Monday, May 30, 2011

Interview with Bairbre McCarthy on April 9, 2011

On April 9, 2011, I interviewed Bairbre McCarthy, storyteller, Irish language teacher, and writer. Her most recent book is “The Keeper of the Crock of Gold.” I am sure you'll enjoy the delightful discussion I had with her:

Question: How did you get the idea for your latest published book, “The Keeper of the Crock of Gold”?

Bairbre: I feel that Leprechauns are not treated properly. I am basically sticking up for Leprechaun rights!

Everybody knows the traditional stories of how people grab a Leprechaun, squeeze him, and shake him. And they never get good results. I figure if you treat them with respect, maybe you'll get good results.

Question: Is that the book that was presented to President Obama's children?

Bairbre: That's right. That was pure surprise to me. I just found out of it the day before the book went to the White House. I had a call from the Prime Minister's office from Ireland and I thought it was one of my brothers fooling me. I was laughing at the guy for awhile and then he got very serious and said, “Well are you the author of this book?” Then I realized it wasn't one of my brothers.

It was just chance. I don't know really how they found the book. What I'd heard was the Prime Minister sent out a team to book stores and libraries in Dublin and asked them to recommend something. They chose a book of poetry for Mrs. Obama by one of the Irish poets. And they wanted something for the children and they chose mine! So I am very lucky really. I guess some Leprechauns were looking out for me.

Question: Because you treated them with respect in the book! Who presented the book?

Bairbre: It was the Irish Prime Minister. We call him “Taoiseach” (said something like the English words “tea – shock”) in Irish. We always use the Irish words in Ireland for the government positions. So we call him the Taoiseach but he is the Prime Minister. It's a tradition that the Irish Prime Minister or Taoiseach comes to the White House every St. Patrick's Day.

Question: I picked up that President Obama is being invited to Ireland. Now, you grew up in County Clare? What was it like there? Did you hear stories as a child?

Bairbre: Yes. I really was very fortunate. My father was a good story teller, as were my grandparents. But I think everybody in Ireland is a story teller!

It's very much part of the Celtic culture it's in the blood. We carried on the oral tradition for so long, it's become part of us.

I didn't consciously become a story teller until I'd been living over here in the United States and I'd been teaching Irish language and history. When you try to teach the history you have to teach the stories.

Over twenty years ago, somebody in my class was a librarian and asked me would I come down to the library and tell some stories. That's how it all started!

I had the idea for the language students that I would have a dual language book on the Irish legends.

I got a grant from the New York State Arts Council and self published it. I was able to send it out to publishers and Mercier Press in Ireland really liked the idea of the dual language. Plus, they do like to publish a lot of mythology and folklore. They've been my publishers ever since.

Growing up in County Clare was very different. I've been living over here for thirty years. I think Ireland has made great progress in catching up with the rest of the world from those times. When I was growing up we listened to the radio a lot. We heard stories on the radio.

Question: What is your take on the language these days? Is Irish gaining in popularity, both in Ireland and in the USA?

Bairbre: It is! I'm very pleased with how it survived. When you think about how difficult it was for the Native Americans in this country, and their culture hasn't survived very well. The Irish language and the Celtic culture is making a big come back. People are happy to go back home and proud of their roots. Many of them go back to learn Irish if they have abandoned it for awhile.

Question: Can you give us a peek at the book you are writing?

Bairbre: I can! It's actually a young adult book about Cú Chulainn because I thought he was such a great hero. He is very much a Herculean mythical figure. Often we don't get a picture of what it would have been like for him growing up as a child, with all those powers. So that is my approach.

I'm working on it with the same illustrator as my other recent books. I am very pleased with it. My illustrator, Oldrich Jelen, is from the Czech Republic. Of course, the Celts began there, so he's very familiar with the culture.

Question: I got to visit Prague and they are very much into publishing there, aren't they?

Bairbre: They are. They published a Czech version of that book that went to the White House. I thought it was very nice when I saw it.

