Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on March 9, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with 2 comments

O’Flaherty’s pub in Dingle, Ireland. A great place to quaff a Guinness


“What’s yer father’s name?”

In an area of Nova Scotia inundated (saturated!) with MacDonalds, Chisholms and Camerons, it is a fair question to ask about one’s parentage. And (sadly) in the patriarchal world in which we live, more often the not, ethnicity discussions typically start with the male figurehead in the family. Such is the preponderance of MacDonalds, in my hometown, we are often identified by the initials (once again) of our fathers. Being the son or daughter of Peter Donald MacDonald, we became affectionately known as the P.D.’s.

Now, one would assume with a moniker like MacDonald, that I would have Scottish blood coursing through my veins but recently I discovered that there was more likely to be single malt scotch in my bloodstream than the DNA of the descendants of the massacre of Glencoe.

My brother is the family genealogist. He has been pouring over documents for decades trying to trace our roots. In the year 2000, at a large family reunion, he produced a printed version of our family tree with the information he had amassed at that time. It was very interesting to see the various lines and branches going back a few centuries. For the past 22 years he has been refining his research and has come up with lots of new information.

DNA tests have become one of the newest, glitziest tools to determine ethnicity. With this in mind, several of P.D. children recently took a DNA test to corroborate what my brother had already concluded. Rather than brandishing a claymore to fend off enemies, as our Scottish forefathers might have done, it would appear that we would be more comfortable wielding a shillelagh. For those of you not familiar with ancient weaponry, here is a primer.

A claymore is a two-handed sword derived from the Gaelic word claidheamh-mor which means “great sword”. A shillelagh is a wooden walking stick or club (cudgel) associated with Irish folklore. Cudgel has such a lovely ring to it. It sounds like a weapon.

The DNA test is rather simple. Spit into a test tube and mail out the sample. My results came back a few weeks ago, and like my brothers and sisters, I am more Irish than Scottish. Blasphemy! Our cover has been blown. Will I ever be able to wear my kilt proudly again and thrill to the skirl of the pipes? With an Irish grandparent on both mom and dad’s side of the family, the results were hardly surprising.

According to Ancestry, I am 69% Irish, 26% Scottish and 5% “other”. It is the “other” that intrigues me the most. It goes back to my high school days when our principal often referred to “the ungodly 5%”. Yes. That small cohort were affectionately called the ‘sweat hogs’. Loosely translated, they were the shit disturbers or troublemakers. During school hours, they were mostly likely to be found at the pool hall or smoking behind a barn.

“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” W.B. Yeats

Next Thursday (17th) is St. Patrick’s Day. It is fashionable to go to a pub and drink green beer. The day commemorates St.Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland and celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish. Rumour has it that Paddy banished snakes from Ireland. It seems odd that a Brit would actually become one of the most recognizable figures in Irish lore.

Might I bore you with an Ireland story? Of course I will because I have several hundred more words to write to keep you going until you reach the bottom of your coffee cup.

I travelled to Ireland 19 years ago. I wasn’t looking for my roots (my mother’s people were from Tralee) nor was I trying to solve “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. I was on a golf vacation. At the invitation of my brother, I travelled to Ireland to play some of their finest golf courses. I was instructed to bring my golf clubs and my guitar. There were many memorable moments but two stand out for very different reasons.

We travelled to Cork, and I kissed the Blarney Stone. It was a rainy day and any of you who have been to Blarney Castle know that the stairs leading up to the roof of the castle are narrow and uneven. Throw in some rain and the going was treacherous. Thank god they have a rope that you can hold on to as you make your ascent. Kissing the Blarney Stone is said to give a person the gift of eloquence and persuasiveness. Does this really give a person the gift of gab or the license to be a big-time bullshitter? I often wonder if kissing the stone was the start of my illustrious (???) writing career.

We also travelled to the Dingle peninsula in County Kerry on Ireland’s west coast. It is one of the most beautiful parts of the country. The small town of Dingle is perched on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Give or take, the population is around 2,500 souls. When we arrived in the town early in the afternoon, we took a stroll. Not only was there a pub on every corner but every second establishment in the town was a watering hole and just about every one of them had live music. We decided that having a pint after a long day of driving seemed like the right thing to do. Maritimers are so predictable.

