My Goodness My Guinness

Let’s talk about beer.  At some point, we have all probably enjoyed a pint (or four) of Ireland’s iconic “black stuff”.  If you have, you’re not alone – in fact, over 10 million glasses of Guinness are consumed, around the world, every single day.  Even the Obamas love a good pint! Guinness has indeed become both an iconic, and wholly beloved aspect of Irish culture.  So how did Irish nectar reach this storied cultural status?


In 1759, Arthur Guinness, then 34, signed a 9,000 (yes, 9,000) year lease on the property that was to become the world-famous St. James Gate Brewery, where the vast majority of Guinness Stout enjoyed around the world is still brewed today.

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In its fledgeling years, the St. James Gate Brewery only produced a variety Arthur called “Guinness Dublin Ale”.  By 1794, however, darker porter brewed in London had become the newest trend, and Arthur, luckily, decided to try his hand at the new style.  Over the years, this experiment would come to be the Guinness Draught we know and love today, introducing “stout” a completely new beer variety, to the world.  

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So what makes Guinness so special?  A pint of the black stuff only contains four unique ingredients: water (from the nearby Wicklow mountains), hops, yeast, and roasted barley, which gives the beer its iconic dark color.  Nitrogen is then pushed through the liquid to create the iconic creamy head and smooth taste.

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To enjoy your pint like a true Dubliner, however, you first have to master the art of the perfect pour.  Here’s a handy guide:

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Make sure to wait the full 119.5 seconds for your glass to settle before topping it off (or worse, drinking it) or you will get some very judgmental glances from the Irish folk around you.  Don’t worry, though, foreigners can definitely get it with practice.

[caption id="attachment_1013" align="alignnone" width="720"]15741169_10209447339874787_6008963228955217235_n My dad, on step 5

Now that you have poured the perfect pint, sit back, relax, enjoy, and don’t forget: Guinness good for you.  Slainté!

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Works Cited:

“Arthur Guinness Biography: The History Of Guinness Beer.” Astrum People. Astrum People, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.

Cowden, Adam. “The Man Who Invented Beer: All About Guinness.” Heave Media. Heave Media, 13 Mar. 2013. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.

“Our Story.” Guinness® – Beer Made of More™ | Guinness®. Guinness and Co., n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.

A Reflection on Family and My Own Irish Origins

If first asked, I would describe my family as something dilute. I picture ink drops in water, which, over time, have spread green and purple fingers out far from one another. What marks us as the same is not location, or even physical appearance, but rather an innate, shared stubbornness, a mile-wide independent streak that has, oft as not, left us a bit in trouble and a bit isolated. This self-containedness, combined with the fact that I have grown up with a Polish-Canadian stepmother, has often made me feel separated from my own geographical origins. While I have known people who speak proudly of their heritage, who instinctively lay claim to the countries of their ancestors, I have rarely reflected on my own identity in the context of nationhood. For me, family has always been something behavioral and (sometimes) genetic–that is, a unit defined by learned and mimicked behaviors, similar personalities, and similar traits. Even my concept of place–childhood haunts, for example, or vacation spots–has centered around the people I met there. Yet this class, and especially the way physical Ireland, its landscapes, its ruins, its traditions, factors into language, and, by extension, heritage, has made me reflect on my own identity in the context of nationhood. I realize that my Irish origins, just as they colored Yeats’s poetry, have also left threads running through my own life, and that I am perhaps not as independent of nationhood as I first thought.

There is, most obviously, my nickname and its Gaelic roots. Rory, generally considered a male name, means “red king”, and is an anglicization of the Gaelic name “Ruaidhr,” the Irish name “Ruar” and the Scottish name “Ruaraidh”. This is no accident; my grandmother on my father’s side was Irish,  and I believe the nickname, for all its masculinity, fits the tomboyish aspects of my personality. Moreover, though I gave it little thought at the time, my dad has told me I am “Irish” in my moods, making reference to my tendency to be morose, reflective, and (more than slightly) cynical. Though undoubtedly this statement is an oversimplification of what it means to be Irish, I think it does relate to the poetry we have been reading, as often the lines seem to echo with distant sorrow, with melancholy. Arguably, these are the same emotions that can be evoked by the stark and bare beauty of Ireland’s stony shores.

