Parading in green hot pants

“Hot pants” were truly the hot fashion thing a few decades back, and as I recall they did not come in green. Unfortunately, we needed green ones for St. Patrick’s Day. My sister and I were still in high school when my father launched his “Hibernian Social and Marching Club” in Jacksonville, Fla. Gayle and I were to carry a huge banner ahead of our grand master father who would hold his shillelagh high.

We searched all over town but could not find green hotpants. The best alternative was to buy white ones and dye them. We had to pull out my other sister’s big K-mart soup pot, the one we’d used to tie-dye all of our t-shirts, and start the process with those cakes of Rit green dye.

And what a soup it was, the darkest emerald green you could imagine, and I was excited about the color we’d wear. We’d followed all the directions, hadn’t we? But when we were done with the rinsing, those hot pants were no greener than a stick of spearmint gum.

 

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My father, Ed Blanton, St. Pat’s Parade from years past

Oh well, green is green and we had no more time to make them darker. Somehow we have lost that precious photo of us carrying the banner and wearing our halter tops, hot pants and knee-high boots. But the memory remains clear.

 

My father and his cohorts began the day early with a few libations. Could have been Irish coffee, but I suspect it was shots of Irish whiskey. Tullamore Dew was one of his favorites.

Through my research, I’ve since learned the origins of this drink. Back in the 17th century the Irish called it “uisce beatha,” pronounced “ish-ke-ba-ha,” which the English then wrote as “usquebagh.” The word whisky (no e) was an anglicization of the pronunciation of uisce beatha which means “water of life” in English.

The parade involved Irish horses, Irish marching

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Nieces Kelly and Rachel driving the pony January. Note green hats!

bands, my two nieces driving a buggy with a pony named January, and some strange fellow dressed in green who painted the a crazy, meandering green line all along the parade route.

 

To my knowledge, the Hibernian Social and Marching Club exists only in name today, but it was a proud day when it marched, wasn’t it?

March 17th is truly a celebration of life. It is the official death date for St Patrick (AD 385 – 461). It became a Christian feast day in the early 17th century–yet another thing that started in that wildly important period.

Originally intended to celebrate the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, St. Patricks Day has happily evolved to celebrate the heritage and culture of all things Irish.

Sláinte mhaith! (“Slawn-cha wah,” an Irish toast to good health.)

SharavogueCoverAnd for those who love Irish history as I do, you might enjoy Sharavogue, an award-winning novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies. Watch for the prequel coming out summer 2016!

Makes a great St. Patrick’s Day gift, too!

Celebrate St. Patricks Day with Hair

Woodcut by Albert Durer

Woodcut by Albrecht Durer

If you are looking for a unique way to celebrate the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day this year, consider getting a new haircut. In this woodcut by Albrecht Druer from 1521, you can see the glib or “glybbe” haircut that was once popular with runners and kerns (Gaelic soldiers during the middle ages).

For the ancient Irish runners this cut was a badge of honor, and also a thorn in the side of the English who hated it and wanted to have it outlawed.

To achieve this look, the hair at the back and side of the head is trimmed very short, while the front and top are kept long, giving you a large fringe to fall down over your face much like the forelock of a horse.

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Jim Carrey rocks a fringe in Dumb and Dumber, 1994

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A modern Glybbe interpretation

It might have looked a little like this image at left or, depending on the skill of your stylist, the image at right.

 

Whatever their hairstyle, fast and long-distance runners have long been appreciated by the Irish. According to Patrick Weston Joyce’s “A Social History of Ancient Ireland,” Irish kings always kept runners in their employment as messengers or couriers, and sometimes they were women: “Finn Mac Dumail had a female runner who figures in the story of Dermot and Grania.”

In the time of Henry VIII, Pope Paul III had a number of “Rome-runners” (as opposed to “rum runners”) or messengers who traveled back and forth between Ireland and Rome to keep the Pope informed about Reformation activity.

For the Irish Citizen’s Army founded in 1913 by James Connolly, the “Fianna Boys” were trained to act as messengers and runners during the actual uprising.

