Syttende Mai

Happy Norwegian Constitution Day once again. I was going to credit the photo above, but that guy really has it going on with his camera work, so instead of crediting I’ll send you all to his site where you can view his Oslo photos from 2007. The quality of his Oslo photos beats my Oslo photos by many miles, especially his Vigeland Park snaps. If I had lots of time on my hands I’d browse all his photography. We didn’t make it to NYC this weekend for the Brooklyn parade, so it’s been moved to our May 2011 calendar.

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Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig

Captain William Murphy

This time of year naturally gets me thinking about my grandparents, and this year I’m having memory flickers of our yearly March outings to see the Wolfe Tones in concert at the O.L.P.H. auditorium. It was always a huge parish event—near St. Paddy’s Day, the Wolfe Tones would hop across the pond to Brooklyn to play an entire weekend for the Bay Ridge Irish community, and we never missed a concert from the time I was about seven until maybe seventeen.

It was always a family outing, and we’d pick up my grandparents and head over to the hall where there would be more green clothing and Irish sweaters than you’d see all year being worn in one night. The 50/50 raffle table was near the admission doors, followed by the food table where parishioners would sell brownies and cookies, followed by the drinks table where the adults could order any elixir of their choosing (with soda cans for the kids), while the air hung with cigarette and pipe smoke.

The Wolfe Tones were (and still are) an Irish rebel band singing pro-I.R.A. songs. The theories behind the songs are patriotic (A Nation Once Again, We’re on the One Road, Come Out Ye Black and Tans, Broad Black Brimmer of the IRA, James Connolly, Let the People Sing), but it wasn’t until I got older that I learned the I.R.A. had become, in my modern lifetime, a terrorist group, so I found it hard to condone their tactics. But the songs are still great and the music is still great and I still sing along, thanks to my family background.

Both my grandfathers, in their youths, were occasional bicycle messengers for the Old I.R.A. And my maternal great-grandfather, William Murphy, was a follower of Michael Collins and was a member of the Old I.R.A. in the Irish War of Independence from 1919-1921. After Collins participated in the Treaty-signing, separating the Republic and forming the Irish Free State, my great-grandfather became a Free Stater along with Collins and joined Collins’ Irish Army that was formed from the pro-Treaty motives of the I.R.A. Their job was to defend the new Free State from the anti-Treaty I.R.A. during the Irish Civil War.

William Murphy was shot through the hat in a Republican battle over Castlebar in 1922 during that Irish Civil War. The Free State won and the Republicans surrendered Castlebar, and the Free Staters took the Republicans to the barracks of the Curragh Camp in Kildare, an army base that the British had turned over after the Irish War of Independence. William Murphy was promoted to Captain, and placed in charge of the prisoners at the Curragh. I like to think he was present at the Curragh in May of 1922 when the Union Jack flag was finally lowered, and the Tricolor Irish flag was raised there for the first time. He must have been an admirable prison Captain, as couseen Vincent has family heirlooms of personal gifts that the prisoners hand-crafted for my great-grandfather—but the famed hat has been lost to history.

The final song of Every Wolfe Tones concert was the Irish national anthem—we’d stand en masse and my grandparents would sing along with all the other Irish immigrants in the auditorium (who always outnumbered the non-immigrants), while band member Tommy Byrne would slowly wave a huge Irish flag back and forth. When you’re not even ten years old, this has a huge impact on your psyche.

But the second-to-last song was always A Nation Once Again, and has been stuck in my head for the last week or so. The song is adapted from this poem written by Thomas Osborne Davis, founder of the 1840’s Irish independence movement:

When boyhood’s fire was in my blood
I read of ancient freemen
For Greece and Rome who bravely stood,
Three hundred men and three men.
And then I prayed I yet might see
Our fetters rent in twain,
And Ireland, long a province, be
A Nation once again.

And, from that time, through wildest woe,
That hope has shone, a far light;
Nor could love’s brightest summer glow
Outshine that solemn starlight:
It seemed to watch above my head
In forum, field and fane;
Its angel voice sang round my bed,
“A Nation once again.”

