Statistical Reasons To Keep Kissing The Irish

Did you kiss some random cuties in the pubs over the weekend? Hope you saved their phone numbers/email address/Twitter handles because one of them might be a real catch. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Irish-Americans are more educated, more available, more ambitious and richer than the average Yank (see the graphic below, via Visual.ly). You’ll have to find out for yourself if they are also better kissers (here are five cities ripe for research).

Six Reasons To Kiss The Irish

A Conversation With Michael D. Higgins, The President Of Ireland

michael d higgins president of ireland gesturing in speechIreland’s president has been a poet, a factory worker, a statesman and a traveler. At 71, he’s still very much the crusading liberal interested in social justice issues in Latin America, the Middle East and around the world. He grew up poor in Limerick and followed a meandering career path that eventually led him to politics.
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These days, he’s an Ambassador and champion of Ireland who wants Americans to visit the Old Country. I’ve been interested in all things Irish since studying abroad in Galway in 1993 and had a chance to speak with him earlier this year about why he digs the Midwest, how his liver survived St. Patrick’s Day in Bloomington, and why the demise of the Celtic Tiger economy in Ireland is a good thing for Americans who want to visit Ireland this year.

You studied at Indiana University in the ’60s and later on you taught at Southern Illinois University. Tell us about your experiences in the Midwest?

I flew into New York, stayed in a youth hostel in Times Square and then took a Greyhound bus all the way out to Bloomington. Everything was closed when I arrived, but the people were very warm, very generous. Bloomington was beautiful, especially in the autumn because of all the trees.How did you end up studying sociology in a graduate program in Indiana?

An Irish professor had toured in the U.S. and was then trying to recruit Irish students to study there. I was accepted at Berkeley, but Berkeley had allocated all of its scholarship money, while Indiana had not, so because I could get a fellowship there, that’s why I went to Indiana. I went in late summer, 1966 and was attached to an empirical based program called the Indianapolis Area Project. I was there for a year and a half. It was a training program for young social researchers. I was looking at attitudes toward religiosity amongst different social groups.

I had good results in school but because of my family’s (financial) circumstances, my brother and I worked in a factory, so I did that. And then I was a clerk and was writing and then I borrowed some money and went to work in England for a time.

You studied in the U.S. at a time when there were a lot of protests against the Vietnam War. Did you take part?

It was an interesting time to be in the U.S. I would have been very strongly critical of the draft, but your permission to study in the U.S. was dependent on staying out of trouble.
You had to be careful. If I was correcting exams in those days, if you gave someone below a C, it changed their draft status. So I would call in students and say, ‘Look, do you want to have another go at this paper?’ It was an unorthodox approach to teaching to say the least.

Did you envision back then that you’d go into politics?

I wasn’t only interested in sociology. Politics might have been at the back of my mind, but matters literary interested me most at that time. I read Allen Ginsberg. I wasn’t used to having to wake up early for 8.30 a.m. classes. It was a huge cultural experience for me, but one that I very much enjoyed.

What did you enjoy about the Midwest?

guinness pint on tableI played handball; I was brought to basketball games. I was invited into everyone’s homes; there was hardly a day when someone wasn’t inviting me somewhere.

If you were a single Irish man in Bloomington around St. Patrick’s Day you were massively at risk. It was very demanding, but my liver survived it all. I enjoyed the Midwest; I had the warmest feelings about it.

Were you drinking Guinness in those days?

Guinness? Oh no, you’d be very foolish to order a heavy drink like that. I liked to go to Nick’s English Hut. I think it’s still there.

Have you been back for a visit to Bloomington?

I went back as Minister in 1996 but school wasn’t in session. I’d very much like to go back again, but these days I have to travel with an enormous apparatus so it isn’t easy to plan.

In your inaugural speech last year, you said that Ireland needed to re-engage with the Irish diaspora around the world, and you’ve been trying to champion Ireland as a tourism destination. Why should Americans visit Ireland now?

They would find Ireland a great value right now. In my memory, I’ve never seen such values on hotels and guesthouses and so forth as there is right now. It’s also great value because part of the excesses of the Celtic Tiger years has been blown away.

And those with Irish roots can go back to learn more about their ancestry.

By now the original census materials from the 19th and 20th centuries have been put up online and digitized. So it’ll be possible for people to trace where their ancestors came from – even on a brief holiday.

There’s incredible warmth towards people who come from the United States to experience Ireland. And it’s a beautiful country to visit and the people have time to stop and talk to you. With the Celtic Tiger, there was a certain emphasis on getting things done, but now we’ve gone back to the best of ourselves and I very much welcome that.

(Photos by the Irish Labour Party and Irish Typepad on Flickr)

St. Brendan: Did An Irish Monk Come To America Before Columbus?

