Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas


Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

A Pot of Pourri
by Robert Slattery
Some of this-n-that


Collected by Robert Slattery

Trivia and not so trivia
In Ireland, electric light switches are up when off and down when 
All electric units are powered by 220 volts (110 volts in USA), 
unless you have a transformer; shavers/hairdryers etc. will not 
Video tapes bought in Ireland may not work here, 
unless they are labeled so.
A US Gallon is approx. 6.5 pints of an 8 pint Irish gallon 
(imperial measure).
Gasoline is approx. 3 times the cost in real terms/measure as 
in the US.  
Restrooms are marked MNA(women).and FIR(men).
 Top of page 


Drinking, Fighting, and Partying
Patrick's Day cards no longer concentrate on drinking and partying, 
thanks in large part to the efforts of the A.O.H and other Irish 
organizations. Many of the leaders in business, politics, the arts, 
the professions and the church are of Irish heritage. Currently 
(OCT 1999)  there are three Irish plays running on Broadway and 
many more local productions throughout the states. Today the 
Irish in America rank #2 behind the Jews in per capita income.

Top of page +=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+= Ireland Ranked #12 worldwide The following is taken from John Leo's column in the U.S. News & World Report, August 9, 1999, "More PC (Politically Correct) Follies". Listed among such follies as Outlawing Hate in Santa Cruz, CA and Milk is a Racist Beverage is He rents a car, though Irish. After Sean McGrath, 33, was charged with drunken-driving manslaughter, relatives of the deceased sued Dollar Rent A Car, charging that the agency should have known McGrath was prone to drink because he is from Ireland. After some outrage from Irish-Americans, the observation about Irish drinking habits was dropped from the suit. The truth of the matter is that Ireland ranked #12 in per capita consumption of alcohol by European countries in a 1997 report by alcoweb.cam. Ireland was well behind such countries as France, Spain, Denmark and Germany. Who do you suppose is responsible for giving the Irish the bad rap? Top of page +=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+= October, 1999 news1etter Ivan Magill Did you know? -Irishman acknowledged as father of modern anesthesia: Ivan Magill, born in Lame, Co. Antrim, 1888, started working with anesthetics at the end of WW1. His techniques allowed patients to breathe during operations. Prior to this, anesthesia was as likely to be administered by a passing porter wielding a bottle and a rag, and there was a fine line between giving enough anesthetics to put them to sleep and giving a fatal dose. In the 1930s, Magill invented the sophisticated breathing and anesthetic delivery system which made chest and heart operations possible. Read Mary Mulvill's award-winning book, Ingenious Ireland Publishers: TownHouse. 2003. (Irish America, Sept./Oct. 2003) Top of page +=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+= Robert Emmet Stands Tall in Nation's Capital: The bicentennial of the execution of famed Irish orator and revolutionary Robert Emmet was commemorated on Sept. 17,'03 in a ceremony at the Washington D. C. statue erected in his honor. The ceremony was held in the Dupont Circle Park where Emmet's bronzed likeness has stood for over 30 years. Spearheading the event was the Embassy of Ireland, whose offices stand just two blocks from the statue. Irish Ambassador Noel Fahey, was on hand for the rededication. In Washington D.C., the Robert Emmet statue is one of four identical casts created by Irish born sculptor Jerome Connor. The other three statues are located in Dublin, San Francisco and Emmetsberg, Iowa. (Irish America, Sept./Oct. 2003). See Emmet's story. Top of page +=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+= Banshee: Irish, bean, (ban) woman + Gael, sith, (shee) woman. A female spirit whose wailings forewarn families of the coming death of a member. Top of page +=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+= ICSSA Newsletter June 2002 Old Irish wakes: windows and doors were left open to let the spirit of the dead depart. In County Sligo, as soon as the breath had left a sick person, the bed was carried out & if there was high ground nearby, it was burned there. Just before the moment of death, the sick person was laid on the floor to ease the escaping spirit. Then, two people were sent out to tell the news of the death. Livestock, as well as neighbors, were informed. When the body was washed and laid, a plate containing tobacco or salt was placed on the corpse. Any snuff left over from the wake was carefully collected. It was believed to have curative properties. Those who followed the hearse to the graveside always carried a piece of salt to protect them from evil spirits. Old Irish wakes were important social occasions. "More matches were made at wakes than at wedding," remarked Maria Edgeworth. Wake games were played & directed by a man known as a "Borkeen. " They included riddles, jokes, singing, dancing and even wrestling. These were usually reserved for the death of an old person, who had enjoyed the normal span of life. Top of page +=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+= ICSSA Newsletter June 2002 John Twohig Did you know? A two story limestone house built in San Antonio in the 1840s by Irish born John Twohig was moved in 1941 to the grounds of the Witte Museum. It is now used as office space and the house retains its original layout and exterior color scheme. Twohig served in the Siege of Bexar, was captured in General Adrian Woll's 1842 invasion but made a daring escape from a Mexican prison. Originally his house was on the west bank of the San Antonio River facing St. Mary's Street. He established the first breadline in America ("The Breadline Banker of St. Mary's Street," 1936, SA Public Service Co.). In 1870, Twohig "was among the 100 wealthiest men in Texas." (San Antonio Express-News) Top of page +=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+= ICSSA Newsletter June 2002 Michael Cudahy Immigrated from Kilkenny Co. in 1849, built the world's first cold storage warehouse after he and his two brothers went into the meat packing business. The family made a fortune and established the town of Cudahy WI, which today has 20,000 inhabitants. (Cudahy is a version that takes many forms, including Coady, Cody, Cuddy and McGillicuddy.) Lawrence of Arabia (Thomas Edward