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

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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.