Saturday, March 08, 2003

As St Patrick’s Day approaches
On heritage and plastic Paddies
AFAIK I’m not Irish. Some of my ancestors were the bad guys over there - the English overlords given land there by the king and settled there, in the 1600s. So FWIW my distant cousins could include the Anglo-Irish upper class including the now-gone peers of Ireland.

A few thoughts. 1) In Ireland AFAIK, St Patrick's Day is a quiet holy day of obligation when the people go to Mass, not the plastic-hat-and-green-beer party the Yanks have. 2) The plastic-hat-and-green-beer thing is purely American, unknown in Ireland. 3) St Patrick's Day as Americans know it isn't really about Ireland at all but rather the Irish immigrant success story in America. 4) 'Stage Irish' - 'top o' the mornin' to ye', etc. - isn't really Irish speech but is an American invention for the vaudeville stage based on Americans' misunderstanding Irish immigrant speech 100 years ago. 5) The Irish have a name for American fake Irishness à la St Patrick's Day - 'plastic Paddies'. The Irish folk singer Eric Bogle recorded a hilarious song about it, called 'Plastic Paddy'. If you haven't heard it, do yourself a favour and get it! 6) What a lot of Americans think are Irish songs - 'I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen', 'Clancy Lowered the Boom', 'My Wild Irish Rose' - are, you guessed it, 0% Irish and purely American inventions. At least 'Kathleen' never pretended to be Irish - the Victorian songwriter was writing about his wife, Kathleen, in Arizona dying of tuberculosis, and 'home' was back East.

Years ago one of the famous Clancy Brothers, makers of real Irish music, was visiting America and was approached by a bloke who proudly told him his dad wrote 'Clancy Lowered the Boom'. To which Mr Clancy answered, 'When I was a kid I wanted to strangle whoever wrote that bloody song'.

More British Isles info: 'bloody' has nothing to do with blood but is a contraction of a mediæval cuss, 'by Our Lady' - something from Catholic England. Shakespeare's English still had a lot of these expressions - zounds (God's wounds), marry (by Mary). Today, 'bloody' is the only one left.

Ever notice that people from Ireland often say 'I am' instead of 'yes'? (Example: 'Are you Niall Donohue?' 'I am.') That's because in Gaelic there is no specific word for yes.

Once read somewhere that 'Danny Boy' was written by an Englishman who'd never been to Ireland.

Corned beef and cabbage isn't Irish either - it's what poor Irish immigrants ate in America.

Somebody who'd been there told me that in Blarney, a pastime of some of the locals is to sneak into the castle after hours and pee on the Blarney Stone as a practical joke on the Yank tourists.

Barry Fitzgerald, who became famous for playing a priest in American movies, was a Presbyterian, a member of Ireland's largest Protestant church, like the Revd Ian Paisley! (This church is a Scottish import and markedly anti-Catholic.)

Most Americans who claim Irish heritage are Protestants!

Finally, St Patrick wasn't Irish! He was partly a Celt, but a Briton, born in Britain! He also was partly Roman, so the Italians can claim him too.

I regret that the times I've been in Britain I've never crossed the Irish Sea. A country that still broadcasts the Angelus on TV has got to have something good about it and I've liked the people from Ireland I've met. (For some reasons self-identified Irish-Americans and I never really clicked, despite all the good will and sympathy I have for their faith and history. But the Irish will tell you the second- and third-generation Americans are different - they're Yanks, not Irish.)

Funny link: How to try to fake an Irish brogue
For jerk poseurs trying to pick up women

On secular people’s sentimentality
As hard to predict as the weather
On lovely acquaintance Marina Belica’s instrumental album last year, one sky, she managed to find Ivan Goff to play pennywhistle on a track - the same Irishman who performed on the much overplayed Céline Dion song 'My Heart Will Go On' from Titanic a few years back. Funny thing about that movie. For all its hackneyed plot devices and fictionalizing of the disaster I liked it (plus Kate Winslet's a dish - if I hadn't seen her on screen before I wouldn't have known she is English) but I was positive the snide condescending critics and the public who follow them would laugh it right out of the cinema. I was dead wrong! For about six months the public outdid me, going on a binge of sentimentality.

Did you know Dion's husband, René Angelil (right, the creepy older guy who's managed her since she was 12), is an ethnic Arab and Melkite Catholic and their son is a baptized Melkite?

Myth-busting: The Ballad of John and Yoko
Wasn't it romantic? Well, not really - both John Lennon and Yoko Ono were married to other people at the time. For all his repulsiveness (but he can make me laugh), the American radio host Howard Stern always has stood by 'John's real peace-loving wife', the gentle, lovely Cynthia. (Yoko, who's 70 now, BTW, was married to an American called Tony Cox.)