Dingle Peninsula

The first stop on our tour of Ireland was the Dingle Peninsula in Co. Kerry. The famous Ring of Kerry is on the Iveragh Peninsula to the immediate south, but many people told me that the Dingle Peninsula is preferable in terms of history and natural beauty. I can’t make any comparisons, but I can say that it is very edifying indeed.

Upon our arrival in Dingle Town we were treated to a boat tour of Dingle harbor and got to see its most famous resident, Fungie the Dingle Dolphin. Our captain then took us out to sea and we got to enjoy the rugged beauty of west coast of Ireland.

The next day we took coach tour of the peninsula, which included stops at Inch Strand, St. Catherine’s Church in Ventry (resting place of the Irish scholar Pádraig Ó Fiannachta), a place to view the Great Blasket Islands, and the Gallarus Oratory (pictured), which I was very excited to see. There is a debate whether it is from the early or the high Middle Ages – I favor the latter interpretation, given that the beehive huts of the early-medieval Skellig Michael are round, and this one is longitudinal, and has a Romanesque-style window on the far end. But whether it was a chapel or a shelter of some kind (or both) remains a mystery. I admired the construction – each stone was shaped to fit, and as a consequence not much mortar was needed (it’s not quite a dry stone building). What is more, the cracks between the bricks slope outwards, so that water does not leak into the interior.

We stopped for lunch across from Dunbeg Fort, an Iron Age promontory fort near Slea Head. Unfortunately, we only got to see it from the road: it was severely damaged in a storm in 2014 and has been closed to visitors since then. We did get to see a well-formed ringfort from the coach, and we stopped at Kilmalkedar, a ruined twelfth-century church that was once the center of a monastery founded by St Maolcethair. The church itself may have been modeled on Cormac’s Chapel at the Rock of Cashel (more on this later), and the yard features numerous interesting things like a medieval sundial, some Ogham inscriptions, and from a more recent time, the grave of one Lieut. Thomas Russell, Irish Volunteers, 8th Battalion Clare Brigade, “Murdered by English Forces, Carraigaholt, Co. Clare, 17 March 1918, Aged 21.” That would be before the Khaki Election and the War of Independence – I wonder what the story is there.

Blarney

The Irish are stereotypically charming and garrulous, and we certainly met a number of people who fit that description. Of course, what they tell you is not necessarily true, but who cares?! As my fellow tour member Stephanie Marchant said, it’s a storytelling culture, just enjoy it.

• At the St. Columb’s Cathedral cemetery in Londonderry, our guide told us that poor people would be interred beneath the ground, but rich people got put into above-ground tombs. This provided a grander memorial, and allowed for an escape if someone was ever buried prematurely. The trouble is that if you really were dead, your corpse would start to rot, and passersby could smell it, and that’s where we get the expression “stinking rich.” (Actual reason: it’s merely an intensifier, like “drop-dead gorgeous.”)

• One of our tour members asked our guide at Dublin Castle what “KG” meant as a pair of postnominal letters. (A number of portraits of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century grandees were of people designated “KG”). Without missing a beat, she replied that it stood for “King’s General.” (It actually stands for “Knight of the Garter.”)

• She also said that in the nineteenth century, women’s makeup had a wax foundation, and if a woman thus made-up sat too close to a fire, her makeup might melt off, so a kind soul invented a screen to put in front of the fire to mitigate the intensity of the heat and to keep women’s makeup on, and that’s where we get the expression “to save face.” (Actual reason: “‘Lose face’ began life in English as a translation of the Chinese phrase ‘tiu lien’. That phrase may also be expressed in English as ‘to suffer public disgrace’, that is, to be unable to show one’s face in public.”)

• The Vikings introduced metal coinage to Ireland, which the Irish thought was a good idea. But they didn’t have any pockets to keep it in, so they stuck the coins with beeswax onto their armpit hair. (I highly doubt this ever happened.)