All of the pubs are small and quaint. We spotted one that immediately caught our eye. We had no choice. We had to go in. Our mom’s maiden name was O’Flaherty, and the pub was called O’Flaherty’s. There were only a few patrons at this time of the day. One assumed that they were locals. The tourist crowd would arrive much later. As we quaffed a Guinness, we chatted up the server, an engaging Irish lass. Hard to believe that two Nova Scotians would initiate a conversation with a complete stranger while drinking beer!

We were told that the owner of the pub, one Fergus O’Flaherty, was not only the proprietor of the establishment, but also the lead performer in his band that would be playing that evening. My brother informed the server that I was a musician (a stretch in credulity) and wondered if I might be allowed to bring my guitar to the pub that evening to sing a few tunes. As many of you real musicians know, performers are loathe to let a bar patron join them on the stage. She was very polite and after some good-natured cajoling (a skill we had recently acquired at the Blarney Castle!), she said that I could bring my guitar but to sit quietly at a table near the stage and wait and see if Fergus was in the mood to let a complete stranger join him on the stage.

The pub was packed, and the beer was flowing. Fergus’s band was simply amazing and despite my Irish roots and my knowledge of Irish music, I didn’t recognize a single tune. If they had played “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, I could have leapt up on the stage and sang some harmony. During one of the band’s breaks, Fergus approached me and asked if I wanted to go a do a few tunes solo. After having consumed a few ales, I was feeling brave. I grabbed my guitar and there I was, facing a room full of well-oiled folks.

What in the hell would I sing? I knew that an Irish lullaby wouldn’t cut it with this crowd. I ripped off a trio of Newfoundland songs, finishing up with “I’se the B’y”. For the remainder of the night, I was on stage with the band and Fergus was very generous, providing free beer for me and my brother for the remainder of the night. We arrived at 7:00 p.m. The last set ended at 3:00 a.m. One of the band members owned a small music shop. After shutting down the pub, we went to her shop and my brother purchased a bodhran, a frame drum of Irish origin. A goatskin head is attached to one side. Not the actual head, silly! She agreed to ship the drum to Vancouver rather than my brother creating a scene trying to play it on a trans-Atlantic flight!

The morning came far too early and ugly. In order to make up for lost time, we decided to take the “road not taken”, a shortcut from Dingle to Tralee over Connor’s Pass. Connor’s Pass is not a road but more like a goat path. It was narrow, treacherous, and absolutely terrifying (even for goats) with no guardrails in sight and some very precipitous drops.  Now if you were well rested and riding on a motorcycle, this would be a thrilling, possibly exhilarating road trip. If you are under the weather and meet a bus coming in the opposite direction, it’s an entirely different thing.

We managed to make it safely into Trallee and went to the Catholic Church graveyard. We found dozens and dozens of O’Flaherty’s and were feeling so lousy (an understatement – death sounded like a reward) that we wondered if there might be a plot for two MacDonald’s from Nova Scotia.

Enough of that.

In deference to my Irish roots, I thought that it was only appropriate to read a Maeve Binchy book. I quite enjoyed Quentins. Her books are often set in Dublin. One line in particular, caught my eye. We are all procrastinators at some point in our lives. The essence of the passage was that people say that they will ‘eventually’ travel, learn a new skill, or find a new romance etc. According to Maeve “eventually should be now”.

“Whoa, Len, you are a windbag today. All of this talk of the Blarney Stone has deeply affected you.”

I am having an existential crisis and badly need your advice. I love the fruit and vegetable section of the grocery store. It is laden with colorful, healthy food choices. Why then, do grocery stores use plastic bags to carry small quantities that are impossible to open? You know the ones I’m talking about. They come on a roll. It was bad enough before Covid trying to get the g.d. bags opened. At least in those good old days, you could wet your fingers, giving you a fighting chance of putting three apples inside. Now it is nigh impossible when you’re staring at the fruit section masked like the Lone Ranger. Pulling your mask down in a public place these days might result in a mugging (with a shillelagh) at worst or a severe tongue lashing at least. So, if you have the nerve (I was tempted to say balls) to lower your mask and wet your fingers, you then risk getting Covid. Should you lower your mask and the apply hand sanitizer before you start cursing and swearing at the plastic bag? Please help me. I have only so many pockets to place apples, bananas, grapes, and pineapples. I need to use those bags but there must be a better way to get them open without having to go to confession for swearing in public.

I reckon it might be easier to find an entire field of four-leaf clovers than opening a plastic produce bag on the first try.

Have a great weekend.

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