Funky facts about St. Patrick’s Day

Did you know that:
New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is the biggest non-military parade on the planet, with over 150,000 people actually marching.

New York used to have wide variety of smaller parades on St. Pat’s Day, but they were merged into a single grand event in 1850.

People in Ireland don’t wear green to celebrate the day. Amazingly, green is actually considered an unlucky color in Ireland.

The City of Chicago has been pouring dye into the Chicago River to turn it green every St. Patrick’s Day since 1962.

St. Patrick’s Day was, for many years, a much bigger holiday in America than in Ireland. The day was made a public holiday in Ireland in 1903, and the first parade on St. Pat’s Day in 1931, long after New York’s parade had become a massive annual event. The Irish government has now decided that the holiday is a great way to promote Irish culture, and has held a “St. Patrick’s Festival” in Dublin since 1995, which attracts over 400,000 participants.

The very first parade on this holiday was staged in Boston in 1737.

The world’s longest-running St. Patrick’s Day parade is actually in Montreal, Canada, where it has been put on every year since 1824.

There are now annual St. Patrick’s Day parades in Malaysia, Sao Paulo, Tokyo and even Moscow.

More on the history of St. Patrick and his day here

Colbert amuses and confuses the Irish & Canadians all at once

Did you happen to catch Colbert’s broadcast from Vancouver the other night? He spent some time at Irish House, where he did a reading of James Joyces’ “Ulysses” that was so deadpan it seemed to actually get people upset. In fact, a fight actually broke out in the audience that appeared to be real. Colbert’s visit to Vancouver has been edgy in an interesting way.

The Canadians seem to love him to the point of being willing to put up with just about anything he says about them. So he’s really going for it. His repeated questions to Ujjal Dosanjh, an Indian-born Canadian politician, about which caste he was born into seemed to go just to the point where the guy was getting seriously pissed off.

Canadians seem to get Colbert’s inside joke – that most of the political commentators on Fox are basically entertainers. I’m not sure alot of Americans really get it, and I know the commentators on Fox don’t get it.

Fun quote from Quentin Crisp

New York writer Quentin Crisp confronts an Irish concept of atheism:
“When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, “Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don’t believe?”

Peggy Fleming is cool

Stepping away from things Irish for a moment, I caught this very good interview with Peggy Fleming at the Vancouver Olympics. Kudos to the young interviewer for doing a nice job. Peggy Fleming is 62 years old. I don’t know and I don’t care if she’s had some work done on her face – she looks great and projects an amazing energy, and proves again how sexy a great voice can be:

Click to see video

Some lovely photos of Northern Ireland in winter…

…courtesy of the readers of

Click to see slideshow

How many Irish olympians are there in Vancouver?

I saw a mention of an Irish athlete competing in the skeleton event at the Vancouver Olympics and thought: “There aren’t a whole lot of ski mountains in Ireland that I know of — I wonder how many Irish Olympians there are at the Vancouver games right now?” Well, in case you were wondering about this too, Irish athletes are competing in four Olympic events:
– There is a women’s 2-person bobsled team let by pilot Aoife Hoey. The brakeman is Claire Bergin and Leona Byrne is alternate brakeman.
– 32 year old Patrick Shannon of County Wexford is competing in the skeleton (a sled event on that track where the unfortunate accident occurred during training).
– The Irish ski team is comprised of slalom skiers Kirsty McGarry and Shane O’Connor, both of County Dublin.
– Last but not least, Ireland is represented in cross-country skiing by PJ Barron, a 20 year old originally from Scotland (Scotland, by the way, has 19 athletes competing in Vancouver). Mr. Baron has completed his event. He came in 91st in the Men’s 15km individual race.

According to this amusing post, the Irish athletes, or their fans (I’m not sure which) are making so much noise late at night in a Vancouver Irish pub that people in the neighborhood are complaining.

