Posts Tagged ‘irish’

Photo: Irish History
In Ireland and elsewhere, a ring of mushrooms is thought to be a
fairy ring.

Turtle Bunbury posts lots of interesting stories about Ireland on Facebook, and recently he shared an article about the notoriously vengeful Irish fairies.

Michael Fortune, folklorist and filmmaker, writing at an Irish publication called the Journal, says that “there’s not a village in the country that doesn’t have these fairy stories. Our folklore tell us that they inhabit certain places: bushes, stones, corners of fields and especially old enclosures which number 40,000 plus around the country. …

“It’s generally claimed that we have lost some 10,000 since they were first mapped in the 19th century and this is mostly due to mechanisation and developments in agriculture, land reclamation etc.

“Growing up on the coast of Wexford my own late father brought me to every raheen in our area, while in the same breath showed me the spots where others once stood and most importantly, told me who was involved in removing them and the consequences they suffered. …

” ‘It’s not worth the risk,’ I repeatedly hear from farmers. …

“When the landscape changed due to developments in agriculture and field formation over the centuries, these physical spaces were left behind, untouched and this is where your fairy paths come into play. …

“We literally have thousands of stories relating to the consequences of building/interfering on such paths recorded in our archives or alive in the stories of communities around the country. …

“In extreme cases I’ve seen houses abandoned due to the torment brought on by the fairies. And if your DIY skills couldn’t fix it, you’d call for some outside expertise and I’m not talking Dermot Bannon here with his concepts of light and open spaces. No, more along the lines of those those ancient Druid like fellas with their prayers, magic water and long flowing cape ie the local parish priest.

“Although Rome mightn’t have agreed with their actions, there are numerous accounts of priests being brought in to perform exorcisms of sorts on such houses all over the country. In my own village in Wexford one such story still survives of a priest who was brought into a house which the fairies visited every night and after ‘driving the fairies out, he died three weeks later as a result of his efforts.’ Such was the power of the fairies.” More at the Journal, here.

I loved Fortune’s video of two believers. I especially loved their brogue since I failed to record James‘s speech, and now he’s gone.

Film: Michael Fortune
Two men discuss encounters with the fairies in Ireland.

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070314-james-hackettJames J. Hackett, storyteller and harness maker, Moate, Ireland, 1937-2017. Seen here visiting his Kelly cousins in Rhode Island.

The late James J. Hackett, quintessential Irish raconteur, did not have an easy life. But the joy he brought to people through his storytelling and kindness leads me to say he led the best kind of life.

I met James through his visits to his Kelly cousins in New Shoreham and wrote about him on the blog.

Turtle Bunbury, co-author with James Fennell of the Vanishing Ireland book series, interviewed James for volume 3, Recollections of Our Changing Times. He put these words on Facebook yesterday.

“Farewell, JJ Hackett (1937-2017), Harness Maker & Poet — Ballinakill, Moate, Co. Westmeath

James Fennell and I are very sad to learn of the passing of James J Hackett last night, 14 September 2017. He was an absolute gentleman and an inspirational man who, perhaps more than anyone we encountered during the Vanishing Ireland project, personified the resilience and generosity of his generation. Here is his story from the third volume of the series, which we post as a tribute to JJ and as a salutation to his brother Michael.

‘There is no doubting that JJ Hackett is one of the more unusual farmers in the parish. He quotes Wordsworth while stoking the Stanley stove.[i] He has a pet crow who can recognise strangers. He is a fan of the philosopher Edmund Burke and he knows plenty about the Abbé Edgeworth from Longford who blessed King Louis XVI as he awaited his execution.[ii] He’s also written his own memoirs, ‘Days Gone By’, for which he is justly acclaimed across the county. His tales are thoughtful but upbeat and give considerable insight into the rough ride he’s had along the way.

‘ “I was born with a deformity,” he says. “My right hip was out and it’s still out. Nurse Brophy, the midwife, didn’t realise. There’s a poem about her. ‘Here comes Nurse Brophy on her new Raleigh bike, out by Mount Temple and home by the Pike’. I didn’t walk until I was seven years of age simply for the reason that I couldn’t walk.[iii] And to this day I do tire easily, especially walking behind a funeral. …

‘Calamity struck in early 1949, the very same dark winter’s night that his younger sister Margaret was born.

