Sunday, January 11, 2015

Literature -- the Irish Way

You'd be surprised what a few hours of browsing the tourist shops in Dublin will do to ignite your enthusiasm for Irish history, culture and the various uses for sheep. There's so much green, for example, and not so much orange. Why is that? Why is the harp a symbol of Ireland? What do all those Celtic signs mean? Is Dublin really the 'Best City in the World' as it says on the hoodie I've just purchased, hoping it will fit my father? When is Bloomsday anyway? There is no end to the thing called All Things Irish.

"These hats and calendars are half-price," the woman behind the counter says, sweeping the air grandly at the wall of merchandise behind her. She waits for me to choose a hat bearing a four-leaf clover or a calendar of quaint pubs and country inns.

"That's it," I say. "Just the Guinness socks, the Dublin hoodie, the Leprechaun lighter, the ten Celtic design refrigerator spoon magnets, the Irish fudge and of course the sheep."


She looks behind me for the sheep.

"Just kidding about the sheep . . . unless you have one half-price . . . in black."

She laughs. The Irish have a sense of humor. If I'd said this in Germany, I might have got a 10-minute straight-faced explanation of why the shop was not licensed to sell livestock. Not fair, not fair, you say. You obviously have not had to explain your ironic little witticisms a hundred times.

I saunter out of the fourth or fifth trinket shop, all selling the same tourist wares, and head off to Hodges Figgis--the big bookstore behind Trinity College. A side note: Hodges Figgis was founded in 1768 and mentioned in Ulysses. It is now--horrors!!--owned by the British retail book monstrosity Waterstones. Is nothing Irish in Ireland anymore?

Oh well. I'm off to Hodges Figgis to pick up the book The Closet of Savage Mementos by Nuala Ní Chonchúir (who I know is Irish), but I also want to browse the Irish fiction section to get an idea of what I'm dealing with if I want to learn everything there is to know about Irish writers. I am, after all, in the throes of All Things Irish.

After a wee browse, it goes without saying I want to give up. There are so many Irish writers I've never heard of. I'm much more familiar with acquaintances who are Irish writers than the ones who came before them. James Claffey and Robin Graham are exceptional writers, and I've interviewed them here at I Must Be Off as part of my Expat Author Interview Series. Nuala Ní Chonchúir is the only writer I know who still lives in Ireland. Together they must hold the key to unlock the mysteries of Irish literature, so instead of browsing these shelves like an eejit, I've decided to ask them what I should read.

James Claffey's debut collection of short fiction, Blood a Cold Blue, blew me away. You can read my review of it here. From his blog: Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his wife, the writer and artist, Maureen Foley, their daughter, Maisie, and Australian cattle-dog, Rua. Blood a Cold Blue is published by Press 53.

Robin Graham is (not only) a travel writer focusing (not only) on Spain. He's published dozens of travel articles. His writing is rich, engaging and smart. Read his essays and travel anecdotes at You can read my interview with him here.


Nuala Ní Chonchúir is a fiction writer and poet originally from Dublin. She has published two novels, four collections of short fiction, a chapbook of flash fiction and three full poetry collections - one in an anthology. Nuala's third much-anticiapted novel, Miss Emily, will be published in 2015. Her novel The Closet of Savage Mementos was the Irish Times Book Club book of the month in December 2014.You can read a conversation I had with the author in 2013 here.


Without further ado, here's my required reading recommended by these fine Irish writer peeps:

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (yay! I've already read this one!!)
The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien
Anything by Samuel Beckett (I've read Waiting for Godot. Phew!) 
The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin
Langrishe Go Down by Aidan Higgins
The Country Girls Triology by Edna O'Brien 
The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen
The Gathering by Anne Enright

And you? Do you have suggestions for me? 

I must be off (to read),


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Indiana Review, Night Train, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, Bootsnall Travel, Chicken Soup for the Soul and lots of other good places. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Story at Contrary Magazine

Biodegradable Urn from Memorial Gallery Dot Com
I'm a big fan of Glee maybe because I never had that experience as a teenager but should have. A year ago at a writers conference in Seattle I was talking about how I sob during almost every Glee episode when another writer turned to me and said "So do I"--so I guess I'm not alone. The show pushes buttons and pulls at heartstrings. Maybe I'm just a sucker and a sap for song.

