Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spurious Spalpeens

St. Patrick stained glass

Since virtually no Irish blood runs in my veins, I’m not properly qualified to write a St. Patrick’s Day post. Nevertheless, Dymphna has given me permission to create one in her stead.

When I was a kid, St. Patrick’s Day was still mostly for proles. That was back before he was gentrified, when the Irish were still Irish, before they became “Celts”.

Back then the proper abode of the Irish — outside the walls of the Catholic Church — was the tavern or the smoke-filled rooms of Tammany Hall. Nowadays the Irish are more likely to be found in coffee houses and the folk-filled rooms of Celtic music festivals.

In my day, Irish songs were generally referred to as “shanties”. Here is a fragmentary transcript of one that has stuck in my mind for all these years:

In eighteen hundred and forty-one,
I put my corduroy breeches on,
I put my corduroy breeches on
To work up on the railway.

Chorus:
Fil-li-me-oo-ri-i-ri-aye
Fil-li-me-oo-ri-i-ri-aye
Fil-li-me-oo-ri-i-ri-aye
To work up on the railway.

In eighteen hundred and forty-two,
I left the old world for the new,
Bad cess to the luck that brought me through
To work upon the railway.

It’s “Pat do this” and “Pat do that,”
Without a stocking or cravat,
And nothing but an old straw hat
While working on the railway.

All that has changed. Today’s Irish music is for the high-minded and the literate. Check out the Celtic music programming on NPR if you doubt my word.

But St. Patrick’s Day has retained most of its plebeian charm, what with green beer and parades of giant leprechauns and sodden Celts-for-a-day hurling into the gutters.

For a change of pace, here’s another voice from the past. As early as the 1930s, Ogden Nash — whom I suspect of being a filthy Sassenach like yours truly — had his own bone to pick with the commercialization of St. Paddy’s feast day:
- - - - - - - - -
It’s a Grand Parade It Will Be, Modern Design
by Ogden Nash


Saint Patrick was a proper man, a man to be admired;
Of numbering his virtues I am never, never tired.
A handsome man, a holy man, a man of mighty deeds,
He walked the lanes of Erin, a-telling of his beads.
A-telling of his beads, he was, and spreading of the word.
I think that of Saint Patrick’s Day, Saint Patrick hadn’t heard.

The saint was born a subject of the ancient British throne,
But the Irish in their wisdom recognized him as their own.
A raiding party captured him, and carried him away,
And Patrick loved the Irish, and he lived to capture they,
A-walking of the valleys and a-spreading of the word.
I think that of Saint Patrick’s Day, Saint Patrick hadn’t heard.

He defied the mighty Druids, he spoke them bold and plain,
And he lit the Easter fire on the lofty hill of Shane.
He lit the Easter fire where the hill and heaven met,
And on every hill in Ireland the fire is burning yet.
He lit the Easter fire, a-spreading of the word.
I think that of Saint Patrick’s Day, Saint Patrick hadn’t heard.

Saint Patrick was a proper man before be was a saint,
He was shaky in his Latin, his orthography was quaint,
But he walked the length of Ireland, her mountains and her lakes,
A-building of his churches and a-driving out the snakes,
A-building of his churches and a-spreading of the word.
I think that of Saint Patrick’s Day, Saint Patrick hadn’t heard.

But the silver-tongued announcer is a coy, facetious rogue;
He ushers in Saint Patrick with a fine synthetic brogue,
He spatters his commercials with macushlas and colleens,
Begorras, worra-worras, and spurious spalpeens.
I hope one day Saint Patrick will lean down from Heaven’s arch
And jam the bloody air waves on the Seventeenth of March.

10 comments:

Zenster said...

It’s “Pat do this” and “Pat do that,”
Without a stocking or cravat,
And nothing but an old straw hat
While working on the railway.


Let's all hope that the forgoing verse does not inspire our more delicate readers to be burdened with the image of a burly Irish gandy dancer driving spikes whilst wearing nothing more than a weather beaten boater.

mace said...

Baron,

I'd suggest the Irish spell it 'Sasanach' rather than 'Sassenach' which is the Scottish term for the unsavory Anglo-Saxons.Perhaps Dymphna can give the definitive answer.

spackle said...

"All that has changed. Today’s Irish music is for the high-minded and the literate. Check out the Celtic music programming on NPR if you doubt my word."

Then you have the flipside of that coin in the form of the awful, awful "Celtic Thunder" and "Celtic Woman" brought to you by the people behind "Riverdance". These shows still attract a very "Prole" audience but are about as Celtic or Irish as green cupcake on days like today. Kind of ironic that those with Irish roots attend these shows while the likes of Steins, Golds and Baum's tune into NPR. It is a crazy world indeed.

Super Turma do said...

Dymphna, why have the Irish produced so many great celtic music beautifull burnettes girls-bands?

I like the sound of a Celtic language in a Celtic music. Although it sounds so much different and still similar... (I'd place it in the West of Europe. And most people who listen Celtic for the first time - I like to make people guess what's the language - claim it to be one of those unkown languages of Switzerland or Lichtenstein or even French. It's interesting, although a considerable number considered it Arabic.

Papa Whiskey said...

A (very) partial list of great Irish music:

"The Long Grazing Acre," Paddy Keenan and Tommy O'Sullivan

"The Best of the Bothy Band," The Bothy Band

"Altan: The First Ten Years," Altan

"Kevin Burke in Concert," Kevin Burke

"Celtic Hapestry," various artists

"Masters of the Irish Guitar," various artists

"The Best of De Deannan," De Dannan

And for a quaff, I suggest The Tyrconnell. Tastes wondrous and feels better!

Baron Bodissey said...

Afonso, this is my post and not Dymphna's. But I'll point out your question to her.

T Jefferson said...

I agree with the point, I moved from Chicago to Belfast in the early 90's when Riverdance was getting it's start.

Irish music was a smoky pub with a good peat fire, and a nice pint. Stone and hearth, the craic was mighty...

Memories of "Jenny Watts" Bangor, County Down, N.I.

Zenster said...

Among the greatest of Ireland's composers was the blind harpist, O'Carolan. Here is one of the first Irish supergroups, Planxty, playing a version of his immortal piece, "Si Bheag Si Mhor" (variously known as "The Beggarman" or "Before the Rising of the Moon").

Unfortunately, the contributor of this YouTube clip has mistaken Planxty's ulian pipes ("short pipes"), for Scottish bagpipes and provided high country scenery in the video. Here is another video of these blokes playing a few slip jigs. The pipes can be seen in this set.

Zenster said...

Here is another set of Planxty playing "Raggle Taggle Gypsy" and "Tabhair Dom Do Lámh" ("Give Me Your Hand"). Ignore the odd tourbus footage.

gxm said...

Here’s my Planxty favorite - Arthur McBride.
I love that lyric that begins “He says my young fellows if you will enlist…”.