USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Irish’
Humor

What’s the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake?

Subject: American Joke on Irish Drinking Habits

Collection: “Q: What’s the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake?

A: One less drunk.”

Background Info: This joke was told on the 30 March 2018 by A. Haynes. He is a resident of San Clemente, is a proud father of two children, and still married to his high school sweetheart.

Context: I recorded this joke from a friend of my father at dinner at an Italian restaurant in San Clemente, CA. At the table was also another childhood friend who was visiting from Hawaii, where he now lives with his wife. As part of the celebrating their reunion, the men ordered two pints of beer. This joke was shared as the waitress was setting the beer down on the table.

Analysis: The joke was shared out of the jovial spirit of the moment. The speaker knew that neither of the two people to whom he addressed the joke (I overheard on accident and then asked permission to document it) would have any objections to the unflattering portrayal of the Irish as drunkards who in turn do not properly honor the dead or the insensitivity towards the treatment of death.

In fact, one of the main subjects of conversation at dinner that night was the death of a family friend (ironically, one who suffered from alcohol addiction for the total of her adult life) who was close to all three families present at the meal. Drinking is commonly thought of as a social and jovial activity with contradicts the nature of death. The news of her death weighing heavily on the brain, all present were aware that our present happiness, might be disrespectful or, at least, not doing proper honor to her memory. The joke itself also deals with the oxymoronic relationship between death and drinking and what it means to return to normality following a death.

We later learned that the speaker of the joke has gone on a diet in the last six months, the reason for him not ordering the Rigatoni Pomodoro, his favorite dish. In this context, the joke can then also be read as a comment on excess. He is a man who is trying to improve his health through changing his diet, making his consumption of beer seem counter-intuitive. However, by sharing a joke over a pint of beer marks this occasion as one worthy of indulgence.

In conclusion, the joke capitalizes on stereotypical beliefs of the Irish to be drunks with curious funeral rites to reveal anxieties about death and indulging in drink, especially if the two are related.

For Further Readings: An interesting collection and commentary of Irish-as-drunks can be found at “SoberRecovery : Alcoholism Drug Addiction Help and Information > Social Groups > Recovery Follies” in the folder entitled “What’s the difference in an Irish Wedding and Wake?”.  One participant in the online forum, Nocellphone, responded to the joke with, “Always loved that one! You’ll find lighthearted stuff and jokes in the Recovery Follies forum. Just keep scrolling down…”. This environment shows a different type of indulgence: jokes to build support and comradery out of deprivation of the item that the group otherwise has in common.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

The House Across the Street

My informant, an Irish-American male, grew up immersed in Irish culture. He was excited to share his stories with me — especially because sharing stories is an important part of Irish social culture. I collected this story (which he learned from his father) from him while we sat on his couch:

 

“Back in Ireland, there’s this house across the street with an old man — and he’s a rat bastard — he’s a piece of s***. He used to be an IRA [Irish Republican Army]. He would beat his wife — his kids… and one day he was arrested and sent to prison. The day he got out, his whole family celebrated (as they do) with lots and lots of alcohol. So everyone’s drinking and he pulls out a Ouija board and someone in the room is like, “witchcraft it’s evil.” [the informant backtracks] Oh, and the guys name is Patty. [Back to the original story] He said, “no, no, no. It’s fun we used it in prison and it’s just a nice, fun game. Let’s try to see if we can contact our grandmother.” And so they they use it on on the table and they contacted his grandmother, whatever — and the grandmother was was also just a huge b***h when she was alive. Also abusive and terrible. And then someone across the room holding a beer says, “alright, well it’s been nice talking to you we got to go now. We’re praying for you.” But then he follows it with: “I don’t need your prayers where I am.” And everyone in the room s***s their pants. They scream they run. And after that, Patty was a much more secluded guy. He never really talked to anyone. One of his sons (that was never in) was there that night he went crazy. And they lived in the house next door because they’re connected houses over there. The son got up to go to the bathroom one night. And as he was going over to the bathroom he saw this ghostly white figure come across the hallway and he was a little disturbed… but, like, it’s Ireland so you kind of don’t really pay attention that much to that. And then his wife was in the room and she goes, “honey, who’s there? I just saw someone walk across the doorway.” And the husband says, “oh my God! I just saw someone walk across the hall. That’s really creepy.” And so they sort of, like, bless themselves, and go to bed. And this was in the house directly next to it [the Ouija board event] — because the houses are connected. the figure would come out of the wall that that they shared with the other house. And, you know, ever since since that day when when they used the Ouija board legitimately the sun doesn’t shine on on that house on the street. Like I said: hardly ever.”

