Sep 28, 2009

Luxurious Irish-Style Shawl and Pin

I saw this luxurious hand knit alpaca and Peruvian pure wool shawl/wrap fastened with a wood pin on Tickled Pink Knit's store today on etsy, and it struck me as a clean, modern, and elegant version of the traditional/old-fashioned Celtic shawl and brooch.

Much as I'd love to fasten my shawls with the ornate Tara Brooch, created in about 700 AD and housed in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, I have to say I really love the simplicity of this wood design. The shawl is available in 24 gorgeous shades like Thistle, Atlantic Mist, Dark Indigo, Hyacinth, Lichen, and Oak.
I love/want/need this blue one...
Each $146 shawl comes with a complimentary Surina wood shawl pin. Great gift.

Guinness 250:
An Anniversary Worth Drinking To

Last Thursday (the 24th), Guinness kicked off music events and celebrations to mark the 250th anniversary of Arthur Guinness signing the lease on his Dublin brewery.

I'm all over this celebration and will be happy of the excuse to raise at least 250(,ooo) pints this year to Arthur.
Celebration Guinness Draught in can and Stout bottle

Love this ad, and can't wait to drink "to llamas!" this weekend:

And love that a charitable fund, the £5 million Arthur Guinness Fund, is being set up by Guinness, "to empower individuals to better their communities." I've no clue what that means, but I'll still drink to it. Sláinte!

Sep 26, 2009

The Giants of Rock at Giant's Stadium

I paid my respects (and my $120) to my favorite rock band, U2, at Giant's stadium on Thursday night. I've seen them in concert many times before, so I knew I was in for a great show, some positive energy, a lot of fist-pumping, and a sore throat the next day. No surprises there; they were in great form.
I was surprised at how unfamiliar my fellow 80,000 concert-goers were with U2's latest album, No Line on the Horizon. The crowd seemed to get a little antsy, and even a little frustrated, when U2 interrupted the flow of past favorites like I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and Sunday Bloody Sunday with moodier numbers from the new album. I've been loving the new album, so I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to hear it live, though, if I could text one tip to Bono's sponsored Blackberry, it'd be "opn w/gt on ur bts nxt tm" (open with Get On Your Boots next time).
I especially enjoyed renditions of Crazy Tonight, the aforementioned Get On Your Boots, and Magnificent, and highly recommend the album overall.
Bono and the boys sounded and looked amazing, but I wish they'd performed at Madison Square Garden instead of Giant's Stadium; one of my favorite parts of the U2 concert experience is feeling the crowd–there's just so much love at a U2 concert–but so much of that positive energy flew out through the open roof.

Then again, humanitarians that they are, Bono, The Edge, Adam, and Larry probably wanted to pump some feel-good power-anthems out into the deflated New York and New Jersey skies...

"You don’t know how beautiful
You. Don’t. Know. How
Beautiful you are

You don’t know,
and you don’t get it, do you?

You don’t know how beautiful you are!"

Sep 23, 2009

Half Way to St. Patrick's Day; My Thoughts

I saw a huge sign over a bar in my neighborhood advertising a "Half Way To St. Paddy's Day Party," and I thought, "ooh, best get busy." See, it's never too early to start thinking about St. Patrick's Day; I struggle with celebrating the day every year, so I need at least a six-month lead to process and plan.

How to Feel?
Truth is, I'm proud to be Irish any day but St. Patrick's Day, when New York City is invaded by drunken teenagers from Long Island, vomiting their Kiss-Me-I'm-Irishness all over the sidewalk. I swing from feeling proud and lucky to being annoyed, insulted, offended, and hurt. Then I feel guilty, uptight, sad, and even snobby, and back to proud, lucky, annoyed, and offended, again. In short, I'm confused. Maybe this year I can just do my own thing and not worry what everyone else is doing. It's Oprah's fault I'm overthinking this...

What To Wear?
I never wore green growing up in Ireland; we wore little St. Patrick's Day badges, and if we were lucky–a sprig of shamrock. I understand that green is synonymous with Ireland outside of Ireland, and I happen to love the color, but for some reason, I feel like a caricature of myself when I dress in green on March 17th.
So I don't.
I wear my County (Clare) or hometown (Clarecastle Magpies) colors/jerseys.

