ST. PATRICK’S DAY? BAH! HUMBUG!

Here it is two days before March 17, and I’m resigning myself to be the Grinch who stole St. Patrick’s Day. Being a writer of (part) Irish heritage — and thus feeling obliged to beget my readers a post to celebrate the occasion — I’ve been roiling me brain to come up with something about Ireland’s fifth-century snake-chaser that isn’t the same old blarney, but I’ve hit a stone wall stouter than those that subdivide the Irish countryside:

The Stone Walls of Ireland

Enough already. If St. Patrick thinks I’m going to waste another second of my busy day refraining from raining on his parade, he’s got another think coming. There are plenty of other dead fish in the Irish Sea who merit time in the sun, and though it may raise a stink, I am going to turn this post over to them and say “Bah! Humbug!” to St. Patrick.

I showed my appreciation of my native land in the usual Irish way by getting out of it as soon as I possibly could. –George Bernard Shaw

I am allergic to all Irish wit, charm and humor not provided by myself. –Denis Brogan

Good Lord, what a sight/After all their good Cheer/For people to fight/In the midst of their Beer. –Jonathan Swift (from THE DESCRIPTION OF AN IRISH-FEAST)

The lanky hank of a she in the inn over there
Nearly killed me for asking the loan of a glass of beer:
May the devil grip the whey-faced slut by the hair,
And beat bad manners out of her skin for a year.
If I asked her master he’d give me a cask a day;
But she, with the beer at hand, not a gill would arrange!
May she marry a ghost and bear him a kitten, and may
The High King of Glory permit her to get the mange.
–James Stephens (from RIGHTEOUS ANGER)

For the Great Gaels of Ireland/Are the men that God made mad,/For all their wars are merry/And all their songs are sad. –G. K. Chesterton

Other people have a nationality. The Irish and the Jews have a psychosis. –Oscar Wilde

The actual Irish weather report is really a recording made in 1922, which no one has had occasion to change. –Wilfred Sheed

I saw a fleet of fishing boats…I flew down, almost touching the craft, and yelled at them, asking if I was on the right [course] to Ireland. They just stared. Maybe they didn’t hear me. Maybe I didn’t hear them. Or maybe they thought I was just a crazy fool. An hour later I saw land. –Charles Lindbergh (2nd day of first solo transatlantic flight, 5/21/1927)

 

OF LOVERS AND LEAPERS

On Leap Day (Feb. 29), according to an ancient Irish custom, a woman is permitted to propose to a man, who must accept, or pay a penalty. Thus, being of part-Irish descent, my thoughts this day turn — or should I say, leap— to love. Ah, L’AMOUR! Ah, LAMOUR (Dorothy Lamour, that is — she of silver screen memory and part-Irish descent). Sure, and I  still don’t know why she didn’t propose to this dear boy back in those saronged “ROAD” movie days, being as close as the first row of the darkened theater, and I only 22 years younger than she. When love dreams have gone so cruelly unrequited, ’tis THE END OF THE WORLD — one might just as well d(r)ive off a suitable cliff. For example:

Click LOVE ROCKS

Now, if I were a cynic, I might postulate that the daring young man in the flying machine was under the influence of something more substance-tive than love that didn’t click. But this happened in the hallowed Hannibal of our beloved Mark Twain, who coincidentally wrote of a Lover’s Leap called Maiden’s Rock (named for a beautiful Sioux maiden) in his book LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI….so let us not jump to judgment.

Maiden’s Rock and the Lover’s Leap in Hannibal are, of course, but two of many such sites in America and beyond (including one of legendary leaps from a rocky waterfall on the Glencree River, County Wicklow, Ireland). If your love dreams are on the rocks and you’re thinking of taking the plunge, but don’t know where you’d make the biggest splash,

look here BEFORE YOU LEAP

On a happier note, Feb. 29 is a good day to be born because your birthday only comes around every four years. That may put a serious crimp in the number of birthday presents you get, but who wouldn’t exchange that shortfall for quadruple the longevity? I’ll admit I don’t personally know anyone who’s lived to near age 400, probably because such persons cheat and celebrate their non-leap year birthdays on Feb.28 or March 1. Oh, well — who can blame them for not wanting to depend on Depends for the last 300 years of their lives?

