Category Archives: Ireland

General information about Ireland travel, culture and humor.

A couple of my favorite proverbs

just for fun today…

“Man is incomplete until he marries. After that, he’s finished.”

“A lie travels farther than the truth.”

“If you want an audience, start a fight.”

“Neither make nor break a fashion.”

“It’s not a delay to stop and sharpen the scythe.”

“Put a beggar on a horse and he’ll ride it to hell.”

How I Got Hooked On Ireland

I was asked this week to answer some questions for a nice lady reviewing my book. Thought I would include my answer here. My interest in Ireland is very much about my Grandfather Jerry, who came from the small part of County Kerry that juts out onto the Beara Peninsula in Ireland’s southwestern corner (in a little town called Gurranes, near Allihies). It’s a little story that I assume mirrors that of lots of other Irish-Americans.

How did you get involved in Ireland?
I think I became interested in Irish culture when I was quite young because of my Irish grandfather. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1913, and was a pretty unusual person. He didn’t fit the typical Irish stereotype – didn’t drink much for one thing – but he has this amazing sense of humor. When my granddad was 95 years old, he was still an absolute blast to be with. He was a modestly educated person who had an intelligence and a wisdom about him that I still think of as inspirational.

It’s ironic that he got me interested in Ireland, because he never had any desire to go back there. He saw it as this impoverished backwater that no one would ever go to voluntarily, which I guess it was at the time he left.

I first visited my grandfather’s hometown in 1975 when I was doing a term of college abroad in England. It’s tough to convey just how backward Ireland was then. I stayed in the home of my granddad’s step-sister, who was the only one of his eight brothers and sisters who did not leave Ireland. She was in her seventies and was actually a little bit behind the rest of Ireland even at the time. She lived in a simple cottage with no running electricity or running water, decorated only with a lovely picture of The Pope in the middle of the living room wall (that was one of only three rooms in the house, by the way). She was so accustomed to the heavy brogue of her neighbors that she could not understand my New York English at all initially. Meeting my aunt Maggie was truly like meeting someone from a different century. Like so many of the other people I met there, she had a limited education but was outgoing as could be, smart as a whip and full of good humor. I absolutely adored her.

I would go out to a pub with her nephew Pether and it would be full of men with the same ruddy complexions all wearing the same black cap. They would listen carefully to what seemed like local secrets they were telling, nod their heads and say again and again “ooooh definite.” I think it was really about the end of the time when southwestern Ireland felt like one of the most remote places in Europe.

I returned about nine months later, and had another great visit, but then didn’t get back again for a long time. In 1999, when my wife and I decided to take two boys, age 9 and 13, to see Ireland. Although the Celtic Tiger was only starting to hit at the time, I could tell the minute we pulled out of Shannon that the place had gone through some changes. The hills were covered over with new houses, most of which seemed incredibly ugly, and things generally seemed a lot more homogenized, or alot more Americanized, depending on your viewpoint.

At first I was pretty disappointed. It seemed as though the Ireland I of my memory had been wiped out. But gradually, I started to see that under the modern surface, there was a definate eccentricity that I now view as the real culture of the place. It’s something you can’t quite touch but you recognize every time you interact with an Irish person. That’s what got me hooked on Ireland a second time. Since then it has been a hobby to me to learn as many things as I can about Irish culture. I love both the historic and the contemporary stories of the place. Working on my book and my website tends to make me feel like I have a connection to the place even though I can only visit occasionally, and I like tha feeling.

Not long after our trip in 1999, I created a newsletter for Irish-Americans called “The Irish Letter.” In time that became a website called It’s a huge compilation of proverbs, quotations, travel stories, basic facts, odd news stories from the Irish press; all kinds of different facts and trivia. Some of it is fairly serious, but there’s quite a bit of humor. The website basically makes no money, but is visited by a pretty large number of readers. So I thought it would be fun to put the type of information I collect for it into a book you can read on a train or a flight over to Shannon. Hence “The Great Little Book of Things You Probably Don’t Know About Ireland.”

Some Nice Free Celtic Knot Clipart

For all your Irish graphic designers out there, here are some nice Celtic Knot designs from Wikimedia Commons. They’re all public domain images.

A circle knot
celtic circle knot clipart
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A high cross in black and white
celtic high cross clipart
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A horizontal knot
horizontal celtic knot clipart
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Enjoy the great courses on your next European Tour

A multicolored cross knot
free celtic cross clipart
Url for larger png image

Finally, a very sharp modern-looking green triangle knot
modern celtic triangular cross
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IreQuote of the day / Kate McGarrigle

“When I was a little thing
Papa tried to make me sing
Home Sweet Home and Aura Lee
These were songs that my daddy tought me
Camptown Races and Susannah Don’t You Cry
Gentle Annie still brings a tear to my eye
Label it garbage, label it art
You couldn’t call it soul, you had to call it heart”

– Kate McGarrigle “Work Song”. Ms. McGarrigle, whose Irish-Canadian father loved Stephen Foster songs, passed away Monday at age 63.

Dublin traffic enforcement losing money hand over boot

Having one of those police “boots” clamped onto your car wheel is a pretty severe punishment for parking illegally. But police in Dublin seem to be clamping themselves in the foot, in a manner of speaking. With over 60,000 vehicles being hit with a parking boot and an €80 fine every year, you would think the city government would be raking it in. Not so. It actually costs almost twice as much to put the blasted things on cars than the city gets back in fines. In fact, the city is now losing over €5 million a year on the program.

