigh

Sing this song to the Happy Isle
The green isle of whitest sands
Though storms at times threaten severely
It is where I love to be

Where does Summer come earlier?
Where do trees come into bloom sooner?
Where does the thrush sing more sweetly
On the tips of branches, than in the Happy Isle?

The most prized fish closest to land
Wishes to live about its shores
Lively youths hunt it early in the morning
With line and net, around the Happy Isle

And although I sometimes go to the mainland
And at times even think that I could stay there
A sad longing whose heat never cools
Always draws me back to the Happy Isle

It is only a short time until the close of day
Night will come and I will want for rest
My eternal sleep will be so peaceful
If I lay my head in the Happy Isle

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

Love,
Matthew

An raibh tú ag an gCarraig? – Were you at the rock?

This Saturday I start Beginner Gaelic at the Irish American Heritage Center, irish-american.org, even as Ireland currently writhes in political-ecclesiastical turmoil over the sexual abuse of children by the professed. If any informed Catholic, or especially Irish-Catholic, tell you their heart is not breaking, or they’re not enraged, they’re lying to you, or are woefully ignorant of current/recent events.

I cannot yet bring myself to read the Irish government reports, only so far reading reports about reports. We always knew being an Irish kid was tough, even a little brutal, but life can be brutal and toughness is a necessary adult quality, but not to this unspeakable extent. I am very glad the truth is coming out. I know I have a problem with truth, I like it too much, in all cases and situations, especially my own, most especially my own. Those survivors can be finally believed and receive the healing they more than deserve.

The IAHC is very near where Kelly and I live. We have a family membership. Chicago boasts two Irish heritage centers! Gaelic Park, chicagogaelicpark.org, in the southern suburb of Oak Forest and the IAHC on the northwest side of the city. There is an amicable, informal understanding, Gaelic Park will focus primarily on Irish sporting events and IAHC will host literary and cultural events.

I can always tell when I am in the presence of others of Irish ancestry. The pace of wit quickens, the teasing, the loving insults, the jests and the jokes become animated and fly fast and furious. How joyful. How pleasant. How much like home. I feel most at home then. At Old St Pat’s in the Loop, those who cannot disengage their ancestry even for a moment are referred to as, “professionally Irish”. 🙂

In my two visits to the “ould sod”, literally Ireland, I learned, traditionally, it is quite impolite to ask a native Irish person the standard American 1st or 2nd question, “What do you do?”, even innocently and sincerely, as in “How much money do you make?” This, I have found in my travels of the globe, is generally true. Our culture shows its adolescence.

This introduction, so natural and second nature to Americans, is taken negatively by the Irish. An income is merely a means to an end, one’s expenses, in the native Irish mind.  Some cultures have been around much longer and have had that length to distinguish what is truly important. The Irish would much prefer to know, “Are you any fun to be with? Do you tell jokes? Do you sing? Do you dance? Would I enjoy spending time with you in the pub?” A pub in Ireland is not a bar. It is not necessarily loud or abrasive or shallow or demonstrative. Quit the opposite. It is a communal extension of the community members’ living room. Babes are brought, even to be nursed. Cards are played. Good craic = fun. When a pub closes, especially if a good game of Gaelic football, footy/footie, or hurling is on and closing time comes, the regular customers leave. The intimate few are quietly migrated to the back room where the craic and the viewing and the Guinness will resume as nothing had occurred. When reopening, the opposite migration will occur with no fanfare. And, so it goes.

When I was in MBA school, one of my favorite teachers, Mark Tauber, taught us industrial psychology, although it had a much fancier, B-school sounding name. It still does. This kind, generous man learned that I had been a Dominican novice. He politely suggested I should become Episcopalian, marry, and then, I too could become a priest. Lovely man. I know my pupils dilated, and tried to keep that my only reaction. He noticed and his pupils dilated because mine did. Dear man. My mother’s voice heard, disembodied in the background, “If my children lose their Faith, I have failed as a mother!” I politely thanked him and said I would think about it. It’s an Irish thing. You wouldn’t…never mind. Reporters noticed James Joyce, the Irish author, had stopped practicing Catholicism. They asked him, “Mr. Joyce, have you become a Protestant?” He replied, “Good God, man. I’ve lost my faith, not my mind!” 🙂