• When Queen Victoria died, the residents of Dublin were ordered to paint their doors black as a sign of mourning. But not everyone admired Queen Victoria, so they painted their doors different bright colors as a protest (many terraced houses did indeed have different colored doors). As a bonus, you can easily recognize which door is yours, on a mile-long terrace of houses, if you’re coming home in the dark after an evening of drinking in the pub. (Query: what were doors painted before the authorities allegedly ordered them painted black? I can see people wanting to distinguish their houses with their own color of door, but I cannot imagine any level of government ordering people to paint their doors a certain color, even in 1901.)

• Regimental colors on display in churches are often falling apart. They are deliberately allowed to rot like this, because “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” UPDATE: The First Floor Tarpley military correspondent writes: “I think that may be true as a practice, although the real reason would likely be to do with the fact that the colours were consecrated and also the fact that no money was devoted to their upkeep once laid up. I think many churches are now preserving originals and displaying replicas in their place.”

• Our driver through Killarney National Park claimed that the original horse racing steeplechase took place between St. Mary’s Church (the “steeple” in question) in the town of Killarney and a site in what is now the park, and back again. (According to Wikipedia, the first such race was indeed in Ireland, but it was between Buttevant and Doneraile in County Cork.)

Language and Politics

Some notes, to complement my post from three years ago:

• On my transatlantic flight to Shannon airport I sat next to a charming young woman from County Donegal who was returning from a medical research conference in the United States and who is about to defend her dissertation at the University of Galway. Donegal contains one of the Gaeltacht areas of Ireland although she was not a native speaker of Irish (she was Xhosa, in fact), she did her duty and learned the language in school. The trouble, she told me, is that each of the three west coast Gaeltacht areas (Ulster, Connacht, and Munster) speak a different dialect of Irish, and they’re all different enough to cause problems. So when you go to take your final exam, there’s no guarantee that the person examining you will be speaking the same dialect that you’ve studied!

• Our first stop on the tour was the Dingle Peninsula, a Gaeltacht area (and home of the Munster dialect). There were plenty of signs in the language although I think I overheard it being spoken exactly once. Our guide told us that many high school students come during the summers and stay for two weeks in an Irish-speaking home, on a government-sponsored program to help promote the language. On a coach tour of the peninsula we stopped at St. Caitlín’s (i.e., Catherine’s) Church in the village of Ventry, which was distinguished by being the resting place of its longtime priest Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, who died in 2016 and who is responsible for translating the Bible into Irish. According to our guide, he was the first person ever to accomplish this feat. I thought, surely not – surely someone translated it before? Turns out that there have been previous translations, but Ó Fiannachta’s was the first Roman Catholic one (prior to Vatican II, of course, a Latin Bible was all that a good Catholic really needed). A stained glass window in the church commemorates Monsignor ó Fiannachta and specifically compares him to St. Jerome, who had originally translated the Bible into Latin in the fifth century.

• As I noted before, most personal names and most place names are translatable. That is, if you’re speaking in English, you use the English version, and if you’re speaking in Irish, you use the Irish version. Exceptions exist, of course: being a native Irish speaker and scholar, Pádraig Ó Fiannachta is so called, never “Patrick Fenton.” The Gaeltacht village of Lispole has been spared having its name rendered as such on this road sign:

Note how the other place names are given: Irish version first, in Title Case and italics, and English version second, in ALL CAPS and roman. This convention is a good one: it produces a clear distinction between the versions and probably cuts down on confusion, and hearkens back to the time when Irish required its own font.

