Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Rockaway garbage man has the low down on Rockaway man in the Easter Rising

Ed Shevlin's story is great, if you don't know it already: NYC garbage man who got his GED in his 30s, went to college in his 40s and learned Irish. Now he's in his 50s and is doing a Masters in Irish Studies at NYU.

His research paper on John Kilgallon from Far Rockaway, who took part in the Easter Rising, is summarized in the NY Times.

John was sent away to St. Enda’s School in Dublin, a boarding school run by Patrick Pearse, who went on to help lead the Easter Rising.
Mr. Pearse recruited Mr. Kilgallon and other St. Enda’s students for a unit that stormed the General Post Office, where the rebels set up their headquarters.
Over the course of several days of fierce fighting, Mr. Kilgallon broke into a nearby wax museum and stole a costume of Queen Elizabeth I and returned to the fight wearing it.
And then there's this: "Mr. Shevlin will speak about this research in April at an annual meeting on Irish studies at the University of Notre Dame."

Great stuff.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Walmart—inoffensive, but not actually Irish St Patrick's Day tee-shirts

Walmart has gotten some heat in prior years for their St Patrick's Day tee shirts, etc. Too many (dated?) stereotypes featured in their selection in 2013, 2014, 2015, but not this year. This year, from my own observation, the shirts are not straining to be funny.

However, the shirts on display in Walmart that I saw were not entirely au fait with Ireland's national symbol - the shamrock, the three-leaf shamrock. A four-leaf clover might make for a nice shirt - I guess - but it is not a symbol of Ireland or the Irish. So Walmart and Fruit of the Loom have it wrong here.







No idea what's going on with that skull and swords image, but the little clovers all have four leaves. Tut-tut.













There was one shirt that had it right. Just one and it wasn't a Fruit of the Loom shirt. It's nothing special, but at least the shamrock has the maximum three leaves.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

America - are you out of your gourd?

You can't eat these things, right?
I was in a store in upstate New York the other day – I can't remember which – when I overheard two ladies discussing where was the best place to buy decorative gourds. No, I'm not kidding.

Decorative gourds? When did that become a thing?

I've lived outside America for a long time and I have spent very few October days in the US of A over the last ... 24 years. When I left I'm pretty sure decorative gourds were not a thing.

After I hearing those two women – and after I'd stopped chuckling – I started noticing that there are gourds everywhere. Even in the church I went to on Sunday there are gourds. Are some of these actual former living things? I have no idea, and I don't care. I don't think you can eat them, whether they were once alive or not.

So what's going on here? Where did all these gourds come from? When did they become a vital part of my fall?

Now I know that most of my memories of October and Halloween are from my childhood, but I was 27 when I left America. If gourds had been a thing before I left in 1991 I'd have known about it. And if I didn't, my wife surely would and she'd have asked me about this strange American custom of decorating your house or church or office or ... anything with gourds.

I'm sure there are people out there who take their gourds seriously, but I can't take them seriously.

{Next - why would anyone want pumpkin flavored anything?}

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Proclamation? Declaration of Independence? Where are the signers buried? Don't ask @IrishExaminer

The editorial in today's Irish Examiner says "All the signatories of the Declaration of Independence lie there [Glasnevin] and their ghosts will assuredly be present today."

What? Surely the Examiner is aware of the fact that most of the executed leaders of the Rising, including all the signatories of the Proclamation, are buried in Arbour Hill cemetery, right? Okay, that's  the Proclamation, not the "Declaration of Independence."

Yes, Ireland did declare its independence, but that was a declaration approved at the first meeting of the First Dáil. Was it actually signed? Maybe. I don't really know. If yes, who signed it and are they all buried in Glasnevin?

Is this really what the Examiner was referring to in their editorial about today's event at Glasnevin to mark the funeral of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa? Again, I don't really know, but if the declaration was signed, is there a copy of that document somewhere that we can view?

Overall, the point of the Examiner's editorial was lost thanks to this confusion.

* Corrected - Thomas Kent & Roger Casement are not buried in Arbour Hill

Monday, July 20, 2015

Moving to Ireland? Where to take your driving test!

Are the people in the west of Ireland naturally better drivers than those in the east? Or do they have better instructors there? I only ask because I was looking at the driving test pass rates for each test center and it definitely looks like a new driver would have a much better chance of passing the test if they found a test center west of the Shannon.