Lawrence) was born in Tremadoc, Wales, on August 16, 1888. He was the illegitimate son of Thomas Robert Tighe Chapman, an Anglo-Irish landowner from Killua Castle, Devlin, Co. Westmeath, and Sarah Junner, a governess. Also in the cast: Anthony Quinn, of Irish-Mexican descent. (Ireland's Own, 1998) Top of page +=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+= Few people who use these expressions in their everyday language have any idea that they originate in Ireland. by Hook or by Crook Whatever about how he is regarded in England, you would travel many a mile in Ireland to find anyone who had a good word to say about Oliver Cromwell. Some years ago the poet Brendan Kennelly wrote a poem inspired by Cromwell's activities in Ireland that caused a right uproar for the simple reason that, in the opinion of some, it attempted to cast the general in a favourable light. By all events, Cromwell landed in Ireland in 1649, intent upon containing the rebellious Irish and putting an end to their capers once and for all. Like the Normans before him, he chose to make his landings on the south east coast where there are miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches. Some would tell you he made his approach directly to Waterford where there was a particular problem to be tackled. Even today, ships approaching Waterford harbour leave Hook Head 'on their starboard hand' i.e. to their right. Across the harbour mouth, in the vicinity of Brownstown Head, was the village of Crook, and asked how he would enter the harbour, Cromwell is said to have announced that he would take Waterford 'by Hook or by Crook'. In other words however he approached the town, either taking a bearing off Hook Head or Crook village, he was determined to take the town. Hence the origin of the saying 'by hook or by crook'. There is another school of thought that the term originated in England and was used in the context of foraging dead wood for burning, cutting it with a hook or removing high branches with a crook, which shepherds might well have developed to gain advantage over other folk. I prefer the first. It is a better yarn. Top of page +=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+= Beyond the Pale Throughout the fifteenth century, the political state of Ireland was unsettled. There was only one place where the king's writ was directly effective and that was within the Pale, a ring of fortifications surrounding Dublin and built by Anglo-Norman settlers. Beyond this, the Lords of Ormonde. Desmond and Kildare were about the only strongmen who, were successfully administering the Royal Authority. As for the rest of Ireland, the complexity of the situation was made clear in a report of 1515 submitted to Henry VIII which spoke of 'more than sixty countys, called regions, in Ireland, inhabited with the King's Irish enemies and more than 30 greate captaines of the Englyshe noble folke that followyth the same Irish ordre'. Local wars and feuds were frequent, though they tended to follow the style of local cattle raids and not well-orchestrated pitched battles. The Pale extended along a band of the east coast with Dublin at its centre. Visitors to Dublin today may visit a section of the old city walls which is about the last extant part of the city dating back to the pale. Some Tower Houses have survived within the Pale in various stages of ruin, but one of the best preserved is found at Roodstown in County Louth. Outside the Pale dishevelled merchants would gather hoping to do some kind of trading with the wealthy nobles living in some style behind the fortifications. They and all outside these fortifications were beyond the pale, an expression that lives on today to categorise those who are socially unacceptable. Top of page Steeplechasing Seekers after the origin of the sport of steeplechasing must go back to county Cork and the middle of the eighteenth century. In the autumn of 1752 two men, believed in some quarters to have been prominent landowners and men of substance as well as owners of fine, upstanding horses, challenged each other to an extended race on horseback over open country and every reasonable obstacle that lay between the villages of Buttevant and Doneraile. The men's names were Blake and O'Callaghan and they agreed that the course they would race would include crossing the Awbeg river. They stayed on course, over four-and-a-half-miles of open country, by looking at the steeple of the St. Leger Church in Doneraile as they rode the four-and-a-halfmile-long course. Note: records do not show who won, nor do they indicate any possibility that the church in Doneraile whose steeple they eyed so carefully during their chase itself lent its name to another famous event in British classic racing, the St. Leger. That, as the man said, is another story. Top of page To chance your arm An ancient door, now reduced to four and a half pine planks, gnarled and dark brown with age, faces visitors entering Dublin's famed St. Patrick's Cathedral. It tells the story of the origin of the expression 'to chance your arm' and the key to the story is the hole, thirty inches by six, where there once was a panel. In 1492, two prominent families, the Ormondes and Kildares, were pursuing a bitter feud. Besieged by Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, Sir James Butler, Earl of Ormonde, and his followers took refuge in the Chapter House of the Cathedral and bolted themselves in. As the siege wore on, the Earl of Kildare concluded that the feuding was foolish. Here were two families worshipping the same God in the same church and living in the same country, trying to kill each other. So he called out to Sir James and, as an inscription in St. Patrick's says today, 'underwrote on his honour that he should receive no vilanie'. Wary of 'some further treacherie' Ormond did not respond. So Kildare seized a weapon and cut away a hole in the door and thrust his hand through. It was grasped by another hand inside the church, not slashed with a sword and the door opened and the two men embraced, thus ending the family feud. The expression 'chancing one's arm' originated with Kildare's noble gesture. A little card available to all who see the door of reconciliation reads, 'there is a lesson here for all of us who are engaged in family feuds, whether brother to brother, language to language, nation to nation. If one of us would dare to "chance his arm", perhaps that would be the first crucial step to the reconciliation we all unconsciously seek'. Top of page