• A number of other Irish names and words are standard when speaking English. I jotted down a few:

  • Oireachtas Éireann (the Irish legislature), comprising the Seanad Éireann and the Dáil Éireann
  • Teachta Dála (a member of the Dáil)
  • The political parties Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Sinn Féin
  • Garda Síochána (the police)
  • Taoiseach (Prime Minister, but note that his ceremonial superior is simply the President)
  • Tánaiste (the deputy Prime Minister)
  • Brú na Bóinne (the “Palace of the Boyne,” which I’ll be writing more about)
  • Amhrán na bhFiann,” the national anthem, which is sung in Irish (although there is an English equivalent called “A Soldier’s Song.”)
  • The transportation companies Bus Éireann and Aer Lingus
  • RTE, that is, the national broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann
  • Éire (not “Ireland”) appears on postage stamps

Also, county names appear only in Irish on the number plates:

Cork

Kerry

Louth

• But note that the town of Dingle, which the Irish minister for Community, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs ordered in 2005 be known only by the Irish version of its name (“An Daingean”) held a plebiscite the following year to reverse this decision, and overwhelmingly voted to return to the bilingual place name dispensation. As one man stated: “People feel they are being bullied. They have lived with ‘Dingle’ all their lives.” Methinks tourism branding might have had something to do with it as well. If the place has been known and advertised as one thing, why mess with it? Not to mention that there already is a “Daingean” in Ireland, the seat of Co. Offaly.

• Our guide in Dublin Castle pointed out that most place names in English are simply phonetic renderings of the Irish names. The English generally didn’t bother to translate what the names actually meant. Thus did “Dubhlinn” become “Dublin,” and not “Blackpool” (which is what the name means, and which refers to a dark pool on the River Poddle near where it enters the Liffey). But why, I asked, is the Irish name for Dublin actually “Baile Átha Cliath” (pronounced “bally a klee”)? That, she told me, comes from a different geographical feature at a different site: a “hurdled ford” further up the River Liffey. (“Bally,” I discover, simply means “place of,” hence Ballyduff, Ballygally, Ballymena, Ballymoney, etc. But I don’t think that “Ballyackley” ever existed as an English name.)

Apparently Dubhlinn was the Viking settlement, and Áth Cliath the native Irish one; one name stuck in English, and the other in Irish. History is full of these sorts of nominal weirdnesses.

• But for a real naming dispute, you have to travel to the North, where “Are you Derry or Londonderry?” is a question one can ask in that particular city, by means of inquiring which “community” one belongs to.* That is, the nationalists prefer Derry, while the unionists Londonderry. Note that this is a dispute in English: the Irish equivalent of Derry is Doire, and presumably you could call it Londaindoire in Irish if you wanted to, although I highly doubt anyone ever does. According to Wikipedia, it wasn’t that big a deal prior to the advent of the Troubles (viz. the “Apprentice Boys of Derry“), at which time it became a shibboleth. I saw signs in the Republic reading “Doire DERRY” in the prescribed typography noted above, and I actually saw a “Londonderry” sign in the North, that is, some nationalists had gotten to it and effaced the offending prefix.

In the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, how to solve this impasse? Many people say “Derry-Londonderry,” and I saw it written out “Derry/Londonderry” more than a few times. Our guide said that this has given rise to the jocular nickname “Stroke City.” I think that a good compromise would be to call the city “Derry” (it has a nationalist majority which naturally took control of the place once the gerrymandering was abolished) and the county “Londonderry” (there never was a “County Derry”).**

Failing that, you can always use the name of the local river and its estuary as an avoidance strategy, as does this place:

• At the time of the Romans, some of the people inhabiting what is now Scotland were known as the Picts, and spoke a Celtic language related Welsh and Breton (a Brittonic, or P-Celtic language). The Scots themselves were originally from Northern Ireland and settled western Scotland in the early Middle Ages, founding the kingdom of Dalraida. Thus is the country known today as Scotland, and Scottish Gaelic is a Goidelic, or Q-Celtic language, related to Irish and Manx. If this language was reintroduced into Northern Ireland as a result of the Scottish settlement in the seventeenth century, I saw no evidence of it. But I did see some signs in “Ulster Scots,” which some people hold up as the official minority language of Northern Ireland, and which, as far as they are concerned, is due the same amount of protection and promotion that the Republic lavishes on the Irish language. The trouble, as our guide pointed out, is that Ulster Scots “doesn’t really exist,” and I think she is right. Here is the opening paragraph for “Lunnonderrie” in Wikipedia:

Lunnonderry, kent by monie fowk as Derry, is the seicont mukkilest ceitie in Northren Ireland (eftir Belfast) an the fowert-mukkilest ceitie on the iland o Ireland. In the 2001 Census the ceitie proper haed 83,652 indwallers.