If I had to take the driving test in the near future and I had a choice as to where, (based on the last three years' pass rates) I'd try to book my test in one of these (in order):
  1. Sligo
  2. Ennis
  3. Tuam
  4. Clifden
  5. Carrick-on-Shannon
I would try to avoid these centers (in order):
  1. Rathgar
  2. Naas
  3. Tallaght
  4. Raheny
  5. Carlow
However, an overall theme is basically - head west, but avoid the Shannon center, which has had a pass rate of less than 50%.* If you're in that area, head to Ennis, where the pass rate is nearer 70%.

I really wish I could plot these rates on a map, but I don't have those skills.

Kilrush had a bad 2013 in terms of the pass rate, but seems to have righted the ship in 2014.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Leicester Cathedral should flood eBay with Richard III booklets

Let me say up front that I have no problem with Leicester Cathedral cashing in on the whole Richard III shebang. Churches need money too and if reburying a 500+ year old king puts coins in the coffers fair enough.

However, I think it's a bit rich for the man in charge of that whole affair to give a big "tsk tsk" to anyone else who might earn a penny or two out of the reburial.

The Dean of Leicester said:
"We've noticed that service booklets from the cathedral's services are being sold for extortionate prices on eBay, presumably by those who attended the services," he said.
"This is very sad - many would have welcomed being there and keeping this as a souvenir.
"We have had extra copies printed and we are selling a set of all three for £12.50 to cover costs from Christian Resources in St Martin's House, next door to the cathedral."
 
Rather than moan about people selling the booklets at "extortionate prices" on eBay the Dean should flood eBay with his own booklets at whatever price he considers fair. That will put an end to anyone charging "extortionate prices" and will also earn the cathedral a few extra pounds. eBay is the opportunity, not a threat.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Five centuries late – the funeral of the century belongs to Richard III

So today's the day. The day of the celebrity funeral of the year, the century! Right? And not a damp eye about the place – the perfect funeral, not even a twinge of sadness among any in the church or anywhere at all really.

Richard III's funeral today is kind of like Will & Kate's wedding, only without the beautiful bride (or bridesmaid). What about the Royal Family? I don't know if they'll be in attendance for the big event in Leicester, but let's face it Richard wasn't (and isn't) really much of endorsement for the concept of monarchy.

In fact, his reputation was so poor that despite my real interest in the discovery of his body in the parking lot in Leicester, I didn't think many in Britain would really care. I am surprised at how big this thing is. I'm also also a little ... perplexed by today's ceremony.

Does Richard actually require a second funeral? Is there no statute of limitations on these things? Are people really going to pray for the repose of his soul?

I guess I'll have to wait and see how the ceremony is conducted, but there's no denying that interest is huge. I'm sure people all over Britain have been hanging Union Jack bunting, making plans to gather with friends and family for the funeral and preparing afternoon teas according to instructions in Funeral Magazine (Yes, there is one) so that they can enjoy 15th century royal treats after Richard III is buried once and for all - again.

I hope everyone enjoys the day. It's on Channel 4 in Britain. I have no idea if there's any coverage in the US of A. I sure hope so.

Here's a song appropriate for today's occasion/festivities.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Empires of the Dead

Highland Cemetery, Le Cateau, France
I just finished reading Empires of the Dead by David Crane. I can't get over how much I enjoyed his book on the history of Britain's WWI cemeteries and the man whose vision they represent.

I'm sure I wouldn't have enjoyed the book half as much if I hadn't been to so many WWI cemeteries. In fact, I'd love to read a book that deals with the American cemeteries and the decisions that led to the look and character we take for granted today.

Today we assume that the cemeteries look the way they do because it was always going to be this way. Crane's book makes plain that this isn't true, that the cemeteries are primarily the result of one man's vision, which was shaped by his views on the British Empire and equality (all headstones are uniform - for unknown privates up to well known generals).

At the time many families wanted their loved ones returned to Britain (or Ireland or any of the other nations in the Empire), but that was at odds with Fabian Ware's vision. He had support too, from Kipling who spoke for all those whose sons' bodies were never identified, who had nothing to return home for burial.

If you've traveled to Ypres or to the Somme you'll know what those cemeteries look like: every grave uniformly shaped and sized, and only some sparse personal details and a regimental insignia to make each stone different. Each cemetery has a large "stone of sacrifice" that looks like an altar and a 'cross of sacrifice.'

I always assumed the cross was an automatic, but it was actually the source of some upset at the time or, rather, its absence was a source of upset. The original plans didn't allow for a cross and this bothered many of the families of the dead and so the 'cross of sacrifice' was added. Originally the cemeteries were only going to have the secular stone of sacrifice, but that didn't set well with many in Britain, especially the families of the dead. Lutyen's stone was insufficient for most and his rival's cross was added, much to his horror.