When I was a singer years and years ago, I'd get so emotional on stage that I couldn't sing. It's one of the reasons I decided to stop singing professionally. I've never actually said that to anyone, but well there you go. That's just between you and me . . . and the apparently 200,000 other people-slash-spambots who come here each month. Yes, go ahead and laugh, you unfeeling Russian spambots: I cry.

I get choked up sometimes when I read my stories in public as well, so it's not just song that sets me off. The psychologists out there are welcome to chime in. I'd like to be able to read a gut-wrencher without falling apart. Crying is show-stopping in a bad way. I wish I'd been trained to hide my feelings at all costs, but I was brought up Baptist in the South--which means I was expected to share my emotional breakdown with my church family. It's too late to go back and be Presbyterian, I suppose.

I'm sharing this with you to give you a bit of the background for my new story "Box of Nazi" at Contrary Magazine--but this is only one layer of course.

Last year my partner--who has gone by many names at I Must Be Off--and I were driving through South Tyrol on one of our many hiking trips when we heard a radio news report about a Nazi who'd just died in Italy. It was big news, every hour. Where would they bury him? Why should he be given a Christian burial at all? There were lots of questions to be answered, but the main one was where would his remains be buried?

The story I wrote--"Box of Nazi"--began to take shape shortly after we returned home from our hiking trip. I wondered what would happen if a "nobody" were given the onus of burying the Nazi. I've always been fascinated by persons--real or imagined--who cannot feel. I'm also interested in why people choose to be "somebody" even if it means being evil.

So that's the background. The story may be disturbing to some. Thank you to editors Jeff McMahon and Frances Badgett. Just click the link below:

BOX OF NAZI at Contrary Magazine

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Contrary, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, and Word Riot. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Irish Tricolour

The Irish Tricolour at the Easter Rising Memorial in Dublin
This morning I woke up at 4:30 to start my interminable journey through Irish literature. In fact, as you will learn in a later post, I have enlisted the help of a few Irish writer friends in this endeavor--and they've given me some homework. Good Lord. If I don't get an honorary Master's degree from Trinity College for the reading they've given me, I'll be a bit pouty. And no, I don't know if Trinity College offers a Master's program. That's one more thing I have to look up. This All Things Irish thing just goes on and on and on.

Daunted by the task of Irish literature, I decide to dally with something a bit less monumental. What could be simpler than the Flag of Ireland? Green. White. Orange. There ya go. Fat chance. After three hours of reading, I have come to the conclusion that nothing is simple in Ireland. Nothing. On the other hand, I have learned a few new words--as always. Did you know that a "pale" means a vertical band of color in heraldic lingo? And that a "saltire" is a composed of two diagonal bands making a cross? Well, if you didn't, you do now. And you're about to learn so much more. Be afraid.

The status of my knowledge before research:

The Irish flag is green, white and orange. The colors have something to do with Protestants and Catholics. I have no idea which color symbolizes which religious group. But! But! I suspect that green symbolizes Catholics because you don't see many orange hoodies in Dublin souvenir shops. This is how my brain works.

The broad brain-bursting extent of my knowledge subsequent to research:

First the superficial Fun-with-Flags stuff I was hoping would be the only stuff I'd find:

1. The flag is half as high as it is wide
2. The green bit always flies next to the mast
3. The shades of green and orange are only traditional (rather than official). Yellow and gold have been used instead of orange, but this of course has been frowned upon by some political parties.
4. That's it; everything else is complicated.

I should have known what I was getting myself into. Symbolism is so messy and sticky. I knew the green, white and orange of the Irish tricolour weren't entirely devoid of meaning; I simply thought their meaning would have more to do with concepts and less to do with knowing which Protestant king won which war.

It was in fact William of Orange, a Dutch Protestant prince who invaded England and went on to rule as William III King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1689-1702; and though I have written this here, I will have forgotten it twenty minutes later. Or maybe not. A little mnemonic to help: Orange = William of Orange = There are slightly more protestants in Florida (lots of oranges there!) than Catholics. There. It's locked in now. If your brain works differently, well I'm sorry.

The color green has been used at least since the Irish Catholic Confederation (1642-1652), and has been a symbol of Irish Republicanism since the Society of United Irishmen, who launched the Irish Rebellion of 1798 with the intention of creating an Irish state independent of Britain.