But I do know of some of the statistically 1 in 1461 people born on Feb. 29 — people like Jimmy Dorsey, the 1930s-40s Big Band leader; Dinah Shore, the 1940s band vocalist and 1950s-60s TV & recording star; and Michèle Morgan, a French actress who came to the U.S. when Germany invaded France in 1940, and returned after the war. Though little known outside France, she has the distinction of having played opposite Frank Sinatra in his first starring role in the film Higher and Higher (1943), and she almost landed the female lead in Casablanca opposite Humphrey Bogart, but RKO wouldn’t release her to Warner Bros. for the sum of money offered. She is still with us on this, her 96th birthday.

Should we end where we started, leaving the dashed dreams of life and romance on the precipice, as lamented here by Karen Carpenter (born March 2nd)? Don’t they know it’s THE END OF THE WORLD?

Or, should we get a grip, and tell February 29 to take a flying leap? Forward, March!

 

30 NOVEMBER — TO THE SWIFT

As 3o days hath the month of November,
Today marks the end of a month to remember.
Swift doth the day pass into December,
Ere the twain shall meet….in a glowing ember.

The above is my Lilliputian ode to two literary giants who were born on this day: Jonathan Swift  in 1667, Mark Twain in 1835. This post celebrates the former, the latter having been extolled in a post one year ago today (THE UNIVERSAL MARK TWAIN).

Jonathan Swift’s pièce de résistance, of course, was GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, a book I gobbled up when about 12 years old (in an abridged version for children), and still own. However, at that age I didn’t fully appreciate that it was much more than a grand adventure tale — it’s also a masterpiece of parody and social/political satire, as exemplified by the enmity between the empires of Lilliput and Blefuscu over which end of an egg should be broken first before being eaten — a conflict which put Gulliver in the middle between the Big Endians and the Small Endians. Well, I suppose that makes just as much sense as real people fighting over whose god is the Big Enchilada.

Let us turn now to three quotations from the unabridged GULLIVER’S TRAVELS:

Here commences a new dominion acquired with a title by divine right. Ships are sent with the first opportunity; the natives driven out or destroyed; their princes tortured to discover their gold; a free license give to all acts of inhumanity and lust, the earth reeking with the blood of its inhabitants: and this execrable crew of butchers, employed in so pious an expedition, is a modern colony, sent to convert an idolatrous and barbarous people.

The tiny Lilliputians surmise that Gulliver’s watch may be his god, because it is that which, he admits, he seldom does anything without consulting.

It is a maxim among these lawyers, that whatever hath been done before may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities, to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of decreeing accordingly.

I close with three more Swift quotes, the last of which I intend to inscribe on a club to beat anyone who would disparage my stunning cunning punning:

When the world has once begun to use us ill, it afterwards continues the same treatment with less scruple or ceremony, as men do to a whore.

Words are the clothing of our thoughts.

Punning is a talent which no man affects to despise except he that is without it.

 

–30–

 

SANCTUARY

There is Irish blood, gift of immigrant flood,
Coursing through my veins;
There is no life whole without a stroll
Down ancestral memory lanes.

The father of my mother came,
O’er a century ago,
From Yeats’ “Terrible Beauty”
That I one day must know.

No man can come home again:
‘Tis not the days of yore;
But time can’t still the silent call….
“I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”

Then, at last, the moment came,
And I never felt so free
As the day I left to travel back
To my roots across the sea.

Now I, too, have seen and walked
The land time can’t forget;
Now I, too, have known and breathed
The peace that’s yearning yet.

And when I die tomorrow,
I’ll soft-greet eternity —
For I have been where the spirit’s at rest,
And I’ll return again….to Innisfree.

DON’T BLAME ME — I’M IRISH (PART FOUR)

I contemplated concluding this four-part series with thoughts and reminisences on my tour of the Emerald Isle some thirty years ago, but I have so many fond memories that I lack the time, and perhaps the words, to do them justice. Besides, recounting personal vacation trips is a dubious proposition of boring potential at best, so I’ll spare you (and me) the task, and go instead with a few swigs of St. Patrick’s Day trivia and a wee bit of Irish Lit, writ and wit.

Let’s start with St. Patrick himself. One might assume that St. Patricks Day is celebrated on March 17 because that’s his birthday, but in fact, his exact birth date is unknown. March 17 is the day he died (in the year 461).