(You can show your local pride by shopping
your County's gear at
O'Neills Sportswear)

The jersey or sweatshirt is grand for the Parade, but it's handy to have a t-shirt–an uncheesy, cool, and clever t-shirt–to make everyone green with envy at a St. Patrick's Day party. Finding one, however, is like finding that pot of gold pictured on everyone elses' shirt, so I make my own. Creating an original and (at least in my head) humorous shirt allows me to laugh at myself and stand out from the greenery. Last year's t-shirt was hot pink, with the chorus-lyrics of The Jumbo Breakfast Roll–a favorite Pat Shortt song– printed on the front. People either laughed out loud or shook their heads in puzzlement–a sure sign that it was high fashion!
Will have to make the most of my six-month lead time to design something special for St. Patrick's Day 2010. Watch this space...

How To Celebrate?
Dilemma: I don't want to be the March Grinch by not celebrating St. Patrick's Day, and I don't want to be the Incredible Hulk, getting angry and frustrated at the cheddary, and, sorry–vomitosious carryon, but I also don't want to sell my soul to the green devil.
Ugh, hit me I'm Irish!
I do celebrate. As a parent of two Irish-American boys, I want them to feel a connection to their roots, but know that it is only a part of who they are. I am striving for an authentic connection to Ireland through music, literature, sport, and family, and praying that I'm not creating green monsters!
My traditions involve whipping up a batch of my grandmother's scones and an Irish Breakfast the way my mother makes it (with all the usuals as well as fried bread, mushrooms, and tomatoes). For dinner, I've made Shepherd's Pie or Fish Pie in the past, but Corned Beef and Cabbage has never made it onto a plate in my house!
I take my older son out of school for the day to mark the occasion; we've done the parade a few times, though we have to trek so far uptown to avoid the green mess of midtown, that it's a bit of a waste. Besides, he gets bored after five minutes of marching monotony. Last year I took him to Ellis Island which was great in this-is-where-it-all-started theory, just not quite as poignant as I was hoping for. Might do The Irish Famine Memorial next year; I'm feeling the need to get heavy on the Holiday.
That said, I enjoy a little levity, too. Last year I was invited to a St. Patrick's Day party where the host had put a lot of work into assembling a playlist of seventy-four different versions of Danny Boy; it was a great laugh. Otherwise it was just a group of friends getting together with an any-excuse-to-party attitude–as authentic as you can get!
This year my kids will march in the local parade with their Gaelic Football club, we'll cook something together (or starve and do the Famine Memorial), watch Killinaskully, and then maybe I'll read them some Yeats before they go to bed–that, or they'll march locally and we'll leave it at that.

Luckily, I have six more months to think on it...

Sep 22, 2009

A Nod to Sharon Shannon

World Renowned Clare musician Sharon Shannon was honored by Clare County Council yesterday afternoon, in recognition of her contribution to music in Ireland and around the world, so I thought I'd take a minute and tip my hat to Sharon, too, seems as her music so often serves as a backdrop to my day.

Addressing those gathered at Aras Contae and Chláir in Ennis yesterday, Co. Clare Mayor Tony Mulcahy said: “By demonstrating her most wonderful talent as an accordionist, Sharon has brought great acclaim to the Irish traditional music scene, County Clare, and those who have had the pleasure of working with her down through the years. Sharon’s versatility as a musician is one of her most outstanding traits and is widely recognized by the global music industry.

Sharon's music is a must on any Irish music playlist; her self titled 1993 album remains the best selling album of traditional Irish music ever released, and over the years she has collaborated with some of the biggest names in the Irish and Global Music Industry, including Bono, Sinead O'Connor, Jackson Browne, John Prine, Steve Earle, The Chieftains, The Waterboys, Willie Nelson, Nigel Kennedy, Alisson Krauss, and Shane MacGowan.

Her new album Saints And Scoundrels is due for release this Friday, September 25th. It's a mixture of original instrumentals composed by Sharon, and also features contributions from Imelda May, Shane MacGowan, the classic Waterboys line-up of 1989 reunited, Jerry Fish, Cartoon Thieves, and many more. One of the instrumentals, Cape Clear, features in the new Neil Jordan movie Ondine in which Sharon stars as herself alongside Colin Farrell. This will be premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2009.

Oh how I wish I'd never dismantled that button accordion Santa brought me all those years ago...

