Halloween, like many modern American holidays, is a kind of mashup of different cultural traditional traditions rooted in the autumnal harvest, and some kind of celebration or connection with the spirit world. You see it in Mexico with Dia de los Muertos; and in pre-Christian Ireland, it was Oíche Shamhna ("Shamna" being the genitive form of "Samhain," which is pronounced kind of like "SOW-un," and actually just means "November").
An episode of The Irish Passport podcast takes a close look at the roots of those Gaelic traditions, and the kind of generation loss that happened when it was exported to the United States, and then re-imported back to Ireland. The result is kind of fun-house-mirror reflection of itself—modern Irish imitating a mutated American imitation of older Irish traditions. You'll also get to learn a bit about how the faeryfolk in Ireland, the Aos Sídhe, still play an active role in modern real estate development in the Republic (yes really).
Just below the surface of modern Ireland, a parallel world exists with its roots in pre-Christian belief. Irish fairies aren’t like Tinkerbell—they’re more like a supernatural mafia. So be careful what you say, because as the story goes, they’re probably listening. Tim talks to one of Ireland’s last seanchaí or story-teller historians, who once managed to get a highway diverted to prevent the felling of a fairy bush. We also hear about modern traditions from the streets of Galway as the Celtic New Year Samhain festival is underway.
You can download the mp3, or find the episode on iTunes/Stitcher/Google Play/Spotify/etc. Read the rest
Motherfoclóir is a delightful podcast about language and linguistics as they relate to Ireland ("foclóir" being the Irish word for "dictionary," and thus completely unrelated to that homophonic English-language word you're surely thinking of, c'mon). While that might seem like a niche topic outside of the Emerald Isle herself, a recent episode tackled something that's surely on everyone's mind: those fantastical pointy-eared aristocrats known only as elves.
Specifically, it's a conversation with Irish writer Orla Ní Dhúill, whose blog about elves, Irishness, and colonialism gained a lot of traction among fantasy fans across the globe.
Growing up as a nerdy Irish-American kid, I always understood there to be something vaguely Gael-ish about elves. Even though I didn't know why. Even though I knew it didn't make sense. Even though I knew that Tolkien himself was not particularly fond of the Irish (the language, at least, if not the people). Was it because they used an cló gaelach, the insular font so often associated with Irish Gaelic? Even in my later adolescence, as I wasted my measly weekend job wages on Warhammer 40K, I couldn't help but notice the inherent Irishness in the names and terms of the mystical Eldar alien race who are basically space elves anyway (spoiler: it turns out the Eldar language is, in fact, mostly just bastardized lines from Irish Gaelic proverbs).
The podcast episode is full of insightful exchanges on language and colonialism between Ní Dhúill and host Peader Kavanagh. You can listen below, or on your preferred podcasting platform. Read the rest
The 2019 World Science Fiction Convention is being held in Dublin, and tonight, the con presented the annual Hugo Awards, voted on by the attendees and supporters of this year's con.
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Damn near every region in the world has a well of traditional music that they're able to draw cultural water from. Some musical traditions are better known than others. Most folks have likely heard Tuvan throat singing, but aren't able to put a name to it. I can't count the number of subway stations, markets and streets that I've walked through where buskers were filling the air with Sanjuanito. Where such tunes are played and songs are sung, a snippet of cultural history is passed along. Sadly, in a world that all too often favors the new over what has brought joy in the past, the music that once defined a people, even when played often and well, can easily pass into irrelevance. While it's important to maintain the sound of traditional music as a part of our shared cultural history, it's just as vital to find new ways to interpret the melodies of the past in a way that lends it an immediacy to modern listeners. Martin Hayes, one of the finest fiddlers to have come out of Ireland in the past 100 years, seems to understand this.
I've talked about Hayes' work here in the past: his moody style of playing is just as much the result of his upbringing in County Clare at the feet of his father, famed fiddler P.J. Hayes, as it is his own genius. In 2015, Hayes's band, The Gloaming, won the Meteor Choice Music Prize for Album of the Year, beating the tar out acts like U2, Hozier and Damien Rice in the process. Read the rest
I have a hard time remembering my younger years, but I want to believe that I had days like the one that Stefan Murphy (AKA The Mighty Stef and, from time to time, Count Vaseline) describes in Dry Cider. If you dig this song as much as I do, help a fella out by giving it a buy over at Bandcamp. Read the rest
Airbnb has a hidden camera problem: Airbnb hosts keep getting caught using hidden webcams to spy on people staying in their unlicensed hotel-rooms, and while the company proclaims a zero tolerance policy for the practice, the reality is that the company tacitly tolerates Airbnb hosts who engage in this creepy, voyeuristic behavior.
