Curmudgeonly Reflections on St. Patrick’s Day

 

There is a corned beef and cabbage dinner underway at home. There will be a family gathering and I will once again pretend to like corned beef and cabbage. The fact that that is considered a highpoint of Irish cuisine is itself a sad commentary on the fate of that historically troubled place.

When I was a very young man, I was given a summer trip to Ireland for three weeks. I visited as many of the ancestral spots as I could find, relying on my aunt’s written guidance. In a small town in County Tipperary, I found the bare ruins of a small castle that could have been the keep of my Norman forbear (before his line went native). There were only two pubs in town and little or nothing to see. I entered one, ordered a shot of Irish and a pint and raised a silent toast to those who got the hell out there and got on a boat so I could be an American.

I have always regarded St. Patrick as truly remarkable. I believe Ireland was the only nation converted to Christianity with virtually no martyrs, a peaceful revolution of consequence and it began with one man. It was not overnight, as I recall reading about a pagan king of Leinster buried standing upright in full armor in the mid 500s AD, but he was the last of his kind.

Patrick famously sermonized on the Trinity using a shamrock—three leaflets but one entity and it became the symbol of Ireland. There is some controversy about which plant species he used. Candidates include the wood sorrel and hop-hop clover. I had a botany professor who claimed the current shamrock was not what Patrick used. On my trip to Ireland that summer I polled many even asking an old man in the Aran Islands who had only been off the island once in his life to help me find a shamrock and I smuggled the samples back my former professor. It was the shamrock as we assume it is and not the plant species he theorized about. He was amused but it was too late to raise my grade.

When Europe was overrun by various barbarian tribes, assaulted by Arabs and pillaged by Vikings, Ireland’s monasteries preserved much of the Western culture, even sending missionaries to the continent to re-introduce Christianity. As a reward for Ireland’s loyalty to the Faith, the only English pope (Adrian IV) declared Ireland to be subject to the English (Anglo-Norman) crown in 1155 and urged an invasion. My last name is derived from that of one such Norman invader. The papal pretext for the invasion was that the system of abbeys and monasteries instead of dioceses was an affront to proper church organization. It is hard to see how that would justify a military solution.

The Normans (presumably including my ancestors) were cruel and ruthless in their conquest of Saxon England and Celtic Wales and not particularly gentle in Ireland a century later, either. But the Normans had organizational and administrative skills that ultimately made England into the first modern nation-state. The great tragedy of the Norman invasion of Ireland is that it permanently denied the Irish an independent national identity and neither completed the conquest and integrate the Irish into a new administrative form such the Irish could enjoy the same path to nationhood as England and France (also achieved with considerable Norman influence).

Brooding on such things on this feast day is quintessentially Irish as wonderfully encapsulated by the indispensable William Butler Yeats:

Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.

We have the virus to contend with this St. Patrick’s Day but I doubt any of my Irish forbears would feel sorry for us given what they endured in eras far tougher to live through than our own. Bless them all for allowing me to be alive and to see my wonderful family gathered tonight for a meal I would gladly otherwise skip.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Ricochet!

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  1. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    I just finished reading Frank Delaney’s book “Ireland”, and loved it.  It made me want to hop the next plane to Ireland, and I still want to visit some time.  I also have been reading Patrick Taylor’s “Irish Country” novels, which are set in Northern Ireland.

    • #1
  2. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    I have no Irish family connection through my ancestors. The only connection is through my descendants.  One of them, anyway. But I like corned beef and cabbage. Good thing you reminded me while there is still time.  

     

    • #2
  3. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I have no Irish family connection through my ancestors. The only connection is through my descendants. One of them, anyway. But I like corned beef and cabbage. Good thing you reminded me while there is still time.

    I guess we didn’t stock up properly while we were building up our hoard of oatmeal. Mrs R. says, “You ask anyone in Ireland about it, and they say they never heard of it.”  I like corned beef and cabbage, anyway.  Most any mix of meat and cabbage is good. Cabbage without meat is good, too.  

    • #3
  4. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Thanks for getting us back to St. Patty’s Day amid all of the tumult.

    My father’s side of the family was of Irish extraction, but I’m not sure that he was a starry-eyed romantic about the old country.  Going back a couple of generations, he used to stay “The Irish spent half of their life trying to get here and the other half talking about how great it was back in Ireland.”

    • #4
  5. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    I have no Irish family connection through my ancestors. The only connection is through my descendants. One of them, anyway. But I like corned beef and cabbage. Good thing you reminded me while there is still time.

    But, did you ever make it to O’Neill for the celebration?