Author interview: A 30-year search for an Irish family’s history

This week I came across an intersting story from Maureen Wlodarczyk, author of a new book called “Past-Forward – A three-decade and three-thousand-mile journey home.” It chronicles a search for her Irish family history that took her thirty years of work to complete. Ms. Wlodarczyk whote the book in tribute to her grandmother, who celebrated her Irishness, but knew very little of her ancestors who came to the U.S. from County Sligo in the potato famine years of the 19th century. I talked with Maureen about her huge genealogy project and what got her going on it. (Her book is available here.)

irish genealogy bookWhat made you embark on your 30-year search for your Irish family background?

From my early childhood, I was very close to my maternal grandmother Kate who was the daughter of first-generation Irish-American parents, as I am the only daughter of her only daughter. Over the years as I was growing up, I heard bits and pieces about her “difficult” childhood, the loss of her mother when she was nine and her father’s drinking and inability (or unwillingness) to keep the family together after her mother’s premature death from tuberculosis in 1913. The knowledge that she had endured so much but yet went on to marry at 16, a marriage of over 50 years, becoming a wonderful mother to five sons and a daughter, and a devoted grandmother and great-grandmother made me so proud of her….and so sad to know that while she was the essence of family to us, she knew next-to-nothing about her own family and had no meaningful good or positive memories of the family members she had known as a child. I became very curious to know more about her childhood and thought that if I could discover her Irish family history, I could dilute those bad memories with a broader generational story of our Irish roots, hopefully replacing disappointment and shame with some amount of pride in knowing “who we were”.

Did you find out exactly when your relatives came over from Sligo (your grandmother was born in the U.S., right?)

Yes, she was born in Jersey City, NJ. It took over thirty years of off-and-on searching and the advent of the internet and genealogy resources like and the Heritage Centres in Ireland, but I did confirm my great-great-grandfather John J. Flannelly’s birth in Skreen Parish, County Sligo in 1841 and his parents’ (William and Mary Lang Flannelly) marriage there in 1832. That led me to find that William & Mary and their 6 children (including my great-great-grandfather John) arrived in New York City on November 28, 1846 on the packet ship “Marmion”. They left their home to escape the Great Famine.

What did you find out about your family history that surprised you?

I discovered, just a few years ago, that my immigrant great-great-grandfather John Flannelly served in the Union Army during the Civil War and was hospitalized in Williamsburg, VA after the Battle of Williamsburg in May 1862. Although I was born and raised in New Jersey, I have always been drawn to Williamsburg VA, having vacationed there many times over the past 30 years, and have been a part-time resident of that city for the last ten years (long before I discovered my great-great-grandfather had been there as a soldier). I consider myself a person of very strong intuitive sensibility and suspect that drew me to Williamsburg to walk on the very streets where my great-great-grandfather had walked more than a century before.

Are you the only one in your family interested in this kind of information?

I am not the only one who has shown interest but my level of interest and need to search are well beyond any other family member’s. But, I do have a genealogy “buddy” who is always game for an outing….even a day of “cemetery-hopping”: my mother’s cousin Dorothy. She is in her mid-80s, the daughter of my grandmother’s sister, and has the energy and enthusiasm of a person half her age.

Did your grandmother seem interested in knowing about her family history? Did she see herself as a person influenced by her Irish heritage?

My grandmother enjoyed being Irish. St. Patrick’s Day was a favorite holiday when she watched the NYC parade on television and also would watch the John Wayne movie “The Quiet Man”. When it came to her own family, for the reasons I mentioned before, she struggled with some level of shame or embarrassment about things that had happened between her parents and in the aftermath of her mother’s death. While I was able to get her to tell me some details about those years, she was somewhat reluctant to reveal things that had happened. It was the same with her sister. That’s why I say that “time can’t heal all wounds”. I know it didn’t for my grandmother.

What were the main roadblocks you ran into in getting the documents about your family, and how far back were you able to trace your genealogy in Ireland?