Sep 16, 2009

Spotlight: Placed

I recently came across Belfast-maker Placed on etsy, and I am so taken with them and their goods. This is their store message:
"Fáilte, welcome to our shop. Everything you see below is handmade in our Belfast studio. Most things will be adorned with an Irish/Gaelic word, we love the fact we have a language all our own here, but are full of dismay that it's rarely used and we ourselves are not fluent. The items we make are like 'prompts' if you like, which we use around the house to remind us of our culture, individuality and unique identity and we hope that all those of you who have also fallen in love with this ever-so-green land, will place them around your home too."

I'm totally smitten with their contemporary and uncheesy designs. It seems the only Irish I hear on this side of the Atlantic is "Erin Go Brath!" or "Póg mo thóin" (kiss my arse), but maybe if I gift these bags, napkins, cards, and linen hearts, we'll all have an excuse to speak a little more Irish. Great gift (they'll even personalize), and I seriously grá (love) the clean and simple designs.
Find Placed on etsy here
and check out their blog here

Sep 14, 2009

The Latest Trends in Irish Baby Names

I was reading recent press releases from the Irish Central Statistics Office on Friday night, as you do when you don't have a life, and I came across some recent stats on naming trends in Ireland.

Most Popular

The top five baby names for 2008 were Jack, Sean, Conor, Daniel, and James for boys, and Ava, Katie, Sarah, Emma, and Emily for girls.
I had at least expected some Hollywood influence; Gwyneth Paltrow's "Apple" would be "Úll" in Irish, Erykah Badu's "Seven" would be "Seacht," and Nicole Richie's "Sparrow" is "Gealbhan" as gaeilge.
Daniels, Emmas, and Jacks are a big fat YAWN for the people who publish or read those "Irish Baby Names" books (sold with pregnancy tests at Rite Aid), and big fat ZERO potential for creative name-calling/vocabulary development in the Irish school yard.


Luckily, there was some interest in the first time entries into the top 100 names lists. There were five first time entries to the top 100 for boys: Jakub, Kacper, Filip, Billy, and Patryk, and four first time entries to the top 100 for girls: Maja, Natalia, Zuzanna, and Meabh. I wondered what these names say about Ireland today, and indeed, Ireland tomorrow, so I did a little research...
A quick Googlyhoo showed that the name Jakub is of Czech origin, and means "the supplanter." Kacper is of Polish origin, and it's a variation of Casper which means "cute and friendly ghost"–okay, it doesn't, it's actually the Polish version of Jasper, which is Persian for "treasurer," and treasurers are generally neither cute nor friendly, though they can haunt you for fees due.
At first, the names Filip, Patryk, Maja, Natalia, and Zuzanna made me think there's a dire need for continuing education classes in Ireland, or that Birth Registrars should not be allowed to drink on the job, but then another spurt of search re the spelling of these names indicated that they are all of Polish/Latvian/Serbian origin, though Natalia could also be Italian or Spanish.
No surprise if you consider the 2006 Census findings that the Polish population in Ireland was the largest minority in the country (excluding those born in the UK) at that time.

That leaves me with Billy and Meabh.

Billy, of course, is of English origin, and we all know how William's son, Billy, ended up in all the Irish Baby Names books, but Meabh is a variant of Medb/Maeve, a traditional Irish name. It's old school cool–think Will Ferrell running in his birthday suit on his own, with no other Irish names around him. I guess if I could only have one Irish name representin' on the Irish Baby Names list, I'd want Meabh; In Irish legend, the warrior Queen Medb of Connacht fought against Ulster and the hero Cúchulainn for possession of the most famous bull in Ireland, as documented in the Irish epic, 'Táin Bó Cúalnge' (The Cattle Raid of Cooley).

The Future
Do these new stats on baby-naming trends predict a future showdown for possession of a studly Celtic bull between Jakub The Supplanter and Maeve The Brave? I don't know, but I do predict a new bestseller in the Irish Baby Names book-market; it's called What To Expect When You Were Expecting to Find Irish Names in This Irish Baby Names Book.

Sep 12, 2009

Get A Shillelagh Under Yer Arm!

I sometimes think my Irish-American cousins are more Irish than me; they have shamrock tea-towels and tattoos (and possibly, underwear), they know the words to every Wolfe Tones song written, they collect Waterford Crystal, and wear matching Claddagh rings, pendants, and earrings.
Sometimes my toes curl at their cliche "Irishness," other times I've felt threatened and bought myself some "Irish Pub Songs" CDs, but occasionally (like when my cousin Sean turns into a leprechaun after a few pints), I wish I had a big stick to ungently beat some sense into them.