The ceitie ligs in the nor’wast o Northren Ireland naur the mairch wi Coonty Dunnygal, whilk is pairt o the Republic o Ireland. The ceitie is naur the mooth o Loch Foyle an kivers baith banks o the River Foyle. The auld wawd ceitie o Derry is on the wast bank o the River Foyle. The wast bank is aften kent as “Ceitiesyd” whyls the aest bank is aften kent as “Wattirsyd”.

In other words, it is English, with its speakers’ accent rendered phonetically, and certain dialect words that you might recognize (“kent,” “mukkilest”) if you have ever had to read Chaucer, Langland, or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

But as a result of the Good Friday Agreement and the spirit of outreach that it has promoted, Irish has been finding more and more of a place in Northern Ireland.

* Apparently the name of the eighth letter of the alphabet also marks the distinction, at least according to an article from the Guardian from 2013:

Almost two thousand years later we are still split, and pronouncing H two ways: “aitch”, which is posh and “right”; and “haitch”, which is not posh and thus “wrong”. The two variants used to mark the religious divide in Northern Ireland – aitch was Protestant, haitch was Catholic, and getting it wrong could be a dangerous business.

** One slight problem with this is that “County Londonderry” doesn’t really exist anymore, except for ceremonial purposes. All across the UK, in the 1970s, local government was reorganized, producing bogus “counties” like “West Midlands,” “Tyne and Wear” or, in Northern Ireland, “Causeway Coast and Glens.” I respect the way that the Republic has not meddled with these historic subdivisions (even though they are a legacy of English imperialism!). I was reading a newspaper article on the abortion referendum and noted a map of the results: populous counties (most notably, Dublin) had been subdivided into smaller units, while sparsely populated counties had been amalgamated (e.g. Sligo and Leitrim, if I’m not misremembering). But note that the counties themselves retain their territorial integrity. Up the Republic!

Nelson’s Pillar

The most distinguishing feature of Trafalgar Square in London is Nelson’s Column, put up in the 1840s to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, the victor (although fatal casualty) of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. At that historic encounter, the Royal Navy defeated a combined Franco-Spanish fleet, thereby reasserting British control of the seas and foreclosing the possibility of a Napoleonic invasion.

Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square, London, June 2018.

Unfortunately for the Irish, it also foreclosed the possibility that the French would liberate them from the British, as Theobald Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet had hoped. The local authorities thus erected a pillar to Nelson on Sackville Street in Dublin in 1809, in celebration of this triumph of the British Empire.

Nelson’s Pillar, Sackville Street, Dublin, c. 1830. Wikipedia.

You could climb up it for a view of the city, but aesthetically it tended to dominate the street, and not in a good way, at least according to several people quoted in an interesting book I bought at the Hodges Figgis bookstore in Dublin.

As the twentieth century wore on and Ireland gained more and more independence, the prominent place of Nelson’s column in Dublin seemed anomalous, especially as it was right next to the General Post Office, the headquarters of the rebels during the Easter Rising of 1916. Some people were determined to do something about this deplorable situation, and in 1966, just prior to the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising, two IRA members managed to plant a bomb halfway up the column, which exploded and brought the top half crashing down into the street. The cover photo Fallon’s book illustrates their handiwork. The Irish Army then demolished the rest. Spokesmen for the IRA disclaimed the action, saying that they were interested in the actual governance of Ireland, not in symbols of the previous regime, although apparently President Éamon De Valera telephoned a newspaper and suggested a headline: “British Admiral Leaves Dublin by Air.”

