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. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge
    Marjorie Reynolds
    @MarjorieReynolds

    Zafar (View Comment):

    But I like corned beef!

    I only ever had it for dinner once in Dublin at a friend’s house, it wasn’t a staple in the west although sometimes we might buy slices of it like slices of ham. Bacon and cabbage though, that’s the job. 

     

    • #31
  2. danok1 Member
    danok1
    @danok1

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Is the term “boiled dinner” 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.

    Pretty sure it’s a New England/Maritimes term. I’ve never heard it outside of those areas.

    • #32
  3. danok1 Member
    danok1
    @danok1

    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.

    My father’s families went from the Herbridian isles of Coll and Tiree to Cape Breton, NS, in the late 18th/early 19th centuries. Based on the history of the Hebrides, I would not be surprised to have a portion of Irish blood (along with a very diluted bit of Norse blood).

     

    • #33
  4. Eridemus Coolidge
    Eridemus
    @Eridemus

    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.

    Wow, similar to the German Cospers family legend. Multiple brothers, some vague duel, consequent flights to elsewhere including New World. I wonder if this is a widespread archetype family history that was true for some but copied by others who didn’t recall their own and told variants of it?

    • #34
  5. Suspira Member
    Suspira
    @Suspira

    What’s wrong with ya, brother? Corned beef is the best, even if the Irish have never tried it. I am just back from Ireland and was treated to the traditional bacon-and-cabbage dish. The “bacon” is, of course, most likely a type of ham. Anyway, it’s delicious and the real deal. Irish-Americans probably substituted corned beef when they reached the Promised Land.

    • #35
  6. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    I already shared these pictures in Paddy’s thread, but here they are again. From the 1990s, before I got a proper digital camera. 

    The cliffs of Moher photo comes with a funny story. We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast not far from the cliffs. We discovered the place was hosted by someone from our home town in Texas, who married an Irish lass and inherited the business. 

    I blame guys like him for the deplorable shortage of redheads in Texas. 

    • #36
  7. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    I’ve stayed in Culloden House! Very civilized despite the unfortunate outcome of its history. 

    Sadly, I have no Irish ancestry. But, then, neither did St. Patrick. ;-)

    • #37
  8. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Marjorie Reynolds (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    But I like corned beef!

    I only ever had it for dinner once in Dublin at a friend’s house, it wasn’t a staple in the west although sometimes we might buy slices of it like slices of ham. Bacon and cabbage though, that’s the job.

    Only bacon could make boiled cabbage palatable.

    • #38
  9. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    danok1 (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.

    My father’s families went from the Herbridian isles of Coll and Tiree to Cape Breton, NS, in the late 18th/early 19th centuries. Based on the history of the Hebrides, I would not be surprised to have a portion of Irish blood (along with a very diluted bit of Norse blood).

    If any female Irish ancestors lived within walking distance of any major waterway anytime between 800 and 1000 AD there is a very good chance you have Viking ancestry.

    • #39
  10. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Marjorie Reynolds (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    But I like corned beef!

    I only ever had it for dinner once in Dublin at a friend’s house, it wasn’t a staple in the west although sometimes we might buy slices of it like slices of ham. Bacon and cabbage though, that’s the job.

    Only bacon could make boiled cabbage palatable.

    A few crazed individuals add turnips to their cabbage in boiled dinners–how much bacon would it take to make that palatable?  I say a whole pig.

     

     

     

    • #40
  11. danok1 Member
    danok1
    @danok1

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    danok1 (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.

    My father’s families went from the Herbridian isles of Coll and Tiree to Cape Breton, NS, in the late 18th/early 19th centuries. Based on the history of the Hebrides, I would not be surprised to have a portion of Irish blood (along with a very diluted bit of Norse blood).

    If any female Irish ancestors lived within walking distance of any major waterway anytime between 800 and 1000 AD there is a very good chance you have Viking ancestry.

    Oh yeah. I have a little knowledge of the history of the Hebrides, from the Dál Riata to the Kingdom of the Isles to the present day. 

    • #41
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    The Reticulator (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.

    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.

    I should probably clarify that “they say they never heard of it” most likely means “they say they never heard of it as a St Patrick’s day food.”  I probably know most of the people she talked to about it, and one might be the same person who had trouble believing I had run into people in the west of Ireland who didn’t speak English, or at least didn’t want to. These people spoke only Irish. One of them was the husband of one of our B&B hostesses, and there were others as well. When I later pointed out that even Wikipedia says there are pockets of Ireland with people like that, he didn’t argue the point any further.

    • #42
  13. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (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.

    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.

    I should probably clarify that “they say they never heard of it” most likely means “they say they never heard of it as a St Patrick’s day food.” I probably know most of the people she talked to about it, and one might be the same person who had trouble believing I had run into people in the west of Ireland who didn’t speak English, or at least didn’t want to. These people spoke only Irish. One of them was the husband of one of our B&B hostesses, and there were others as well. When I later pointed out that even Wikipedia says there are pockets of Ireland with people like that, he didn’t argue the point any further.

    I was born in Miami.  The phenomenon of people who speak English but choose to pretend otherwise is known to me. 

    When I was in the Aran Islands 50 years ago, I did not encounter anyone who spoke only Irish. 