I recall now, too, that as a child I loved watching Riverdance on VCR. For those unfamiliar with the show, it consists mainly of Irish folk music and dance, although the music, besides featuring an Irish folk band, also makes use of electric bass, drums, and horns. While Riverdance was far from the only thing I watched (Spongebob and documentaries on marine biology also made regular appearances), there is a part of me that jumps–if ridiculously–to associate the pull of Riverdance with some innate Irishness. It is that same part of me that would like to somehow equate coastal Maine, one of my favorite vacation spots, with coastal Ireland, even though, as someone who has never actually been to Ireland, I will be the first to acknowledge this is an overly romanticized, overly trite notion. Yet what drives me to make this connection is that the Maine I am thinking of is not the tourist-trapped lobster-state, but rather the fog-swathed, wide-skied coast, whose nights are edged with salt, the low croon of foghorns and the memory of unpeopled rocks. This is, in my mind, somehow similar to the Ireland I have heard described to me, although I would have to visit to truly find out.

Morning in Acadia, ME


A foggy day at Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

In high school, James Joyce’s Dubliners was one of my favorite books. I found it to be darkly humorous, and the challenge of decoding his language, of culling meaning from such resistant and tricky prose, was one that in and of itself made me grin. Yet there was also some underlying poignancy, something watchful, still, and serious, in Joyce’s writing that pulled at my heart. Here I think especially of an excerpt from Joyce’s short story, “The Dead”:

A few taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly on the Bog of Allen and, further westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. 

Although as readers we are viewing this scene directly through one of Joyce’s characters, and are thus, arguably, more displaced from it than if the narration were third-person omniscient, the pure poetics still elicit chills instead of the wry, dry satisfaction of mental chess. Thus, even as Dubliners pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to become a more analytical reader, it also touched me in ways that were more emotional than intellectual. Though secretly I am not a very critical reader, and enjoy most books, Dubliners remains one of my favorites.

With all this said, I am still aware that my connections to my own Irishness are tenuous, and perhaps mostly contrived or coincidental. A cynic could observe that The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock and Hamlet left as deep an impact on me as Dubliners, that I have spent most of my life ignorant of my nick name’s Irish roots, or that I never met my Irish grandmother–and he would be right. I am not trying to claim that my own Irish blood has played an especially formative role in my upbringing; rather, I am trying to mark the places where my genetic origins have intersected with my life. This line of thought, besides being convenient fodder for a class blog post, or an interesting intellectual exercise, has made me reflect that my sense of family is neither as dilute nor as unmoored and nationless as perhaps I first thought. I won’t argue that this has made me feel closer to my family, or even closer to my own origins; but perhaps it does allow me to climb a little more securely into the poetry we are reading, to recognize and validate my own relationship to these poems.

There you are. I can say to them. There you are. There are small parts of you, your notions of melancholy, your raspy notes and stone shores, that run into me.





The Fringes of the Fringe

I may have a problem when it comes to remote Northern islands. Ireland was the first, and when I visited it in the 80s, it still was in many ways remote from the rest of the world. The Celtic Tiger economic boom was still in the future, as were all of the horrible cheap looking holiday homes on the coasts that followed the tiger. It was cheap, the coffee was awful, you could hitchhike all around the country in complete safety and there were no big roads. I still love Ireland, but in the last 25 years, it has become more like the rest of Europe; you can zoom across the country on a four lane highway, and there’s been a lot of unfortunate building. Traditional Irish cottages looked like this, three windows and a door, whitewashed, under a thatched roof:





That’s Ben Bulben in the background, by the way, where Yeats roamed as a boy.