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The 2019 Hugo Award nominees have been announced; the Hugos will be presented this summer at the 2019 World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland.
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Heartbreak, written and performed by poet and playwright Emmet Kirwan, is a spoken word masterpiece. Full of passion, rage and love, heartbreak tells the story of a young Irish woman, raised in an oppressive patriarchy and poverty, who scrambles to survive before finally coming to thrive. Read the rest
Hundreds of yellow vest protesters marched in Dublin yesterday; like the French gilets jaunes who inspired them, the Irish yellow vests marched for a wide variety of causes, with no unified set of demands: the 2008 banker bailout (arguably the worst in the world since the Irish government has explicitly warned the banks it wouldn't guarantee their reckless loans, but still paid them off when the bubble burst); the continuing and ghastly revelations of scandals in the Church (including the forced-labor camps that unwed mothers were condemned to, and the scandal that the of storage tanks contained secret mass graves filled with the remains of infants); the spiraling costs of housing in Ireland; and the heel-dragging by the Irish government on legalizing marijuana.
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Mark Zuckerberg has told the governments of the United Kingdom, Canada, Argentina, Australia and Ireland that he is "not available" for a planned hearing on political disinformation and Facebook.
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Dublinia and realism.
Today I experienced full immersion while enjoying Dublin's terrific history exhibit 'Dublinia.' Read the rest
Game of Thrones fans will have a chance to walk through Winterfell.
HBO has announced plans to convert several of their filming sets located in Northern Ireland into tourist attractions, as the show ends its historic run in 2019. Read the rest
Sometimes, the most delightful musical discoveries happen completely by accident: a song you hear at a party or catch the tail end of on the radio without the DJ bothering to tell you what it's called can wind up being one of the tunes that's always lurking on the cusp of your mind. This was the case for me with Salsa Celtica.
I was listening to Eliza Carthy sing The Grey Cockerel, and happened to glance at my phone's display while the music was playing. Salsa Celtica was credited as Carthy's collaborator on the track. Digging their sound, I googled the name. Boom: they'd a ton of albums to their credit. The title of one of their records, El Agua De La Vida, made me laugh. The translation: The water of life. In Gaeilge (Irish,) the translation of this is uisce beatha (uisge beatha in Gaelic.) It means 'whiskey.' It's one of the phrases that many tourists returning Ireland or Scotland is likely to have picked up during their time on holiday.
This, it seemed to me, was a band that could teach a master class in taking the piss.
Salsa Celtica has been spinning out dancable Celtic-infused Cuban music since the 1990s. I've yet to fall out of love with any of their albums. Read the rest
Ireland's no-exceptions-made abortion ban was one of the cruelest and most inhumane in the world, and after years of struggle, the country has finally held a referendum to amend its constitution and strike down the abortion ban in Article 8; the official count isn't out, but the Irish Times has called it for the reformers, in a "landslide," with a projected 68%-32% margin.
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Let's check in with Michael, who has thoughts on the nuptials of the lizard prince. Read the rest
Ireland has a goat problem.
A growing gang of wild goats is having its way with the towns of Ennis and Clare's gardens, parking lots and roads. Greenery is being devoured. Cars are being forced to slow or stop, with all too much frequency, for fear that drivers could end up having to pick goat meat out of their vehicle's grills with a pointy stick. According to Clare's Mayor, Tom McNamara, “the disturbance that these goats are causing in the locality is totally unacceptable." The Mayor continued by pleading that the goats “are getting up on top of cars and going around businesses at night time." The goats, which have been tagging local homes and historical landmarks as they expand their territory, have drawn the attention of the local law enforcement's gang task force.
OK, that last sentence was bullshit, but it'd be awesome if it were true.
In all seriousness, having a whack of uncontrollable wild animals traipsing around the town is a public safety concern. Sooner or later someone's going to get hurt in a goat attack (no seriously: goats can be ASSHOLES), or wind up hitting one – or five – with their car. Right now, there's talk of erecting signs warning motorists of goat hazards in town and on nearby highways (goats be roaming), and some pretty stern mumbling about what can be done to control the exploding goat population. According to RTĒ, no one's in favor of a cull, no matter how delicious goat might be. Read the rest
I tried the popular Irish brand Odlum's Irish Brown Soda Bread mix to see if it was better or easier than my standby recipe. Read the rest