Wednesday 11 December 2019

Celtic Roots Craic 61 – Irish export – good and not so good!

Sunset in northern Manitoba

You’re most likely listening to this because you love Celtic music and culture. There’s a bit of a sad story behind why that’s so popular around the world – we’ve exported Irish and Scottish culture and music because so many people from this part of the world felt they had to leave here and go somewhere where they felt free from oppression. 

The ‘Highland Clearances’ in Scotland resulted in mass emigration to the New World. The English ruled in Ireland for centuries and anyone who didn’t worship in the English way was persecuted – in other words Presbyterians and Roman Catholics. 

During Penal times, Catholic priests were forced into hiding and would come out to a mass rock in remote country to serve their people communion. If they were caught, those who weren’t executed were imprisoned on an island in the west. Presbyterians, likewise, were forced to hold their ‘hedgerow schools’ out in the wilds and the English mocked them and called them ‘blackmouths’, because the children would have stained mouths from eating wild blackberries. For a time both Catholic priests and Presbyterian preachers had a bounty on their heads.

In Oliver Cromwell’s time many Irish people were forcibly transported to the Caribbean as indentured labour in the sugar and tobacco plantations. These Irish labourers were the first European settlers on the volcanic island of Montserrat in 1632, and it’s had an Irish culture ever since – an Irish scholar in 1831 reported that the Irish language was still spoken by both black and white inhabitants. Unfortunately, the Irish later became owners of imported black African slaves and didn’t treat them any better than they had been treated.

The same sort of thing happened in the US and Canada. Many Scots and Irish went there to find religious freedom, and in the early days, some Highland trappers married native women and became full natives themselves – so that today there are native tribes in Manitoba and Saskatchewan with Scottish names like McGregor, Spence, Tait, Macdonald, Calder … Some became what were known as Anglo-Metis, even developing their own ‘Bungee Creole’ language – which was a mixture of Scots Gaelic, Cree and Ojibwe that is still spoken today in certain parts of Manitoba. 

By the way, we passed on to native Americans a form of music and dance, now known as ‘Jiggin’.’ 

But most Irish and Scottish settlers interpreted the native traditions they observed as ‘pagan’ and eventually laws were introduced to ‘civilise’ these people – the ‘Indian Acts’. In Canada the churches were brought in to manage these ‘Residential Schools’ in an attempt to drive the native out of these children – that’s where the term ‘Final Solution’ first came into use! 

Physical and sexual abuse were rife and nearly 50% of the children didn’t survive their Residential School experience. Those that did had been divorced from their traditions, their language and normal family relationships and that often led directly to alcohol, drug and other ‘substance’ dependence of many native people. When I first travelled to a Manitoba reserve in 2004 I apologised on the local radio station for what people from here had done in our name – I got a very positive response. If you want to know more about this check out my ‘Broken Treaties’ podcast on

So, nearly anywhere you go in the world you’ll find Irish people – 50 million of them in the US! As like as not they’re involved in building something – and likely spending the proceeds on quenching their thirst and loosening their vocal chords for a wee bit of a ’session!’  But the reason they originally left here to travel to these far off places was maybe not so pleasant. 

Celtic Roots Craic 60 – Belfast, bil-fahst and Canada, eh?

Belfast Harbour at night

Well, yez all seem to like learnin’ how things are said and done in this part of the world. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeatin’ – there’s no such thing as an Irish accent, there’s a whole host of different accents! 

We were at a Thanksgiving feed the other night – about a hundred of us – and there were some Americans there, obviously; some Canadians, too – and opposite me was a friend from Cork – or as they would say, Cark! And a couple of weeks ago we were down in Dublin – for the first time in quite a while. If ye’ve ever had to drive through Dublin, ye’ll appreciate the reasons for avoiding it, unless you’re actually going there. 

