IRISH MEMORIES – AROUND THE RING OF KERRY (March 16/01)

Patrick Loughnane, who has been over here from Ireland for 28 years, tells me the natives of Cork are different. They speak with a different kind of accent and are noted for being contrary of mind, Patrick said.

My great grandfather was a native of Cork and I was interested in what Loughnane had to say about the city and the people of the area. I’ve read that Cork refers to both a place and an attitude, or I should say a particular frame of mind. In a book I have on touring Ireland in the 1930s, the author quotes an Irishman as saying, “Don’t be hearing him; he’s of the Cork thinking.”

The Coleman surname is common in Cork and the outlying areas, a fact I discovered when we were on a tour of Ireland. I had the idea that I could open up a telephone book while in Cork, look up someone with the Coleman name and learn all kinds of interesting things about my ancestors. As it turned out, it was a ridiculous idea. I found page after page of Colemans, a name that in and around Cork is as numerous as Smith is in telephone books here. I checked several telephone districts and found there were more Colemans that you could shake a shillelagh at.

This is St. Patrick’s Day week and I’ve been reminiscing about the all-too-brief time we spent in Ireland. I found little evidence of what Patrick Loughnane said was the Cork attitude but perhaps this was because our visit in that area was brief. Most of the Irish people I talked with in areas outside of Cork were open, friendly, and inclined to talk your ear off if you gave them an opening.

During our tour, we passed by and through places with names recognized the world over as Irish – Killarney, Blarney, Tralee, Tipperary, and so on. There was a stop on a rugged mountain road for a sip of that legendary Irish brew, poteen, supposedly illicit but our tour guide had obviously arranged to have a tinker-like lad meet us what a jug of the stuff in what passes for wilderness in Ireland.

And speaking of wilderness, the rugged coast around the Ring of Kerry in the southwest of Ireland is impressive. It is much like our Fundy shore but on a wilder, more desolate, and certainly grander scale. When I think of Ireland the picturesque, windswept shoreline around the Ring of Kerry comes to mind immediately; and when we go back to Ireland, this is one of the areas we’ll visit again.

While I rarely drink alcoholic beverages, I knew I couldn’t visit Ireland without sampling a Guinness. Entering an Irish pub and ordering a Guinness was an experience, an embarrassing experience, and I’ll always remember it. The custom in Ireland is to pour a glass of Guinness, let it stand until it settles, and then top off the glass. Not being aware of this, I made a bit of fuss when the barkeep poured my glass, took my coin, and then set the glass out of reach behind the counter. I got a baffled, perhaps pitying look when I asked for my glass before the barkeep had the chance to top it off.

Here in Canada, by the way, St. Patrick’s Day is more of a celebration involving food and drink than it is in some parts of Ireland. When I inquired in Blarney about how St. Patrick’s Day was observed, I was surprised to learn that it is looked upon as a religious celebration. There are ceilidhs, of course, but not necessarily on the scale they are held here. In the Valley, for example, St. Patrick’s Day is often used as an excuse to have a few extra drinks and to party.

The stereotype of the Irishman as a hard-drinking, rabble-rousing lover of Gaelic jigs and reels can be blamed for this. St. Patrick’s Day for some is an excuse to let loose. Some of us with Irish ancestors celebrate the day quietly with Irish music and an Irish dish or two at supper.

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