Friday, March 11, 2011

Love the Lilt

According to a recent article in the IRISH EXAMINER:  

On the morning of July 18 last when Sheila Edgeworth of Martara, Ballylongford was cleaning out her range, she found, what her husband Pat Joe believed to be, a 7th century brooch with the Greek symbol for  Christ. 

Finding the brooch is remarkable in itself, especially given the fact that it not only survived 16 centuries buried in a Tullahennell bog, but somehow also managed to elude the blades of a track machine, the processing into sods with a hopper, and finally Mrs. Edgeworth’s turf fire. That the brooch turned up in North Kerry isn’t so unusual. This estuary of the Shannon was probably a local trade route for ships sailing to and from the Mediterranean, but its perfect condition certainly is.

Still, it isn’t the history of the brooch or the lovely Celtic markings or even the fact of this irrefutable evidence of widespread Christianity so long ago, that makes me shake my head in amazement. It is the charm of the language itself, Martara, Ballylongford, Tullahennell, and all the other lovely names that are lost to those of us with zip codes and five digit addresses.

Despite its interminable economic difficulties, its graft-ridden local officials and the endless, miserable gray of its skies, there is still something romantic about a country that refuses to organize itself into postal codes. When I send mail to Ireland, the address looks like this: 

Mary O’Callaghan,
Clogher Li, Ballyard, Tralee,
County Kerry, Ireland,
Eileen Canty
Drumnacurra at the cross,
Kerry, Ireland

Paddy Connelly, musician,
Mitchell’s Crescent,
Tralee, Ireland.

Names like Ballylongford, Killarney, Dingle, BallyMcCelligot, Caheersaveen, Ballybunion, Kilflyn, Kilorglin, Kilronen, Skibbereen slip off the tongues of tourists with the same lilt found in the brogues of locals. The assigning of names like Noreen (little Nora), Pat Joe (Patrick, son of Joseph), Johnny Christmas (John who visits on Christmas Day), Micky Pa (Michael, son of Patrick), Cissy Bon (Christina with the blonde hair) are as common as bacon and cabbage for Sunday dinner.

There is no question about it: Americans are intrigued with accents, especially accents associated with English speakers from the British Isles. We instinctively believe the speaker has more legitimacy, sounds more intelligent, is somehow worthier of our attention than one who hails from within our own borders. Maybe it has to do with the roots of our literature. Who can argue with Shakespeare, Yeats, Joyce and Dunne? Perhaps it’s the call of our own DNA memory. The United States is, after all, a country initially settled by the British and their nearby colonies. All of our presidents have English/Irish/Scottish ancestry. Even our current President Obama’s late mother traces her roots to Moneygall.

None of the above really matters, of course. It’s enough to settle back with a cup of strong tea, a slice of soda bread and a long afternoon ahead. You won’t be disappointed. Listening to a native Irish speaker wax on over politics, Irish football, or even the weather is pure entertainment. Slan Abhaille

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