    • #5
  6. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    I want badly to visit Ireland. My great-great grandparents left County Limerick in the 1840s and came to America. I want to see where they were born before I die.

    Image may contain: plant, grass, tree, outdoor and nature

    • #6
  7. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    I have no Irish family connection through my ancestors. The only connection is through my descendants. One of them, anyway. But I like corned beef and cabbage. Good thing you reminded me while there is still time.

    But, did you ever make it to O’Neill for the celebration?

    I’ve been to O’Neill, Nebraska. Is that close enough? (I’m trying to distract attention from the fact that I don’t know what you’re talking about.)

    • #7
  8. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member
    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler
    @Muleskinner

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    I have no Irish family connection through my ancestors. The only connection is through my descendants. One of them, anyway. But I like corned beef and cabbage. Good thing you reminded me while there is still time.

    But, did you ever make it to O’Neill for the celebration?

    I’ve been to O’Neill, Nebraska. Is that close enough? (I’m trying to distract attention from the fact that I don’t know what you’re talking about.)

    I think you got it. Maybe the big celebration in O’Neill was more of a 70s thing. 

    • #8
  9. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Old Bathos: Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.

    That is pretty funny.  Didn’t know Yeats had a sense of humor.

    • #9
  10. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Corned beef, cabbage, red potatoes, and carrots with a Dijon mustard gravy sauce is on the menu tonight.

    • #10
  11. E. Kent Golding Member
    E. Kent Golding
    @EKentGolding

    I like corned beef,  cabbage,  and potatoes.  Separately or in any combination.  Generally,  I like food.

    • #11
  12. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Is the term “boiled dinner” (corned beef and cabbage) prevalent in your respective areas?  Just wondering if it’s a Boston-New England thing or used elsewhere.  It’s not prevalent where I live now.

    • #12
  13. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge
    Marjorie Reynolds
    @MarjorieReynolds

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    I just finished reading Frank Delaney’s book “Ireland”, and loved it. It made me want to hop the next plane to Ireland, and I still want to visit some time. I also have been reading Patrick Taylor’s “Irish Country” novels, which are set in Northern Ireland.

    We’ll do a ricochet meetup once we’re all out of self isolation.

     

    • #13
  14. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Old Bathos:

    There is a corned beef and cabbage dinner underway at home. There will be a family gathering and I will once again pretend to like corned beef and cabbage. The fact that that is considered a highpoint of Irish cuisine is itself a sad commentary on the fate of that historically troubled place.

    We did a family trip to the Motherland in 2006. The story we’ve been told was that my Great-Great Grandfather shot his brother-in-law for selling off the dowry. His father supposedly took the wrap, and the McKenna line was relocated to the New World. 

    I remember my mother speaking recently about the trip: “Thanks Peter D,” she said!

     

    • #14
  15. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Old Bathos:

    There is a corned beef and cabbage dinner underway at home. There will be a family gathering and I will once again pretend to like corned beef and cabbage. The fact that that is considered a highpoint of Irish cuisine is itself a sad commentary on the fate of that historically troubled place.

    We did a family trip to the Motherland in 2006. The story we’ve been told was that my Great-Great Grandfather shot his brother-in-law for selling off the dowry. His father supposedly took the wrap, and the McKenna line was relocated to the New World.

    I remember my mother speaking recently about the trip: “Thanks Peter D,” she said!

    That sounds suspiciously similar to the Kelly family lore. Three brothers got into some kind of trouble; one was imprisoned, one fled to Australia, and the third lit out to the good old USA. 

     

    • #15
  16. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    I have no Irish family connection through my ancestors. The only connection is through my descendants. One of them, anyway. But I like corned beef and cabbage. Good thing you reminded me while there is still time.

    But, did you ever make it to O’Neill for the celebration?

    I’ve been to O’Neill, Nebraska. Is that close enough? (I’m trying to distract attention from the fact that I don’t know what you’re talking about.)

    I think you got it. Maybe the big celebration in O’Neill was more of a 70s thing.

    I think it was in the late 50s that I was there.  I remember having to learn the difference between Neleigh and O’Neill when we moved to Nebraska in 1956.  Neleigh was almost straight south of us, and O’Neill was out west.

    • #16
  17. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Old Bathos:

    There is a corned beef and cabbage dinner underway at home. There will be a family gathering and I will once again pretend to like corned beef and cabbage. The fact that that is considered a highpoint of Irish cuisine is itself a sad commentary on the fate of that historically troubled place.