The Irish, to the present, have been Catholics for 1600 years.  From the consolidation of English power in Ireland and “the bloody flight of Earls”, www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_of_the_Earls, early 1600s-1869, the Penal Laws were in effect in Ireland:
– being a Roman Catholic priest was punishable by death,
– saying Mass was punishable by death,
– attending Mass was punishable imprisonment,
– harboring a priest was punishable by imprisonment,
– exclusion of Catholics from most public offices,
– ban on intermarriage with Protestants,
– Catholics were tithed to support the Church of Ireland (Anglicanism),
– Catholics barred from holding firearms or serving in the armed forces – (n.b. my great-grandfather on my father’s side was a sergeant in the British Army stationed in Egypt in the late 19th century. He could not become an officer due to the fact he was Irish. My father’s mother was born on Cyprus and is reported to have spoken six languages including Arabic.). —
– Catholics barred from membership in either the Parliament of Ireland or the Parliament of Great Britain,
– Catholics could not vote,
– Catholics were excluded from the legal professions and the judiciary,
– it was illegal for Catholics to travel to the continent of Europe to be educated in Catholic schools and to return to Ireland,
– Catholics barred from entering Trinity College Dublin,
– on a death by a Catholic, his legatee could benefit by conversion to the Church of Ireland (Anglicanism),
– Catholic inheritances of land were to be equally subdivided between all an owner’s sons with the exception that if the eldest son and heir converted to Protestantism that he would become the one and only tenant of estate and portions for other children not to exceed one third of the estate. This law kept Catholics “land impoverished” in their own country and made them tenant farmers in the same and forcing the native populace into monoculture,
– ban on converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism on pain of traemunire (treason), forfeiting all property estates and legacy to the monarch of the time and remaining in prison at the monarch’s pleasure.
– In addition to forfeiting the monarch’s protection, by said conversion, one forfeited protection under the law, no matter how atrocious any future crime against the converted,
– ban on Catholics buying land under a lease of more than 31 years,
– ban on custody of orphans being granted to Catholics on pain of 500 pounds that was to be donated to the Blue Coat hospital in Dublin,
– ban on Catholics inheriting Protestant land,
– prohibition on Catholics owning a horse valued at over £5 (in order to keep horses suitable for military activity out of the majority’s hands’,
– “No person of the popish religion shall publicly or in private houses teach school, or instruct youth in learning within this realm’ upon pain of twenty pounds fine and three months in prison for every such offence. Any and all rewards not paid by the crown for alerting authorities of offences to be levied upon the Catholic populace within parish and county. (You had to pay for the persecution of your own religion.).

During An Gorta Mor, The Great Hunger, 1845-1852, English authorities offered a watery soup if one apostatized to Anglicanism.  Over one million Irish men, women, and children chose to starve over that humiliation. (Irish are offended by/resist the term “Famine”, as there was no famine in Ireland, plenty of foodstuffs were being shipped to England and English colonies:  wheat, cattle, fruits, vegetables, etc. All that was left to the Irish was the potato, which the fungus destroyed, and which the French would not eat as a staple, contributing to the French Revolution. The term genocide is not inappropriate or misused.)

The song “An Raibh Tu’ ag an gCarraig?” speaks of Penal Days when the Mass was celebrated in secret at remote gatherings. The “Carraig” was the “Mass rock” used as a meeting-place and altar. These can will still be pointed out by locals today.

According to native Irish “sean nos” singers, the words appear as a love song, “Were you at the Rock and did you see my Valentine?” (meaning either the priest or the Host). However, it was a code addressed to a disguised priest or congregant, so the enemy would not grasp the true meaning even if he spoke Irish. Death was the penalty for those caught at Mass. In Penal Times, a price of 30 pounds was offered for the head of a priest or hedge-school master, the same as for that of a wolf.

An raibh tú ag an gCarraig?
nó a’ bhfaca tú féin mó grá>nó a’ bhfaca tú gile,
finne agus scéimh na mná?

Nó a’ bhfaca tú t-úll
ba chumhra is ba mhilse bláth?
nó a’ bhfaca tú mo Vailintín

Nó a’ bhfuil sí á cloí mar táim.

Ó bhí mé ag an gCarraig,
is chonaic mé mé féin dó grá
Ó chonaic mé gile
finne agus scéimh na mná

Ó chonaic mé an t-ull
ba chumhra is ba mhilse bláth
Agus chonaic mé do Vailintín
agus ní sí á cloí mar ‘láir.

Were You at the Rock?
Or did you yourself see my love,
Or did you see a brightness,
the fairness and the beauty of the woman?

Or did you see the apple,
the sweetest and most fragrant blossom?
Or did you see my Valentine?
Is she being subdued as they are saying?