Anyway, we were at an International Crime Writers Festival, called, ’Murder One’ – my wife, Gerry, had been asked to read at it. It was in Templebar and we stayed two nights at a hotel in Templebar – a very noisy place at night, with live music in a pub just opposite, but a great place to eat out. We had Greek food one night and Irish boxty another night, with a Russian waiter serving us. 

So, at the Thanksgiving meal we were discussing the fact that both Belfast and Dublin have not one, but two, accents – there’s the 'real Dub' accent of the inner city and then there’s the polite – sometimes called, ‘West Brit’ – accent of the suburbs.

Belfast is the same, only different – if yer from the Newtownards Road ye would probably say, ‘East Belfaast,’ and in the west they’ll say, ‘West Belfaast’, Same with the Shore Road, they’ll say ‘North Belfaast.' But people from more polite parts – like the Malone Road – would say they’re from ’South Belfast!’  

If yer from Belfast nearly every sentence will end with, now – only it’s pronounced, ‘Nye!’ but if yer from county Antrim, it’ll end with, ‘hey’ ‘I’m from Ballymena, hey!’ And if you live in Derry, hey – no that’s just Derry/Londonderry, with a ‘hey’ stuck on the end, so you can stop Googling where Derryhay is, you won’t find it! – they have their own variation – they’ll say something like, ‘I’m from Derry, hey, mugger!’ 

Actually, we’re not the only ones to end sentences with a particular word. Canadians are famous for putting, ‘eh?’ at the end of a sentence – y’ know, ‘How do you spell ‘Canada’ – it’s  C, eh? N, eh? D eh?’ and not to be outdone, the New Yorkers have their own variation, ‘Huh?’ 

Many years ago – while I was still single – I shared a house just outside Belfast with a friend, John Garrett, from Alabama. We discovered many differences in the languages we both spoke – so that I eventually coined the phrase, ‘The two languages are very similar, aren’t they?’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘Y’know, English and American!’ 

In Ireland a car has a bonnet at the front – the phrase, ‘Pop the hood,’ means something entirely different over here! – you could be eliminating somebody from a rival gang. And cars don’t have fenders, they have wings. We walk on the footpath – not the pavement, and certainly not on the sidewalk!

One thing I will say, though, is Americans and Canadians are usually quite easy to transcribe. I’m compiling a book from radio interviews I did some time ago and the peopl from North America – especially the deep south – they speak steadily and reasonably, whereas the Irish, and the Scots, speak in little bursts. So, that word that you can’t quite make out turns out to be maybe six words all run together. At the moment I’m transcribing an interview with a lady from In-dee-ah – same problem, they speak English – but they pronounce words verrry differently.

So, there ye are, where are ye? Ever since the trouble at the Tower of Babel, communication has become just a wee bit tricky!

Celtic Roots Craic 59 – Patrick's Day, Purim and Molly Bloom's

Murphy's Irish Festival, Tel Aviv

Well, it just so happens that two celebrations are happening back to back this weekend – the Jewish festival of Purim finishes on the 14th of Adar – which is Sunday 16th – and, of course, St. Patricks Day is on the 17th! But y’all knew that last bit, didn’t ye? Anyway, chag Purim sameach to all our Jewish and Israeli listeners. Apparently, there are several day long parties happening at several pubs across Israel. 

At Purim the Jews celebrate the story of Queen Esther, who delivered the whole Jewish race from extinction by the wicked Haman. She fasted and prayed, then went in to the Persian king, her husband, without being summoned, which could have resulted in her own death. Thankfully, the king looked kindly on her and heard her request on behalf of her people. In the end, it was the wicked Haman who was executed, along with his whole family.

To celebrate the deliverance from death of Purim, the Jews give each other presents of food and drink, recite the complete story of Esther, from the bible, donate to charity, eat a lot of food, dress up in fancy dress and masks, drink a lot of alcohol and celebrate in the streets, with dancing and so forth. So, there’s not a whole lot of difference between Purim and St. Paddy’s Day, is there?

