50 per cent Irish, 100 per cent full of blarney
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.
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.
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.