Nowadays, if you want to rent a cottage, you’re more likely to find something like this… 5 star and glamorous, according to the ad.



And worse, the collapse of the Celtic Tiger left half finished developments all over the country. Here’s a gallery from HuffPost.

My new obsession is Iceland, which reminds me of Ireland 30 years ago, only with volcanoes. Iceland, curiously, has some claim to being a partially Celtic country. The Irish monks who first settled there before the Vikings arrived in 874 hardly count, because, of course, they left no descendants.

[caption id="attachment_957" align="alignright" width="163"]irish_monks Irish monks sailing to Iceland in a very small boat.

They were just looking for the most remote place imaginable to pray and get closer to their God.

Nor do the early Viking settlers sound very Celtic; they have names like Ingolfur Arnason (there should be an accent on the o in Ingolfur, but this interface won’t let me add it) and Hrafna-Floki Vilgerðarson, Raven-Floki son of Vilgerð, and Unn the Deep Minded, an extraordinary woman who lead her whole family to a new life in Iceland from… Ireland, via Scotland and the Orkney Islands. She was Norse through and through, but plenty of other women who went with the Vikings to Iceland seem not to have been. Recent DNA studies suggest that 63% of Settler women were actually from the British Isles; 80% of Settler men, on the other hand, were Nordic. What does this mean? Well, let’s just say that some of those women were probably given little choice about whom they “married” and where they went. You can read more about the DNA study at the Arni Magnusson Institute for Icelandic studies, where I was lucky enough to spend 6 weeks last Fall. Next up (next summer) the Orkney Islands. I’ll keep you posted.


That’s Leif Ericsson behind me, looking towards America.

A Second Take: Xenophobia and Readership

Having spent about a week away from the Celtic Fringe blog, I was pleased to see today that an enlivened discussion emerged from my post about xenophobic trends in Ireland, as seen through the eyes of Derek Mahon and James Joyce. Both Cole and Professor McInerney point to key aspects of the works that need to be considered. Thinking about the potential roots of such xenophobia, Cole’s post encourages us to see Mahon’s xenophobic tropes as a reaction against the marginalization of the Irish in their own land; Professor McInerney’s asks us to consider the historical factors, like a homogenous population and little immigration, which lead the Irish to express such sentiments.

Beyond addressing the mere presence of xenophobia, both posts make me wonder, more generally, about how difficult it is for readers to distance their personal thoughts and experiences from the reading process. Looking back to my reading of xenophobia in Ulysses, I think my reaction is colored by an identification with Bloom, Joyce’s protagonist. To give a short gloss, Bloom is a Jewish individual born and raised in Ireland. Plagued by domestic strife (a cheating wife and a dead son), he wanders through Dublin and relates his experiences in the text. What is really striking about him, however, is his evenhandedness. Faced with complicated decisions or infuriating situations, he always tries to see two sides of an issue—a trait I very much admire. With this (albeit biased) reading in mind, one can begin to understand how a reader could be infuriated when faced with the Cyclops episode, wherein a brutal, nationalistic, xenophobic (and unnamed) narrator rages against Bloom’s religion and challenges his claim to Irish identity. One could also see how that reading of Ulysses might color a reading of other Irish poets, like Mahon. On the other hand, I very much understand and relate to Cole’s defense of Mahon, which is based, at least partially, on the personal experience of seeing tourists overrun a beloved home space. It is clear that such an experience could and will make one feel slightly xenophobic at times.

Put together, it is interesting how both Cole and my readings emerge in no small part from personal experience. Far from being the cold, unemotional evaluation of a text, the reading process emerges from the “baggage” we bring to the text. Personal relationships, individual philosophies, traumas, memories, joys, and knowledge simultaneously craft and limit the way we interpret a literary text. Above all, as human beings, as individuals in the truest sense of the word, we experience the world (and the literary texts in it) from our own perspective. No wonder, then, that literary texts or the presence of foreigners in one’s homeland evoke such powerful responses and differentiated responses. All of us see the world through our own eyes.