I was interested to discover that, since 2003, the Nelson Pillar has been replaced with something designated the Spire of Dublin, a stainless steel pin-like monument that extends 120 feet into the air. This was part of a redevelopment for O’Connell Street (as Sackville Street was renamed in the 1920s); it is generally seen as a monument to the “Celtic Tiger” boom years of the 1990s and 2000s.

Spire of Dublin, O’Connell Street, Dublin, May 2018.

Sanctioned or not, blowing up pillars then became somewhat of an IRA tradition. Here is an engraving of “Walker’s Pillar” as it appeared in the 1830s, overlooking the walls of Londonderry. George Walker was an English soldier and Anglican priest who was killed at the Battle of the Boyne, when the Protestant William III defeated the Catholic James II, and secured Protestant supremacy and continued Protestant settlement of Ireland.

Walker’s Pillar, Londonderry. Nineteenth-century engraving. Ebay.

And here’s what it looks like today: nothing more than a plinth, with the remains of a paint bomb thrown at it for good measure. The IRA blew up the column in 1973.

Plinth of Walker’s Pillar, Londonderry, Northern Ireland, June 2018.

Interestingly, this custom was not shared by the members of the Front de Liberation de Québec, who left the Nelson Column in Montreal in its original state.

Nelson’s Column, Montreal, 2005. Wikipedia.

Ireland

Currently teaching my history of Ireland course in preparation for a study-abroad trip there next week. Participating in one of these has been a long-term goal of mine ever since I came to Reinhardt fourteen years ago, but something has always intervened, so I am very much looking forward to this one. Thanks to star organizer Cheryl Brown and EF Tours, we will be visiting the Dingle Peninsula, the Rock of Cashel, Dublin, Newgrange, Derry, and Belfast. Of course, as with my trip to the Middle East in October, this will likely mean a paucity of blog posts for the duration (5/24-6/9), but I should have some good material to write about upon my return.

For St. Patrick’s Day

Although the article was first posted some time ago. From Irish Central:

The Black and Tans, who arrived in Ireland for the first time on March 25, 1920, were not so bad after all, it seems. According to a 2011 book by Canadian historian David Leeson, “The Black and Tans; British Police and Auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence 1920-21,” published by Oxford University Press, we have been misled by the Irish history books for almost a century.

This will come as disturbing news to millions of Irish and Irish Americans who were raised on stories of the Black and Tans’ atrocities in Ireland during the War of Independence. This includes Vice President Joe Biden, by his own account.

The Black and Tans were a force of Temporary Constables recruited to assist the Royal Irish Constabulary in maintaining control over the IRA during the Irish War of Independence. They were generally thought of as the scum of the British system – looking for British ex-soldiers turned psychopaths, turning them into an evil, murderous militia and releasing them from jails into Ireland.

Not so, says author David Leeson. And a review of the book by Eunan O’Halpin in The Irish Times says it will open many eyes.

Among the major surprises, I found reading O’Halpin’s review was that many of the Black and Tans were actually Irish-born and that regular British soldiers were far more likely to commit atrocities.He writes: “Leeson’s careful analysis of Black and Tan recruitment disposes of the widely altered charge that these temporary policemen were the sweepings of the British penal system. Rather, they were a miscellany of British and Irish ex-servicemen, almost none of whom had criminal records.

“He also suggests that pre-First World War soldiers were more likely than younger Black and Tans to commit disciplinary and criminal offenses in Ireland, challenging the assumption that the chronic ill discipline of these temporary policemen was specifically a manifestation of the brutalizing effects of the First World War on impressionable youths.”

More at the link. See also Eunan O’Halpin’s review. Something tells me that, like any revisionist view of Oliver Cromwell, this won’t have much influence in Ireland.

