JOHN BENNY’S PUB – A pint of Guinness, waiter, and tell the band to turn up the volume. I can almost hear the next table. You are probably wondering what we are doing here in this small pub in Dingle, in the far western part of Ireland. Next stop towards the setting sun is Canada. We are here to learn about the Emerald Isle (coined by a Belfast doctor, William Drennar, in 1795), its people, its bloody recent history and why you should stay away.
How emerald? The green hillside pastures are divided by miles of crisscrossing stone walls, making the countryside look like a checkerboard mating with a pool table. Drop into each pasture some sheep and cows, add little villages with pubs, fallen down gray-stoned abandoned cabins, and you’ve got Ireland.
And the friendliest people. Example: I am visiting with a stranger at an outdoor café who is smoking. “Got a light?” I ask. “Here, take this,” he says, handing me a disposable lighter. My wife and I finish a fine lunch at the Half Door, and try to find a cab. “No cabs round,” says this fellow. “I’ll just give you a lift.” Have you ever had the owner of a restaurant give you a ride back to your hotel? And he lost his parking place.
So let’s look at the Republic of Ireland, which we shall simply call Ireland. We’re not going to Northern Ireland. I don’t get combat pay for this. The nation is just a tad bigger than West Virginia in size. Population 3.84 million, or about 100,000 less than Harris County. Here are some more important facts: My cab driver knows all the words to “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” He’s drunk. “Ryan’s Daughter” was made near Dingle in 1970-71 – the cliffs and beaches still look the same.
The Irish have an interesting take on sex. In 1952, one member of the Censorship Board reviewed 70 books in a three-month period and banned all 70. Between the 1930s and 1950s the Irish government employed hundreds of workers to physically cut out lingerie ads in foreign magazines as they were considered to be of a sexually arousing nature. Playboy and other such magazines were banned in Ireland until 1996.
However, a 2009 study showed that Irish women are the most fertile in the 27-member European Union — 75,554 babies were born that year, the most in over a century and a 40 percent increase in births in a decade. The ban on contraception was lifted in the mid-1980s. While other EU members are seeking to increase their birth rate to combat a dwindling population, the average Irish woman has 2.1 children. Hey, during the first half of the 19th century the average number of children per Irish household was 10.
If you are all or part Irish, you’re in traditional company. The password for George Washington’s army in 1776 was “Saint Patrick.” More than 150,000 Irishmen fought in the U.S. Civil War, on both sides. In Texas, four Irishmen signed the Texas Declaration of Independence, and 100 were listed in the rolls at San Jacinto, comprising one-seventh of the total Texan force. Eleven Irishmen died at the battle of the Alamo and 14 were among those with James W. Fannin at the Goliad Massacre.
Today 40 million Americans claim Irish heritage, including 40 percent of our presidents – one of them being Barack Obama. He is descended from Fulmoth Kearney, the president’s great-great-great grandfather on his mother’s side, who immigrated from Moneygall, Ireland, (pop 300) to Ohio in 1850. As president, Obama visited his ancestral village and said, “My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall Obamas, and I’ve come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way.”
Erin No Braugh: Need I say more? The young men are required to wear blue jeans, every one of them. This is Tipperary: Its slogan posted on welcoming signs is, no kidding: “You’ve come a long way.” The song was written by Jack Judge and Harry Williams, two Englishmen. One does not think of jungles here, but on each side of these back roads the vegetation is so thick you could not walk through it. The roads, not much wider than the white line in the middle, are a green tunnel. You like castles? They are everywhere, but no leprechauns.
The Swiss Cottage in Cahir (1813): A getaway for the local lord, fell into tatters. The French-made wallpaper recently needed replacing, but how? “We finally found an identical roll in a place called Bayou Bend in Houston, Texas.” Now we are in County Cork. Why would a Model T, painted silver, be placed in a park? Because William Ford, Henry’s father, was born here. No, I didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone. A survey by TripAdvisor.com voted it the most unhygienic tourist attraction in the world.
As to why you should stay away, to quote Yogi Berra, nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded. In summer the island is crawling with tourists, so come in late May, as I did, or September when the locals say everything is great. Finally, don’t call a waiter in a pub for your Guinness. You go to the bar. These pubs are wonderful, and numerous. As of 2005, there was one pub for every 350 people. They say God made whiskey to keep the Irish from ruling the world, which brings us to the tale of a guy who walks into a Manhattan bar and sees two men down at the end. One of them asks the other, “I can tell by yur accent that you’re from the old country. What county?”
“Carlow,” says the other. “A little village you never heard of, Bagenalstown.”
“Really? So am I. What was your mother’s name?”
“Glory be, mine, too.”
The new arrival asks the bartender, “What’s going on there?”
“Oh, that’s just the Murphy twins, drunk again.”
O’Ashby is green at email@example.com