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Category Archives: Irish

By Any Other Name…

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My Irish friend grew up in an almost entirely Irish-speaking household, and is pretty passionate about preserving the language.  Over the years she’s taught me a few phrases – starting with “slan,” which is how she signed off her very first letter to me (it means “goodbye”).  I still use them when we write – basic things like “go raith maibh agat” (thank you), “Nollaig shona” (Merry Christmas), stuff like that.  I’ve nowhere near her competency, but I like making her happy.

I also like using the Irish spelling of her surname – which is quite different from the English spelling.  And that sometimes causes some double-takes.

I went to ship her a package recently, at a place on my block that does that kind of soup-to-nuts packing and shipping service, including typing out the address label.  I got there first thing on a Saturday, when the only staff included one harried guy at the register and a teenage kid working in the back room and doing general fetching-and-carrying.  The kid brought his boss an envelope for my friend’s package, then loped back to the back room.  “So, Ireland,” the boss said.  “What’s the full address?”  I told him, and he typed it out, checking it on Googlemaps.  “Yep, there it is,” he said, showing me when it came up.  “Great  – okay, what’s her name?”

I hesitated.  “Okay, brace yourself,” I said, “This is gonna be funky.  But just trust me.”


“Okay.”  I told him the first name – which isn’t that odd – and he typed it.  “And the last name is – brace yourself, now – N, i, a space, and then d, h, o, double-n, a, b, h, a, i, n.”

“…Wow.”  He typed that in, eyes going slightly wide.

“Yeah, it’s Irish.”

“Okay, I usually don’t ask, but…can you check this for me?” he spun the computer around to show me.  I gave the name my thumbs-up, and then as he spun the computer back around to print the label, I glanced behind him – and cracked up when saw that the kid had come from the back room and was staring at me, brow furrowed in confusion.  He said nothing, just stared for a good 20 seconds before shaking his head and heading back to the back room.


The World Spins On

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Of course one of the biggest bits of good news I’ve heard in a long while is happening on a day when I am deep in the throes of Summer Brain.

I’ll have formed more thoughts in a few weeks – hopefully, just in time for the Supreme Court to rule in favor of marriage equality here – but in the meantime I’ll say good on ye, Ireland.

Shunning Plastic Paddys

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My very first trip to Ireland was when I was 19; it was during St. Patrick’s week, and my friend and I were both just barely into college.  She is the oldest of five, and was still living with her parents; she still had some classes to attend the week I was there, and the rest of her family, parents and brothers and sisters all, had discreet but intense custody squabbles (in Irish, so I wouldn’t know) over who was going to get to play with me while she was in class.

One day it was her father and her younger brother Donal.  They brought me to Blarney Castle, where her father kept persuading me into a series of staged photos – kissing the Blarney Stone, “looking for fairies” on the grounds, and the like.  Meanwhile, Donal was a very witty and snarky boy of fifteen, so he would periodically throw in wise-ass comebacks to some of my questions.

But I did see Donal get serious once that day.

After visiting the castle, the three of us went to browse in the gift shop, where they had a big collection of the kind of tat you can probably find at any “Irish import store” in the states – shawls, sweaters, linen hankies, and a whole wall of china emblazoned with shamrocks in different configurations.  We’d split up once we hit the store, and I kept wandering, hoping to find some kind of unusual something.

After about five minutes I noticed the music they were piping in – a series of chirpy perky choral Muzak arrangements of songs like “How Are Things In Glocca Morra” and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.”  Exactly the kind of music that made me roll my eyes back home.  I tried to keep it under wraps, though – hey, for all I knew that was okay here.  But every so often the music would switch to something even more corny and I kept glancing up at the speakers in dismay.

Donal must have noticed, because after about fifteen minutes he came up to me with a grave look.  “I just want ye to know,” he told me earnestly, “this is the sort of music that embarrasses us.”