The cross in the cemetery at Etreux
What I'd love to know now, having read Crane's book, is why the cemetery at Etreux is so different. Etreux is where in the early days of the war the Royal Munster Fusiliers made their heroic stand in the face of overwhelming German numbers.

The story of what the 2nd Battalion of the RMF did there is tremendous, but I'm now very curious about the cemetery at Etreux. I want to know why this cemetery is so different, so out of sync with Ware's vision. There are a number of private memorials and the cross is not the standard 'cross of sacrifice,' but a Celtic cross design.

I've been in many CWGC cemeteries and the one at Etreux is one that definitely stands out.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Too old for many things, but not too old to run for a bottle of wine

My leg is almost healed. The large bruise just above my knee is now fading away, which is good.

I just wish I could say that I hurt it diving to field a ground ball or even that I fell off my bike trying to make that sharp bend in the trail in the woods at too high a speed in a desperate effort to win that all-important 6,215th race against my brothers. But no, unfortunately, those days are way in the past.

No, I hurt my knee when I banged it off a door that was caught on a loose rug. It was caught and wouldn't budge, but I didn't know that when I galloped down the stairs at top speed in order to retrieve that much needed ... bottle of wine.

I didn't have time for doors, especially doors that were partly open but not open enough to squeeze through. I descended 7 stairs in two steps and flicked the door with my outstretched left hand and presumed it would be wide open by the time the rest of me arrived. Alas, it was not.

My left knee took the brunt of the blow as I walloped it off the side of the door. I was hurt. And stunned. It took me a few seconds to realize that I'd have to hop the rest of the way to the wine, which is what I did as guttural, Yosemite Sam-like noises poured forth from deep within me. It was only when I got to the wine that I fully grasped the truth of my situation – that I had a bottle of wine, but the opener was back upstairs AND I was in a lot of pain.

For a few brief seconds I wondered if I was too old 'for this.' You see, I just had one of those 'milestone' birthdays (I'm not saying which, but I was born the same year as Shea Stadium opened), which possibly sowed that seed of doubt. Happily, that moment passed.

Yes I am too old to play baseball. Yes I'm too old to race my brothers on my bicycle. (Although I daresay that if someone put the four of us on bikes and said, “Who can get to the far end of the trail first?” we would still all kill ourselves AND each other in a bid to be first.)

But I am not too old to give my all in pursuit of a bottle of wine. I figure that when that day does come my time on this Earth will be nearing an end. I hope I am never too old to chase wine.

There was no real damage to my leg other than the bruise, which is now just about gone. Within a few minutes of that initial bang I was able to hobble upstairs with my wine. The first glass was strictly medicinal, I told myself, as I poured out the second. The pain was definitely easing by then.

By the next day it was just a little sore and now, six days later, it's but a yellowish spot on my knee and a fading memory.

It did leave one lasting mark, however. I learned a very valuable lesson – always have a bottle opener on you. You never know what calamity might befall you and prevent you from getting to the opener when you most desperately need it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The #ABMC should provide free WiFi at America's #WWI cemeteries

Here's what might sound like a wacky idea, but the American Battle Monuments Commission should provide free WiFi at the American WWI cemeteries. Why does anyone need WiFi you ask?

Well, as you wander among the graves some will catch your eye. Maybe it's the name – same as a family member or a friend – or maybe it's the state he's from or maybe it's the fact he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross or the Croix de Guerre (as many Americans were) and you want to do a quick Google search.

Why shouldn't visitors to the cemetery be able to do that? I think they should be encouraged to do so because otherwise the sea of white crosses is just that – a sea of white crosses. And believe me, when you're at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery the 14,000 white crosses and occasional Star of David are overwhelming. Each cross represents an individual, a person with their own story and those individual stories are what people connect with, not really the broad sweep of a battle.

Providing WiFi will afford American visitors (& others) the opportunity to learn a little more about one (or more) of those who is (are) buried there. That will help personalize the cemeteries, lessen the "sea of white crosses" effect. And, just in case someone thinks adding WiFi to the cemeteries would be disrespectful I ask you to remember:
  1. Providing free WiFi should be near enough to cost-free and unobtrusive. The infrastructure should be all but invisible.
  2. The dead won't mind. In fact, if it helps people to learn about them as people I think that if they could speak they'd be pleased.
  3. Anyone with access to a 4G connection can access Google at the cemeteries already, but that probably includes no Americans or if it does it includes only those for whom cost of downloading data while overseas is no issue.
So, it may be an odd suggestion, but free WiFi will enable Americans (and others) to learn more and, thus, to honor more fully those who are buried in America's war cemeteries.