St. BrendanToday is St. Brendan’s feast day. To the Irish, St. Brendan needs no introduction. For those less fortunate in their birth, let me tell you that he may have been Ireland’s first adventure traveler.

Saint Brendan was an Irish holy man who lived from 484 to 577 AD. Little is known about his life, and even his entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia is rather short. What we do know about him mostly comes from a strange tale called “the Voyage of St Brendan the Navigator,” written down in the ninth century and rewritten with various changes in several later manuscripts.

It’s an account of a seven-year journey he and his followers took across the Atlantic, where they met Judas sitting on a rock, landed on what they thought was an island only to discover it was a sea monster, were tempted by a mermaid, and saw many other strange and wondrous sights. They got into lots of danger, not the least from some pesky devils, but the good Saint Brendan used his holy might to see them through.

They eventually landed on the fabled Isle of the Blessed far to the west of Ireland. This is what has attracted the attention of some historians. Could the fantastic tale hide the truth that the Irish came to America a thousand years before Columbus?

Sadly, there’s no real evidence for that. While several eager researchers with more imagination than methodology have claimed they’ve found ancient Irish script or that places like Mystery Hill are Irish settlements, their claims fall down under scrutiny.

But, as believers like to say, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and there are some tantalizing clues that hint the Irish really did journey across the sea in the early Middle Ages. It’s firmly established that Irish monks settled in the Faroe Islands in the sixth century. The Faroes are about halfway between Scotland and Iceland. Viking sagas record that when they first went to settle Iceland in the late ninth century, they found Irish monks there. There are also vague references in the Viking sagas and in medieval archives in Hanover hinting that Irish monks made it to Greenland too.

%Gallery-155425%From Greenland, of course, it’s not much of a jump to North America. The monks wanted to live far away from the evils of the world and were willing to cross the ocean to do so.

How did they sail all that distance? In tough little boats called currachs, made of a wickerwork frame with hides stretched over it. One would think these soft boats with no keel wouldn’t last two minutes in the open ocean, but British adventurer Tim Severin proved it could be done. In 1976, he and his crew sailed a reconstruction of a medieval currach on the very route I’ve described. The boat, christened Brendan, was 36 feet long, had two masts, and was made with tanned ox hides sealed with wool grease and tied together with more than two miles of leather thongs. While Brendan says sailing it was like “skidding across the waves like a tea tray,” the team did make it 4,500 miles across the ocean. His book on the adventure, “The Brendan Voyage,” is a cracking good read.

Although Severin proved the Irish could have made it to America, it doesn’t mean they did. Severin had the advantage of modern nautical charts and sailed confident in the knowledge that there was indeed land where he was headed. So until archaeologists dig up a medieval Irish church in North America, it looks like St. Brendan’s voyage will remain a mystery.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

10 St. Patrick’s Day alternatives to Dublin, Ireland

st. patricks day While travelers often think of Dublin, Ireland, as the must-visit place for St. Patrick’s Day, there are many other excellent destinations all over the world to celebrate the festivities. To help you decide where to spend March 17 this year, check out this list of ten excellent St. Patrick’s Day destinations.

New York

I’ve attended St. Patrick’s Day in New York many times and can honestly say it is something everyone should experience at least once in his or her life. Their annual parade down 5th Avenue (shown above), which will take place this year beginning at 11AM at 44th Street, has been happening since 1762 and is said to be the largest in the world. Although the parade does not allow floats, it is a festive event with over 150,000 marchers coming out to participate each year. For those who want a little culture and history, take a walking tour of the former “Little Ireland” in the Lower East Side, which in the 19th century had more Irish residents than Dublin. At night, choose what kind of atmosphere you’d like to enjoy. Whether in dive bars, Irish pubs, dance clubs, or upscale lounges, there are a myriad of specials and parties going on in every neighborhood of the city.

If you’d like to celebrate St. Patty’s in New York but want to stay away from the crowds and high prices, travel up to the state capital of Albany and partake in their annual “Kegs and Eggs” celebration. I’ve gone four years in a row and can vouch that it is definitely a festive time. Warning: This is only for those who are looking to get sloppy. The bars open at 7AM and before that you can find myriad parties happening from 3AM on. You can also enjoy their 62nd annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, which will take place this year on March 17 at 2PM starting at Quail Street and Central Avenue.Holyoke, Massachusetts

While many people assume Boston is where the party’s at, Holyoke actually boasts having the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the entire United States. In fact, last year they had over 400,000 attendees as well as notable visitors like Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough and the Irish Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Collins. This year, the procession will take place on March 18 and is expected to be just as big, if not bigger. The city is also well-known for its annual St. Patrick’s Day Road Race (this year will be their 37th one), a 10K running event where participants dress up in green and show their Irish pride through sport.

st. patricks day New Orleans, Louisiana

As one of the sexier St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, New Orleans takes on the holiday with a bit of a Mardi Gras twist, with the throwing of beads and the re-use of Fat Tuesday floats. To give it a St. Patty’s spin, Irish stew ingredients like potatoes, cabbages, carrots, and onions are also tossed from the floats into the crowd. What many people may not know is New Orleans actually has a large Irish population and, in the southern United States, holds the largest entry port for Irish immigrants. In fact, St. Patrick’s Day festivities in this city date all the way back to the 19th century.