White (You can't see it, because it's white.)
The white is a symbol of peace between the two religious groups. And sadly, at least for some, it is a symbol of the persistent division between them.

Obviously not the exact dimensions of the flag
The Politics of Color

I don't think you can understand the import of the Irish flag without understanding the history of Irish politics; and I don't think I'll be able to explain Irish politics with any sense of authority. I can, however, tell you a bit about the Easter Rising of 1916, when the Irish tricolour was reportedly flown for the first time as a symbol of Irish Independence.

The Easter Rising or Easter Rebellion of 1916 is said to be the most important Irish uprising for independence from Britain since the Rebellion of 1798. It was, however, unsuccessful and left nearly 200 dead and many more wounded. The architects of the uprising were all executed. You might know all of this, but did you know the Irish Volunteers, as they were called, had enlisted the aid of Germany in their fight? The German ship Libau or SS Castro but using the name Aud was supposed to deliver munitions to the Irish Volunteers but was intercepted by British forces.

The tricolour made its first appearance appropriately as a gift from a group of French women to a man named Thomas Francis Meagher in 1848. Meagher was an Irish nationalist whose death sentence for sedition was commuted to a life sentence in Australia. He later escaped, sailed to America, studied law and became the subject of statues. And you think your life is hard.

The Irish tricolour is a daring symbol of Ireland's troubled history but also a hopeful statement about religious diversity and acceptance. I'd like to think that white bit--that white "pale"--symbolizes peace rather than distance.

What does your country's flag mean?

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Contrary, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, and Word Riot. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.  


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Cider and Leprechauns

If nothing else comes from doing this All Things Irish thing, I will now know how to spell Leprechaun. Are you a fan of information overload? I am. I figure the brain can handle it, so I'm barreling on. If you've just stumbled upon--or Stumbledupon--I Must Be Off!, you might be asking yourself the question "_______, why has Christopher suddenly decided to learn All Things Irish?" Good question, _______. Apart from the logical response "It's easier than, say, All Things Russian, right?" it's because I've sort of relocated there and I don't want to look stupid.

"So you'd rather come across as a know-it-all?"

"I'm fine with that."

"Fair enough."

"No, of course I'm not fine with that. I'm joking. I'll introduce gaps into my knowledge so that I appear likable and endearingly humble."

"How much do you know so far?"

"Oh, loads. I know the Irish potato isn't Irish, that Guinness is sort of Irish but you could debate this till you fall off your barstool, that Oscar Wilde was part of the Anglo-Irish upper class in Dublin (so also a hybrid of sorts), and the tune to "Oh Danny Boy" is Irish but the words are definitely not. Like I said: loads."

"That's it?"

"What part of loads don't you understand?"

"Do you know how old the country is?"

"Well . . ."

"Do you know who the first king was?"

"They had kings?"

"Do you know who became a Saoi in 1997?"

"Seamus Heaney."

"You just Googled that."

"Who are you? And get off my blog."

So, today I've decided to tackle the monumental topics of cider and Leprechauns. Did you know there's a Leprechaun museum in Dublin? I actually did know this (in marked contrast to the aforementioned Seamus Heaney fact). I haven't been to the Leprechaun museum yet, but I've walked by it a couple times. Over New Year's I'm going to give it a whirl, but for now I'll have to settle for a wee bit of Internet research.

The Leprechaun

I couldn't find the source of this picture. If it's yours, please tell me!
The status of my knowledge prior to research:

Leprechauns are short fairies popularized by a sugary breakfast cereal. I think most cultures have these little fellows. They usually live in the woods, have beards and jump around a lot in their green coats and uncomfortable-looking shoes, shouting "They're magically delicious!" (The magic is the sugar.) They also grant wishes if they're caught, and they keep a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. That's it. That's all I've got. Wait. I'm going to go out on a rainbow and say Leprechauns are indeed Irish.

The status of my knowledge subsequent to a thorough Googling:

In a word, overwhelming. To understand what a leprechaun is, one has to dig deep. One fact leads to another fact that opens up into another topic and another and another. I'm going to try to condense everything I've just read into a few sentences (a wildly stupid thing to do, I know).

