In a fit of disgust at the return to partisanship as usual I witnessed scant months after the 9/11 events, I reprinted the Will Rogers column from November 2000 for our January / February '02 issue.

Now it was March again, and time for yet another installment of the occasionally annual Saint Patrick's Day column. This time, I finally delved into an area close to my heart: the folk music of the Emerald Isle. I may return there again.

This would be the last folklore column for a year.


Top of the Newsletter III - Return of the Blarney


What, you lot again? Saints keep and preserve us - that can only mean it's that time again - when all the world gets a wee bit greener, and hopefully a bit less dry.

For Saint Patrick's Day is indeed again upon us, and so 'tis my self-proclaimed duty to once more wheel out the bad accent, the witless jokes, the pointless anecdotes, and torture - er that is, regale you with more Shamrockery!


Now what (you may well arsk) on earth is "Shamrockery"?

Well, now, I'm glad you asked.

For a suitable answer to that, I must take you with me, far, far, back into Ancient Times - specifically, to the late fifties Folk Music Scene that had developed in America, most notably in New York City's Greenwich Village, to take a look at a developing trend in that circuit. I refer to the revival of the Celtic Folk Song, ballads from Ireland and Scotland passed down through the centuries, as well as those not quite as old that at least sounded as if they'd been passed down through the centuries.

Now, the folk scene had been quietly evolving throughout the past few decades, with occasional hits by the Weavers popping up now and again, but, though the names of such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger were well enough known, it wasn't exactly a cash cow, if you will.

In the mid-fifties a late forties pop-singer-turned-folkie found the Cow. His name was Harry Belafonte. If not inaugurating, he certainly was at the crest of the mid fifies Calypso craze (pop fans in the mid fifties went nuts over anything exotic sounding), appealing to young and old alike. Soon, among his followers, he noticed a whole herd of college kids who were digging it all, not just the Jamaican stuff but the other traditional folk songs he was performing. (Not entirely coincidentally, the Weavers, unable to make music for a few years due to the McCarthy Red Scare furor at the beginning of the decade, begin recording again around this time, and one of them, the aforementioned Pete Seeger, begins to become very popular as a solo act on the college circuit.)

Now, Harry noticed that three cats in this herd of collegiate followers could sing pretty good, so he let them open a few shows for him. Then, they got to cut a record.

The record, released in '58, was "Tom Dooley", and was a smash hit, and the Kingston Trio (as in Kingston, Jamaica - you know, the Belafonte thing) were an overnight success.

Now, the other artists I've mentioned were seasoned, older, and living legends. To even contemplate emulating them was out of the question - one could only pay one's money, and marvel.

The Kingston Trio, why, they were just three ordinary kids. And here they were, headlining shows, winning fame, adulation . . . and boat loads of money.

Within months there were hundreds of ersatz Kingston Trios popping up all over America. They started on the campuses, and subsequently many began to migrate to the hubs of the new scene - Los Angeles, San Francisco, and especially New York.

Now, I'm sorry, what's that you were saying? What does all this folk music have to do with "Shamrockery", or indeed anything suited to St. Patrick's Day?

Oh, yes, I was going to - I mean, why, I was just getting to me point! But, the throat . . . such a terrible dryness . . . ah, thank you, and let me drink the health of your enemy's enemies!

Ahem, now then: As I was saying, you've got hundreds of groups all doing this Kingston Trio thing, searching desperately for new centuries-old songs that haven't been turned into hits yet. And this mad searching became the greatest archeological folk dig the world has ever seen. Imagine this, hundreds if not thousands of college kids (with access to the institutions' libraries, etc) digging frantically for new, unheard examples of a music that was previously enjoyed and played by relatively few people. So many unheard songs were rediscovered (and one has to believe that one or two may have, perhaps, manufactured, as well), including a specific subset of folk that I told you all that in order to introduce: the Celtic folk song.

Now, Celts can be Irish, they can be Scottish, or Iberian, or Welsh - doesn't matter. Even though the Irish and Scots usually consider each other as the lowest form of semi-civilized life, they are very close cousins. And their music is pretty much the same. I can't sing it to you, I can't explain it - if you haven't heard it, you should. And you probably have, without knowing it. But I'm getting ahead of me own story.