The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in NYC on March 17, 1762. For more on this and other things Irish, click on these short video clips:

http://www.history.com/topics/st-patricks-day/history-of-st-patricks-day/videos/nyc

As for Irish Lit, one of the earliest surviving manuscripts is the painstakingly crafted and astonishingly beautiful Book of Kells (circa 800), which I had the pleasure of viewing at Dublin’s Trinity College Library. See for yourself at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Kells

Ireland, of course, has produced some of the greatest satirists and masterpieces of wit in history, including Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest), George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion, on which My Fair Lady is based), and John Millington Synge (The Playboy of the Western World). Excellent movies (and some not-so-excellent re-makes) have been made of all, and I close with a quote or a clip from each:

The tiny Lilliputians surmise that Gulliver’s watch may be his God, because it is that which, he admits, he seldom does anything without consulting.  –Gulliver’s Travels (1939)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eymdx4xomM  –The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=EADz07k_wXU  –Pygmalion (1938)

…if it’s a poor thing to be lonesome, it’s worse maybe to go mixing with the fools of earth.  –The Playboy of the Western World (1962)

May this St. Patrick’s Day find you neither lonesome nor with the fools of earth.

DON’T BLAME ME — I’M IRISH (PART THREE)

I have long had a fascination with interesting place names — especially those with odd and/or humorous connotations, such as the libidinously-named Intercourse, Pennsylvania, or the differently-torrid town of Hell, Michigan.

Ireland, as you might imagine, has its share of “Far-away places with strange sounding names” (as the old hit song put it), so it doesn’t seem far-fetched to devote my third St. Patrick’s Day piece to strange-sounding places in the Emerald Isle….and I can think of no more fitting place to start than the first name on the list:

FAIRYHOUSE, northwest of Dublin, isn’t a town but a racecourse, and not an obscure one either. It is the venue of the renowned Irish Grand National Steeplechase and the Irish Gold Cup. And would you believe the jockeys are leprechauns?

BALLYBUNION, County Kerry, is known as the Town of the Sapling, not the Bunion. Apparently the saplings have no bunions until they grow enough feet to become trees able to have bunions, but that may be just a tall story.

KNOCK, a village in County Mayo, is the site of a church and shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose apparition (with Saint Joseph and John the Evangelist) reputedly appeared there in 1879.  It was not long before KNOCKLONG, a village in County Limerick, got jealous and claimed that Jesus had appeared at their church. Unfortunately, the door was locked and Jesus didn’t KNOCK LONG enough for anyone to hear — or see — him.

LOOP HEAD, is the western-most point of County Clare, where a cliff overlooks a channel of the Atlantic Ocean called the Lover’s Leap. I don’t know how many Loop Heads have leapt off Lover’s Leap, but it’s probably the only place in Ireland where more lovers have drowned their sorrows in water than in liquor.

RECESS, County Galway, is a fishing resort situated in a valley separating the Twelve Bens from the Maamturk Mountains. Why the Twelve Bens need separating from the Maamturk Mountains I don’t know, and since I’m on Recess, I have no intention of checking it out.

If I’m not back by tomorrow evenin’, ye will know I’m still doin’ research for Part Four at the local….library. But never fear — like St.Patrick hisself, I shall return.

DON’T BLAME ME — I’M IRISH (PART TWO)

For day two of our St. Patrick’s Day celebration, we turn to Irish toasts and proverbs. Given the Irishman’s fondness for a wee nip now and then and again, one would expect there to be no shortage of the former, and as for the latter, well, no doubt many an Irish proverb was born of a toast, after more or less sober reflection. In any case….

Everyone is wise till he speaks.

As you slide down the banister of life, may the splinters never point in the wrong direction.

May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live.

If you don’t know the way, walk slowly.

Long life to you, a wet mouth, and may you die in Ireland.

May misfortune follow you the rest of your life and never catch up.

If you want praise, die. If you want blame, marry.

Leprechans, castles, good luck and laughter.
Lullabies, dreams and love ever after.

If you’re lucky enough to be Irish, you’re lucky enough!

May your glass be ever full.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Two days down the hatch and tumor to go (sorry, couldn’t resist). For day three, I’ll get dressed in me Sunday best and request ye be my guest for Part Three.