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John Treacy seemed to have a bit of a forelock going on here

And, keeping the tradition going in 1984, John Treacy of Ireland, a graduate of Providence College in Rhode Island, won the Marathon Silver Medal in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

To read more about this, please visit the Irish Archaeology blog post, “16th Century Irish Hipsters.”

And have a delightful St. Patrick’s Day!

 

 

Tribute to the Pirate Queen

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day today I am honoring a famous woman in Irish history, Grace O’Malley, also known as “the pirate queen,” and “Granuaile.” Grace was an amazing woman who supported her countrymen in rebellion against the English, defended her family castle, and stood face to face with Queen Elizabeth herself.

photo-3Born in Ireland during the time of King Henry VIII, her father was a chieftain, her family seafaring, and her home deeply rooted in Clew Bay, County Mayo. Her family owned a string of castles protecting the coast, and the fishermen in the region paid a tax for that protection.

Story has it that Granuaile was a nickname her father gave her — it means short or cropped, and that’s exactly what she did to her hair when her father told her she could not accompany him on a trade voyage because her hair would get caught in the rigging.

Apparently she married two or three times, and had several children. When she took to the seas two of her sons, Tibbot and Murrough, were beside her.  With their ships tucked into the bays, they awaited merchant ships passing through their waters, then stopped and boarded them to demand a toll in cash or cargo.

In 1593 when her two sons and half brother were taken captive by the governor of Connacht, the pirate queen sailed to England for an audience with Queen Elizabeth to argue for their release. Even so, Grace defiantly refused to bow before the English queen because she did not recognize her as queen of Ireland.

Grace’s story is long and complex, twisting and turning as many Irish stories do. She inspired legends, poems and songs, and I had her in mind as I set the character Elvy on a path toward her territory in my book, Sharavogue.  For a good biography on Grace and her adventures, look for Anne Chambers’ book, Granuaile.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick’s in Montserrat

An image from a recent St. Pat's celebration on the island

An image from a recent St. Pat’s celebration on the island

On the tiny, volcanic island of Montserrat, St. Patrick’s Day gets a full week of celebration with festive feasting, fishing, hiking and lots of music. There’s a Goat Water Sale commemorating the traditional stew made with goat meat, and a “slave feast” recalling the island’s history of sugar and tobacco plantations worked by slaves.

Sometimes people are shocked to learn that the Irish who came to Montserrat in the mid-17th century actually owned slaves. Why would they who had been enslaved and treated live vermin by the English condone slavery in their own plantations? Those who were lucky enough to find land there that did not already belong to the English were eager to work it, but they quickly learned that because there was so much work to be done and most of it by hand, there was no way to operate at a profit without free labor.

A 1995 white paper by William E. West chronicles what happened to the Irish during that period:

In 1641, Irelands population was 1,466,000 and in 1652, 616,000. According to Sir William Petty, 850,000 were wasted by the sword, plague, famine, hardship and banishment during the Confederation War 1641-1652. At the end of the war, vast numbers of Irish men, women and children were forcibly transported to the American colonies by the English government.7 These people were rounded up like cattle, and, as Prendergast reports on Thurloes State Papers8 Pub. London, 1742, “In clearing the ground for the adventurers and soldiers the English capitalists of that day… To be transported to Barbados and the English plantations in America. It was a measure beneficial to Ireland, which was thus relieved of a population that might trouble the planters; it was a benefit to the people removed, which might thus be made English and Christians … a great benefit to the West India sugar planters, who desired men and boys for their bondsmen, and the women and Irish girls… To solace them.”9

SugarandSlavesThe book Sugar and Slaves by Richard S. Dunn covers the story in vivid detail and informed much of my research for Sharavogue. Another book, If the Irish Ran the World, details the Irish experience with slavery. IrishRanWorld

Truly it was a bad time for both the Irish and the Africans. After such pain and turmoil, it is a great recommendation of the human spirit that the people of Montserrat have found a brilliant way on St. Pat’s Day to combine and celebrate the cultures that collided there and now have melded together.

More about the celebration here