Newfoundland, Canada

This island off the coast of mainland Canada is one of only two places outside of Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a public holiday. Beginning in the 17th century, Irish people immigrated to Newfoundland and set up small villages and communities, which are now known as the Irish Loop. The area has a very strong Irish culture making St. Patrick’s Day celebrations span over 10-days. Visit the popular Irish pub O’Reilly’s for a pint of Guinness and tons of events, or wander to any of the other local bars, all of which are sure to be celebrating to their fullest extent.

st. patricks day Sydney, Australia

One of the best St. Patrick’s Days I’ve ever experienced was in Sydney, Australia, and I highly recommend that everyone find someway to at least enjoy one St. Patty’s Day in your life aboard a Sydney Harbour St. Patty’s Day booze-cruise. For about $75, you get three hours of unlimited drinks and food as well as a live DJ, festive games, and free admission to Cargo Bar in Darling Harbour. On March 18, you can also enjoy a giant St. Patrick’s Day parade, which is followed by a party in Hyde Park with Irish music, cultural dancing, and ethnic food stalls.

Dubai, Middle East

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in the Middle East may sound odd to some people, but Dubai actually really gets into the holiday, thanks to the Dubai Irish Society. This is also a great alternative to Dublin for people who would rather drink green beer on a beach than in the freezing cold. The Bonnington Jumeirah Lakes Towers is a 5-star Irish owned and operated hotel that not only flies an enormous Irish flag from their 11th floor, but also serves green beer and cocktails while lighting up the venue in festive colors. They also feature Irish dancing and cultural events. For a more laid back St. Patty’s experience in Dubai, head over to the Irish Village for live Irish music, family activities, and a buffet of Irish food fare.

st. patricks day Birmingham, United Kingdom

Not only is Birmingham cheaper than London, it boasts a bigger celebration overall. Thought to be one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day festivals in the world, the holiday lasts for five days and is jam packed with cultural and festive fare. Be sure not to miss the official launch party on March 9, which features Irish music, dancing, and a delicious buffet as well as the parade on March 11, which will take place at 11AM from Camp Hill.

Montserrat, Caribbean

Who wouldn’t want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the Caribbean? Montserrat is one of the only two regions in the world outside of Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as a public holiday and holds a rich Irish heritage. This, along with the coastline’s uncanny resemblance to Ireland’s, has given Montserrat its nickname, “the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean.” The territory boasts a full week of activities including festive parades, concerts, themed nightlife, and celebratory dinners.

green beerSeoul, South Korea

Thanks to the Irish Association of Korea, St. Patrick’s Day is a festive event in Seoul. There is usually a massive parade (2001-2010 had a parade, 2011 just had an enormous festival), as well as a festival that includes Irish dance, music, and sports. Open air concerts, Gaelic football matches, and Irish jigs will get you hyped up during the day, while at night, the bars and clubs take on a St. Patty’s ambiance with festive decor, drink specials, and theme parties.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

March is a great time to visit Buenos Aires, not only because the weather is perfect, but because the city is alive with St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Argentina is actually home to the fifth largest Irish community in the world; however, most do not take part in the wild parties thrown for the holiday. If you’re looking to wear green and stay up all night drinking beer, head downtown to Reconquista Street where the dancing doesn’t stop until 8AM. Moreover, if you want a more cultural experience, many of the city’s churches hold events for the occasion.


[photos via Kelly McCarthy, Allen Gathman, Jessieonajourney, bongo vongo, Eustaquio Santimano]

Historic structures in Ireland may lose protection

Ireland, milestoneArchaeologists are speaking out against a plan by the government of the Republic of Ireland to “delist” historic and archaeological sites that date to after 1700.

This would mean there will be no government protection for many of Ireland’s historic homes, holy wells, and other bits of architecture, such as this funky milestone at Howth, photographed by William Murphy.

The Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland said in a public statement at the end of last year that deep cuts in heritage management threatened to undermine the government’s plan to promote tourism as part of Ireland’s economic recovery. While funding to protect historic structures has gone down, funding to promote cultural tourism is up. Not funding some of the very things that tourists come to Ireland for, the Institute says, “is akin to spending money on a new car but finding that you can’t afford to pay for the petrol.”

The economic crisis has led to belt tightening in many countries. Some Dutch museums are planning to sell part of their collections to survive, while the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum may close in Baltimore.