I've been invited to go to the national storytelling festival next year in Tennessee. But I also am going to start bringing tours to Ireland, storytelling tours. I'll tell the stories behind all the ancient sites. The details will be on my web site. We'll arrive in Ireland on Easter Sunday, 2012. I'm sticking to the wonderful west of Ireland for the week.

Question: So you'll fly into Shannon Airport?

Bairbre: Yes, and we'll go to two of the areas where they speak the Irish as the first language – the Gaeltacht (An Ghaeltacht). We'll go to Connemara and down to Dingle. We won't be traveling all the time – I want us to appreciate what's there.

We'll start in County Clare and the first night I want to bring everybody to my nephew's restaurant which looks out on the Aran Islands. It's near Doolin. That's a lovely place with a lot of music. I'm going to go as far as Westport in Mayo. We're going to do a night in Galway.

Question: How did you happen to come to the US?

Bairbre: I came to Saratoga Springs thinking it was a suburb of New York City. I knew about the flat track. My father raised race horses, steeplechase racehorses. I came to the racetrack and I met my husband almost right away. And that's why I'm still here!

Learn more about Bairbre's books here.

Bairbre's Web Site.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fire Damages Ancestral Home of President Chester A. Arthur

The Belfast Telegraph reports fire broke out at around 8:20 PM in the ancestral home of Chester Alan Arthur, the 21st US President.

The thatched Arthur Cottage and interpretive center in Cullybackey, Co Antrim present the story of President Arthur to tourists and other visitors.

President Arthur’s grandparents, Alan Arthur and Eliza née Meharg lived at the cottage. William Arthur, President Arthur's father, was born in the Cottage on December 5, 1797. He and other members of the family left for North America sometime between 1816 and 1820. He married Malvina Stone and became a Baptist Minister. Chester A. Arthur was born on October 5, 1830 in Fairfield, Vermont.

Besides Fairfield, there are other connections of Chester A. Arthur to the northeast US. Arthur attended Union College in Schenectady, New York in 1845 where he studied the traditional classics. As a senior in 1848, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and president of the debate society. He regularly donned a green coat to show his support for the Irish Republicans.

After living outside of Hoosick Falls, New York, Arthur returned to Union College and received his Master's degree in 1851.

At Union College, Arthur was a student of Eliphalet Nott, whose civil rights beliefs may have influenced Arthur's opinions. Union College Political Science Professor Clifford Brown has said Arthur became a New York City lawyer after graduation, and fought for civil rights. Arthur was involved with integrating the transportation system in New York City when the system depended on horse drawn trolleys.

Chester A. Arther died on November 17, 1886 and his grave is Albany Rural Cemetary in Menands, New York.

There is a statue of him at Madison Square in New York City and another outside the gate to Jackson's Gardens at Union College.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland is investigating the fire at the Arthur Cottage in Ireland. Evidence is no one was at the property at the time the fire started. Apparently, the interpretive center and cottage remain intact.

Read more: Belfast Telegraph

Or: Union College article

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Muine Gall Agus Is Feidir Linn

Imagine my surprise when I heard President Obama speaking Irish!

I am a student of the Irish language (Gaeilge) and have great respect for this language with ancient roots and for the expressiveness of those who speak it.

And by now I am well aware President Barack Obama has an ancestor named Fulmouth Kearney who came from Moneygall, County Offaly, Ireland to the United States in 1850.

When Obama "came home" to the town yesterday, he said, “I’m Barack Obama, from the Moneygall Obamas ... And I’ve come home to find the apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way."

My Irish teacher - Dr. Roslyn Blyn-LaDrew, says that the town name is "Muine Gall" in Irish. The first part should be said, "MWIN-yuh."

The name "Moneygall" has nothing to do with money as Muine means a “thicket” or a “scrub” area covered with shrubs. The “gall” part can either mean “a foreigner” or “of foreigners.” The word is also found in the place name “Dún na nGall,” or Donegal, as in the town or the county. So essentially “Muine Gall” means “foreigners’ thicket.”

