Link Love: The Best of St. Pat’s 2013

SI do like a good toast, so on this national day of toasting to the Irish in us all I offer a trip around the blogosphere for some of the best of St. Patrick’s Day.

For Fun

The fun and fabulous Susie Lindau dances an Irish Jig and offers up some toasts for us to try.

Celebrating the Emerald Isle from space! Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield honors St. Patrick from the international space station by singing Danny Boy (not bad!) and wearin’ the green.

If you have green eyes (and I DO), you may be Irish, or female, or both. Laura Dimon offers up the statistics on what makes green eyes so unusual. Plus, the most famous green-eyed lass in literature. Any guesses?

For Food

The how-to video in Irish Soda Bread, the American Way is a mini-visual spectacle. If you replay that bit where she slathers the Irish butter and it melts a little, you can actually smell the warm bread spiced with caraway seeds and currants. I want to invite Melissa Clark to my house to make these buns for me. Like, right now. Yum.

The full St. Patrick’s Day traditional meal explained by Rachel Allen on the WSJ Speakeasy blog. In the category of “I’ll bet you didn’t know that”: her explanation of how Irish coffee was invented.

For the foodies out there an Irish food paradise on Wise Words, the oeuvre of Irish food blogger Mona Wise and her chef husband (winner of Blog Awards Ireland‘s Best Blog for 2012).

For Travel

Our Amazing Planet’s post A Photo Tour of Ireland not only captures images of the Emerald Isle and its people, it presents the history and traditions of the Irish in the photo captions.

My own discovery of Blarney Castle from 2012’s St. Paddy’s Day post, including some blarney from Winston Churchill and my mom.

Lastly, a celebration of St. Patrick’s Day would not be complete for me without my favorite Irish pub song, “The Wild Rover,” sung here by The Dubliners:

Slainte! Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, Everyone! Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!

Slainte: Toasting Jane Austen

Wherein I reveal my love for all things Jane Austen…

OK so I might be stretching the conclusion of my celebration of  toasting and things Irish by bringing Jane Austen into the picture, but she did have Irish connections, in her books, in her family, and in her love life.

LIGHT O’ LOVE

One of the most provocative Irish connections for “Jane-ites” was Jane Austen’s youthful flirtation with Irish-born Thomas Lefroy, nephew-by-marriage of her close friend and neighbor Anne Lefroy. A couple of semi-sarcastic and giddy sentences in letters to her sister Cassandra from the winter of 1795-96 were eventually expanded into the fictionalized speculation of the 2007 movie, Becoming Jane, starring Anne Hathaway as Jane and James McAvoy as Tom Lefroy.

In this clip, the main characters explore the erotic power of words and banter about how Jane’s lack of experience of the world hampers her writing.

For a review of the film in the context with what we know about Jane Austen versus what we WANT to know, see this review by Dierdre Lynch for Slate.

OK one more picture of James McAvoy as Tom. Doesn’t he just rock that waistcoat and cravat?

…THE IRISH AND THOSE THAT WISH THEY WERE IRISH

For Jane’s Irish family connections, we have to look to a later generation. Author Sophia Hillan recently mined the lives and letters of Jane Austen’s nieces, Marianne, Louisa, and Cassandra, daughters of Jane’s brother Edward, who all ended up in Ireland during turbulent times. Here is the description of May, Lou, and Cass: Jane Austen’s Nieces in Ireland from Amazon:

Marianne, Louisa and Cassandra Knight – May, Lou and Cass – were Jane Austen’s nieces. Jane knew the girls well, reading and sewing with them as they grew up, and they were often the subjects of her witty letters.The Knight sisters went on to lead lives that bore a remarkable resemblance to the plots of their aunt’s famous novels. Handsome noblemen, dashing officers and penurious clergymen sought their hands in marriage, and just like Austen’s heroines, May, Lou and Cass experienced the pains of blighted love, the joy of patience rewarded and the sorrow of losing their childhood home.Yet even Jane Austen could not have imagined that her genteel nieces would find themselves in Ireland, a country riven with famine and land wars.

Drawing on diaries, manuscripts and letters, May, Lou & Cass tells for the first time the story of the Knight sisters and their extraordinary journey from the ordered world of Regency England to the turbulent upheaval of nineteenth-century Ireland.