One of the ancient peoples of this amazing island was the Tuatha Dé Danann, a supernaturally gifted folk decended from a fellow named Nemed who landed "in dark clouds" in the mountains of Connacht (western Ireland). They were later conquered by the Milesians (from the Iberian peninsula, so why don't the Irish look Spanish?) and driven underground. Literally. Underground. They--the aos sí--were (or became) ghostlike creatures who inhabited the numerous earthen mounds that still dot Ireland today. The 3-foot Leprechaun is first mentioned as a fairy among the magical Tuatha Dé Danann. And so is the Banshee, a female harbinger of death who lent my grandmother the idiom "to scream like a Banshee." Actually my grandmother thought she heard real Banshees--but that's another story.

Although the modern look of the Leprechaun puts him in a green coat, much older descriptions dress him in a red coat, red breeches buckled at the knee and gray or black stockings. His coat has seven rows of buttons with seven buttons in each row, and he's got a lot of gold on his coat. He makes shoes, loves to get into mischief, and will indeed grant you three wishes if you catch him. Maybe that's why he switched to a green coat: to blend in better with his sylvan surroundings.


The status of my knowledge prior to research:

My experiential knowledge of cider is "extensive". Dry cider, sweet cider, pear "cider", berry "cider", really bad 3-liter bottles of cider from Aldi, authentic Irish cider, authentic Scottish cider, and so on. Cider is starting to catch on around the world since more and more people are realizing their problem with gluten, so bars in the US are actually starting to offer something other than Angry Orchard. I'm aware of the French cidre and my mother's hot cider occasionally served at Christmas. I'm aware that US-Americans refer to the alcoholic drink as "hard" cider while the rest of the world just calls it cider. I know that Strongbow is drier and crisper--and cheaper--than Magner's, which is the same thing as Bulmer's. All this to say, I feel fairly confident going into the subject of cider.

The status of my knowledge subsequent to research:

Boy was I wrong. Did you know a pint of Bulmer's cider has 5 teaspoons of sugar in it? And that this is more sugar than in a pint of lager? No wonder you get drunk really fast on cider. Did you know that cider is produced on almost every continent? I'd be surprised if there were apple trees in the Antarctic, but with global warming who knows?

Although cider has probably been produced in Ireland for more than 2000 years, there is no written record of this until around the 12th century. So cider was nothing new when it came to Ireland. That's for sure.

The best thing about my research into cider is that I've learned a new word: to scrat, which means to grind down. I'm definitely going to use this beautiful new word, as in "Hey, come on. You're scratting my last nerve." or "Look at him how he's scratting on the dance floor." OK, maybe not that last one.

Have you tried cider lately? Even though it's not really an Irish creation, I connect it with Ireland and England. What comes to mind when you think of Ireland?

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Contrary, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, and Word Riot. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Coyotes and Alligators -- Two New Book Reviews

Hey, pretty I Must Be Off! readers!

I have a few stories coming out soon, and I've written these two reviews of two excellent books: one a short story collection by Sheldon Lee Compton, the other a novella by Colin Winnette. Click on the book covers below to access the reviews. Shares and comments and likes and hugs appreciated for the authors. These are both fine fictions.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

All Things Irish -- Oscar Wilde and Irish Potatoes

The potato is very high in potassium. Did you know that? You wouldn't think it, would you? But it's true. One of the many happy by-products of doing this All Things Irish series is all the other stuff I've been learning. Did you know the white potato is a tuber while the sweet potato is a root . . . and not even a potato? The list goes on and on and on, but with each new and exciting fact, I travel farther afield of my original intention: All Things Irish. This time I've chosen Oscar Wilde and Irish potatoes.

The Irish Potato

I'm going to start with the humble Irish potato and get to the arrogant fop later. The name "Irish potato" simply means a white potato as opposed to a sweet "potato" (I'll be putting air-quotation marks around this now for the rest of my life). So Irish potatoes have nothing to do with Ireland. Or do they?

Well, it seems that a white variety of the tuber was cultivated in Londonderry, New Hampshire in 1719 from stock brought over by Scotch-Irish (also Ulster Scots) immigrants. The patata had of course orginated in Peru or Bolivia, was taken to Europe by the Spaniards, made its way to Ireland, which was then under the oppression of England causing lots of Scotch-Irish people to emigrate--and some of these Scotch-Irish folks wound up in Londonderry, New Hampshire. The Irish potato should be called the global potato. Or the proverbial hot potato. As far as I know, only US-Americans refer to the white potato as Irish. When my Irish friends use the term "Irish" potato, they seem to be referring to a method of preparation or potatoes grown in Ireland rather than a specific variety. So bottom line: the Irish potato isn't Irish; but at least it is a potato, which is more than the sweet "potato" can say. 