“We weren’t long home from school but a tree fell on top of me. It broke the collar-bone, the cranium and it done in the right knee. I was put in a wheelbarrow and taken to Mullingar Hospital, broken up. I never went back to school. I was in hospital for about a year and ten months and I couldn’t walk for about two years.” …

‘Daniel secured his son an apprenticeship as a harness maker with a saddlery and upholstery business in Moate.[xii] His co-workers were an unusual trio whom JJ refers to as “the three deaf mutes.” None of them could speak or hear. And one of them, John Casey from Limerick, was operating with a single eye. “He lost his left eye with a needle when he was making mattresses,” explains JJ. “That taught me to keep the face turned away when I made them. And yet he could turn a collar for a horse, a mule, a donkey or a jennet.”[xiii]

‘They were the elite of harness makers.” ’

For more text, some footnotes, and good photos, see Turtle Bunbury on Facebook. Or buy the book. I wish I had recorded James’s rich brogue. I can almost hear it in Turtle’s interview. Can you?

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In environmental news, Lloyd Alter at Treehugger reports that an Irish county now requires new homes to meet the very high standard of energy efficiency called passive.

“In Ireland’s Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County, a near suburb of Dublin, it’s now the law. …

“The building codes there are pretty tight already. And it’s not completely a done deal; the national Minister of the Environment, of all people, may challenge it out of concern that it might raise the cost of housing. However the local Passive House Association says that it’s not necessarily true, and showed case studies demonstrating that in fact they could build passive houses ‘at or below conventional build costs.’

“Writing in Passive House Plus, Pat Barry of the Irish Green Building Council noted that really, it’s all about just trades having the skills and doing the job right. …

“As many as 20,000 houses could be built in the county, houses that cost almost nothing to heat, produce almost no CO2, and are comfy as can be day or night, sun or no sun.”

More here.

Photo: Kelvin Gillmor
Irish passive house built on a budget
. Hmmm. Does it burn wood?

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When John was in fifth grade, the parent-teacher association held a “cakewalk” as a fundraiser. It was kind of like Musical Chairs except players didn’t sit down. People would get eliminated in each session, and the last one standing would win one of the cakes. At the time, the idea was new to me.

Now, as I’ve been looking into James Hackett’s Days Gone By again, I am realizing the cakewalk was based on a much older custom.

Writes James, “The cake dance, to which references were made frequently in the 18th and 19th century, was not a particular dance but rather a baire or session of dancing of which a cake was offered to the couple who proved themselves the best dancers. These events were usually sponsored by the local alehouse or tavern, and such gatherings were associated with hurling and other athletic contests. …

“The cake to be danced for is provided at the expense of the publican, or alehouse keeper, is placed on a board, which in turn is put on top of a pike that stands ten feet high, and from it hangs a garland of meadow flowers and also some apples fastened with pegs on the outside of the garland. … Those who are able to dance the longest around the cake are declared winners.”

Photo found here.
If you know where to find a photo of an actual Irish cake dance, let me know. In the meantime, here is an Irish piper accompanying a couple dancers.

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I have decided that if Ireland ever names people as national treasures, it should include James J. Hackett of Moate.

Last night at the Kellys’ party, James clinked the glasses at the table and called everyone to attention. Then he recited Yeats’s poem “The Ballad of Father Gilligan,” preceding it with a little history and acting out all the parts.

The grandson of a man who taught Latin and Greek in a hedgerow school back in the dark days when the English forbade sending Irish children to school, James has taken it upon himself to preserve the culture. His ordinary conversation is a living history, and he is frequently dropping into poetry.

James’s book Days Gone By is written in the way he speaks when talking to friends or taking people on a tour of some ruin. Consider this sample.

“It was long past the witching hour when the poteen revellers came upon Kate resting on the puchann and in a most distressful state.* They took her along to the wake, where she related all her adventures. Great was the wonder and fear that was expressed at hearing this story, and needless to say, many a post mortem was held upon Kate Brambles’s account of the witches’ dance at the half way house in Ballylurkin Bog on the Hallow’een night that Tubbs Lanigan was waked.”