And yet, such a conclusion might also be a reason why we should avoid xenophobia. If individuals’ readings emerge from their own personal experiences, from each person’s unique history and ideologies, we can conclude that everyone is truly different. Why, then, not strive to see each person for who they are, instead of grouping them into a national, reductionist category? To do so would be to recognize our own biases and to gain a better understanding of exactly what we do when we crack a book open.

All of this is not to say that xenophobia shouldn’t exist; it is understandable that it does. Rather, I am arguing for an open mind or, to use the Economists’ word, greater “perspective”. At the root of many human disagreements is a personal short-sightedness. Looking at the bigger picture, of immigration, for example, can yield refreshing perspectives and something we can all agree on, namely greater prosperity for more people:

“Above all, perspective is needed. The vast population movements of the past four decades have not brought the social strife the scaremongers predicted. On the contrary, they have offered a better life for millions of migrants and enriched the receiving countries both culturally and materially. But to preserve these great benefits in the future, politicians need the courage not only to speak up against the populist tide in favour of the gains immigration can bring, but also to deal honestly with the problems it can sometimes cause.”

See the Economist Article “Global Migration, Keep the Borders Open”

In short, we might all do well to see the world in a more Bloomsian fashion, constantly weighing the arguments and counterarguments implicit in the chain of ambiguous events that form our existence.

Micheal O’Siadhail

Micheal O'Siadhail

I just wanted to share the link that I mentioned in class with everyone.

Click here for a video of O’Siadhail reading two of his poems, a copy of his 2008 interview with the Irish Book Review, a recording of his work set to music, and, lastly, the interview with Dick Staub.

In Defence of Derek Mahon

While I can’t speak to Andrew’s comment on Ulysses, I think both poems point toward a source of xenophobia which goes a little deeper than an immediate distinction between the insider and outsider.  Fear of the other and ignorance in both poems emerge as symptoms of xenophobia, but it is the paradoxical othering of the Irish speaker from his own homeland that produces this xenophobic sentiment.

In “Night Thoughts” the place has been transformed into a “Georgian theme-park for the tourist.”  It has been built up for the travel and tourism industry so that it is actually the tourist who belongs in this space rather than the Irish speaker.  What’s more the speaker must be all too aware of this irony, describing the place sardonically as an artificial “theme-park.”  In several ways this line points back to the “Georgian Dublin houses” in “Herbert Street Revisited” by John Montague.  The Georgian Dublin nature of the space sounds equally paradoxical to me and both point back to the colonial past in which the colonial subject is excluded from power within his/her own homeland.  A temporal distance also seems to be at work in both poems (and “The Chinese Restaurant”: “the place is as it might have been”, “as if the world were young” ), further removing the speaker from the space.  The alienation from the space begins with an alienation from the past, a communal sense of the past and the persistence of a place through time necessarily producing an ideology of belonging.  This is not the Ireland of “Yeats and Wilde,” this is the “new world order” and we need a new way of defining belonging.  The speaker achieves this in the end by “read[ing] the symbolists as the season dies” but there’s an acute pain in the inevitable and irreversible passing of the seasons.

Now look to “The Chinese Restaurant in Portrush” where another Irish speaker sits in the resort town of Portrush eating Chinese food.  The juxtaposition of “prawn chow mein” with the morning paper, iconic of the western world, again highlights the disjunction between speaker and place.  The “framed photograph of Hong Kong” reads to me as a generic and artificial representation of China that someone could find in any Chinese Restaurant, and probably would never find in a typical restaurant in China.  The Chinese man (who is actually never referred to as a man or specifically Chinese funnily enough) stands looking out at the sea rather than at the photo.  Neither the speaker nor the proprietor belong in this space, but multiple frames within the poem create a second distance between these two “foreigners.”  First the Chinese Restaurant which the proprietor can at least claim ownership over is framed in the larger lens of the Northern Irish town of Portrush, which is again framed in the even larger lens of the authentic Irish space invoked by the hills of Donegal.  I’m unsure whether to read the “light of heaven” as ironic or indicative of the speaker’s actual belonging to this pastoral place cast in the distance.  Furthermore, though the proprietor stands “dreaming of home,” the doorway creates a second frame around him through which the speaker can only watch.  He himself is unable to participate in a similar escape because his own home has been colonized by tourists.