Here's another fun fact: In a study done in 2012, Ireland wasn't even in the top 25 producers of potatoes in the world. China and India combined grow one-third of the world's supply of spuds. Ireland has moved on to bigger and better crops of a completely different nature to fuel its economy. But this is now. What about then, when for many Irish the potato was just about the only source of food?

The Irish Lumper is the spud at the center of the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1850 (which some historians classify as genocide since Ireland, even during the worst years of the famine, was exporting enough grain crops to feed its own population). Historians agree that, like previous crop disasters, the famine could have been prevented. Ports should have been closed, and grain and other harvested crops should have been kept on the island to feed the Irish population. These commodities were exported while the peasants starved. It must be added, Ireland was not the only country hit by the blight. Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Prussia and France all suffered to some extent from the famine; but the Scottish Highlands and Ireland were hit the hardest.

More than a million of the poorest people in Ireland died and an estimate 2 million people from Ireland and the Scottish Highlands combined emigrated. The famine came to an end just a few years before the birth of one of Ireland's most celebrated--and arrogant--wordsmiths. But is he really Irish?

Oscar Wilde

I wish I'd known the following quip from Oscar Wilde when I was putting the final touches on my book Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. It sums up my approach to the story and the characters so well. I said something similar in an interview when asked if there wasn't something quite serious at the core of all the camp and slapstick. "Nothing's serious here except everything," I replied, but of course Oscar Wilde put it better:

"Life is much too important a thing to ever talk seriously about it." - Oscar Wilde

Wilde is perhaps best known for his quips (but of course also for his poetry and his only novel The Picture of Dorian Grey). There are books of Oscar Wilde quotes, web sites dedicated to them and someone quoting them right now trying to amuse someone with borrowed wit. And they are funny or humorously poignant or biting. Some, however, are simply mean: they out Wilde's cringeworthy snobbery--as in this one (sort of ) about travel:

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” - Oscar Wilde

Wilde once said "I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works." Even the most hardcore self-promotion junky these days would steer clear of statements like that. All of this being said, his poetry avoids this arrogant, flippant tone. It's dramatic and serious in contrast to the public figure Wilde cut.

I think what people overlook most about Wilde is that he seems--also in his life (not only in his art)--to have grown out of the quipping fop into a more serious, contemplative person in prison (he spent two years in prison on charges of "gross indecency"). At this point and according to him, his life-long endeavor of self-realization through pleasure became a quest for "the nobility of the soul" through pain and sorrow. 

I'm not sure I'd have liked Wilde if I'd been one of his contemporaries and had social interaction with him. I wonder if I'd have liked his poetry. I'm sure I would have avoided the person. I'm not sure there has ever been a writer more willing to talk about his own talent than Oscar Wilde. But all this is beside the point.So bottom line: there's a lot about Oscar Wilde I'm simply not sure about.

Was Oscar Wilde Irish? Born Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde in Dublin, he does certainly sound Irish. But it turns out to be a bit more complex than that. Wilde's family were what was known then as Anglo-Irish, a social upper class of intellectuals and landowners in Ireland of mixed English, Welsh, and Irish heritage. The situation of the Anglo-Irish was to feel English in Ireland but Irish in England.

After attending Trinity College in his late teens, Wilde sailed off to Oxford to complete his education and his introduction into English society. His mother is reported to have encouraged him to lose his Irish accent (and he is reported to have said the first thing he lost at Oxford was his Irish accent). I would love to hear him speak. Isn't being Irish so much about sounding Irish?

What's your opinion of Oscar Wilde? Or Irish potatoes, for that matter?

In my mission to learn All Things Irish, I'm calling on you to help. What should I research? What's Irish to you?

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Contrary, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, and Word Riot. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

All Things Irish

Picture actually taken in Scotland, but hey.
Over the last few weeks I've become increasingly more worried that I don't know jack about my new home, so I've decided to become better acquainted with all things Irish. This is a bit of a change from my usual approach to travel and new places. Usually I just stumble right in and play dumb. Like a puppy. Who doesn't love a puppy?