 

My informant added that his dad told him this story first, and then he went to see the house from the story. He says it’s true that the sun doesn’t shine on the house. Even on days where the sun is fully illuminating the houses around it, this house is still shrouded in shadow.

 

Analysis:

Because my informant did not share his belief in the dark magical curse the Ouija board left on the house, he probably sees it as a legend attached to the house. His story takes place in the real world, but the events may or may not actually be true. I personally find it to be a fun story to tell at a social gathering. I can picture my informant being told the story by an active bearer (his father), and becoming a passive bearer until he shared the story with me when I interviewed him.

 

Folk speech
Humor

Irish Limerick

My informant, an Irish-American male, grew up immersed in Irish culture. He was excited to share his Limericks with me — especially because sharing stories and poems is an important part of Irish social culture. I collected this Limerick (which he learned from his father) from him while we sat on his couch:

 

Killian: “There once was a man Paul,

Who went to a fancy dress ball;

He thought he would risk it,

and went as a biscuit .

And was eaten by a dog in the hall.”

 

Me: “Why did you share this particular Limerick?”

 

Killian: “I like this one because it’s funny — it’s just so stupid! [He chuckles] It’s my comedy!”

 

Me: “Any other reasons or significance?”

 

Killian: “I say it a lot sometimes. Oh! My dad’s name is Paul, so whenever we shared this, it would be, like, a little funnier.”

 

I asked my informant for more context of the piece, and he told me that sharing Limericks and stories is a component of Irish parties. The parties are called ‘singsongs.’ People get together and share stories, limericks, songs, and play traditional Irish instruments. Usually, everyone knows how to play every instrument and knows every song, so they usually happen spur of the moment — “and drunk. But that goes without saying.”

Analysis:

My informant has told me on many occasions that he is good at coming up with Limericks. He often jokes that it’s ‘in his blood’ because of his Irish heritage. He especially likes to share them when he is having fun with this friends, which replicates the tradition of Irish singsongs. My favorite part of collecting this piece, though, was seeing his passion as he performed the poem.

 

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Narrative

Chimney Sweeps are Good Luck

My informant, an Irish-American male, grew up immersed in Irish culture. He was excited to share his stories with me — especially because sharing stories and poems is an important part of Irish social culture. I collected this story from him while we sat on his couch:

 

“So one Christmas, we had a chimney sweep come over. We called him and asked him to come over to clean out our fireplace. And he comes over — and our door bell has not worked in and years. Like since I’ve been at my house, the door never once worked once. Like the wires are cut, you know, like it was significantly broken. So, the chimney sweep presses the doorbell and it rings. It fully rings! And we were all very confused so we just kind of sat there for a hot second. And then we heard it again– and it rang again! And we were like what is going on? And my mom was like, “Oh my God! It’s a chimney sweep!” And she asked him how he rang the doorbell, and he responded– he was just like, “I just pressed it and it rang.” And then my mom pressed it– and it worked one more time and then after that it stopped working again. And it hasn’t worked since– but it worked when the chimney sweep came over. So that’s really weird.”

 

Because this story is from his personal experience, I asked him to explain how he knew about the folk belief that chimney sweeps bring good luck:

 

Killian: “It came up a lot. It’s pretty much common knowledge in Ireland. I don’t remember a specific person it came from.”

 

I then asked my informant if he knew where the folk belief came from or when it developed:

 

Killian: “I mean, there’s not much rhyme or reason to Irish superstition. I dunno, maybe it’s good luck because they clean out your fireplace so your house doesn’t burn down?”

 

Analysis:

I have never heard of this folk belief, but I think it fits with my other knowledge of Irish folklore. This collection is also fascinating because it comes with a story of personal experience that fits within the folk belief. To me, it’s similar to a ghost story but it fits with Irish legends rather than local legends.

 

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Erin Express

“How appropriate do I have to be?” was the first thing Lila asked me about describing this tradition.

Background: Lila attends Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. When she arrived at school she called my friends to ask us if we had ever heard of Erin Express. When we all assured her that we had never heard of that she began to describe this Philly-wide tradition called Erin Express that related to St. Patrick’s Day.