This genuine handmade Irish shillelagh would be an excellent–and ironic–stick for just those occasions. Each stick is harvested from specimens of stout blackthorn wood in remote areas of County Wicklow, Cork, and Kerry, hand-sanded and lacquered with a high-gloss finish, and topped off with a copper tip.

(You know, I'd originally pegged this stick as the perfect gift for the Ireland enthusiast, but the more I think about it the more I feel I need one in my handbag; it'd be handy for fighting off fellow shoppers in a sample sale, a great walking aid the next time I get lost looking for Strawberry Fields in Central Park, and maybe, just maybe, I'd have a better chance at a seat on the subway with this baby under my arm.)
Get yours at Hammacher Schlemmer ($49.95)

Sep 10, 2009

Apple and Blackberry Crumble

My oven has been out of order for ages, so when it was finally repaired this morning, I yelled, "yay! we can eat hot food tonight!"
By hot food, I meant hot dessert.
While I have nothing worth harvesting from my own patch of grass out the back, the Fall weather we're having in New York this week has me pining for harvest foods (again, harvest desserts) like apples, and soft, succulent blackberries.
It was always this time of year that my grandmother would send me off with my little bucket to harvest the fallen (or shaken free) apples of the neighbor's orchard, and blackberries from the miles of wild bushes trimming the meadows around us. We usually just stewed the apples and berries with a little sugar and scooped it onto bread or ice-cream, but this crumble is a quick and easy add-on.
I didn't handpick the apples or berries I used this morning, but I do wish I could share my baked spoils with my grandmother this afternoon.

1 cup granulated sugar
2 lbs apples
4 cups of blackberries
squeeze of lemon juice

Crumble topping
1 cup wholewheat flour
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup of soft brown sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
2. Peel and core apples, and slice into wedges.

3. Put your apple wedges and blackberries into an ovensafe dish, add a few teaspoons of water, and then squeeze a little lemon juice over the top; set aside.
4. Rub the butter into the flour first, and then add in the brown sugar and oatmeal, giving it a good going with your fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs.

5. Pour the crumble mixture onto the fruit and sprinkle with a little water.
6. Bake at 400F for about fifteen minutes, and then another fifteen minutes at 375F.

7. Be ready with the cream when it comes out of the oven.

Now, about dinner...

Sep 5, 2009

Spotlight: Alan Clarke

I never know what to say when I'm standing in a Chelsea art gallery; I'm afraid that by gushing about the fire extinguisher mounted on the wall, I'll expose myself for the art moron/Rescue Me fan that I am, so I just nod, and walk.
I'd have trouble zipping it though, if I was looking at the imaginative work of Irish illustrator, Alan Clarke.

I might start by saying I'm in awe of A.C. (leaving the snooty gallery receptionist to wonder if I am on intimate terms with Mr. Clarke). Then I'd say that his work has a Tim Burton-esque, dark, magical quality with a mysterious and macabre Series of Unfortunate Events/Edward Scissorhands sense of humor, which I particularly enjoy.
[I'd act out the "Edward Scissorhands" part with my unscissorlike fingers.]

Finally, I'd share that I can stare at one of his illustrations for hours, picking out all the minute details and characters he incorporates into them.

That, or I'd just say, "I'm in awe," and move on.

You can find more of Alan Clarke's work at on his website
Warning: you might get lost there for awhile.

Sep 2, 2009

Tea and a Thought: Pray For Good Sex!

I was reading The Irish Independent this morning and saw that a new book, The Prayer Book for Spouses, published by a prominent church group, encourages couples to pray together before sex.
The "Prayer Before Making Love" is intended to help couples purify their intentions and implores God to "place within us love that truly gives, tenderness that truly unites, self-offering that tells the truth and does not deceive, forgiveness that truly receives, loving physical union that welcomes".
I've got my own rota of prayers before a quick roll in the hay; I pray for energy, I pray for flattering light and the appearance of skinnier thighs, pray that I won't get pregnant, pray that I won't get beard rash on my neck, and, if all of my aforementioned prayers have been answered, I pray for a not-so-quick roll in the hay. I guess I could also rattle off a quick prayer for some holy tenderness...