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST

In her works, Jane Austen mentions Ireland and the Irish, but in keeping with her general unwillingness to speculate about areas of life of which she had no direct knowledge (notice the point of view characters in all her novels are women), she does not expound. It is true we all have a certain image of Ireland in our heads that is so different from the image we have of England. A little wild and a little dangerous, Ireland. Perhaps Jane Austen thought so too.

“It was a sweet view — sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.” ~Emma, Chapter 42

Contrast that idea with the Duke of Wellington’s (a contemporary of Jane Austen) retort when accused of being Irish: “Being born in a stable does not make one a horse.” (Yes, but it might well make one a horse’s ass…) But we will allow Wellington the context of his times too.

For a thorough review of Jane’s references to Ireland and the Irish, including critical historical context, see “Ireland in the Time of Jane Austen” by Joan Duffy Ghariani.

DRINK JANE AUSTEN

Which brings us, at last, to a toast.

“His leave of absence will soon expire, and he must return to his regiment. And what will then be their acquaintance? The mess-room will drink Isabella Thorpe for a fortnight, and she will laugh with your brother over poor Tilney’s passion for a month.”
~Northanger Abbey

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England (to which I made a delightful visit in 2007!) has this to say about toasting in Jane’s time“Drinking a toast” to someone or something became immensely popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the point of excess. When a gathering would run out of attendees to toast, it became custom to toast absent friends, thus prolonging the drinking.

Anything to prolong the drinking! One more toast:

Here’s to the land of the shamrock
Where Irish hearts are true
Here’s to our blessed Saint Patrick
But most of all, here’s to you!

Do you like to speculate on historical figures’ love lives? Several contemporaries of Jane Austen left few letters. Jane’s letters were largely destroyed after her death by her sister Cassandra, leaving us only speculation about many areas of her life. Martha Washington was one who destroyed all her own correspondence with her husband, George, and King George IV’s (better known as the Prince Regent and the man who gave his name to the Regency Period)  letters and memorabilia were consigned to the fire after the King’s death by none other than Wellington himself. A very different environment from the blogosphere…

Some of my Jane Austen sources:

English Verdure at Austenprose

Who was the real Thomas Lefroy? at Irish Identity

Irish, I Dare Say from The Jane Austen Centre

Slainte: Flash Fiction– “Queenstown”

Moira clutched her mother’s hand as they weaved through ropes and piles of steamer trunks on the dock, wrinkling her nose at the scent of fish and brackish water. Men and women stood in groups, while porters pushed urgently through the crowd with luggage and bags, and seagulls wheeled and cried overhead. A young paperboy, about her size, called out his wares, a pile of fresh newsprint over his arm. Steam hissed at irregular intervals, and acrid coal-fired engines thrummed a steady beat Moira could feel deep in her chest.

“Will they have green grass in America then, Mum?”

Her mother glanced down at her but answered in that voice that said she wasn’t really listening. “Of a certainty, Moira. They have everything that’s green ‘n’ good in America. Not to mention yer Dad’s there waitin’ for us.”

Moira nodded, but a stab in her tummy that wasn’t breakfast porridge sent tears to her eyes. She squeezed Mum’s hand tighter.

“There it is,” said Mum.

Moira looked through the crowd, and her heart fell into her new high button shoes when she saw the ugly little boat. “Is that what is taking us to America?”

Her mother laughed, a clear trill that caused the men nearest them to look over at her. “Lord no, little Moira. That’s only the tender. Our ship is too great to moor here in Queenstown, so they’re sending us out on this boat called the America. Y’see?”

Moira nodded, but she didn’t really see at all why they’d had to leave Cork and Grandmum and Auntie Dierdre and her Cousins Louisa and Molly. She bit her lip, knowing Mum wouldn’t like it if she cried.

After a very long time indeed, Mum and Moira went aboard the ugly boat and it pulled away from the pier, but Moira eyes were droopy and the chuff-chuff of the tender’s steam engine soon lulled her to sleep.

“Wake up, sleepy girl. We’re comin’ up on the ship.” Mum picked her up and pointed into the distance. “There she is, sweetest! That’s our ship! That’s the ship that will take us to New York City and yer Dad.”

It truly was the most enormous ship Moira had ever seen, making all the others in in Cork Harbor seem like toys from her cousins’ toy box. For the first time since Mum had told her they were going to America, excitement bubbled up in Moira’s chest. She hugged her Mum close. As they passed by the stern, Moira read out loud the letters picked out in white on the black hull: T-I-T-A-N-I-C.