It may sound, after this reading, like I have a personal issue with tourists, which I do.  While it may be a bit problematic and xenophobic to refer to people as “space invaders” I can at least understand where Mahon is coming from.  My own island in the Puget Sound was recently mentioned in an article in the Seattle Times encouraging folks to take a trip over to scenic Bainbridge Island to see the “historic Lynwood theater” and other incredibly uninteresting sites.  I spent many days this past summer downtown watching tourists walking around confusedly, maps in hand, stumbling into random stores to ask for directions to even more uninteresting sites.  Development has also increased rapidly in the past few years and the beautiful row of poplar trees that used to line the other side of the street outside my house were all chainsawed down to make room for some ugly multi-million dollar box mansion.  Needless to say, I’m not a huge fan of tourists or local change.

About Xenophobia…

Mural from Derry, N. Ireland.

I don’t think anyone is “naturally” xenophobic, but I think that all of us (i.e. human beings) are conditioned by society to some degree of xenophobia. I would agree with Andrew’s suggestion that Ireland is particularly xenophobic, however. As Joyce might put it, “It seems history is to blame.” For a very long time, Ireland was an extremely homogeneous country. Before 1922, there was one extremely significant divide, between British and Irish. British propaganda of the 19th century “othered” the Irish along racial lines; Noel Ignatiev’s (somewhat controversial) book How the Irish Became White documents this and argues that Irish immigrants to the United States collectively established themselves as “white” rather than “not white” by participating, often very actively, in the oppression of African Americans.

After Independance, the Republic of Ireland became even more homogeneous–virtually everyone was Irish and Catholic. My bet is that if we could look in on Bloom in the late 20s, say (at which point he’d be in his sixties) we’d find him suffering even more explicit forms of anti-Semitism than he does in 1904, when Ulysses is set. Through much of the twentieth century, Ireland’s economy was stagnant. The Irish emigrated, but very few foreigners immigrated. Even tourism was slow to develop, and such as it was it was mostly the descendants of Irish immigrants to Australia, Canada and the US who visited the country and could, to some extent, be accepted as a version of “us.” I was often told, when I first traveled in Ireland, that I must be part Irish (which I’m not). It simply wasn’t conceivable that I’d be wasting my time visiting “this shitebox country” to quote a guy I met in a pub in Cork if I wasn’t. I eventually invented an Irish great-grandmother (name of Murphy) to facilitate such conversations.

Inevitably, some people did move to Ireland and open businesses, initially often restaurants (like the Chinese one in Mahon’s poem, or the occasional Indian restaurant in Dublin). But most Irish people throughout the 20th century had very little contact with the non-Irish, compared to other Northern Europeans, let alone those of us from the New World with its metaphors of mosaics (Canada) and melting-pots (U.S.). Ignorance, of course, is a prerequisite to all kinds of phobias.

When the Irish economy took off in the early 90s, all of this changed; suddenly, instead of poor Irish people migrating to Europe or North America in search of work, poor people from all over the place, from Poland to Nigeria, started to come to Ireland. Dublin in particular had demographic changes so swift that they were almost impossible to measure. Eastern Europeans came to work in the construction industry, Africans came to open market stalls, Dublin was suddenly no longer a white and catholic city, but a multicoloured, multicultural city that had difficulty recognizing its new self.

Demonstration against forced deportation of Nigerians living in Dublin.