    My local guide told me that years back the people felt wealthy after the got paid as extras and for providing food and service to the film crew (I thnk for The Quiet Man (1952) and stopped working on the expectation that movie-making would become a regular thing in the Aran Islands. He also said he only went to the mainland once and apparently tried to enter one of (very few) Chinese restaurants in Galway from the rear after walking down an alley.  Some foreign man with a cleaver chopping vegetables in the rear yard waved a cleaver and jabbered in some heathen tongue and he decided that larger world off the island too complex and crazy and went home. His English was accented, colorful and complete.

    • #43
  14. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    When I was in the Aran Islands 50 years ago, I did not encounter anyone who spoke only Irish.

    One of the people was a shopkeeper on Inishmaan, the smallest of the Aran Islands as far as population goes. The shop was only open for a brief time in the afternoon, and it didn’t matter because whatever we needed didn’t require the use of English. I then told my daughter that she needed to teach me how to say, “I don’t understand” in Irish. I find it useful to be able to say that in a lot of languages.

    My local guide told me that years back the people felt wealthy after the got paid as extras and for providing food and service to the film crew (I thnk for The Quiet Man (1952) and stopped working on the expectation that movie-making would become a regular thing in the Aran Islands. He also said he only went to the mainland once and apparently tried to enter one of (very few) Chinese restaurants in Galway from the rear after walking down an alley. Some foreign man with a cleaver chopping vegetables in the rear yard waved a cleaver and jabbered in some heathen tongue and he decided that larger world off the island too complex and crazy and went home. His English was accented, colorful and complete.

    On that same trip, our daughter ended up explaining to a Galway shopkeeper that we were from America and she was from Dublin.  When asked, she told him how long she had lived in Dublin, and he exclaimed, “Why, you’re almost a native!” He had come from Dublin, too, near the neighborhood where she was then living. And he explained, “I’ve lived in Galway twenty years, but I’ll never be a native.”

    Later, on Inishmaan, I asked our B&B hostess if she had been born and raised on the island. She sighed and said, “No, I’m from Galway. I’ve lived here twenty years, but I’ll never be a native.”

    That was almost ten years ago, early in the season. We had got off the ferry onto Inishmaan, not knowing if there would even be a B&B where we could stay.  We found one and the hostess decided that since the people she was expecting hadn’t got off the ferry with us, we could have their rooms.  Here’s a photo where we’re on our way from the ferry landing. The B&B was way off in the distance, 1.5 miles from the ferry.

    Inishmaan

    John Millington Synge’s cottage (with a thatched roof, directly on the other side of the two ladies I was traveling with) was almost next door to the B&B (the peach colored building to the left) but it wasn’t open at that time of year.

    Synge cottage

    • #44
  15. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    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.

    I quite like that show. I especially love the nun. 

    • #45
  16. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Sadly, I have no Irish ancestry. But, then, neither did St. Patrick. ;-)

    • #46
  17. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    There’s some great travel stuff and pics here.  Much appreciated.

    Almost makes me want to dredge the memory banks for a story or two about communion breakfasts in Boston hosted by Cardinal Cushing that made you think that the whole d*** city was Irish.  And of course, the parade in “Southie.” 

    Almost.  And no pics anyway.  So you’ll have to settle for this:

    • #47
  18. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    There’s some great travel stuff and pics here. Much appreciated.

    Almost makes me want to dredge the memory banks for a story or two about communion breakfasts in Boston hosted by Cardinal Cushing that made you think that the whole d*** city was Irish. And of course, the parade in “Southie.”

    Almost. And no pics anyway. So you’ll have to settle for this:

    I should mention, if anyone manages to get through a few seconds of the above, there is a pic about 15 secs. from the end of an orange building in Southie, to the right of which is a pale yellow store that was one of Whitey Bulger’s lairs.  The enabling of that bum is not something the Irish should celebrate on 3/17.

    • #48
  19. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    There’s some great travel stuff and pics here. Much appreciated.

    Almost makes me want to dredge the memory banks for a story or two about communion breakfasts in Boston hosted by Cardinal Cushing that made you think that the whole d*** city was Irish. And of course, the parade in “Southie.”

    Almost. And no pics anyway. So you’ll have to settle for this:

    I should mention, if anyone manages to get through a few seconds of the above, there is a pic about 15 secs. from the end of an orange building in Southie, to the right of which is a pale yellow store that was one of Whitey Bulger’s lairs. The enabling of that bum is not something the Irish should celebrate on 3/17.

    You would quickly run out of plaques if you wanted to commemorate Whitey Bulger’s more infamous movements. But of course, the noble Bob Mueller cleaned up the aftermath of the FBI disgrace in Boston, as we all know.

    My brother had a video of one of Billy Bulger’s St. Patrick’s Day gatherings. It was a delight to watch that charlatan mock every pol in town, in person, kind of a reverse roast.

    • #49
  20. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    You would quickly run out of plaques if you wanted to commemorate Whitey Bulger’s more infamous movements. But of course, the noble Bob Mueller cleaned up the aftermath of the FBI disgrace in Boston, as we all know.

    My brother had a video of one of Billy Bulger’s St. Patrick’s Day gatherings. It was a delight to watch that charlatan mock every pol in town, in person, kind of a reverse roast.

    Not surprised. As they say everywhere don’t get me started.  I worked in the Boston State House before heading to D.C.  It’s probably the only  way that working in D.C. would be a moral upgrade.

    • #50
  21. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Old Bathos: Patrick famously sermonized on the Trinity using a shamrock—three leaflets but one entity and it became the symbol of Ireland.

    There is a short and informative video about Patrick and Catholic teachings that help non-Christians understand that whole deal while giving valuable information about Patrick.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQLfgaUoQCw

    • #51
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