* * *

113 passengers embarked on the Titanic at Queenstown (now called Cobh), Ireland on 11 April 1912, many of them Irish immigrants with Third Class tickets. The Titanic itself had been built in Belfast, and its designer Thomas Andrews was an Irishman. Two thirds of the steerage passengers perished after the Titanic struck an iceberg on 14 April. In all only 712 of the 2,225 passengers and crew survived.

A picture of Cobh, County Cork, Ireland looking from the Cathedral out into Cork Harbor.

Irish immigration facts: Between 1846 and 1900 approximately 2,873,000 Irish came to America. Almost as many Irish women as men immigrated. Unlike other national groups, many women of Ireland came by themselves to live here.

For more information on the Irish on the Titanic, see The Irish on the Titanic post by Edward T. O’Donnell.

For pictures of the Titanic on its maiden (and only!) voyage, see TitanicPhotographs.

Did any of your relatives make the boat trip to America? Another what if of history…if the Titanic had had only 500 more feet of warning, it could have missed the iceberg entirely.

Slainte: The Stone of Eloquence

What do Mick Jagger, Winston Churchill, and my Mom all have in common? If you guessed they all kissed the Blarney Stone at some point in their lives, you’d be spot on. Blarney Castle regularly makes Ireland’s top ten places to visit list . Why? Because it’s the home of the stone that promises eloquence to everyone who is brave enough to plant a big smooch on a bit of grey castle rock, high in a tower, upsidedown and backwards of course.

Here’s a demo of the technique on a sunnier day. Note the stone kissing helper has a FIRM grasp on the kissers. 🙂

I haven’t been to Blarney, but I can tell you it would be on my top ten list for Ireland too. Who wouldn’t want to brave the twisty stone steps of a medieval tower and kiss a stone with a storied history all to receive the “gift of the gab”? I was actually a little surprised my mom had done the…er…deed, given her fear of heights, but then she was barely 19 at the time. Go, Mom!

A brief history of Blarney:

In 1446 the third castle was built by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster of which the keep still remains standing.

The lower walls are fifteen feet, built with an angle tower by the McCarthys of Muskerry. It was subsequently occupied at one time by Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster, who is said to have supplied four thousand men from Munster to supplement the forces of Robert the Bruce at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Legend has it that the latter king gave half of the Stone of Scone to McCarthy in gratitude. This, now known as the Blarney Stone, was incorporated in the battlements where it can now be kissed.

The Earl of Leicester was commanded by Queen Elizabeth I to take possession of the castle. Whenever he endeavoured to negotiate the matter McCarthy always suggested a banquet or some other form of delay, so that when the queen asked for progress reports a long missive was sent, at the end of which the castle remained untaken. The queen was said to be so irritated that she remarked that the earl’s reports were all ‘Blarney’.

So let’s compare a little of that eloquence to see what the Blarney Stone wrought…

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life. –SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL

You wake up in the morning and you look at your old spoon, and you say to yourself, ‘Mick, it’s time to get yourself a new spoon.’ And you do. –MICK JAGGER

Sometimes you’re the only one who can be your children’s advocate. No one knows them better than you. –MOM

And a couple more…

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see. –SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL

Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and fame…ooh, ooh… –MICK JAGGER, Sympathy for the Devil

If you just picked up all the clothes on this floor, you could actually find something in your room. –MOM

Though the Stones are one of my favorite bands, and you can’t go wrong with Mom’s advice, I think I will give the oratory nod to Sir Winston Churchill, mainly for this epic speech rallying England in the dark days of WWII:

We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

However, the true measure of Blarney can be summed up in this simple comparison:

“The difference between ‘blarney’ and ‘baloney’:

Baloney is when you tell a 50-year old woman that she looks 18. Blarney is when you ask a woman how old she is, because you want to know at what age women are most beautiful.”

Ah, yes…and if you say it with an Irish lilt, well…

Do YOU have the gift of the gab when you need it most? Anyone kissed the Blarney Stone and lived to tell about it? HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY, EVERYONE!!

(all photos and vid courtesy Blarney Castle’s really informative and fun website. Quotes from BrainyQuote and Greatest Winston Churchill Quotes, oh and Mom herself 🙂 )

Slainte: Did the Irish Really Save Civilization?

