MARCH 1998

Somehow time tiptoed past us a bit quicker than we might have liked - though, truth be told, we were still only putting the printed newsletter out every other month. There was therefore not a lot of urgency attached to the business of getting a new online column out every single month, though we would endeavor to do so - and succeed at such, more often than not.

At any rate, by the time a new column was Mandatory it was already March, St. Patrick's Day was drawing near, and the oldest of my sainted Irish Grandmother's sisters, Maude, had just passed away at the tender age of 99.

I had, to my chagrin, horribly neglected St. Patrick's Day in the past, and now resolved to do so no longer. For this column I returned to the one issue I'd managed to remember to tip my hat to my Celtic forbears in, and expanded greatly upon it to produce the following . . .

Top of the Newsletter to ye...


 May you have food and raiment,
A soft pillow for your head,
May you be forty years in Heaven
Before the devil knows you're dead.
Ah, Saints be praised, 'tis March again - time to trot out whatever green bit of clothing you can muster, dig out the Clancy Brothers records (or Chieftains, depending on your generational composition), doctor the family tree to include a distant Erin relation or two, and celebrate that glorious day when we are all for a brief moment Irish: St. Patrick's Day.

While reading the opening bit of whimsey you may well have pictured how it was likely to be uttered - in some small, dark pub, the utterer standing relatively unaided and holding aloft a tall glass of Guinness (draft only, if you please). It reminds me of the time (not to drop names, as I once said to President Kennedy, I hate name-droppers) when the famed Irish painter James McNeil Whistler was patiently waiting his turn to give a toast. There were, unfortunately, dozens of others before him, and as goblet after goblet was raised he realized to his dismay that all of his favorite toasts had been uttered. When at last his turn arrived, he therefore stood, raising his glass, and proclaimed, "A toast, my friends, to the next drink!"

Of course, stories like this only serve to perpetuate the unfortunate misconception that the Irish have a tendency to be over-fond of spirits (the kind you pour, as opposed to the kind that pour out of cemeteries). This is, of course, utter nonsense, as everyone knows an Irishman is never drunk so long as he can hold onto a blade of grass and not fall off the earth.

Speaking of old acquaintances, I recall a story concerning the great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw which has particular significance for a column that makes its bed in a Used Bookstore's newsletter . . .

It seems that Shaw was in such a store once, and came across a book of his own plays that featured an inscription in his own hand to a friend of his: "With the compliments of George Bernard Shaw." He immediately purchased the book, and that same day mailed it off to the friend with the added inscription: "With renewed compliments, GBS."

To return to the drinking issue, I feel it only fair to admit that we Irish (alright, partly Irish anyway!) will never eat meat on Friday, but will drink gin for breakfast. Additionally, we can argue either side of a question (often at the same time), may or may not believe in God but are certain of the infallibility of the Pope, are very good at weekends but not as good in the middle of the week, are against corruption (unless it's a Democrat), consider anyone who won't come around to our own point of view to be impossibly stubborn, and believe in everything we can't see - and nothing we can. For that matter, it's certain that anyone who doesn't believe in banshees and leprechauns must be a heathen!

For leprechauns are, of course, the last survivors of the original Irish - the ancient race that inhabited the isle before the coming of the Celts in 350 BC. These original inhabitants were short in stature, yet possessed of a knowledge of arcane arts the rest of the world has seemingly forgotten about. They are the "wee folk", the "good people", the "gentry" - it was not thought wise to name them directly, or indeed to talk too much about them at all. They were and are capricious, moral after their own standards, but certainly not above stealing the occasional baby or putting the odd offending farmer into a deep sleep.

In truth, the leprechaun is but one branch of this great race - arguably the only one who actually does a bit of work once in a while (cobbling shoes, of course). In fact, until recently it was assumed that the very word came from the Celtic "Leith Bhrogan", which translates into "One Shoemaker". It is now widely believed, however, that the word actually evolved from "Luacharma'n" - the Celtic term for "Pigmy".

"Leprechaun" is actually a localized term, used in Leinster. In county Cork they were "Cluricaunes", in Kerry "Luricaunes", in Ulster "Loghery", and in Tipperary (it's a long way) they were known as the "Lurigadaunes". Most folkloric treatises on the subject have attempted to differentiate between these provincial classifications, most notably between "Cluricaunes" and "Leprechauns", but it's safe to say that each region probably used its particular name to signify the Little People in general.

At any rate, Leinster won, popularity-wise, and we now speak of Leprechauns when referring to that whole mysterious magical race.

Various theories have emerged over the centuries as to their origins, the two principal ones being decidedly motivated by religious concerns. The Celts who settled Ireland developed their own localized theocracy, weaving tales of the Tuatha De Dannan, an ancient race of gods who ruled Ireland until their defeat at the hands of a rival race, when they fled into hiding, living under the very hills they are reputed to live to this day. It has been argued that today's Wee Folk are indeed that very race, having grown smaller and smaller through the centuries both as a way to remain hidden and as evolutionary acknowledgement of the current domination of mortals.

With the coming of St. Patrick and Catholicism, of course, new theories needed to be offered, and so it began to be purported that the Fair Folk were in fact some of the Fallen Angels that were originally duped by Lucifer after his challenge of the Almighty. These particular angels, having been duped and not all that bad in and of themselves, landed in Ireland instead of Hell, where they must stay forever - not good enough for Heaven, nor bad enough for the other place.

A pretty enough story, but as the Leprechauns and their kin apparently preceded both St. Patrick and Christianity, we must give more credence to the former theory, and offer our own humble opinion that the "De Dannan" tales were actually a mythologizing of actual events - the fierce, red-haired Celts from Europe descending noisily upon this little island, driving a wise but diminutive race into hiding . . .

It has been said that the last Leprechaun supposedly died in the 1600's, but as there is an identical account of the "Last Fairy Funeral" occurring in England at the same time we may discount both. No Leprechauns left? Absurd.

At any rate, if you're lucky you may find one, you may even lay your hands on him (which you must do if you're to obtain his pot of gold), but as sure as St. Patrick will never find a home in the Reptile Hall of Fame you can be certain that the little fellow will find some way to trick you into taking your eyes off him - whereupon he is legally allowed to vanish into thin air, leaving you as poor, a little wiser, and possessed of a great tale which no one will believe.

That's for Leprechauns - the Banshee probably merits more space in an issue closer to Halloween. Suffice it to say that Banshees are localized ghosts, always female, always related to the family they haunt. Their mission is to emit a loud, keening, terrifying wail to presage a death in the family. To have a banshee of one's own is actually considered something of an honor - it proves you are a member of an early and important Irish clan. But my tongue runneth over and there's whiskey in the jar, so I'll subscribe to the better part of wisdom and fare you all well for a time.

And so, since it falls unto my lot that I should rise and you should not,

May the Lord keep you in His hand - and never close His fist too tightly on you,

May the grass grow long on the road to hell for want of use,

May you live to be a hundred years - with one year extra to repent,

A health to your enemies' enemies,

May your right hand be always stretched out in friendship and never in want,

Health and long life to you, the woman of your choice to you, a child every year to you, land without rent to you, and may you die in Ireland.


(dedicated to Aunt Maude, last of a generation of Walshes, who passed on earlier this year at the too-young-by-half age of 99)

Ahhh, and where would we be without the usual links?

Arguably one of the most comprehensive Irish sites on the web. Check out the links page - you'll be perusing them till next St. Paddy's Day!

Good St. Patrick's Day page, with good links.