Now, you may not be aware of this, but the Israelis are mad keen on Irish music and there are Irish pubs all over Israel. I can’t claim to have visited every one of them – even with my five trips to Israel, so far – but I did get to an Irish festival in Tel Aviv in 2006, which led to me meeting a Jewish brother and sister, originally from here in Ireland – well, he WAS carrying a bodhran! They told about the best Irish pub in Tel Aviv and, of course, I decided to investigate.

The pub is called ‘Molly Bloom’s’ (she was the wife of Leopold Bloom, who was the hero of James Joyce’s book, ‘Ulysses’) and the pub is at the end of Mendele Street, in Tel Aviv, beside the beach. Apparently, on St. Patrick’s Day the street is so packed that the police come and close it off to traffic. 

Anyway, I found it easily enough, and went in to find a packed Irish pub, great food, draught Guinness, and about twenty Irish musicians playin’ their hearts out. One girl had the most beautiful clear Irish voice, singing an unaccompanied song – but it turned out, to my great surprise, that there wasn’t an Irish person among them! They were all native Israelis and brilliant musicians. Needless to say, I’ve been back there since – both for the music, the Guinness and for the great food (the seafood pie, or the venison sausages? Hmm!)

Strange to say, I’ve not officially performed in any of these pubs – though I have busked in Jerusalem at the end of Shabbat – but maybe one day in the future I’ll put that right!  

St. Patrick’s Day is also celebrated all over Moscow and in other strange and far-flung places. So, wherever ye happen to be, ‘Paddys lá sona’ or ‘Lá fhéile Phádraig shona duit.’ – have a great St. Patrick’s Day!

Celtic Roots Craic 58 – 'To Finaghy and beyond'

Captain Courier van – 'To Finaghy and beyond!'

The other day I came across it again, a wee courier service in the Belfast area humorously named, 'To Finaghy and Beyond!' Finaghy, in case ye didn't know, is a village just to the west of Belfast, towards Lisburn – where I originally come from. Finaghy actually means 'white field', fionn being the Irish word for white.  Most place names in this part of the world are from Irish, for instance Belfast comes from Bel Fierste, which means 'mouth of the sandbanks'.  

A lot of place names have common features – the most likely is Bally, from the Irish 'Boile', meaning 'place of' – so we get places like Ballynahinch, 'place of the island' 'inch', or 'inish' meaning island.  Ballymore would mean 'the big place', whereas Ballybeg means 'the lttle place'. The same with places called Dromore and Drumbeg – both in Co. Down, meaning 'big hill' and 'little hill', respectively. Bunmore and Bunbeg are again 'big river mouth' and 'little river mouth', respectively.  Derry comes from the Irish 'doire', meaning 'an oakwood' – so again you'll find Derrybeg and Derrymore, or sometimes Deramore, all over the place. In Co. Down we have a small place known as Derryboye, 'boy' meaning yellow.

The Irish word for a rock is 'carraig', (from which we get the name Craig), or sometimes 'carrick', for example Carrickfergus, a port town in Co. Antrim, meaning 'the rock of Fergus'. You'll also find plenty of places called Ballincarrig, or Ballycarry – 'place of the rock', and similar. The word for black is 'dubh', as in Dublin, which comes from the Irish Dubh Ling, meaning 'black pool'. So Carrigdubh, or more likely Carryduff, simply means Black Rock

Another common place name is 'maghera', which means 'a plain', so you get Magherafelt in Co. Derry, Maynooth in Co. Kildare, and Moycullen, in Co. Galway. A great one in Co. Down is the townland of Magheraconluce, which means 'plain of the meadow of the fort'. Another example is the area known as The Maze, near Lisburn, famous for The Maze Racecourse.