Recent chronicler of Ireland lore and customs Turtle Bunbury discovered James in Moate and has included him in one of his Vanishing Ireland books. Bunbury also features James on a Facebook page, which I hope to access as soon as Turtle accepts my friend request.

[Update: Turtle has just put my post on his page, here.]

You may recall that I blogged about James once before, here, at another time that he was visiting his Rhode Island cousin.

(*James says a “puchann” is a little hill in a bog.)

Photo: Suzanne’s Mom
James J. Hackett in New Shoreham. He made his own shillelagh of blackthorn. He also made one for John and mailed it to him with instructions on how to cure the wood.



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In case you missed it (ICYMI, as they say on twitter), National Public Radio had a delightful story about Irish Jews last weekend:

“St. Patrick’s Day in New York now means parades and green beer. But 50 years ago, it also meant green matzo balls at the annual banquet of the Loyal League of Yiddish Sons of Erin. The league was a fraternal organization of Irish-born Jews.

“The major migration of Jews to Ireland started in the 1880s and ’90s, says Hasia Diner, who teaches history and Judaic studies at New York University. Thousands moved [to Ireland], primarily from Lithuania. …

” ‘Then the Irish Jews, as Jews historically did, they went to where there were better economic opportunities,’ Diner says.

“A lot of Irish Jews found those opportunities in New York. Like many immigrant groups, they kept their culture alive in the New World. And in the early 1960s, they formed the Yiddish Sons of Erin.

“According to member Rosalyn Klein, the whole thing started as a joke. … A restaurant took out a newspaper ad for a meeting of Irish Jews. Klein thinks they didn’t really expect people, but a lot of them showed up.

” ‘And most of them had lived in Dublin, so it was kind of this mishpocha getting together again,’ she says.”

For many years after, a big Jewish St. Patrick’s Day celebration was held in New York and was de rigeur for politicians and celebrities.

More here.

Photo: SmittenKitchen.com.
This is a normal matzo ball. I couldn’t find a green one.

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I spent four months reading MobyDick in 2010, and I must say that for me there was way too much information about different kinds of ropes, how to cut up a whale, and the categories of seagoing creatures. I could not figure out why people I admire read MobyDick over and over.

So, avast! There is now a way for people like me to grasp the essence of Herman Melville’s classic. It’s a one-man show performed by the Irish actor Conor Lovett, who — along with his wife and director, Judy Hegarty Lovett — adapted the book’s highlights.

ArtsEmerson presented this wonder in Boston recently, and I’m in awe.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the actor in his Ishmael role has the stunned, wounded look of Tommy Smothers (remember the insecure brother in the 1970s comedy duo?), Conor is heartbreaking. His facial expressions and body language before he speaks Melville’s famous opening, “Call me Ishmael,” convey a haunted man, one who, like Coleridge’s ancient mariner, has witnessed mysteries beyond human understanding and feels condemned to tell the story to anyone who will listen. His look says, Why was I spared? Why did I choose this voyage? Why did I listen to the prophetic mad sailor Elijah on a wintry Nantucket dock and still choose to sail on the cursed Pequod?

The production is full of dark musings, the roars of a crazed Captain Ahab, and the savagely raging elements of air, water, and fire. But at the outset, stage time is lovingly devoted to the humorous side of Ishmael searching for New Bedford lodgings, having to bunk with the “harponeer” Queeqeg, and learning to recognize the interior decency behind the mask of the “cannibal.”

That the novel is deep is clearer to me now. I’m still pondering Ahab’s speech about whaleness being merely the “mask” that MobyDick wears. When the devout first mate Starbuck says it’s wrong to seek revenge against a whale that is merely a dumb beast — a creature of God — Ahab counters that beneath the mask is an infinitely malevolent force that must be conquered at all costs. We never feel sure what this force is supposed to be. Satan? Then why do the natural elements seem to take the side of the whale? I’m still wondering why we never learn if the whale dies or lives to wreak havoc another day.

But at last I see why people admire this book. Read more here.

P.S. The play is part of Imagine Ireland, “a year of Irish arts in America.” Check it out.

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