    We did a family trip to the Motherland in 2006. The story we’ve been told was that my Great-Great Grandfather shot his brother-in-law for selling off the dowry. His father supposedly took the wrap, and the McKenna line was relocated to the New World.

    I remember my mother speaking recently about the trip: “Thanks Peter D,” she said!

    That sounds suspiciously similar to the Kelly family lore. Three brothers got into some kind of trouble; one was imprisoned, one fled to Australia, and the third lit out to the good old USA.

    My embarrassing admission: I’m pretty sure my kin embarked in Canada… Eventually the Taylors got it right though!

    • #17
  18. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    My various Irish ancestors arrived in Boston, New York, Ontario and Savannah for the usual economic reasons. The Scottish part arrived in Nova Scotia after the unfortunate outcome at Culloden.  We are blessed to have lots of lore and stories about most lines. 

    • #18
  19. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    My various Irish ancestors arrived in Boston, New York, Ontario and Savannah for the usual economic reasons. The Scottish part arrived in Nova Scotia after the unfortunate outcome at Culloden. We are blessed to have lots of lore and stories about most lines.

    Oh yeah! You’re practically a pureblood, aren’t you? 

    Same counties? I’m especially curious what brought those who went to Savannah? 

    • #19
  20. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Old Bathos: Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.

    That is pretty funny. Didn’t know Yeats had a sense of humor.

    This photo was taken in Yeats country in October 2016, on a bicycle ride that included a circuit around Lough Gill, near Sligo. The bicycle is a Bike Friday, which folds up and fits in an air-travel sized suitcase.

    Lough Gill

    And here is a photo from a ride north of Sligo, a couple days later. It’s approaching the sea, not far from where Louis Mountbatten was assassinated in 1979 by the IRA, who had planted a bomb in his fishing boat. Nearby is a small marker that mentions it, which is how I learned that this was where it happened. Not much sense of humor here. 

    Mullaghmore

    • #20
  21. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    My various Irish ancestors arrived in Boston, New York, Ontario and Savannah for the usual economic reasons. The Scottish part arrived in Nova Scotia after the unfortunate outcome at Culloden. We are blessed to have lots of lore and stories about most lines.

    Oh yeah! You’re practically a pureblood, aren’t you?

    Same counties? I’m especially curious what brought those who went to Savannah?

    The was a large Irish contingent in Savannah. Still a good town for St. Patrick’s Day partying. My grandfather’s grandfather arrived as a teen, promptly hustled to wealth as a ‘factor’, broker and businessman in Augusta. In fact, despite Sherman’s March, he was still too wealthy to get his US citizenship restored after the Civil War (Confederate officers and anyone worth over $20,000 had to petition the President). We have copies of his correspondence, notations by White House aides and a signed pardon by Pres. Johnson. It was all in DOJ archives.

    I also discovered that the family story that buildings with his company name were spared by an Irish-American Union detachment commanded by a lieutenant with the same last name (no relation) as a courtesy was largely true (they were Irish out of Cincinnati and their former commander, since promoted and in another regiment had that name).

    Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara was based on the successful Georgia Irish community. The Second Georgia (with lots of Irish) faced the Irish Brigade (NY) at Fredericksburg. My ancestor was a major supplier to the Georgia war effort— had barrels of useless Confederate currency at the end of war.

     

    • #21
  22. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    My various Irish ancestors arrived in Boston, New York, Ontario and Savannah for the usual economic reasons. The Scottish part arrived in Nova Scotia after the unfortunate outcome at Culloden. We are blessed to have lots of lore and stories about most lines.

    Oh yeah! You’re practically a pureblood, aren’t you?

    Same counties? I’m especially curious what brought those who went to Savannah?

    The was a large Irish contingent in Savannah. Still a good town for St. Patrick’s Day partying. My grandfather’s grandfather arrived as a teen, promptly hustled to wealth as a ‘factor’, broker and businessman in Augusta. In fact, despite Sherman’s March, he was still too wealthy to get his US citizenship restored after the Civil War (Confederate officers and anyone worth over $20,000 had to petition the President). We have copies of his correspondence, notations by White House aides and a signed pardon by Pres. Johnson. It was all in DOJ archives.

    I also discovered that the family story that buildings with his company name were spared by an Irish-American Union detachment commanded by a lieutenant with the same last name (no relation) as a courtesy was largely true (they were Irish out of Cincinnati and their former commander, since promoted and in another regiment had that name).

    Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara was based on the successful Georgia Irish community. The Second Georgia (with lots of Irish) faced the Irish Brigade (NY) at Fredericksburg. My ancestor was a major supplier to the Georgia war effort— had barrels of useless Confederate currency at the end of war.

