John Doyle, formerly of the group Solas, is without doubt the king of Irish acoustic guitar. Originally an instrumentalist only, he’s evolved into a wonderful singer.
Doyle has a great ear for songs. “Across The Western Ocean” is about those who left Ireland for America from 1846 to 1850 as a result of the terrible potato famine. Over 1.5 million of them came over on “packet ships,” the smaller vessels that plied the ocean before the massive clipper ships arrived around 1860 (interesting page on packet ships here). The packets took six weeks to reach America from Europe and almost one in every five immigrants who shipped on died of disease or shipwreck.
This song speaks of the fears of the Irish immigrants of the era. Like many old Irish songs, it shares a melody with another tune, in this case a sea shanty called “Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her.”
I have just published my second book, an unusual collection of Irish quotes from over many centuries. Called “Every Goose Thinks His Wife Is A Duck” (from an old proverb), it presents some of the most interesting things said about Ireland – and about life – by writers, politicians, golfers, rogues, philosophers, journalists and ordinary Irish people.
It took me two years to put the book together, and I believe I came up with a pretty unusual little volume that’s great to browse when you want a little Irish intellectual entertainment. Here’s a bit of my introduction:
“How is it that Ireland, a small fleck in the Atlantic with fewer people in it than Belgium, has created a voice that all the world seems to hear? Lacking armies, it has dispatched legions of high-octane conversationalists who have managed to conquer a part of the global imagination. Whether it’s Blarney, gab, craic or some less tasteful contribution, the Irish always seem to reserve their highest honors for those who can turn the clever phrase.”
Not many financial writers can break down the economy of a country in a way that gives you a razor-edged insight into the character and spirit of it’s people. Michael Lewis, author of the classic “Liar’s Poker” and the more recent “The Big Short” is that rare kind of master in the art of non-fiction.
Mr. Lewis’s article in this month’s Vanity Fair, When Irish Eyes Are Crying not only offers the most concise overview of where Ireland is today and how it got there, it seems to express the odd predicament that Ireland has been in for centuries. While it will certainly convince you that Ireland’s financial problems are far worse than you ever realized (its government debt is rated lower than Iraq’s at present) it provides an even more interesting panorama of the internal, external, cultural and personal forces that have come to define the country, in a way that’s eerily similar to the 1950’s.
A convincing case is made that Ireland is, right now, the financially sickest nation in the western world. It’s debt is almost immeasurable, and its crony politicians have made a succession of choices that have amplified the pain it’s citizens have felt and will continue to feel for it’s crazed real estate boom.
Just two bright spots that emerge from the story. First, that the country’s condition is so bad that a default on soverign debt is almost certain. That may offer an end, however Draconian, to the current mess. The second is that, for all their faults, the Irish remain as funny as ever. If you have an resistance to reading a financial article, I guarantee you that this one will provide several deep belly-laughs. Credit Mr. Lewis for also gaining an inside track on the true Irish character. His comments about how the talkative nature of the Irish tends to conceal a deepy reticent character are dead on.
At the very least, you may take some comfort in the fact that, when it comes to real estate, those Irish were even crazier than we Americans.
This clip isn’t new, but we thought it definately should be given another look. It’s a super low-budget video, which appears to be a local news clip, of the 1994 Castletown Donkey Derby. The announcer is an Irish comedian named David O’Doherty. But typical of Ireland, it seems like everyone in the town, including the donkeys, are all comedians.
Give this one a little time – when the race actually starts after the preliminary interviews, things get really silly. Beyond the fact that donkeys are clearly not natural racers, it develops that one of them has an overwhelming, and I mean overwhelming, interest in a fellow competitor.
The news from Ireland these days is all about economics and just about all gloomy. One small bright spot, however, is a comment from fast-growing Facebook that the company is actually planning to boost its number of employees there next year. Facebook has about 200 Irish folk in its Dublin office, which serves as headquarters for Europe and the Middle East. Apparently, it’s planning to add another 100 or so staffers in the coming year.
According to Facebook’s top exec in Ireland, John Herlihy, the two reasons Ireland remains atractive are it’s great talent pool and rock-bottom corporate tax rate of 12.5% (America’s corporate tax rate, by comparison, is about 40%). All of this would seem to back up the Irish government’s decision to keep that rate low in spite of other belt-tightening measures in the wake to the recent massive bailout from the EU. More on Facebook and other tech giants staying in Ireland on this Forbes blog.
