Monday, March 17, 2008


The Cliffs of Moher (January 2006)


I hope anyone reading this had a lovely day. Being of Irish decent, this is a big holiday for my family. I know it's actually a Catholic holiday, but to us and most Americans it has become a "celebrate your Irish roots" day - even if you don't have any. And so we celebrate the blood we happen to be born with and the beautiful country our ancestors came from. Though not necessarily our ancestors themselves. My great-grandpa who jumped ship and stowaway to Canada from Dublin then snuck into America was a sociopath. Abusive, vindictive, and unforgivably cruel, he is not a man I'm proud to owe my existence to. I consider myself lucky to have Irish blood from the other side of my family, as well. Thank the gods for being an American mutt.

"If you're lucky enough to be Irish, you're lucky enough."

Unfortunately, I had class this evening so our usual family festivities were a bit hindered. My mom came to pick me up from the bus stop and we both worried on the drive home that the rest of the family wouldn't've had the sense to just eat without us (we're old fashioned and still all eat dinner together) and as a consequence would be grumpy when we got home. Our fretting was in vain, however, for we returned to hear uproarious laughter coming from the house. "It sounds like they're laughing. They must be watching America's Funniest Home Videos," my mom said. I greeted Chee Chee then entered, surprised that my dad's booming laugh kept getting louder and louder. He, Alex and my younger brother Jarred were sitting at the table with their near-empty plates, laughing so hard that they could barely breathe while Teyla ran from person to person, wagging her stump of a tail furiously, trying to join in. What was so funny? Apparently I had just missed a repeat of the Corn on the Cob Incident.

The Corn on the Cob Incident was a few years back. Jarred and I sit side-by-side at the dinner table and one summer, as we ate corn on the cob, I glanced over at him with his mouthful and said, "You have elephant lips!" I don't know what elephant lips are, but he had them. And that did it. He exploded. Corn flew everywhere, all over the table.

This time it was with green Jell-O. Apparently, he'd been sucking it up off his plate in a manner that my dad proclaimed was "the reverse butthole" (no one reads this blog anyway so I can be as profane as I want) and Jarred blew. When I stepped into the house they were red-in-the-face as they kept discovering green pieces of Jell-O on various items - the pepper grinder/shaker, the napkin holder, my dad's sleeve...

The menu was our traditional St. Patty's meal - Corned beef and cabbage and potato and carrots and onions (shocking, isn't it?) along with green Jell-O and a delicious green lime drink. This year my mom also surprised us with Irish soda bread and some chocolates that she made this afternoon. The green ones were mint. ;o)

After dinner and a Guinness (which itself is a second dinner) we watched the Irish film War of the Buttons, as we do every year. It's still one of the best movies ever. It really should be released on DVD. I highly recommend it. Hilarious stuff. While watching the movie, as if the meal wasn't enough, we ate delicious grasshopper pie.

I wish this holiday came more often!

Now - around this time of year everyone suddenly is interested in the Irish or at least what they perceive to be Irish, and this year it has really grated on me. So I decided to do my part to educate anyone out there reading this.

1. Ireland

This is Ireland.

Actually, I lied. This is the Republic of Ireland, otherwise known as Éire (pronounced "air-eh").

See that top right corner? That's NOT a part of Éire, that's Northern Ireland - and is part of England. The division of Ireland has been the cause of immense conflict. Ever heard of the IRA? I won't delve into the complicated history of the Troubles or of Ireland's ongoing struggle for unification, but I will if anyone actually reads this and is interested.

2. The Black Irish

Contrary to what many may think, this term does not traditionally apply to someone of African-Irish decent. It is an American term used to describe an Irish person with dark hair, dark eyes, and sometimes very pale skin. I'm Black Irish, though my skin is rather olive. And NO - the Black Irish do NOT come from the Spanish sailors who shipwrecked on Éire or from any other Spanish contribution to the genetics of the isle over the past 500 years or so. Rather, the original inhabitants of Éire (as in the aboriginal peoples - the Celts who first settled the isle) are alleged to have had the morphology of the Black Irish (as are the aboriginal peoples of the rest of Britain, to the best of our knowledge). Some say these original ancient peoples migrated from the Iberian peninsula. Maybe we'll never know for sure, but I think Joey Ice Cream says it best in the pilot of the insanely-brilliant-but-short-lived TV drama of last year, The Black Donnellys:

"See, all through history, people have accused the black Irish of every crime that came along. They were supposed to have gypsy blood or Spanish or something. But my grandmother told me that before the Celts even showed up in Ireland, there was a race of dark-haired people who the Celts then proceeded to wipe out. But they could never get them all. And a few of them ended up at the Firecracker Lounge."

3. Redheads

I can't believe I actually have to say this, but no, not all Irish are fucking redheads. You know what country is? Try Poland. Redheads are certainly not the norm in Éire and are somewhat uncommon. Try brown hair and blue eyes.

In fact, I consider this stereotype offensive. Why? Not only is it entirely false and misleading, but can also be considered racist. Have you ever seen a circus clown? The things scare the hell out of me. Flaming red hair, swollen red noses, bags under their eyes, making fools of themselves... they're meant to be caricatures of the drunken Irish. Ouch. Which leads me to my next point...

