Mairead Maguire

And now for a modern day Irish woman.  Mairead Maguire was born in Belfast, 71 years ago today. Her entry into the world of political protest did not come without a price. A family tragedy in 1976 fueled her desire to bring change to her war torn community. Her nephews and niece were hit by a car when the driver (a (P)IRA paramilitary) lost control of it after being shot by the authorities. Betty Williams, a witness to the accident, capitalized on the tragedy using it to gather women in the community to march in protest of the ongoing violence and paramilitary activity in their neighborhoods. Mairead joined her. It was a surprising success and “Women for Peace” was spontaneously born. The second march that went to the graves of the children took place only a few days later and it included over 10,000 women—both Catholic and Protestant—an unusual feat in such a polarized place and time. It was attacked by the paramilitaries which only brought the women more press and support for the next march and the movement continued to grow. Mairead and Betty changed the name of their group to the gender-neutral “Peace People” and they continued to parade for peace between Republican and Loyalist factions.

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A Son is Born

On this day, January 26th, in 1904, Sean MacBride was born to Maud Gonne and John MacBride in France.  He went on to follow in his parents’ Irish Republican footsteps becoming a soldier, politician and the Chief of Staff of the IRA, fulfilling their wishes to have an important and capable son. They agreed on almost nothing else, but they did want their son to believe in and work toward a free Ireland just like they had for most of their lives.

Sean was the apple of his mother’s eye and today would be his 111th birthday, which is hard to imagine when you see this picture, taken when he was 2.

maudegonne2Breithlá Sona

Happy Burn’s Night

Raise a dram or two of your favorite Scotch and throw some pipes on for a few this evening in honor of Mr. Robert Burns. It’s Burns night – and even if you think you don’t know who he is, I guarantee you’ve drunkenly slurred out his poetry on at least one New Year’s Eve in your life. (Here’s a hint: Among many other things, he also wrote Auld Lang Syne)

On Burns Night, the poetry should flow freely, the pipes should play loudly, and there should be at least one Ode to a Haggis. You can blame the Scotch for that. If you can find a Burns Supper where you are, I recommend going at least once.

In lieu of a Burns Supper, get to know some of his poetry. It is one of Scotland’s greatest exports. Here’s another quick verse of another great poem of his that I love to bits:

“Had we never lov’d sae kindly,
Had we never lov’d sae blindly,
Never met — or never parted —
we had ne’er been broken-hearted”

Happy Burns Night!


Sláinte, Mr. Guinness

Today we raise a pint of the good old black stuff to the man himself–Arthur Guinness–whose full life came to a close on this day in 1803.

Arthur Guinness is the founder and creator of Guinness brewery, and though he did not create the dark stout that the company is now famous for, he was responsible for signing a 9,000 year lease, guaranteeing that the brewery would always have a place to operate in Dublin. This permanence allowed for funds to be allocated for experimentation and distribution and he made sure to do both. He was already a master brewer and his creations resulted in a decent porter coming to the city and a load of devoted ale drinkers. They called him Uncle Arthur for much of his life. He and his (poor) wife Olivia had 21 children, half of whom lived, but none of his descendants are directly involved in the brewery business at this time.  Still, his signature flourishes can be seen on every can or bottle that the company produces and his legacy is honored in Ireland and around the world to this day.

A recent offering, the 1759, is a 750ml bottle of Guinness Ale–not Stout–that is based on recipes from that time. It is likely the closest we’ll get to Arthur’s own creations in this day and age. The brewery has been transformed into the number one tourist attraction in Dublin, and though visitors don’t get to see the inky stout being made, they do get the history of the brewery, a look at the longest lease ever, and one of the greatest views in Dublin. Today I’d like to personally thank Uncle Arthur for one of my favorite adult beverages on the planet, because even though it will never taste the same outside of Ireland, without him, it may never have reached our far shores at all.



The Queen of the Spider Dance

Her name was Lola and she was a showgirl….except that her name wasn’t Lola and her show wasn’t any good. Her real name was Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert—which was quite the mouthful for a stage name—so Lola Montez it became. She invented the role of a mysterious Spanish entertainer and played it for much of her life but everything about her persona was a lie. She was actually Irish, born in Grange, County Sligo, and by the time she passed away on this day in 1861, she had lived a full, dangerous, and notorious life.
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Today marks over 100 posts in this wee little dream of a blog. It gives me great pleasure and I’m so happy to keep being inspired enough by my travels and my love of history to keep churning these entries out. I’m also humbled and grateful for those who read them, and who by doing so, keep me on my toes and learning. This blog has grown from a mere place for all my ramblings to a constant cycle of learning, reading, writing, and sharing and I can’t ever seem to find flowery enough words of appreciation for it.

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Fatima, Lourdes or just plain Pagan?

There’s a war on in Ireland that doesn’t have a thing to do with water, language, Sectarian violence, or the long history of the Troubles. While all those other battles dominate the press, there is one that slips through the cracks, silently waging on throughout the years and it begs the question, whose rock is it anyway?
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Thomas Ashe

Thomas Ashe was a teacher, a piper, an Irish language enthusiast, a soldier, a devout man of faith and one of the pioneers of the modern Republican Hunger Strike. His life began on this day in 1885.

Thomas Ashe, 1917

Thomas Ashe, 1917

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Sinead De Valera

De Valera. Just the name usually conjures up strong feelings in anyone that knows anything about Irish History, and they are always linked to Eamon. However, today is all about the woman behind the man and her name was Sinead. Her sacrifices and determination were often the only things that kept their family alive and like him or no, she helped make him the man he was.
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Merry Women’s Christmas!!

Gather the women!!

Jan. 6th marks Nollaig na mBan, also known as little Christmas or Women’s Christmas in Ireland. It’s an old Irish tradition that evolved from celebrating the Epiphany but these days it’s become less about religion and more about fun and frivolity. Traditionally, Irish women were not only responsible for the Christmas time entertaining and feasts but they also had to deal with all the holiday clean up, and every day chores and household duties too for that matter. Except on January 6th, that is. That’s the day they finally got a break. On Women’s Christmas, (12th Night, little Christmas or  whatever you want to call January 6th)  the men took over the chores and the households so that the women could gather and drink, tell stories, kick off their shoes and relax for a moment.

It was a real treat back in the day – so much so that it continues now, even though women’s roles have changed all around the world. In modern times, it’s a day for women to gather and treat themselves to a night out at a bar with friends, a trip to the favorite day spa or salon, or head out for a fancy meal. Nollaig na mBan is the day to play hooky from work (or from the house and kids) to enjoy a day with your ladies, create your own little henhouse, tell stories, catch up, or have a cocktail and relax. No matter what women normally work too hard on, Jan. 6th is the time to take a day off, even if it’s only a mental one.  It’s well deserved.