O, I was at the rock
And I myself saw your love
O, I saw a brightness,
the fairness and the beauty of the woman

O, I did see the apple
the sweetest and most fragrant blossom
and I saw your Valentine
she is not being subdued as they are saying.

At first glance, “An Raibh Tú ag an gCarraig” appears to be a series of questions and answers about a young woman, but in reality it contains a coded message. The coded message is decoded below.

Were you at the Mass?
Did you see the Virgin Mary?
Did you take communion?
And say the rosary?

Did you see the chalice?
Did you see the sacrifice of the Mass?
Did you practice the faith?
Are we being persecuted as they are saying?

I was at the Mass;
I saw the Virgin Mary
I received communion,
and said the rosary

I saw the chalice,
and saw the sacrifice of the Mass
And I practiced the faith;
we are not being subdued as they are saying.

Love,
Matthew

Mar 17 – The Children of Lir

If you ever come to visit Kelly and I, and you look closely…no, not at the dust and general disarray, but look closely and you may see a swan motif.  These are the Children of Lir.  Mara will soon be able to understand stories. We will tell her of the Children of Lir.

Long ago, in Ireland, there lived a king called Lir. He lived with his wife and four children: Fionnuala, Aodh, Fiachra and Conn. They lived in a castle in the middle of a forest. When Lir’s wife died they were all very sad. After a few years Lir got married again. He married a jealous wife called Aoife.  Aoife thought that Lir loved his children more than he loved her.  Aoife hated the children.  Soon she thought of a plan to get rid of the children.

One summer’s day Aoife took the children to swim in a lake near the castle. The children were really happy to be playing in the water.  Suddenly Aoife took out a magic wand.  There was a flash of light and the children were nowhere to be seen.  All there was to be seen was four beautiful swans, with their feathers as white as snow.

Aoife said, “I have put you under a spell. You will be swans for nine hundred years,” she cackled. “You will spend three hundred years in Lough Derravaragh, three hundred years in the Sea of Moyle, and three hundred years in the waters of Inish Glora,” Aoife said. She also said, “You will remain swans for nine hundred years until you hear the ring of a Christian bell.”

She went back to the castle and told Lir that his children had drowned. Lir was so sad he started crying. He rushed down to the lake and saw no children. He saw only four beautiful swans.

One of them spoke to him. It was Fionnuala who spoke to him. She told him what Aoife had done to them. Lir got very angry and turned Aoife into an ugly moth. When Lir died the children were very sad, but the curse of Aoife would not be lifted.  When the time came they moved to the Sea of Moyle.

Soon the time came for their final journey. When they reached Inish Glora they were very tired.  They were nine hundred years old. Early one morning they heard the sound of a Christian bell. They were so happy that they were human again. The monk (some even say it was St. Patrick himself) sprinkled holy water on them and then Fionnuala put her arms around her brothers and then the four of them fell on the ground. The monk buried them in one grave. That night he dreamed he saw four swans flying up through the clouds. He knew the children of Lir were with their mother and father.

 

 

A statue of the Children of Lir resides in the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square in Dublin, Ireland. It symbolizes the rebirth of the Irish nation following 900 years of struggle for independence from Britain, much as the swans were “reborn” following 900 years of being cursed.


 
File:Children of Lir.jpg

The Garden of Remembrance (An Gairdín Cuimhneacháin) is a memorial garden in Dublin dedicated to the memory of “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom”. In 1976, a contest was held to find a poem which could express the appreciation and inspiration of this struggle for freedom.  The winner, “We Saw a Vision” by Liam Mac Uistin, is inscribed in the stone wall surrounding the Garden of Remembrance in Irish, English, and French.

We Saw A Vision
In the darkness of despair we saw a vision,
We lit the light of hope,
And it was not extinguished,
In the desert of discouragement we saw a vision,
We planted the tree of valour,
And it blossomed
In the winter of bondage we saw a vision,
We melted the snow of lethargy,
And the river of resurrection flowed from it.
We sent our vision aswim like a swan on the river,
The vision became a reality,
Winter became summer,
Bondage became freedom,
And this we left to you as your inheritance.
O generation of freedom remember us,
The generation of the vision.


 
File:Thechildrenoflirduncan1914.jpg
 
-The Children of Lir, 1914, by John Duncan
 
“Saoirse” is the Irish word for freedom.Love,
Matthew

 

Beannachtaí na Féile Padraig oraibh!!!Or,

 

Tha mo bhàta-foluaimein loma-làn easgannan = my hovercraft is full of eels (from a Monty Python’s Flying Circus skit).