Ireland, known for its green fields and green shamrocks is really the land of the chuckle. “A hundred thousand welcomes,” a traditional greeting is said with a chuckle. “We looked for the grave of the man who invented the cross word puzzle; it was 2 down and 3 across.” Stephen Roach, the famous Irish cyclist answered when asked what do they do with the bicycles after the Tour de France? “They recycle them.” Ask an Irishman if he believes in Leprechauns and he’ll say “No, but I know they’re there.” There’s a chuckle with their jokes and/ or in their wonderful brogue. That infectious chuckle is the natural part of Irish story telling.
Their sayings never end. When describing how the sheepherder O’Reilly watched his dogs do the work moving his sheep, the saying became, “He lives the life of Reilly.” When a charismatic Bishop of Galway befriended Annie Murphy, the result was a baby. This news came out when Annie was on a talk show. So goes the saying after making a mistake, “Don’t worry about it, it could happen to a Bishop.” If a person had a grudge to square, he waited until the Donnybrook Fair. He’d drag his coat waiting for the person to step on it which provoked a fight. Thus became the descriptive word, a “donnybrook.”
This country the size of Maine, populated for over 5000 years and 90% Catholic, packs a wallop of history. Now there are over four million living in the Irish Republic and near two million living in Northern Ireland, which is still under British rule. There are seven million cattle. The exact number of sheep is unknown because the census taker fell asleep.
The country is broken up into counties, like County Kildare which is famous for their stud farms, thought to be the best breeding area in the world. (The Irish like to out-do each other!) Hurling and Gaelic football have big rivalries between counties…Tipperary, Kilkenny and Cork, for instance. We all know the song, “It’s a long way to Tipperary.” But did you know that Henry Ford came from County Cork, which is built on seven hills like Rome? He came from the village of Fairlane; remember the car?
This propensity for humor may come from their history. No, their history is not of joy, but of invasions, wars, killing and famine. In the 7th and 8th centuries, the Vikings raided. Hearing the Irish had set up monasteries, they attacked and looted the chalices, the treasures and books. Conquered and terrorized, the last Irish High King and his army defeated the Vikings in 1014. The Vikings had intermarried and were told to settle down and stop trying to dominate the Irish. The Normans came from England and stayed 800 years.
In 1845 to 1849, the potato, the mainstay of the peasant’s diet had blight; almost overnight farmers woke to a rotting stench. A million died without money to access other foods. Another million signed over their lands to absentee landlords in England for a ticket on a ship. Many died at sea in the “coffin” ships that were not suitable for the hordes of famine refugees. Tony Blair, 150 years late, apologized for England not helping the Irish during these black years.
Another date the Irish will remember is the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland in May, 2011. Huge crowds were overjoyed to see her. They continue to speak of her with a warm glow of appreciation. She was the first monarch from the UK to come to Ireland in 100 years since the Republic of Ireland had received their independence from England.
England, while they ruled Ireland, had it share of murderous desires. When Oliver Cromwell fought England’s King Charles and had him beheaded, he pushed out the Catholic and took land for the Protestants. Years later when Cromwell heard of uprisings by the Catholics he attacked Ireland, murdering people in what was called the “scorched earth” policy. So again, Ireland’s people suffered.
In 1827, Daniel O’Connell, a statesman and lawyer, got the Penal laws changed. Can you imagine being a Catholic and not being able to own anything worth over five pounds, practice religion or vote?
Saint Patrick converted the pagan Irish to Christianity; hence he’s a favored saint. Next is Saint Bridget who set up a monastery in County Kildare. So daily greetings get changed from “Good morning and may God be with you,” to, “…and God and Mary be with you.” Then “…God, Mary and St. Patrick…,” then God, Mary, St. Patrick and St. Bridget…!” As noted, the Irish like to out-do the other person.
Shafts of glorious light in Dublin’s Trinity College’s Old Library rest upon bust of Irishmen that outdid themselves. In this magnificent Long Room you might feel you’ve entered Hogwarts with its high bookcases and the sculptures of Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Moore, W.B. Yeats and James Joyce. So far, they do not move or talk except through their writings.
One of the most beautiful manuscripts in the world given to the College is the Book of Kells. Produced early in the 9th century by the monks of Iona, its vellum pages contain the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), in Latin, each decorated with intricate painted illustrations.
Now we come to some more important stuff; whiskey and stout. Irish whiskey, distilled three times compared to less in other whiskeys, is called the “elixir of life.” Stout, “Mother’s milk,” is the national drink. Walk into a pub, they’re everywhere, meet and greet the Irish and listen to traditional music. (Wine is imported as there is not the climate for growing grapes.)
Arthur Guinness inherited money and bought a brewery in 1759. He had such confidence n his business idea (combining hops, water, barley and yeast), that he signed a 9000 year lease to make stout. It’s said to be full of vitamins good for after birthing babies, (maybe they mean the celebration by the fathers?), and for seniors, (to explain away those “intellectual pauses?”).
Order a pint of Guinness and make sure it’s poured correctly. Stop the pouring a bit before the top of the glass. The bartender should set it aside for two minutes to let it settle. It’s topped off so that when drinking it, you drink through the creamy foam. You can tell if it’s done correctly as foam should coat the sides of the glass after drinking all. Teach your bartender and try a glass. It’s an acquired taste, for sure. Murphy’s stout is brewed in Cork but the most famous is Guinness. It’s the second largest brewery in the world next to Anheuser-Busch.
One can get drunk on Irish lore, believe me we did. It becomes such a part of you while in Ireland that the feeling of being part Irish invades the soul. Since so many Irish immigrated to the United States and other countries this may be the best result of visiting the land of the chuckle.
Recommended: For first time visitors, a tour by bus. In Ireland driving is on the left side of the roads which are narrow and curving in many places. Many signs are in Gaelic so who knows where you are. And, you need to hear Ireland through Irish voices.
CIE Tours – excellent