Context: I had this conversation with Lila over the phone. I recorded our conversation and transcribed it below.

“I go to Drexel University in Philadelphia. When I first got here I started hearing about this event. Actually I don’t even want to call it an event, it’s not an event. Its something the city… it’s like the 3 weekends leading up to Saint Patrick’s day, a bunch of bars and clubs in the area will have a kind of bar crawl? If you go to college in Philadelphia you will have pregames* starting in the morning and then go to those bar crawls. So basically the three weekends leading up to St. Patrick’s day and then on St. Patrick’s day you will get dressed up, you’ll wake up early, wear all St. Patrick’s day apparel and basically day drink the whole day and go to different bars. And it’s not just something college kids do, it’s something that older people do too. It’s not a college thing, I guess if you’re in college you’ll start at frats but end up at bars. It was something interesting about the culture here that I had never heard and something cool that Philly does. Yeah.”

When I asked her to elaborate on what people typically wear, this is what she said;

“You dress up like it’s St. Patrick’s Day, even if it is multiple weeks before. The whole theme of it is Irish? A lot of time friend groups or sororities will make a t-shirt for it that people will buy that have puns about Erin Express since that’s the name of it or puns about St. Patrick’s Day or different cute designs. It’s almost like tailgate t-shirt culture** but in a different kind of setting.”

*Pregame- a pre-party where people get together to drink alcohol before going out to a bar, typically as a way to save money on drinks once you’re at the bar. It is also a way to meet up with your friends to “get the party started”.

** Many sororities and fraternities at various schools will make t-shirts that have jokes on them about the school that they are playing often in football that people will wear to tailgates. Some examples for USC would be t-shirts that say “Tri Delta Tailgates” or “FUCLA” (as a way of insulting a rival).

Customs
general

Funeral – Ireland

My informant is Irish-Korean. When her grandfather passed away, her family flew to Ireland for the funeral. She explained to me a couple of the events that took place for his funeral:

“So my Granddad passed away two years ago. The first funeral event we had, we had kind of like this viewing of the body for close relatives. They are very ‘light feelings’ I guess about death in Ireland so they just had my Granddad kind of exposed in the kitchen right where the food was. No one found it weird and it was just a very normal thing to do. He was in my uncle’s house and not in a proper setting. He was in a coffin, but like an open coffin. Kind of laying super casually by all the food, and people were eating around him and I felt really weird. So we had that event, and then that night all his (Granddad’s) sons and daughters– so like my dad and he has seven siblings– all stayed in the house with him there. And they had him there in the living room and they all just slept in the house, I guess to…bond? Or as a last time remembrance? And then we had another open body funeral for the whole community since we’re from a smaller community in Ireland. They had his body in a funeral home and all my siblings and cousins and relatives that could come would kind of stand in a line around the ‘funeral home’ –I don’t really know what the building was–and everyone in the town that knew my Granddad would shake every single relatives hand as a way of showing (and) saying that they’re sorry.”

Although Irish wakes are responses to the death of relatives and close friends, they are much more casual compared to American ones. In Ireland they like to play pranks with the corpse by creating situations where the deceased seems alive. It’s representative of the strange state between life and burial. We can see this when my informant’s grandfather’s corpse was casually set out in the kitchen, as people ate and interacted with each other in a very social and optimistic environment. This is very different from all the funerals I’ve attended; people are very quiet and somber. Their sadness comes from placing emphasis more on the loss of life as opposed to celebrating the life of the deceased. I also thought it was interesting how my informant’s relatives would sleep near the corpse. It’s as though they’re treating her granddad as alive, one last time.

Foodways
Material

Faherty Irish Bread

Folk Piece:

Recipe for Faherty Irish Soda Bread

3 cups flour                        1 cup raisins
½ cup sugar                      ¼ pound butter (less 1 tbs) – room temp
1 shake nutmeg                 2 eggs
3 tsp baking powder        1 cup milk
3 tsp caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and lightly flour 8” round cake pan.  Mix all ingredients together by hand or bread hook (if using machine).
Bake for 55 minutes.

Background Information

From the informant: I learned the recipe from my mother Rosalie Faherty.  She learned it from her childhood friend’s Mom.  The recipe originally was in terms like a saucer of this and a pinch of that.  She had to convert it to cups and tablespoons. I first made the Irish bread in high school, and since I have made it every St. Patrick’s Day that I can remember.  My mother used to make up to a couple dozen on St. Patrick’s Day, but now me and my eight siblings make it and make about thirty collectively each year.”

