50 per cent Ir­ish, 100 per cent full of blar­ney

The Compass - - OPINION -

Happy St. Pa­trick’s Day to those of you, like me, who have Ir­ish blood — and to those who wish they did.

My 50 per cent Ir­ish blood and the 100 per cent of my Ir­ish roots I traced to the Gal­way area of the Emer­ald Isle. That’s where my an­ces­tors, the O’Toole clan orig­i­nated.

Back in the mid 1980’s I had the de­light to visit there dur­ing part of a three-week tour of Ire­land. While over there I took the op­por­tu­nity to spend a lit­tle time search­ing.

A man named O’Toole (a small garage owner I met) helped me find a grave­yard I was in­ter­ested in. To my amaze­ment, with lim­ited time, I found three O’Toole graves dat­ing from the mid to late 1800s, where John, Ed­ward and Bri­die O’Toole were rest­ing in peace.

My late grand­mother was Mon­ica O’Toole. She grew up in the Pla­cen­tia Bay com­mu­nity of St. Kyran’s. As a young woman the fam­ily moved to Pla­cen­tia proper and even­tu­ally young Mon­ica moved to St. John’s where she worked and even­tu­ally met and mar­ried my grand­fa­ther William (Billy) Grills. Mom named me William af­ter her late fa­ther. He

was of English de­scent.

Last­ing mem­ory

A mem­ory that will last with me for­ever is that of sit­ting on a wooden bench out­side a ho­tel in the lovely town of Gal­way, 200 kilo­me­ters west of Dublin. Nearby were a half dozen young school-aged girls singing Ir­ish bal­lads for our tour group. An­other group of younger girls and boys dressed in tra­di­tional Celtic cos­tume danced a tra­di­tional Ir­ish jig. We wanted to go up to them and give them a col­lec­tive hug. In­stead, gen­er­ous gratuities were of­fered from the al­most 40 mem­bers trav­el­ing on our tour bus.

Af­ter the per­for­mance, a young woman came over to us and asked: did you guys read the plaque on the post above you?”

To our de­light was a no­ta­tion read­ing — on this spot Arthur Co­la­han com­posed the pop­u­lar ver­sion of the Ir­ish bal­lad Gal- way Bay.

He asked us to look across the bay and to the left. Be­low the hori­zon we could see part of the town named Claddagh. Thus the words: “ you will sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh and watch the sun go down on Gal­way Bay.”

An in­let from the lovely bay it­self was di­rectly across from our mo­tel. I crossed over and put my foot into the frigid wa­ter and I put a tiny beach rock in my pocket as a sou­venir.

In­side the mo­tel was a bed­room where Bing Crosby of­ten slept when he re­turned back to Ire­land en­route to his Ir­ish roots (in Schull, County Cork). He do­nated some of his top hats and pipes and other me­men­tos cel­e­brat­ing his love of Ire­land. Au­to­graphed pic­tures of the crooner are on the walls. All items are pre­served in a spe­cial room fit­ted with a se­cured half-door. Vis­i­tors can look in but are un­able to touch the price­less ar­ti­facts.

Yes — I kissed the blar­ney stone and later we drove thru the fields of Athen­rye. I would love to re­turn there some­time. Maybe! But it is very ex­pen­sive in Ire­land now.

Old mem­o­ries in green

Grow­ing up in St. John’s, I was ed­u­cated by the Sis­ters of Mercy, who were all Ir­ish de­scen­dents. St. Pa­trick’s Day was al­ways a wel­come school respite for us. We’d start by go­ing to mass and when they were avail­able we sported real sham­rocks.

Ac­tiv­i­ties con­tin­ued all day and usu­ally there was a dance at night — of­ten ‘til mid­night. It was a Lenten break I guess sanc­ti­fied by holy mother church.

Cus­toms

Neigh­bor­hood stores sold mint­col­ored ice cream, green-wrapped candy and even green frozen Pop­si­cles.

Ir­ish mu­sic could be heard from halls around the city. At our house mom would en­ter­tain our neigh­bor­hood friends. She was a pro­fes­sion­ally trained pi­anist and mu­sic teacher.

In the evening some­times we would go to St. Pat’s Boys School au­di­to­rium and watch a stage play. One I re­mem­ber was Paddy O’Reilly — late for sup­per, which had a small cast. One of them was the late Betty McCarthy. Betty was the wife of the late Felix McCarthy who was born and raised in the Crocker’s cove area in Carbonear. Felix and Betty loved the­atre (plays) and I can vouch for her per­for­mances — she was ter­rific and al­ways funny.

Felix and Betty still have fam­ily mem­bers in Carbonear — their son Billy McCarthy and daugh­ter El­iz­a­beth Evely. Billy was named af­ter me.

Back on tour

My tour of Ire­land cov­ered the en­tire south. We vis­ited Dublin, Wex­ford, and Water­ford, trav­eled round the fa­mous Ring of Kerry. We vis­ited Down­patrick, Ki­lar­ney, Beleek, Mayo, and Athen­rye and saw the world fa­mous cliffs of Mo­her. In­cluded as well was a trip into the North (Belfast). We went there as part of the itin­er­ary, but I can tell you it was not a plea­sure. It was very tense. I was glad when we re­turned to Water­ford fol­low­ing a cou­ple of ner­vous days up there.

Like New­found­lan­ders the Ir­ish are very friendly.

Many lo­cals we met along the way knew noth­ing of New­found­land. How­ever they were very in­ter­ested in our tra­di­tional mu­sic and cul­ture.

If you wish to ex­pe­ri­ence gen­uine “tra­di­tional” Ir­ish whiskey or a draft of Guin­ness stout with a three-inch foam­ing head — go to any Ir­ish pub. You will find (a) the pubs are ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble in de­sign, dé­cor, folk­lore and his­tory. And (b) they are great places to have a gab with a lo­cal, and you can feel safe there chug­ging back a few cold ones be­cause the Ir­ish are so much like us.

If you are lucky enough to visit Ire­land look around. Molly Malone’s char­ac­ter and spirit is on just about ev­ery cor­ner ped­dling her cock­les (shell fish) and mus­sels to the Ir­ish lo­cals and to those who are from afar. A bronze statue of Molly Malone can be seen on Grafton Street in cen­tral Dublin, where — yes the girls are still pretty. Check it out if you ever get over there.

Happy Paddy’s Day and cheers from Florida where the grass is al­ready green and (green) Ir­ish beer and my Guin­ness are on ice for the big party.

Got to dig out me old shil­le­lagh (black­thorn stick),‘danc­ing shoes, green shirt and top hat for an­other year. I’m full or blar­ney and ‘rar­ing to go as if I was 100 per cent Ir­ish.

Bill West­cott writes from the Ir­ish part of Ze­phyrhills, in Florida.

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