The main roadblocks were the fact that my grandmother only had limited family knowledge and that the records available in Ireland prior to the mid-nineteenth century are very limited in many locales. Also, before the last decade and the ever-expanding resources available on the internet, it was necessary to travel to access records or to write to vital statistics departments, waiting a very long time for a response and hoping that the person who handled your request did a thorough job….the kind of job one would do for themselves. So far, I have been able to trace my Irish roots back to the second half of the eighteenth century and my great-great-great-great-grandparents Owen and Mary Flannelly, who were born in the 1770s.

What did you find harder about this project – doing the research or writing the book?

The research was harder and much more protracted, having come in dribs and drabs over so many years. That’s not to say the writing was easy. I had a couple false starts and then, when I decided to write the story in the form of a letter to my grandmother, I found the vehicle for telling the story as I would have told it to her, had she lived.

What, if any, related tangents arose from the search for your family history?

In the last three years, I convinced a male family member to participate in a YDNA testing program under the auspices of a family clan organization in Dublin, Ireland. Those test results put me in touch with new DNA-discovered “cousins” in the US and in Ireland and they have become extended family. I am now an officer of that organization, the Flannery Clan, and help members by doing genealogical research, which has been very rewarding for me and very exciting for them. Not only did I finally solve the mystery of our Irish roots but, where during my grandmother’s childhood the family was broken apart in many ways, we are now (a century later) rediscovering and restoring family connections.

Review published of my book with author interview

I’m very excited to report that a fun and, I think, pretty accurate review of my book was just written here by Andrea Coventry
She also published a very full-length interview with me here on Associate Content. Thanks Andrea!

Seeing John Doyle & Karan Casey at Joe’s Pub Tonight!

I’m excited about seeing John Doyle and Karan Casey play live tonight at Joe’s Pub in New York. Here are some good live clips of them from YouTube.

“The King’s Shilling” – Karan Casey with James Taylor. She did a very nice recording of this with John Doyle some years ago, but this version with James T and Jerry Douglas is nice

“The Ballad of Accounting” with a big backup group. Karan’s voice sounds really great on this one:

A very old, held-held clip of Solas, but Karan and John Doyle do a nice harmony here:

“A Pound A Week Rise.” Finally, here’s a knock ’em dead performance by John D in a radio station with frequent partner Liz Carroll. He’s an astounding guitarist.

Info on seeing them at Joe’s Pub, which happens to be a great venue.

Silliest Super Bowl Headlines

Bear with me, dear reader, as I post one of my occasional non-Ireland notes.

Personally, I enjoyed the big game this year. But I really love the way people seem to feel an odd pressure to say something different and interesting about it. Among my favorite headlines floating around this morning are:

“Man Cries for First Time in 14 Years” – AOL

“‘Massive Risk’ Pays Off in Super Bowl” – AOL’s description of the cataclysmic apocalypse that might have occurred, had The Saints failed to recover their onside kick at the start of the second half. Meanwhile, am I the only one that noticed the players on the edge of the pile punching and even kicking each other during the ensuing scrum?

“Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, happily together at the Super Bowl” – How can we help but feel relief hearing this from USA Today?

As everyone knows, one of the worst sins on earth is for a rock star to actually grow up. “The Who Rock Super Bowl XLIV With Explosive Medley of Big Hits” was the friendly headline from Rolling Stone. More typical, however, was this comment by a Chicago-Sun Times writer who plans to die before he gets old: “Out there in the field, fossils barely resemble the Who.”

The financial meaning of the game was explored in an ABC News articles called “Why Saints Super Bowl Victory Seen as Boost for Stocks”

“Super Bowl parties bring people together” was the cheerful, if somewhat obvious headline on the Kansas State Collegian

The blogisphere, being populated as it is by geeks and self-promoting marketers, was universally more obsessed with advertising than with the game – particularly with spots run by Google and Dave Letterman. It was almost impossible today to find a blogger who seemed very interested in who won or lost.

Finally, the UK’s Daily Mail summed up the real meaning of the event in typical British tabloid style: “Super Bowl sweetheart Kim Kardashian plants a huge kiss on boyfriend Reggie Bush after his team’s victory”