One of my favorite history books, Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, is a slim volume that became a national bestseller in the mid-1990s. This is from the back cover copy:

In this entertaining and compelling narrative, Thomas Cahill tells the story of how Europe evolved from the classical age of Rome to the medieval era. Without Ireland, the transition could not have taken place. Not only did Irish monks and scribes maintain the very record of Western civilization — copying manuscripts of Greek and Latin writers, both pagan and Christian, while libraries and learning on the continent were forever lost — they brought their uniquely Irish world-view to the task.

If you like audiobooks, try the abridged version with Liam Neeson reading. The way he rolls the names Cuchulainn, Derdriu, and Medb, and the characters and places from the Tain Bo Cuailnge (an early Irish prose epic) off of his native Irish tongue–truly yummy.

As with many popular historical narratives, bona fide historians have objected to Cahill’s scholarship and failure to prove his thesis. To be sure, his subject ranges over several centuries and tends to gloss over certain facts in order to make his point. But like the best storytellers, Cahill lays down the fall of Rome and the rise of Irish Christianity with all the verve of an Irish bard—with many a wink, wink at Irish culture—and, best of all, he invites the reader in to ponder the “what ifs” of history. What if the works of Virgil, Homer, Juvenal, Martial, Ausonius, Cicero, Ovid, and so many other pillars of western and Latinate literature had been lost to book-burning barbarian hordes pillaging Rome and popes uninterested in “classical” interpretations? What does Western Civilization owe to the 7th, 8th, and 9th century scriptoria of Landisfarne, Skellig Michael, Glendalough, Kildare, and Armagh? Fortunately for his argument, Cahill does not hold back in his estimation of the forces at work:

…Latin literature would almost surely have been lost without the Irish, and illiterate Europe would hardly have developed its great national literatures without the example of the Irish, the first vernacular literature to be written down. Beyond that, there would have perished in the west not only literacy but all the habits of mind that encourage thought…
Wherever they went the Irish brought with them their books, many unseen in Europe for centuries and tied to their waists as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had once tied to their waists their enemies’ heads. Wherever they went they brought their love of learning and their skills in bookmaking. In the bays and valleys of their exile [in continental Europe], they reestablished literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe.
And that is how the Irish saved civilization.

Though he hammers home this larger impact of monkish diligence, it is through his portraits of St. Patrick, St. Brigid, and the princely monk Columcille that Cahill humanizes the early Irish-Christian efforts to transfer the literature of the ancients to sheepskin books, for posterity. He also makes the case that the Irish were uniquely situated to take on this mission (for one thing, they have plenty of sheep in Ireland!). Finally, he makes short work of the idea of the “ignorant scribe” who unknowingly transcribed the works of the greats by rote:

Beneath a description of the death of Hector on the Plain of Troy, one scribe, completely absorbed in the words he is copying, has written most sincerely: “I am greatly grieved at the above-mentioned death.”

As are we, poor Hector. Thanks to the Irish.

Are there any “what ifs” of history you find particularly intriguing? The Codex (bound book) was considered an advance in technology over the scroll. Can you imagine entire books being copied by hand?

Slainte: Celebrating Toasts and Things Irish

“I have known many and liked not a few,
But loved only one, and this toast is to you.” Irish Toast

I have planned a series of Friday blog posts here in the month of March celebrating toasts, having been inspired by a couple of previous meanderings that have ended in toasting to (among other things) dangerous beauty, courage, and friends.

So, what is a toast, exactly? This from http://www.etymonline.com — “a call to drink to someone’s health,” 1700 (but said by Steele, 1709, to date to the reign of Charles II), originally referring to the beautiful or popular woman whose health is proposed and drunk, from the use of spiced toast to flavor drink, the lady regarded as figuratively adding piquancy to the wine in which her health was drunk. The verb meaning “to propose or drink a toast” also is first recorded 1700.

The tradition of toasting goes back a bit further to the Greeks and Romans, who lifted their glasses to show the wine was not poisoned and hid the taste of vinegary wine with burnt bread.

But it is commonly held that it was the Irish who lifted toasting to a clever art. Which makes sense as the Irish have, in general, priviledged the storyteller’s art. And what is a toast but a mini story.

And what better (and more Irish) drink to have in your glass than Guinness. Guinness for strength. Guinness for life. To your health. Slainte.

Do you have any favorite toasts? Are you Irish? Ever been to Ireland? What is your favorite St. Patrick’s Day (celebrated on 17 March) ritual (drinking or otherwise)?