Ireland certainly doesn’t need a publicity agent to get itself in the news these days. Unfortunately, most of the mentions aren’t too good. Here are some interesting quotations caught this week about the old sod’s massive economic problems:
“This year the eve of All Saints passed in a deathly hush…with nothing to be seen in the skies save, in the murky distance but approaching ever nearer, the Four Horsemen of our particular Apocalypse: the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, Brussels and the Iron Chancellor, Angela Merkel.” – John Banville, “The Debtor of the Western World,” New York Times 11/19/2010
“It’s possible that the bailout of Ireland could turn into a backdoor method of helping German banks and other foreign banks that have mismanaged their exposure to Ireland’s banking system.” – Nathan Vardi, “Is Ireland Europe’s AIG?,” Forbes.com November 2010
“Ireland found riches a good substitute for its traditional culture, but now we may be about to discover what happens when a traditionally poor country returns to poverty without its culture.” – Christopher Caldwell
“The yoke of the European Union is lighter than the yoke of the British Empire, but Ireland has returned to a kind of vassal status all the same.” – Russ Douthat, “Ireland’s Paradise Lost,” New York Times 11/22/2010
Stay tuned, and let’s hope things get better over there rather than get worse!
Here’s a very in-depth video from the Wall Street Journal network about the depth of Ireland’s economic problems. 30,000 people left the country last year to pursue jobs abroad, and there seems to be little hope that the trend will change soon. A sobering portrait of Eire in 2010: See Ireland Video
Just wanted to post a few interesting Irish quotations I came across today. There’s no end to these:
“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” – Yeats
“The nicest buttocks in the world are in Ireland. Irish women are always carrying water on their heads, and always carrying their husbands home from pubs. Such things are the greatest posture-builders in the world.” – Actor Peter O’Toole
“I loved Jack Ford. I got him in his later days, and he was a total tyrant and a total autocrat and an Irish drunk. But I had a great time.” – Actor Richard Widmark, describing John Ford, director of many famous westerns.
“Politics is the chloroform of the Irish people, or rather the hashish.” – Oliver St. John
“That’s what the holidays are for – for one person to tell the stories and another to dispute them. Isn’t that the Irish way?” – Lara Flynn Boyle
Easter is certainly the most important holiday on the Roman Catholic calendar. Ireland has a long list of traditions around it, some of which relate to Christ’s return to life and some of which have grown out of old Celtic practices that have more to do with the agricultural calendar than with religion.
Easter comes in springtime, at about the same time as the Vernal Equinox, which ancient Celts associated with fertility rites. For Catholics, Easter Sunday comes at the end of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting when many eat no meat, and some give up additional things like smoking or alcohol. Here are some of Ireland’s Easter traditions, a few of which are a bit strange:
On Good Friday:
– A complete “spring cleaning” of the home.
– Doing no work with tools, in order to avoid spilling any blood from an accident.
– Mark one of the eggs laid on the farm on Good Friday to be eaten with the celebration meal on Sunday.
– If you die on this Good Friday, you go directly to heaven.
– Gather food on the shore, but do not go out fishing in a boat.
On Easter Saturday:
– Go to church and drink a few sips of holy water, then sprinkle a bit on the family and even the farm animals for good luck.
– Turn off all lights in church at 11 pm and light a Paschal Candle as a symbol of Christ rising from the tomb.
On Easter Sunday:
– Get up at sunrise and do a celebration dance.
– A mock funeral is conducted by the town butchers with a dead herring. The poor fish is a symbol of the end of Lent, when some Irish folk once ate lots of herring, because it was the only available alternative to meat.
– Gather for a contest called a “cake dance,” where the winner gets the cake
Alex Chilton, first of The Box Tops and later of Big Star passes away at just 59 years of age. My favorite thing he did will always be September Gurls, an absolutely gorgeous, sad kind of pop song. Here’s Big Star:
And here’s a live clip of the song being done by The Bangles, who really did a pretty good job on it:
And here’s the quirky lyric:
September gurls do so much
I was your butch and you were touched
I loved you well never mind
I’ve been crying all the time
December boys got it bad.
September gurls I don’t know why
how can I deny what’s inside
even thought I keep away
maybe we’ll love all our days.
When I get to bed
late at night
that’s the time
she makes things right
ooh when she makes luv to me