Of course there has been a backlash; here is a link to an article from the early days of the financial crisis that discusses xenophobia in Ireland, and here is another predicting a rise in racism. And I remember reading somewhere (perhaps in a recent Vanity Fair) about how, in 2009, the parking lot attendants at the Dublin airport suddenly noticed something odd: there was very little outgoing traffic from their lots. It was a precipitous drop; cars seemed to have entered and never left. And indeed this turned out to be the case. When they looked, they found hundreds of abandoned cars, all registered to Eastern Europeans (mostly Poles) who had lost their jobs and simply cut their losses and headed home. This kind of anecdote reinforces xenophobia, since it depicts the foreigners who come and then depart as mercenary, or possibly even rats leaving a sinking ship.  The “real” Irish are the ones who have no place to go (except, of course, Canada, Australia, the U.S.). In recent years, there have been forced deportations of Eastern Europeans (Romanians, Moldovans) and also of Nigerians (some of whom are seeking political asylum).

Protest in front of the Dail against deportations.

A final irony: Ireland’s National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI) was closed in 2008 due to budget cuts.

As I began by saying, I believe all cultures are xenophobic to different degrees, and xenophobia tends to flare up when there are pressures of various sorts on a nation (as it did in this country after 9/11, and as it is doing again now in response to the bad economy). It’s also something I’d like to think nations can grow out of– though I have yet to see one that has succeeded completely.

Michael Longley: Haiku-like moments and Classical Allusion

The work of contemporary Irish poet Michael Longley serves as a very interesting way to tie together the varying themes and forms of Derek Mahon that we discussed on Thursday in class. Longley was born in 1939 in Belfast, very much a peer of Mahon. He is a member of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and founder of Literary Programme. Having studied Classics at Trinity College, Longley’s love of Greek and Roman mythology is reflected in his poetry. In his poem “Ceasefire,” he mixes Classical allusion with modern events, much like Mahon’s “Achill,” in reaction to a recent ceasefire in the violence in Northern Ireland.

Longley also has a very keen eye for and appreciation of the natural world.  He often studies short, specific moments of time and natural beauty, producing works thematically similar to ideas explored in haiku. Such is the case in his poem “Snow Water,” (coincidentally about tea and snow) which is similar to Mahon’s response in “The Snow Party” to haiku master Basho.

Sorry for including so many poems in this long post! (I got really excited).

To learn more, click here to see Longley’s personal website.

Snow Water (1994)

A fastidious brewer of tea, a tea

Connoisseur as well as a poet,

I modestly request on my sixtieth

Birthday a gift of snow water.

Tea steam and ink stains. Single-

Mindedly I scald my tea pot and

Measure out some Silver Needles Tea,

Enough for a second steeping.

Other favourites include Clear

Distance and Eyebrows of Longevity

Or, from precarious mountain peaks,

Cloud Mist Tea (quite delectable)

Which competent monkeys harvest

Filling their baskets with choice leaves

And bringing them down to where I wait

with my crock of snow water.

Remembering Carrigskeewaun (1998)

A wintry night, the hearth inhales

And the chimney becomes a windpipe

Fluffy with soot and thistledown,

A voice-box recalling animals:

The leveret come of age, snipe

At an angle, then the porpoises’

Demonstration of meaningless smiles.

Home is a hollow between the waves,

A clump of nettles, feathery winds,

And memory no longer than a day

When the animals come back to me

From the townland of Carrigskeewaun,

From a page lit by the Milky Way.

Ceasefire (1998)


Put in mind of his own father and moved to tears

Achilles took him by the hand and pushed the old king

Gently away, but Priam curled up at his feet and

Wept with him until their sadness filled the building.


Taking Hector’s corpse into his own hands Achilles

Made sure it was washed and, for the old king’s sake,

Laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry

Wrapped like a present home to Troy at daybreak.


When they had eaten together, it pleased them both

to stare at each other’s beauty as lovers might,

Achilles built like a god, Priam good-looking still

And full of conversation, who earlier had sighed:


‘I get down on my knees and do what must be done

And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.’