During his visit to Muine Gall, Obama seemed to exhibit the speaking skills the Irish are known for.

At Ollie’s Bar in Moneygall, the President sought some advice on how much to let the foam on his pint of Guiness subside before drinking it. “You tell me when it’s properly settled," Obama said to the barkeep. “I don’t want to mess this up."

Plunking money on the bar, he added, “I just want you to know the President pays."

Standing in the low-ceiling pub, surrounded by distant relatives, Obama drew the connection across the big water saying: “There are millions of Americans who trace their ancestry back to this beautiful island. Part of what makes it so special is because the Irish influence on American culture is so powerful in the arts, in politics, in commerce."

But the President saying, "Moneygall," is not really Irish, as close as it comes.

The actual Irish I heard came is this quote:

"Ireland, if anyone ever says otherwise, if anybody ever tells you that your problems are too big, your challenges are too great and we can't do something, that we shouldn't even try, think about all that we've done together, remember that whenever hardships the winter may bring, springtime is always just around the corner.

And if they keep on arguing with you, just respond with a simple creed -- Is feidir linn. Yes we can."

This sentence, "Is feidir linn." is loaded with special Irish grammar.

Irish has the distinction of not really having a single word for "yes" as its function is fulfilled by the responder using the verb, most often, in their response. So the "yes" part of "yes we can" comes from the emphaticness of the sentence instead of a single word that means "yes."

An example might be translated as, "Are you thirsty?" and the Irish answer is, "I am thirsty."

The first word in "Is feidir linn," "Is" is known as the copula, which is an amazing grammatical structure we could puzzle over for hours. In order to keep it simple, we'll say the "Is" is like the verb, "Always is..." The Irish grammarians are coming after me with big sticks because I said that, but that is the easiest way to construe that word in such a sentence.

The second word, "feidir" means "possible" when used with the copula.

And "linn" is a prepositional pronoun, but in Irish the prepositional pronouns are conjugated like verbs in the Romance languages. The root prepositional pronoun is "le" which is one of those words with a maddening number of meanings. Are you ready? Le means "with, to, for, or against" according to Irish dictionaries. Other students and I have found it stretching even beyond this dizzying array of meanings, but maybe we imagined it?

Anyway, in this sentence the "le" part of the prepositional pronoun seems to mean "with" and the "inn" part of the prepositional pronoun is the ending that adds "us."

So real fast, "Is feidir linn" means "Always is possible with us!" or "Yes we can!"

At this point in my life, I have too many T-shirts, but I read an entrepreneur or two in Ireland are selling T-shirts with "Is feidir linn!" on them. If I see one, I'll probably buy it.

Such an optomistic phrase: Is feidir linn!

Click here to hear to hear President Obama's Speech in College Green, Dublin, Ireland

Click here for more about an Irish American children's book for the President's and First Lady's children

Click here for more on Muine Gall by Dr. Roslyn Blyn-LaDrew

Click here to learn about one man and his part in bringing peace to Northern Ireland.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Irish Climber Rescued from Denali

On Thursday, May 12, 2011, climber Jeremiah O’Sullivan, 40, of Ballinhassig, County Cork, Ireland was plucked off Mt. McKinley in Alaska. Mt. McKinley is also known as Denali, which in the language Koyukon Athabaskan means "The High One" in English. O'Sullivan was able to manuever into a basket which was lowered 200 feet from a hovering helicopter.

He had broken his leg from a fall climbing a ridge with three other climbers near the 20,320-foot summit. The rescue itself took place at approximately 19,500 feet. This may have been the highest helicopter rescue ever in North America. With temperature effects the helicopter can only power to approximately 20,000 feet and the pilot must wear oxygen.

A 38-year-old Swiss climbing companion named Beat Niederer, a member of O’Sullivan’s party, who was found dead near 18,000 feet after becoming separated from climbing partner Lawrence Cutler, 45, of New York. He apparently died while the two were trying to descend to a camp at 17,200 feet after the fall. The guide, Dave Staeheli, 56, of Wasilla, had stayed with O’Sullivan until O'Sullivan's rescue.