 

Context

My mom taught me this recipe, too, but I never cooked it on my own this year. I never even had the recipe written down until I asked my mom for the formal one – it’s often taught from person to person. I thought it would be perfect for this project, so I asked her a bit more about it. It’s widely known in my family as our go to family dish.

 

Analysis

I grew up eating this Irish bread each and every year on St. Patty’s Day. Living north of Boston, other neighbors would leave Irish soda bread on our porch, and we would leave some on theirs. I would take it to class, my parents would take it to work, and it really signified the Irish holiday of St. Patrick’s Day. This specific recipe was taught to me by my mother when I was in high school, and I would occasionally help her cook it. Similarly, her mother, my grandmother, taught it to her when my mother was just a child. Interestingly, even after all this time, I had always just thought that the recipe originated with my family. This class made me speculate that wasn’t true; recipes don’t just appear out of thin air. After my interview I found out that my grandmother actually learned it from her friend, and my grandmother was the one to translate this “folk dish” into an actual measured recipe.

Therefore, the dish that my family feels identifies ourselves is actually only two generations removed from another family. Additionally, while it was my grandmother that authored the recipe, she herself is not Irish. In fact, she’s the only grandparent of mine that isn’t 100% Irish; that I associate my Irish identity with a recipe that was from another family, authored by a woman who isn’t at all Irish, just shows how folklore can change hands and mediums every year and every generation. For an added bonus, see below the Irish bread I made this year, brought into work just like my parents.

 

FullSizeRender

 

Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Giant’s Causeway

PL was visiting the giant’s causeway in Northern Ireland, and ran into someone there who started telling her about the legends surrounding the place.

“The giant’s causeway, a natural rock formation, was thought to be the giants’ stepping stones out of the water.

The Irish and Scottish giants didn’t get along, but the Scottish giant was way bigger. The Irish giant heard that the Scottish giant was coming to take over Ireland, so the Irish giant built a big baby crib. As soon as he heard the Scottish giant stomping on his way over, he dressed himself up as a baby and got into the crib.

The Scottish giant took one look at him, decided that if that was the baby, he sure as hell didn’t want to meet the parents, and turned around and went home.”

causeway

I love that the natural formations of the area were inspiration for tales such as this. It really does look like giant steps, and is understandable how it plays a large part in the folklore of the area. The tale also very much plays off the idea of the us vs them mentality, with the Irish giant in opposition to the Scottish giant. There’s also cultural pride in that their giant was able to outwit the Scottish one despite the other’s advantage.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Material

Claddagh Ring

“Part of our Irish heritage is the story of the Claddagh ring, and that was originated in a little place near Galway, Ireland and uh the Claddagh ring is generally made of gold or silver, it has a heart in the middle, with a hand on either side holding the heart, and there is a crown on top of the hear, and it symbolizes love, loyalty, and friendship. And uh, many people in Ireland use the Claddagh ring as a wedding ring, both for men and women, and uh its also a lovely gift to give people you love, and so for me, I have given Claddagh rings to my granddaughters, all three o them, and I think they like them very much, and I think its just a wonderful tradition.”

 

Informant: the informant was born in Chicago, and attended high school and college there, graduating with a degree in English. After marrying and having one child, she moved to Dallas, Texas where she raised three children with her husband. She is of Irish descent, her father being from Ireland, and her mother was born in Wisconsin after her parents moved from Ireland, and her heritage and tradition are very important to her. She is a grandmother of five children.

 

Analysis:

Something that is very dear to the informant is her Irish heritage. She feels great pride for her Irish descent, and does her best to demonstrate this by practicing several Irish traditions. I believe that the tradition of passing along the Claddagh ring to her grandchildren exemplifies this wish to preserve Irish traditions while showing how much she cares for her grandchildren. Despite the traditional sense of using Claddagh rings as wedding rings, in using it as a gift to her granddaughters, she is exhibiting her promise of love, loyalty, and friendship to them, as well as passing on a tradition, most likely in the hopes that her granddaughters will pass it on to their daughters or granddaughters.

The time in which the informant gave her granddaughters Claddagh rings is also significant. She gave the rings when each of the granddaughters had been confirmed in the Catholic Church. This is significant because the Irish are historically Catholic, thereby making Confirmation in the Catholic Church an important initiation ceremony. Because the granddaughters were “officially” and “fully” Catholic upon receiving their rings, they were also more Irish, in a sense, due to the emphasis of the Irish on Catholicism. This is because of the tensions between Irish Catholics and British Protestants, tying religion to nationality in this aspect.

