Examining the generational loss of ancient Halloween traditions

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

The colonialism behind fantasy's vaguely Irish Elves

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

Irish slave myths debunked

White supremacists (and vaguely racist uncles on Facebook) occasionally pipe up with the idea that the Irish were, effectively, held as slaves in America. Though often subject to indenture and other forms of brutal labor conditions, the slavery claim is nonsense, writes Liam Hogan.

It's one of those things that half-innocently surfaces in the media over and over again, though, because it looks like a strange fact, invites "curiosity gap" propagation, and offers the bittersweet pleasure of adversity oneupmanship. Particularly interesting are the images used to provide an illusion of truth. Above, a photo of some Texan farm kids commonly described as depicting Irish slaves. Read the rest