The helicopter pilot, Andreas Hermansky, who learned how to fly in Austira, may have used the basket to rescue O'Sullivan because the ground was too steep to land safely or because the downwash from the helicopter would create whiteout conditions blinding him from landing safely.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Boston College Asked to Give Up Recordings

Oral history recordings for a project at Boston College are at the center of a controversy, according to the New York Times.

The recordings were made of paramilitary fighters from both cultural traditions on a promise of confidentiality of each interview until the subject person interviewed became deceased. Now authorities in the United Kingdom have subpoened the accounts of two former republican fighters who apparently accused Gerry Adams, the president of the republican political party Sinn Fein, of directing a hidden group within the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that carried out certain kidnappings and disappearances. Gerry Adams has long denied having been a member of the IRA, let alone having any involvement in the kidnappings and disappearances.

The recordings are held in the Boston College library and were used in the efforts of the Center for Irish Programs. The site of the program at Boston College was chosen in March, approximately two months ago, to hold the archive of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. A site in the United States was seen as a compromise given chosing a university in Belfast or Dublin would carry a potentially negative association for one or the other cultural traditions in Ireland. The records of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning are sealed for thirty years.

While concerns have been expressed about the ability of universities to research such conflict and resolutions if the confidentiality of such interviews is not maintained, a basis under the United States constitution for resisting the subpoena has not been articulated publicly.

Subsequent Posting On Boston College's Resistance to the Subpoena

Monday, May 9, 2011

Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson Finish Trip to North Korea

Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the US, and Mary Robinson, the seventh and first female President of the Republic of Ireland, traveled with two other political leaders to North Korea. The other leaders are the former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari and Gro Harlem Brundtland, a past prime minister of Norway.

Mrs. Robinson called the situation in North Korea a “very serious crisis” over food supplies because of a harsh winter, severe flooding and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. She said the withdrawal of American and South Korean food shipments had aggravated the already-dire situation, which had become, she said, “a matter of life-and-death urgency.”

They are part of a group called The Elders which was announced the first time in a speech by Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his 89th birthday. The Elders offer their wisdom and independent leadership to address the world's toughest problems. Mary Robinson is one of the founding members.

Robinson was President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997.

In addition to the intense tension between North and South Korea, the North Koreans are holding an American named Eddie Yong-su Jun, who was taken into custody in connection with illegal religious activities in the North. Mr. Carter said he is disappointed not to have obtained the release of the American.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

East Durham Irish Festival, Memorial Day 2011

Tom McGoldrick, Festival Director of the East Durham Irish Festival, wants everyone to know the Fesitival is May 28th and 29th, 2011.

Groups include:

  • "The Whole Shabang", direct from Ireland on a Reunion Tour to East Durham

  • "Bridget's Cross" from Cleveland, Ohio

  • "Celtic Spring" from California

  • "Shilelagh Law"

  • "Black 47"

  • "The Prodigals"

  • "Celtic Cross"

  • "Andy Cooney Band"

  • "Kitty Kelly Band"

  • "Jameson's Revenge"

  • "The Moonshiners"

  • "St. James Gate"

  • Advance tickets are available @ $12.00 each, a $4.00 saving, by calling 518-634-2286 (credit card sales acceptable) or send your check to East Durham Irish Festival, Box 189, East Durham, NY 12423. A $1.00 handling charge will be added to each total sale.

    One venue is a large pavillion and the other is a tent, so rain isn't a problem. And yah wouldn't think it would be for the Irish, right?!

    Motor Homes and Campers are WELCOME to the grounds at NO CHARGE for the weekend.

    CALL WITH ANY QUESTIONS! 518-634-2286

    Location: East Durham, New York
    Time & Date: May - Saturday the 28th - Sunday the 29th
    Festival Schedule

    More Irish Musicians in Shamrock Road blogs:

    - Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart)
    - Bernadette Nic Gabhann
    - Aoife Clancy
    - Matt and Shannon Heaton