A lot of Irish place names have some religious significance. The Irish word 'kill', meaning a cell, or church, is found all over the country, from Kill, in Co. Kildare, outside Dublin, to Shankill, meaning 'old church' – found near Bray, Co Wicklow, Lurgan, Co. Armagh and also, of course, in north Belfast – the famous, or infamous, Shankill Road.  There are lots of Killbegs and Killmores, Killdrums, Killoughs and so forth. The word 'temple', from the Irish 'teampaill', also meaning church, is often found, for example, Templepatrick, Co. Antrim, or Templemore, in Co. Tipperary.

A more unusual word for church though is Donagh, which literally means 'Lord', but is usually short for 'the Lord's house' – Donaghadee, in Co. Down, for example, means 'the Lord's house of St. Dee'. Donaghmore in Co. Tyrone just means 'big church'. 'Tobair' is an Irish word meaning 'a well', so you get places like Tobermore, 'big well', in Co. Derry, and the monastery of Tobair Mhuire, or 'Mary's Well', in Crossgar, Co. Down. There's a Ballintober, 'place of the well' in Co. Roscommon, and another Ballintubber, in Co. Mayo.

Then there are lots of variations on the word 'fort'.  'Dun' is a an example, usually meaning a fortified house, or stronghold, so we get Co. Down = 'An dun', Downpatrick, Dunmurry, near Belfast, (next to Finaghy, actually!), Dunfanaghy in Co. Donegal, and lots of Dundrums, Dunbegs, Dunmores, etc. 'Lis' is another word for a fort, usually a Celtic ring fort. I've mentioned Listooder before, which is 'fort of the tanner'. Lisnagarvey, Co. Antrim, was the old name for Lisburn, 'Garvey's fort', or 'fort of the gamblers', until the fire there in the 1600s, when it was renamed, Lisburn.  

Yet another name for a fort is 'rath', which refers to the earthen bank enclosing a fort, whereas 'lis' refers to the open space inside. There are quite a few places with 'rath' in their name, Rathlin Island, off the north coast of Co. Antrim, being an obvious one. In Dublin you have Rathfarnham, with its castle, and just outside Belfast there is the Rathcoole Estate, along with a few Rathmores, and a village simply called Rath, in Co. Tipperary.  'Rath' is often abbreviated to 'ra', for example, Rathmelton, in Co. Donegal, which is spelt 'Rath melton', and the townland of Rademon in Co. Down, which comes from 'rath, (or fort,) of the demons'. A stone fort is usually referred to as a 'caiseal', from which the word 'castle' obviously comes, so most names have become castle, e.g. Newcastle, which can be found in several places in Ireland. The famous one is of course the Rock of Cashel, from which Cashel town gets its name.

And before we leave the subject, there's also 'droichead', which means 'bridge', from which we get Drogheda, the town in Co. Louth, and Droiched Nua, or Newbridge, in Co. Kildare.

Celtic Roots Craic 57 – 'Uisce beatha' or a pint a' 'double'

'Warrior Maid' moored in Groomsport Harbour

The sad news is that my boat, Warrior Maid, has sustained a fair bit of damage to the keel over the winter. In fact, it actually sank just before Christmas – though I managed to pump it out later the same day and get it floating again. I had to spend most of the following night during high tide travelling up and  down to the harbour and pumping it out every hour and a half, as the water was coming in steadily. Next day when the tide came up again I pumped her out again and we moved her up the slipway, where she can't possibly sink again. In the wintertime the slip isn't too busy but, even so, I need to get the boat lifted out onto dry ground ASAP. Now that I've got my boat trailer back from a friend, I'll be able to get the crane down to lift her out.  

So, I've been working out in the cold quite a bit – making adjustments to the trailer, cutting, welding, angle-grinding, de-rusting and painting – while I have the chance. Once the boat is on the trailer, I can forget about it for a wee while and start to get some work done on converting my stone barn into a home. The other day, the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, with very little wind, and I worked until it set – by which time it was getting pretty cold. On the way home I was driving west with the remains of a beautiful sunset lighting up the sky in front of me and a huge orange full moon rising behind me. Spectacular!

