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.