Ireland’s old marriage laws were a bit strange…

Under Brehon laws that governed Ireland as long ago as 600 AD, a man had the right to divorce his wife if she committed adultery, stole things from him or generally “made a mess of everything.” But rules of conduct in marriage were indeed complicated. Under some circumstances, it was legal for a man to hit his wife — as long as he did not leave a mark. If he did, his wife would be entitled to financial compensation from him for the blow. A woman could divorce her husband if he was either impotent or homosexual, and women had the right to own property independently within marriage. The power of Brehon laws rose and fell in Ireland for several centuries, competing the influence of both church and British laws. They governed parts of Ireland, however, all the way up until the 17th century.

Iris Robinson’s wild and woolly political scandal

You’ve got to hand it to Northern Irish legislator Iris Robinson for producing a scandal that makes Tiger Woods’ look tame by comparison. Revelations of the 60 year-old Mrs. Robinson’s dalliance with a man less than one-third her age have not only produced an explosion of hot tabloid headlines, they’ve also created a mess that could deeply affect Irish politics.

The tabloid frenzy started with an admission around New Year’s from Mrs. Robinson (not the Anne Bancroft character from The Graduate but a real person) that she had conducted a sexual affair with one Kirk McCambley in 2007, when he was just 19 years old. Robinson, who represents a unionist constituency (mostly Protestant) in Belfast, got into real trouble when she helped young McCambley get about $100,000 in loans from developers to open a café. McCambley, apparently not focused on discretion, opened his café in a government building smack in the middle of Mrs. Robinson’s legislative district.

It’s all wonderfully sordid, but politically important as well. That’s because Mrs. Robinson’s husband happens to be Peter Robinson, the first minister of Northern Ireland, who has lead the province’s power-sharing government for almost two years. At least, he was first minister until he stepped down this week. Mr. Robinson, a wealthy lawyer, is in hot water because he apparently learned of his wife’s help on the young lad’s café loan last year and chose not to speak out about it. His current work break is officially for a period of just six weeks. Complete banishment from Irish politics seems to have been avoided, for now, thanks to some strong-arming of Robinson’s angry Democratic Unionist Party colleagues by the ever-colorful Reverend Ian Paisley.

Peter Robinson’s absence from the government could derail efforts to close out a key final step toward Northern Irish independence – the transfer of police and judicial powers from British authorities to local rulers. More ominously, it could create political chaos that might allow Sinn Fein to regain power, a development many fear would send Northern Ireland back into the spiral of violence that existed before the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Far more amusing than the politics, however, are the celebrity tabloid stories surrounding Mrs. Robinson’s young former boyfriend. They just keep coming. Various Irish news sources have reported that when McCambley wanted to end his affair with her, he found her so tenacious that he decided to tell her, falsely, that he could no longer have sex because of testicular cancer. The Irish Independent reports that the spurned lady legislator “bombarded” McCambley with phone calls, texts and love letters — before turning hostile and demanding his loan money back. Another newspaper reports that Mrs. Robinson had an affair with McCambley’s father, a butcher who died in 2008, before taking up with the 19 year-old son. “Before he died he is said to have asked Iris Robinson to take care of his son…That she almost certainly did,” wrote one reporter.

Perhaps the oddest development is the rise of young Mr. McCambley as a “gay pin up boy,” according to The handsome, now 21 year-old fellow is allegedly being pursued by a gay magazine to pose for a cover photo, although it seems unclear at this point that Mr. McCambley is gay. Iris Robinson, by the way, was once given a “Bigot of the Year” award by a British gay organization for calling homosexuals an “abomination.”

Numerous outlets have reported that Mrs. Robinson attempted suicide last March after breaking up with her young lover, though there seems to be little information available on how she tried to end her life or why she failed. At present, she is, in her husband’s words, being given “acute psychiatric treatment.” She is not expected to return to government service.

Irish car sales implode

Everybody knows 2009 was tough for the auto industry. American automakers saw their sales fall anywhere from 20% to 43% (with Chrysler faring the worst among U.S. manufacturers) from their sales levels of 2008. But Ireland had it even worse – much worse. RTE News reports that car sales in Ireland plunged a mind-numbing 62% in 2009 from the 2008 level. The Society of the Irish Motor Industry reports that less than 60,000 cars were bought in ’09, compared to more than 150,000 the previous year. Happily, RTE says, car dealers are now seeing “increased footfall” in their showrooms with the start of 2010.

Ireland’s hard life 1905 on film

I came across this interesting film from Pathe News, made in 1905, that portrayed people in the Irish countryside around the turn of the last century. The live footage has a haunting quality I think:

Ireland’s recession hits horses hard

Just a few years ago ago, the Irish economy was so strong that people couldn’t seem to get their hands on enough luxuries. Vacation homes, Mercedes Benz’s and dinners at expensive restaurants all became par for the course as the Celtic Tiger roared. But things have changed. Irish folks who decided they were flush enough to “join the horsey set” have now been walloped by the recession, and it’s not just their families that are suffering. Their horses are feeling the brunt as well. A spokesman for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals tells The Irish Times that reports are coming in every day throughout the Irish countryside of horses are being abandonded, and left underfed on remote rural roads or fields. Owners, apparently, can no longer afford to pay the €100 or so it costs each week to feed a horse, or the attendant costs of grooming and medical care. The situation, he says, is the worst it’s been in almost 50 years.