    Fascinating! I knew there were Scots-Irish in Savannah, but I always wondered what brought them there. Georgia seems like it would’ve been a miserable place to be before air-conditioning, and I say that as a seventh-generation Floridian. 

    Those must’ve been some tough Micks that made that transition. 

    • #22
  23. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Old Bathos: Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.

    That is pretty funny. Didn’t know Yeats had a sense of humor.

    And here is a photo from a ride north of Sligo, a couple days later. It’s approaching the sea, not far from where Louis Mountbatten was assassinated in 1979 by the IRA, who had planted a bomb in his fishing boat. Nearby is a small marker that mentions it, which is how I learned that this was where it happened. Not much sense of humor here.

    Mountbatten’s murder was not just wrong and pointless but the single worst political and PR move the IRA ever did.  Almost eighty, a highly respected military man and an innocent man.  Very much what a Royal was supposed to be (unlike much of the current crop).

     

     

    • #23
  24. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Old Bathos: Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.

    That is pretty funny. Didn’t know Yeats had a sense of humor.

    And here is a photo from a ride north of Sligo, a couple days later. It’s approaching the sea, not far from where Louis Mountbatten was assassinated in 1979 by the IRA, who had planted a bomb in his fishing boat. Nearby is a small marker that mentions it, which is how I learned that this was where it happened. Not much sense of humor here.

    Mountbatten’s murder was not just wrong and pointless but the single worst political and PR move the IRA ever did. Almost eighty, a highly respected military man and an innocent man. Very much what a Royal was supposed to be (unlike much of the current crop).

    People with ugly stereotypes attached to them seem to have a way of living up to them, even while complaining about them. 

    • #24
  25. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Marjorie Reynolds (View Comment):

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    I just finished reading Frank Delaney’s book “Ireland”, and loved it. It made me want to hop the next plane to Ireland, and I still want to visit some time. I also have been reading Patrick Taylor’s “Irish Country” novels, which are set in Northern Ireland.

    We’ll do a ricochet meetup once we’re all out of self isolation.

     

    Marjorie, it just tickles me that we have Irish Ricochet members for us to meet up with when we are over there.  Believe me, whenever we schedule a trip in the next few years, we will post a meetup request.  As I’ve always said, when you are a member of Ricochet, you will find members to meet literally wherever you go. You need never be alone in a strange city.

    • #25
  26. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Great post, OB.

    I’m only Irish by marriage.  I do like corned beef and cabbage, though I’m having none today, alas.  It would be up to me to make it, having learned from my dear departed Irish father-in-law.

    Maybe I’ll do it belatedly. 

    • #26
  27. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Irish people do look kind of confused about the corned-beef thing. OTOH, many of them know for a fact that a cheeseburger is part of an American balanced breakfast. 

    • #27
  28. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge
    Marjorie Reynolds
    @MarjorieReynolds

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    Marjorie Reynolds (View Comment):

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    I just finished reading Frank Delaney’s book “Ireland”, and loved it. It made me want to hop the next plane to Ireland, and I still want to visit some time. I also have been reading Patrick Taylor’s “Irish Country” novels, which are set in Northern Ireland.

    We’ll do a ricochet meetup once we’re all out of self isolation.

     

    Marjorie, it just tickles me that we have Irish Ricochet members for us to meet up with when we are over there. Believe me, whenever we schedule a trip in the next few years, we will post a meetup request. As I’ve always said, when you are a member of Ricochet, you will find members to meet literally wherever you go. You need never be alone in a strange city.

    Since I’m going to have some extra time on my hands this month I might just post some trip suggestions here. There will be no corned beef involved.

    • #28
  29. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    But I like corned beef!

    When I was in school in India we had some teachers from Northern Ireland – terrifying and somehow lovable at the same time.  I hadn’t thought of their accent or way of speaking for years (“…from God’s own joool of Ireland”) until I stumbled upon Derry Girls on Netflix – and it all came flooding back.

    They were from the other lot, but Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you all just the same.

    • #29
  30. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Zafar (View Comment):

    But I like corned beef!

    When I was in school in India we had some teachers from Northern Ireland – terrifying and somehow lovable at the same time. I hadn’t thought of their accent or way of speaking for years (“…from God’s own joool of Ireland”) until I stumbled upon Derry Girls on Netflix – and it all came flooding back.

    They were from the other lot, but Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you all just the same.

    My sister-in-law is from Belfast. She has that northern Irish accent in which every sentence ends on a slightly higher note as if it’s a question.  I asked her if that accent was the result of frequent interrogations by authorities.

    • #30
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