Also, this highlights a certain aspect of folk objects. In Ireland, many tourists are attracted to the Claddagh rings. They are sold in many stores, especially those aimed specifically at tourists, which demonstrates how folklore can make quite a bit of money. The popularity of this item comes from the enchanting legend that surrounds its making. The story of the love of a blacksmith for his lover was supposedly prompted him to make this ring while he was working on a pirate ship, for he had been kidnapped and taken from his love. It is a powerful story of love that encourages people everywhere to buy this gift for those they love. This widespread story led the production of the Claddagh ring to expand outside of Ireland itself.

This practice also brings up the question of authenticity. Some may consider buying the Claddagh ring in America inauthentic. The informant also made sure that the rings she gave her granddaughters came from Ireland, which from her perspective was what constituted an authentic Claddagh ring. Despite where the ring was made, however, its meaning is transcendent, because through the action of giving this ring to a loved one in order to demonstrate love, loyalty, and friendship, the legend of the Claddagh ring is commemorated and passed on despite the heritage of the giver or the land in which the ring is made. Overall, this tradition has become very popularized, and it means a great deal to the informant as it passes on Irish tradition in the promises of love, loyalty, and friendship.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

A Soft Rain

Original Script: “My Grandmother would say when it would rain, like a soft rain, my grandmother would tell me it’s a soft rain, she learned that when she went to Ireland…it doesn’t apply to thunderstorms. Only lightly rainy days…”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Jessica grew up in a catholic Irish home. Her family is very connected with their Irish heritage. Her grandmother had went to Ireland a couple of decades ago and learned the term “soft rain,” which only applies to the equivalent of a “sprinkle.” Her grandmother now always uses the term.

Context of the Performance: Light Rainy Days

Thoughts about the piece: When Jessica had mentioned the term to me before; I was thoroughly confused, what exactly what “soft rain” was. Was it rain that did not hurt, like some of the pelting rain that happens in the Arizona Valley (where I am from)? However, after she explained it to me, it did make sense why light rain was called “soft rain.” After researching about the term, I found that many articles published in Ireland, used the term soft rain. For example, there is an article called Detailed Annul Report of the Registrar General for Ireland published in 1892.1 In this report, it tells of what the weather was like the past year in the country of Ireland. I found that usually “soft rain” came up when it was springtime. I also found that because Ireland weather is often rainy, they have many terms for rain: soft rain, hard rain, spitting, and bucketing, were the mot terms that came up through the documented source.

Furthermore, upon more research, I found a book that documents Irish literature named Irish Literature: Irish Authors and Their Writings in Ten Volumes by Justin McCarthy published in 1904.2 While reading this book, I found that many authors, all ranging from poets to writers, used the term “soft rain,” notably, when talking about beauty or spring. It is interesting that the Irish say, “báisteach bog” (which is a rough translation for soft rain) because other adjectives in Irish relating to soft, such as lách, are related to the English words of soft, delicate, and lovely.3 This could explain why many of the Irish authors used the term “soft rain” when speaking about beauty.

Additionally, when bringing beauty into the term, it is interesting that the Irish use the term “soft rain” because it is applicable to the equivalent of “beautiful rain” or “pleasant rain.” Perhaps because of the frequent rainfall and thunderstorms in Ireland, it is literally “beautiful” and “pleasant” when there is a light rain. This light rain can also be correlated with springtime and it literally bringing beauty into nature because it waters the vegetation in Ireland. (This also correlates with the first source mentioned in the “soft rain” bringing upon vegetation).

Thus, the Irish speak for “soft rain” is a correlation to rain bringing in a pleasant atmosphere to Ireland due to the frequent rainfall Ireland’s weather is usually composed of.

1 Unkown. Detailed Annual Report of the Registrar General for Ireland. Vol. 28-32. N.p.: Ireland, 1892. Google Books. Web. 01 Apr. 2016.

2 McCarthy, Justin, Maurice Francis Egan, and Charles Welsh. Irish Authors and Their Writings in Ten Volumes. New York: P.F. Collier, 1904. Google Books. Web. 01 Apr. 20.

3 “Google Translate: English to Irish.” Google Translate. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2016.

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