Monday, 27 April 2009


and, as my ancestry is 75% Irish, I am free to both praise and criticize the Irish, and they deserve great gobs of both. The Irish gene mixture is Scythian, Egyptian, Spanish, Celtic, Scandinavian, Norman, and Anglo-Saxon, so it is misleading to generalize.

Allow me first a little praise to, and selfish reminiscence of, my own family. My Mother, Alice McGirr, had an immense repertoire of Irish songs and a beautiful singing voice, the memory of which can still lull me to pleasant dreams. Her writing skills cleverly concealed information from Canadian, British, and German censors to keep me well informed while I was in the UK and in POW camps in WWII. My grandmother, Maude Brodie, taught me that “we will never know how much we have to know in order to know how little we know”. Her table was never empty of tasty morsels that had grandchildren and their friends inventing all sorts of excuses to visit her after school. When my uncle, Carl, a great story teller, cut off his finger tip accidentally, Maude rushed to the shed, grabbed a handful of cobwebs, replaced the finger, wrapped it in cobwebs, and it healed! On 2 occasions she brushed aside doctors who had given up hope and priests who were administering the last rites to return to health dying children. My aunt, Mames, was renowned in Toronto for her care of the sick and needy. My uncle, Norm, lost a leg in WWI, but remained full of energy, humour, and the ability to attract numerous women. My grandfather, Ned McGirr, taught me when to ignore the rule book. He was one of Northern Ontario’s best railroaders. When his supervisor was wasting precious time following the rules, Ned threw his lantern at him, got the call boys to round up rescue crews, and sped to the scene of a bad wreck north of North Bay where his generalship saved lives. Demoted for insubordination, he was later reinstated for results. Perpetuating Irish oral traditions, four of the above could recite with feeling numerous lengthy poems including my favourite - all 32 verses of Thomas Gray’s "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", a poem that General Wolfe read again before the 1759 battle, remarking that he would much rather have been its author than the general to take Quebec. ("The paths of glory lead but to the grave.")

All this is fine from a family point of view, but what about the Irish nation? Ireland has never been united and they blame others, especially the English, when the basic truth is the Irish do not get along with themselves. With so many kings in Ireland, many Irish today can trace their ancestry back to a king. One of many tales from the battle of Moytura in 2000 BC: an Irish king was losing until his wife plunged into the battle, killed the enemy king, and won the day. They named the city of Enniskillen after her. The Irish were guilty of plundering Wales and England and returning with slaves including, in 401, Saint Patrick, who escaped after 6 years, only to return as a bishop, set up his see in Armagh, and convert the Irish to Christianity. Irish monks then went on to convert England and much of Europe. Instead of uniting against Viking incursions that started in 795, various Irish factions united at times with the Vikings against other Irish factions. When Brian Boru was making great strides in uniting Ireland, rivals joined the Vikings to defeat, then kill him, in 1014 near Dublin, a Viking stronghold. It was an Irish warlord, Dermot MacMurrough, who, in 1166, invited the English (actually the Normans) in to help him regain his crown as king of Leinster. Irish, such as Patrick Sarsfield and thousands of his followers, defeated in wars in Ireland fled to France in 1691 where they formed regiments that were of considerable help to the French in their European wars. Then, while criticizing Britain, the Irish built the British Empire. Sullivans alone provided 4 admirals for the Royal Navy. Irish clergy invented the traverse for Royal Navy guns and the use of limes to prevent scurvy. Irishmen fought on both sides during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Generals Sir Guy Carleton and Richard Montgomery were born a few kilometres apart in county Donegal. Montgomery led the U.S. attack on Quebec City defended by Carleton (1775-76). Montgomery was killed and Carleton lectured the U.S. prisoners on the crime of molesting an honest man in his home. He then sent them all home with only sufficient weapons to safeguard against attacks from natives. Irish Fenians from the United States raided Irish settlers in Canada, 1865-1871. While beneficial in the rest of the world, British imperialism in Ireland was harsh although, during the potato famines, the British did more than others in providing help like importing large quantities of corn from North America. Early English settlers in Ireland became more Irish than the Irish and fought subsequent English settlers.

Ireland and England had the same population in 1700. Ireland had peat, England had coal and iron which permitted the Industrial Revolution. During the mass exodus in the 1840s, 17,000 Irish died en route, mainly of typhus. The U.S. enforced higher restrictions, so got the wealthier portion of the refugees. Canada got the disease-laden ships that killed many Canadians who tried to help in Quebec. Genealogy is made difficult because no records were necessary as the Irish were simply going from one part of the Empire to another.
The current problems in Northern Ireland have deep roots. The Celtic Scots lived in Ireland while the Celtic Picts, lived in Scotland, both escaping Roman rule. In the 400s quarrels in Ireland prompted a group from northeast Ireland to invade southwest Scotland in an area known as Dalriada, gradually expanding to give Scotland their name as well as the Scythian bagpipe they brought with them. Over a thousand years passed and the London government thought it a good idea to return many of them to plantations in Ireland as they were now Presbyterian Britons who could control the quarrelsome Catholic Irish.

The name the Irish prefer today, √Čire, is Norse not Irish.

The Irish brought their quarrels with them to the New World. Every 12th of July the Orangemen would commemorate the 1690 Battle of the Boyne victory over the Catholics (King William III of Orange vs King James II). As their parade passed the Catholic church in my home town, Port Hope, the parish priest would toll the funeral bell. Humorous but sad. This practice did not fade out until after World War II.

Nevertheless, we forget all that to remember the wealth of Irish wit, literature, song, dance, humour, and pretty, vivacious colleens.


No comments:

Post a Comment