Well, it's getting close to St. Patrick's Day again, and lovers of Celtic and Irish music and culture all over the world will be wantin' to celebrate the fact. It's amazin' that they don't do this with St. David's Day, St. Andrew's Day, St. George's Day or any other saints day that I know of.  What is it about an Irish saint that has made him so popular? St. Patrick's Day is celebrated enthusiastically in north America, Russia and Israel – as well as many other places where there are Irish immigrants.

I've been to Israel a few times and one of the best Irish pubs I've been to is called Molly Bloom's – right beside the beach in Tel Aviv. The food is great and the music and the atmosphere is even better. The first time I was there was a few weeks before St. Patrick's Day and even on Friday evening (not always the best time for entertainment in Israel) there were around twenty musicians playing in a session there. There is music Monday, Wednesday and Friday – it just starts earlier on Friday. There were guitars, banjos, bodhrans and fiddles galore – and a girl singer with a beautiful 'Irish' lilt …  But there wasn't an Irish person among them!  Every single one was an Israeli. And all over Israel you can find other bars that play Irish music on a regular basis – even in Arad, down in the Negev.

Apparently, Irish culture – and recently especially the northern Irish accent, etc. – is the most popular around the world. No wonder then that when I go abroad – even though, being from Northern Ireland, my passport says 'British' – I don't claim to be British, but Irish.

Locke's Distillery, Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath

As well as welcoming Irish culture and music around the world, people internationally seem also to have got more and more of a taste for our national spirit – Irish whiskey. Or 'uisce beatha' as it's said in Irish. 'Uisce beatha' is simply a direct translation of the Latin, 'aqua vitae' – 'water of life' in English – and it used to be brewed by monks in monasteries around Ireland. Today there are really only four major distilleries of Irish whiskey in Ireland – so nearly all the different brands of Irish whiskey come from one of these four. One is based way down in Co. Cork, in Midleton;  another is just across the border in Co. Louth, on the Cooley Peninsula, and they also now own the third, originally Locke's Distillery in Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath. The fourth distillery is in Co. Antrim, at Bushmills on the River Bush.  

I've been on a tour around this distillery – famous for it's Black Bush and Coleraine whiskeys. At the end of the tour you get a free sample of one of the products. That reminds me of the Irishman who once drowned in a vat of whiskey – apparently, he got out three different times to go to the bathroom! That didn't happen to me, thankfully, as – believe it or not – I'm not really a whiskey drinker. I do like the odd pint of the beor dhu mind you – the black stuff, Guinness, that is.

There is a story told – whether true or not, I wouldn't know – of Arthur Guinness witnessing the extreme drunkenness of many Dubliners one Sunday morning, due to their consumption of Irish whiskey the night before. According to this story, Arthur decided that he would produce a much less alcoholic drink that would be much more difficult to get drunk on – hence the birth of Guinness. Arthur actually started by brewing ales, following in his father's footsteps. His father, as land steward for the Archbishop of Cashel, was responsible for brewing beer for the workers on the estate. After he'd been going for a while, a black beer, called porter, brewed in London, became popular in Dublin. Arthur decided to brew this porter himself and soon he was exporting porter to London. After 40 years of brewing he decided to focus his attention on porter, or stout, only.

Many years ago you could go into a pub and order either XXX stout, which was much stronger, or XX, but Guinness withdrew the XXX variety. Even today, you can go into most pubs in Ireland – excepte maybe the trendy ones – and order a pint of 'double.'  With no further explanation required, a pint of Guinness should soon appear. In fact, in most country pubs, just ordering a pint will produce a Guinness, unless you specifiy some other beer. Although porter, or stout, was a relatively new invention, there is mention of vats of black beer in ancient Irish legends such as The Tain – so maybe Guinness is just the latest edition of something which is really as old as the hills.