Are you familiar with any Irish Sayings? Maybe you have a grandparent, or older family member, who was the keeper of family stories? In this letter, we will share the importance of the Irish oral tradition of keeping such ancestral histories alive, whether as a teller of tales and sayings, or as a receiver of them.
Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to your Letter from Ireland for this week. The morning started off here in County Cork with the threat of rain in the sky – but it’s shaping up nicely now to be a sunny spring day. I hope the weather in your part of the world is treating you well? I’m settling into a nice glass of water from the well as I write – and I do hope you’ll have a cup of whatever you fancy as we start into today’s letter.
It’s been a very interesting week in this part of the world – the Easter 1916 Rising commemoration has been taking place right through the week, with some great events around the country.
Although 100 years does seem like a long time, admittedly – more than a lifetime for most of us – it’s not so long when you look at it in terms of family “Generations”. The Irish Easter Rising happened just four short generations ago. And that is well within “living memory” in this country.
I had the pleasure of meeting up with Green Room members Simon O’Flynn (resident of Cork) and Rob Hepburn (resident of California) late last week. Rob was in the country retracing his ancestral roots in a way that was ambitious for two short weeks – and making the best of the Irish public transport system. No better man! We had a great get-together, and Rob let it slip that he was about to become a great-grandfather for the second time. Congratulations, Rob – how wonderful to be in the midst of all those family generations!
I remember, as a young fellow, sitting in a cottage in County Galway. My mother was explaining how her Uncle (Packie Dolphin) – who was sitting in the corner – broke DeValera out of prison after the 1916 Rising. He was given a medal for it, but Packie did not see fit to comment on his own adventures. Instead, he spoke about his own maternal grandfather – and some of the sayings he passed on. He was a bit of a storyteller – and collector of these sayings, or as they are called in Irish, “Seanfhocal” – which literally means “old Words” or “wise sayings”.
When I think back on it, those “living memories” shared in that cottage reached all the way back through to the time of the Great Hunger in the 1840s. Just four short generations previously.
Down here in Cork, Carina’s grandfather – Timmy O’Donoghue – lived to the fine old age of 103 over three different centuries. He was an IRA messenger during the War of Independence of the 1920s. Like my own grand-uncle, he did not speak too much of his own exploits – but fondly remembered the sayings and wisdom that came down from his own grandparents and extended family. Carina often sat in the kitchen, by the hearth, listening to these “living memories”.
Isn’t time a funny thing? When we think of all the minutes, hours and years we have behind us – it can see like a long “time”. But, maybe we should think on a more human scale when we think about this time – and in a way that is more meaningful.
After all, it may be many years, but it is only a few short generations since your ancestors left Ireland. So many memories, stories, songs and sayings have been left intact over this “short time”. Maybe you have some sayings and stories that survived down through the generations in your family?
So, here’s to all the grandchildren, children, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents reading this letter. Remember to share those stories, songs and sayings with all in your family who will listen. For, that’s the Irish way – and what keeps us Irish no matter where we are in the world.
I’d like to leave you with a “Seanfhocal” (wise saying) that has been passed down to myself:
“Ar scáth a chéile a mhairimíd”
(pronounced “Are Scaw a kayla a var-i-meed”) which means:
“We live in the shelter of one another”.
A lovely way to underline the interdependence and connection between all of us around the world of shared Irish Heritage. What do you think?
As always, do feel free to comment below the Irish surnames and stories in your own family.
Slán for now,
Mike and Carina : )
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.