UPDATE: Was disappointed to see that the Toronto Maple Leafs were not wearing their throwback “St. Pats” sweaters tonight, for a Saturday St. Patrick’s Day home game against traditional Original Six rival Montreal. Between 1919 and 1927 the club was known as the “Toronto St. Patricks” and their colour was green. Here is a rendition of one of their uniforms, from the fascinating NHL Uniform Database:

The club was originally known as the Toronto Arenas when it was founded in 1917. This is their centennial season and they wore Toronto Arenas sweaters on December 19 against the Carolina Hurricanes. (I suspect there are limits on the number of throwback sweaters a team is allowed to wear each year.)

Irish Flag

The place of the Irish tricolor in Ireland was assured forever when it was flown by the rebels of 1916, but people forget that it is actually older than that. Ireland had its own unsuccessful Revolution of 1848, at which time the tricolor made its first appearance. The Irish Times reports this and fourteen other facts about the Irish flag, which turns 170 on March 7.

United Irishmen

Wolfe Tone’s Irish rebellion of 1798, I discover courtesy Tom MacMaster, had a echo in Newfoundland. From Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador:

In 1798, many people in Ireland, strongly influenced by the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity exhibited in the French and American revolutions, decided to rise up against British rule. They formed the Society of United Irishmen, an oath-bound, non-sectarian, secret society dedicated to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland. Leading members included Theobald Wolfe Tone, and Lord Edward FitzGerald married to Pamela Simms, reputedly of Fogo, Newfoundland. Armed only with wooden staves topped with iron pikes against the more deadly British guns, the United Irishmen marched out to meet the British army. The United Irishmen were defeated but echoes of 1798 reverberated down through the next 200 years of Irish history. Today in Ireland, the United Irish Uprising is regarded as the first occasion in Irish history when Protestants and Catholics joined together in a common nationalist project.

Outside Ireland, no Irish community other than Newfoundland had the social and demographic characteristics in which a similar rising might take place. In southeast Ireland, much of the action was concentrated in County Wexford, where some 5000 people lost their lives, and Wexford was a major source of Irish migrants to Newfoundland throughout the 1700s. By 1798, two-thirds of the population of St. John’s was Irish, as were most of the soldiers in the British garrison stationed at Fort Townshend…

In April 1800, rumours flew through St. John’s that up to 400 men had taken the secret oath of the United Irishmen, including some soldiers stationed at Signal Hill, Fort William, and Fort Townshend. It is believed that some 80 or more soldiers planned to meet and mutiny at the powder shed behind Fort Townshend, which stood near what is now the juncture of Belvedere Street, Barnes Road, and Bonaventure Avenue. According to the British officers’ reports, their plan, allegedly, was to kill their officers and the leading inhabitants in the town assembled for worship in the Church of England on Sunday, April 20th.

Find out what happened at the link.

Orangemen’s Day

From Waterford Whispers News, a tongue-in-cheek story for this year’s Orangemen’s Day (July 12):

The Untold History Of The Orange Order Parades

WITH July twelfth officially upon us, we look back now at the very little known history of the Orange Order parades, and how they originally came about.

The Loyal Orange Institution, more commonly known as the Orange Order, is a Protestant organisation based primarily in Northern Ireland. The Order was founded in 1795 in a bid to bring some sort of order to the way fruit was being displayed in many fruit stalls across the six counties.

The problem was that the poorer Catholic street traders would throw every different variety of fruit into the same stall, with no separation between items, making it difficult for buyers to search through. Not only was the jumbled up fruit unsightly, it also encouraged mould and rot to fester quite quickly, ruining the produce.

The Protestants, or “protesting ants” as they were originally called, began feuding with the Catholics about their idiotic shelving, insisting the fruit to be separated.

On July 12th, 1803, the Orange Order decided to finally take a stand, organising a march right through the heart of Belfast city on the Shankhill Road, where dozens of Catholic fruit sellers were based. Historians state that over 300 Orange Order members marched down through the stalls, carefully separating apples from pears, bananas from oranges, and even aligning the fruit in order of ripeness. This upset the Catholics and violence soon broke out on the street, and several people on both sides were tragically killed.

More at the link.