4. Drinking

Yes, Guinness really does taste better in Éire. After pub hopping all over Éire, I know that for a fact. I'm not a big drinker, but pubs, for those who have never been, have an entirely different atmosphere than the few bars I've been to in the US. Pubs are much more family-friendly and live music-oriented. In a small pub in Doolin, Co. Clare, there were wee ones running about and singing along with the musicians.

Local musicians in McGann's Pub in Doolin, Co. Clare (January, 2006)

In Darkey Kelly's in Dublin, a boy who looked like he was about 10 was singing Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sherriff." Oh, how I fit in. Pubs are also full of plenty of pervy old men. The stories I could tell... but that's for another time.

The Irish do drink but the Germans drink more per capita than the Irish do. Alcoholism is a problem in Éire as it is in many countries, but the Irish aren't the raging drunks they're stereotypically made out to be. Why? Until the 1970's or so, Éire was a third world country. Our dot com boom gave them their current Celtic Tiger economy that has Éire booming for the moment. But up until now, no one's had the money to get drunk. Unfortunately, that's starting to change...

Mostly the stereotype comes from Irish in America. On to point 5...

5. Irish in America

Know why so many drank? Because they came to America during the Potato Famine (an estimated 1,000,000 died and one million emigrated, some to Australia and Canada but most to America) seeking a new life and found out that it sucked here. They choked the streets of New Yorks and Boston. Ever heard of the Draft Riots during the Civil War - the most violent riots in American history? Yeah, that was us. The Irish were sick of fighting for a country that treated them like shite. How much like shite?

Slavery sucked. I mean, really, really sucked. But guess what? The Irish were considered even lower than the slaves. I don't know about you, but that's not something I was taught in any history class except for one in college. The Irish weren't even considered white. Personally, I've never understood what "white" was as a race, but apparently I'm not white anyway so it doesn't matter. One could buy insurance for a slave but not for an Irishman, which meant that the Irish were forced to take the most dangerous jobs. (Unfortunately, this racial discrimination and competition with blacks escalated into a lot of racial violence between the two groups, as was seen in the Draft Riots where several blacks were killed. Though to be honest, these racial tensions were purposefully encouraged by large corporations and city governments at the time.) Many places would have signs on the door that read, "Help Wanted, Irish Need Not Apply." This racism existed through the 1920's when my arsehole great-grandpa showed up in New England. Frustrated that he couldn't get a decent job because he was Irish, he became a drinker. His story echoes that of thousands of Irish in America, my point being that the drunken Irish is more of an American stereotype. Though to be fair, the Irish have been raped by the English for the past 800 years, so there's plenty to drink about in Éire, too. Again, I turn to the ever-wise Joey Ice Cream:

"The Irish have always been the victims of negative stereotype. I mean people think we're all drunks and brawlers, and sometimes that gets you so mad, all you want to do is get drunk and punch somebody."

And St. Patrick's Day? It's way bigger here than it is in Éire. Most "Irish" things are - Irish Americans are more "Irish" than the Irish and we outnumber them hugely. I know my family eats corned beef and cabbage on St. Patty's but that's not a traditional Irish food. Try bacon and cabbage (bacon being more along the lines of what we'd refer to as ham). Corned beef is another Americanization - something relatively cheap here so the Irish Americans naturally adopted it into their diets.

6. Random Cool Irish Stuff

Feck - The polite word in Éire for a certain other word. Even grannies and priests can say it. "Cool as feck." "Fecking awesome!" "Oh, for feck's sake!"

And can you guess who the Feckers are? Scroll down for the answer. *

Craic -
(Pronounced "crack.") I wish people didn't think I was talking about narcotics when I mention craic here. It means good laughter, good talk, good food and drink - all in all, a good time. "Ah, there was some mighty grand craic at O'Connor's last night."

Leprechauns -
Charming little buggers. They have nothing to do with St. Patrick's Day (a bizarre myth begun by the racist Disney company). Leprechauns are a type of faerie. The faerie folk are also called "the Good People," though not often "the wee people" lest that invoke their ire. You see, again, contrary to Disney, faeries are not all creatures with wings and are not at all friendly. They're mischievous, tricksy, often-malevolent workers of magic.

Don't even get me started on Lucky Charms and all the other freaky, insulting "Leprechauns" out there. And guess what? They're not like Santa Clause. They don't only come out on St. Patrick's Day, because like I said, that elementary school teacher who had you build a Leprechaun trap to catch one on March 17th was an ignorant liar (except for mine, of course). You can set your Leprechaun trap any day of the year. Here's a tip: Leprechauns like butterscotch and whiskey.

Well, I hope this has been enjoyable and somewhat educational. Until next time,

(Pronounced "shlan-cha" and is Irish for "health!")

* If you guessed the English, give yourself a pat on the back. ;o)

1 comment:

Melissa said...

I come from a very large Irish Jewish family. :D

Its a contridiction in itself.

However, my St.Patty's day consisted of me watching Ark of Truth, having dinner with a few people and prepping for my 30 minute presentation that I do in 20 minutes.

I did wear my green in abundance however! Even though I was at school at 8am to do my British Literature class...with a quiz that made me cry, cause it was so hard!

I do hope your schooling is going well! Mine is almost donee, I'm finished for this semester as of April 14th. So I'm excited heh!