It whispered, too, that “freedom’s ark
And service high and holy,
Would be profaned by feelings dark
And passions vain or lowly:
For Freedom comes from God’s right hand,
And needs a godly train;
And righteous men must make our land
A Nation once again.”

So, as I grew from boy to man,
I bent me to that bidding—
My spirit of each selfish plan
And cruel passion ridding;
For, thus I hoped some day to aid—
Oh! can such hope be vain?—
When my dear country shall be made
A Nation once again.
(from Essays and Poems: Thomas Davis; The Talbot Press, 1914)

Here’s a fun clip from Glasgow in the late-80’s—I can’t say that O.L.P.H. was ever rocking like this:

Years ago the Wolfe Tones stopped playing O.L.P.H. because the parish was no longer able to draw the Irish-American crowds since Bay Ridge is now a melting pot of many ethnic groups. This year I have a hankerin’ to see the band in concert again, but their March U.S. tour dates don’t include the Boston area. Last Thursday night they played in Brooklyn at Ballybunion Pub (around the corner from my old apartment), followed by three nights at Connolly’s in NYC.

The band recently celebrated their 45th anniversary, which means they’ve been around as long as The Chieftains. When our Wolfe Tones concert tradition ended, we picked up another yearly St. Paddy’s Day tradition by going to The Chieftains’ annual concert at Carnegie Hall (which over the past few years has turned into their annual concert at Town Hall). By that time my grandparents were gone, but as a family we made a group outing—parents, couseens, aunts, and uncles. Then fast forward to the late-90’s and I was working alongside The Chieftains at RCA Victor, their record label, and it was a thrill every time I met Paddy and the boys.

More Oslo family photos

Lars sent along these photos from Lars Kristian’s first birthday party last autumn.

Lars Olaf and Lars Kristian

Louise and Lars Kristian

Beate and Tor Olaf with flowers for Bestemor

Lars and his grandsons

Dining room

Beate, Ole Petter, and Tor Olaf

Living room

Marita and Lars Einar

Tor Olaf and Ole Petter

Tor Olaf

Happy Leif Erikson Day

Thank you, Mr. President, for issuing your latest proclamation.

Other than being eager to celebrate having Monday off from work, the Columbus Day holiday has always puzzled me. And my negative memory of Columbus Day is when my Italian-American high school marched in NYC’s Columbus Day parade on the coldest October day the city had ever seen. We weren’t allowed to wear coats, and we had to wait on the side street for two hours (W. 54th, if memory serves me correct) before it was our turn to get in line to march up 5th Avenue. As we know, the side streets are wind tunnels, and when it’s bitter cold and all you’re wearing is a light cotton blouse, polyester school blazer, skirt, and bobby-socks that matched our saddle shoes, it had the mixings for a miserably cold and very long day. I wound up sick as a dog and missing a week of school, with bronchitis and sinusitis, all to celebrate someone who discovered the Bahamas and Cuba.

Leif Erikson statue in Trondheim, Norway

Leif Erikson statue in Trondheim, Norway

More Oslo family photos

Lars Olaf sent along these photos of their summer holidays.

Lars Olaf and Tor Olaf at Nordmarka lake in Oslo

Lars Olaf and Tor Olaf at a Nordmarka lake in Oslo

Lars Olaf and Tor Olaf

Lars Olaf and Tor Olaf

Lars Olaf and Tor Olaf

Lars Olaf and Tor Olaf

Lars Kristian at the French Riviera

Lars Kristian at the French Riviera

Beate, Tor Olaf, Marita, Lars Kristian, and Ole Petter (behind umbrella) at the French Riviera

Beate, Tor Olaf, Marita, Lars Kristian, and Ole Petter (behind umbrella) at the French Riviera


Beate and Tor Olaf at the French Riviera

Beate and Tor Olaf at the French Riviera

One year ago this week

Click for video

Click for video

Click for photos

Click for photos

An Gorta Mór

Irish Famine Memorial in Dublin

Irish Famine Memorial in Dublin

Somehow this news slipped by me on Sunday — this year the Irish government declared May 17 as the first annual National Famine Memorial Day, and ceremonies were held across the world. What a strange coincidence for me that they declared this memorial day on the same date as Norway’s Constitution Day.