In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, our national holiday, and because a friend asked me for some facts and figures about this wonderful country of mine, here are 20 random (and I mean random) facts, cobbled together from various resources: books, television, cinema, the arts and, of course, the pub. Some of these interesting tidbits may be accurate (at time of posting); others may contain about as much truth and relevance as our political parties (yes, Fianna Fail, I’m looking at you).
1. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17 and is a time for feasting and celebration (or, if you’re around the Temple Bar area, a time for avoiding puking teenagers and chuggers). The Day is now a Festival, which brings to this country a large number of tourists, eager to check out all things Irish. Unfortunately for the Irish economy, most of them never return. St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland. Cheers for that, said the druids as they were matched to their deaths. He is also rumoured to have cleared the country of snakes. Where was he when the IMF were in town last November?
2. The Irish believe that on Judgment day, Jesus Christ will be the judge of all people, but St. Patrick will be the judge of the Irish. Simon Cowell obviously didn’t want the gig, then. But we Irish have talent.
3. George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, Richard Harris, Pierce Brosnan, Alec Baldwin, Cillian Murphy, Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Harrison Ford and Colin Farrell are some of the famous Irish. What, Clooney? Yes, I believe his grandmother was Irish. If Gorgeous George played soccer, he’d have qualified to play for the Republic of Ireland.
4. Ireland is also very popular as the home of pop music with Westlife, Horslips, Boyzone, Thin Lizzy, Clannad, Boomtown Rats, The Corrs, The Cranberries, Ronan Keating, Gilbert O’Sullivan and U2 as some of the world famous bands and singers. We do, however, unreservedly apologise for inflicting Jedward upon an unsuspecting public. It will not happen again.
5. Ireland last won an Oscar in 2007, when Glen Hansard (of The Frames) and Markéta Irglová picked up the award for Best Song, “Falling Slowly” from the movie Once. Glen is also famous for playing Outspan from the popular musical comedy The Commitments. (Am Irishman won an award last year, for his special-effects work on Avatar, but for the life of me, I don’t know his name. Sorry, man.)
6. According to the Irish laws, there is no death penalty found in Ireland. It is for this reason alone that Jedward and Dustin the Turkey are still amongst the living.
7. The national religion is Roman Catholicism, of which most of the population are of the non-practicing variety. Mass attendance has plummeted in recent years and a time will come when priests will be as easy to come by as gold under a rainbow. Which leads me to…
8. Leprechauns. There are NO leprechauns in Ireland. There never were, okay? Don’t let Walt Disney tell you any different. To insinuate their existence is to insult the intelligence of every right-thinking Irish person in the country. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
9. Couples in Ireland could marry legally on St. Brigid’s Day (February 1st) in Teltown, County Meath, as recently as the 1920’s by simply walking towards each other. If the marriage failed, they could “divorce'” by walking away from each other at the same spot, on St. Brigid’s day the following year. The custom was a holdover from old Irish Brehon laws, which allowed temporary marriage contracts. Think of the legal fees that saved.
10. Titanic, the Unsinkable ship, which sunk in its maiden voyage, was made in Ireland. The iceberg that sunk it was placed there by God. Even He liked to get one over the Irish.
11. The phrase “The Fighting Irish” is a fallacy, created by the British because of the way we behaved when under the influence of intoxicating liquor. This explains why we don’t riot against the government, unlike other countries. We just vote the feckers out. We’re all about democracy, we Irish.
12. The Celtic knot is one of the most famous Irish symbols that stands for continuity of life. Apart from this, the harp, the Shamrock, and the Irish wolfhound are some other famous symbols that belong typically to Ireland. Well, these and Guinness, I suppose.
13. In Ireland there is a place called Hook Head, and another village called Crooke. According to historical accounts, the English Oliver Cromwell, in his plan to siege Waterford had devised to options, either to take ships around Hook Head or march through Crooke village. This was the origin of the phrase “by hook or by crook.” As Michael Caine would say: “Not a lot of people know that.”
14. The veteran Oscar-winning director John Huston spent his last years in Ireland. Indeed his last movie was an adaptation of James Joyce’s Dubliners. His daugher Anjelica is a regular visitor to these shores.
15. One of the most popular radio shows in rural Ireland is still the weekly broadcast of local obituaries. One day I’ll hear my name mentioned and then it’s sayonara, Jimbo.
16. Vikings were believed to establish Dublin. Many centuries later, the name of Dublin can be found in many towns such as California, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Texas. We Dubs are like sand: we get everywhere.
17. The longest place name in Ireland is Muckanaghederdauhaulia, in County Galway. No, I don’t know how to pronounce it either. Mucka will do me.
18. Contrary to common belief, we Irish don’t hate the British. We support soccer teams, like Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Leeds United, Tottenham Hotspurs, Aston Villa and Glasgow Celtic. We watch their television programmes more than we’d watch our own: Eastenders, Coronation Street, Match of the Day, Only Fools and Horses and Doctor Who are all ratings winners every week. The only time we don’t like the English is when their national team plays in either soccer or rugby. Just Google “Who put the ball in the English net?” and see what happens. On a more recent note, the Irish cricket team scored a famous victory over their English counterparts at the ICC Cricket World Cup. I wished I was there to see it.
19. The origin of the word “slogan” is Irish, the sluagh-ghairm. This means “war cry”.
20. No list about Ireland is complete without mentioning the Gaelic Athletic Association. A completely amateur sports body, the GAA is Ireland at its finest; supporting its codes, football, hurling, camogie and handball from parish levels right up to county and international standards. Nowhere in Ireland will you find more colour and atmosphere than at Croke Park in September, when the All-Ireland Football and Hurling Championship winners are crowned.
I hope you enjoyed this list. Some of the information I gleaned from other webites, but all commentary and jokes are mine. Thank you for reading, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.