The Kingston Trio by 1960 have explored this Celtic tradition with, among others, the Scottish sea shanty "Bonnie Laddy Hielan' Laddy", and the delightful Irish "With You My Johnny". The Highwaymen, (second at this time perhaps only to the trio, and already stars with their "Michael (Row the Boat Ashore)", will within a year record the Scottish "Calton Weaver" and the Irish "The Gypsy Rover". At about this time, a producer actually manufactures a folk group, recruiting three people from the disparate worlds of television, broadway, and even the folk scene to form a group he was sure could top the charts. His concept: what if you took the Kingston Trio and made one of the guys a girl?

Thus were Peter Paul & Mary created, and yes they did indeed become the biggest folk group of them all, covering among other songs the beautiful Irish love ballad "Shule Aroon".

Of course, the public's delight and fascination with our brand new Irish president at the time didn't hurt things, either.

So it was almost pre-ordained that at least one group singing Celtic songs who were actually Irish ought to be able to make a living at this. And indeed, such a group had already been making tentative journeys to New York from the Emerald Isle in the late 50's: the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem.

Now the Clancys would never actually top the charts, or cause riots, but in the day they were big enough to sell out Carnegie Hall, tour, do the Sullivan show more than once, and they certainly sold quite a respectable number of records on Columbia.

Their repertoire ranged from moving anti-war ballads like "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye" to the whimsical IRA ditty "Johnson's Motor Car", and finally the great, beautiful and quite hilarious "Finnegan's Wake" In the course of their subsequent successes in the States, they quickly discovered that the more Overly Irish they were, the more they thickened their accents and played on the stereotypes, the more the Yanks seemed to like them. Naturally enough (yes, folks, the folk scene was as show business as any other, by and large), they began usin' more o' the accents than ever thiy had in th'o'l country, sprinklin' their tongues with "begorrahs" and what the divil have you - and as you probably have guessed the Yanks did indeed eat it up. That, my foine foine friends, is Shamrockery, and as you know I've been regaling you with same for three Irish columns in a row! (With more to come, we can be sure . . .)

Shamrockery is that Irish trick created for foreigners whereby they make themselves far more stereotypically Irish than they, in fact, are. It is a seeming self-disparagement, but if you look closely you will see a twinkle in the eye that seems to say all too clearly: "Are ye quite shoor just who's the butt of this bit o' mirth, laddie?"

It's all in fun, though - although actually it's frequently a brazen attempt to acquire more American Dollars, which it seems to do fairly well.

And I would leave ye with more, but oiv'e got to be on me way, to fetch a bit o' soup home to me dear, sainted mither, waitin' alone in her little sod house . . .

What? You still here? Have ye no homes to go to, then?

Ah, very well, 'tis a song you want, is it? Well then, let me leave you my favorite:


Tim Finnegan lived on Waulkin Street, a gentle Irishman - mighty odd
He'd a beautiful brogue so rare and sweet - to rise in the world he carried a hod.
You see he'd a sort of the tipplin' way, with the love of the liquor poor Tim was born,
To help him on with his work each day,
He'd a drop of the craythur every morn!

(chorus, sing after each verse)

Ripe fol a da now dance to your partner, welt the floor your trotters shake
Wasn't it the truth I told you, lots of fun at Finnegan's Wake!

One morning Tim was rather full, his head felt heavy which made him shake,
Fell from a ladder and he broke his skull, & they carried him home, his corpse to Wake.
They rolled him up in a nice clean sheet, laid him out upon the bed,
With a gallon of whisky at his feet
And a barrel of porter at his head!

The friends assembled at the Wake and Mrs. Finnegan called for lunch
First they brought in tea and cake, then pipes, tobacco and whisky punch
Biddy O'Brien began to cry "Such a nice clean corpse did ye ever see?
Tim, mavourneen, why did ye die?"
"Arrah, hold yer gob," said Paddy McGhee.

Then Maggie O'Connor took up the job: "Oh Biddy" said she "you're wrong, I'm sure"
Biddy gave her a belt on the gob and left her sprawling on the floor.
Then the war did soon engage: woman to woman and man to man
Shilelaigh Law was all the rage
And a row and a ruction soon began . . .

Then Mickey Maloney raised his head when a noggin of whisky flew at him.
It missed him, landing on the bed, the liquor scattered over Tim.
Tim revives, see how he rises - Timothy rising from the Dead . . .
Says "Whirl yer whisky around like blazes,
Thanum & Dial d'you think I'm dead?"

Ripe fol a da now dance to your partner, welt the floor your trotters shake
Wasn't it the truth I told you, lots of fun at Finnegan's Wake!


The preceding is as archetypal a bit of Shamrockery as one could hope for. It was written in the late 1800's for the vaudeville Stage . . .

And I'm not singin' Molly Malone!

Good Night to yez . . .