But this time I want to be a bit smarter. I have quite a few Irish friends, you see. What if they tested me? What if I suddenly found myself in the midst of a quiz night at my local pub and the subject were "All Things Irish"? Would I be prepared? Is cider actually Irish? Is "Oh Danny Boy" Irish? What about Guinness and Oscar Wilde? Irish? What about the clover in that picture up there? Irish? What about James Joyce and "Irish" stew? Irish? All of them?

"Oh Danny Boy"

First, I have to say this is one of my favorite tunes or "airs" as I've learned in the last few hours. It might have actually started as a "purth," which means a harp tune. You're welcome! You're not three paragraphs into this post, and you've already learned so much. I know what you're thinking: big changes at I Must Be Off! We're going all educational.

Is the lyric to "Oh Danny Boy" Irish? No. A song with this lyric was written by Frederic(k) Edward Weatherly, an English lawyer and prolific songwriter, in 1910--and apparently the tune sucked. His sister-in-law in America, though, came to his rescue with an "ancient" Irish air called "The Londonderry Air" or "Air from County Derry" as it's called by Irish nationalists (Derry was renamed Londonderry when it was occupied by the British). The air and the lyric made magic. If you can keep yourself from weeping uncontrollably when you hear Sinead O'Connor sing this haunting a cappella version of "Oh Danny Boy" (below, not chosen for its obvious political message at the end!) or Londonderry Air played on the harp and flute, well, you have no soul. And I don't mean the James Brown kind of soul; I mean an actual soul.

Now, imagine that you're Irish and living in the early 17th century. Apparently there are blind harpists and blind fiddlers everywhere. You can't throw a sheep without hitting one. One of them, Blind Rory Dall O'Cahan pens "O'Cahan's Lament," a purth (see above), after his family's land is confiscated by the British. The air was brought into the 19th century by the, yes, blind harpist Dennis O'Hampsey.

Or if you want to believe a blind fiddler penned the air, you can have Blind Jimmy McCurry, the blind fiddler of Myroe. I don't know, I like the blind harpist version better. And it's a century older.

One last comment about the song: I grew up in a devout Baptist family/church in the South, so my first experience with this tune was in the song "He Looked Beyond my Fault and Saw My Need," sung live below at Carnegie Hall by Andraé Crouch.

For now, I'm satisfied with my depth of knowledge here. Onward. To Guinness . . .

Guinness Beer

Before I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, I drank my share of Guinness (and in my ignorance suffered the corresponding intestinal difficulties). I haven't had a Guinness in ten years. Sadly. I still remember the taste, though. I sometimes ask to sniff it when I'm in the company of those who can drink it. If Guinness came out with a gluten-free beer, I'd be very grateful. And fatter.

But is Guinness Irish? Simple answer: yes, of course it is. The brewery was founded by Arthur Guinness from Celbridge, County Kildare--definitely Irish and defnitely Protestant. Until the 1960s, you were forced to resign from the brewery if you married a Catholic. Ergo: very Irish, nicely embroiled in the history of Catholic vs. Protestant. Can't get any Irisher than that.

Long and complicated answer: no, of course it (and by "it" I mean the beer) is not Irish, or at least not in the beginning and not anymore. The type of beer, the stout or porter (not exactly the same thing), is apparently of British creation of the 18th century, so the type of beer Guinness makes is not of Irish origin.

In 1997, Guinness merged with the company Grand Metropolitan to form the company Diageo, headquartered in London (so not Ireland)--which is surprising considering the lower tax rate in Ireland. The beer is now brewed in nearly 60 countries, and only two of those countries have Ireland in their names. I've heard friends say there are unfortunate variations among breweries. It's similar to other products made all over the world. Take the humble Snickers. It tastes cloyingly sweet in the US, a little salty in Europe. Take, however, Jack Daniel's. Whatever you think of Jack, you have to accept that it's a Tennessee whiskey. Jack Daniel's was founded by a Tennessean, and every drop of it is made in Lynchburg, Tennessee. The company also defies the debatably correct definition of its product as a bourbon, which is very much like us Tennesseans. The only thing that speaks against Jack Daniel's being a Tennessee whiskey is the sad fact that since 1956 it has been owned by a Kentucky company. What is the world coming to?

Next time I'm going to do some research into Oscar Wilde for me and you. Are you Irish or just want to know more about Ireland? Would you like to suggest something I should research on my quest to learn All Things Irish? I'd love some suggestions.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Contrary, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, and Word Riot. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.