To Ireland’s Far-Flung Exiles / A Poem By Irish American Mom

Ruined stone cottages lie dotted across the Irish landscape, permanent reminders of Ireland’s emigrants, forced to leave their homes by famine, and eviction. Over one million people left Ireland in the years of the Great Hunger from 1845 to 1850, and in the decades after many more followed.

Every time I see the old shell of a stone cottage I think of Ireland’s diaspora. In today’s post I thought I would share a poem I wrote dedicated to Ireland’s exiles, who made their new homes in America.

 

An Irish Half-Door

 To Ireland’s Far-Flung Exiles

by Mairéad Geary

 

They left these shores carting their memories of Irish summers:
Nettles drooping under the weight of glittering raindrops,
Wild blackberries beckoning on thorny bushes;
Yellow furze, purple heather, the colors of rural childhoods;
Lingering twilights, soft rains, rugged cliffs with secret caves,
Unceasing waves, bronzed for hours by the rays of the setting sun.

 

Heather and Gorse

On Ireland’s furrowed shores, I explore their untamed territory,
Discovering abandoned ruins, eerie memorials in barren fields;
Roofless shells with tumbling chimneys and spiritual hearths,
Systematically overgrown by nature’s wild abandon;
Eternal reminders of far-flung exiles, and their children’s children,
Dreaming of Ireland from some place far away.

An Old Irish House Ruin

I stand alone in green fields, gazing skyward at contrails
Pointing the way toward a western watery horizon.
My thoughts turn to refugees, viciously ousted,
Nothing but rags shrouding gaunt, emaciated bodies,
Silently trudging to port, in search of virulent vessels;
Some long forgotten, lost forever in their salty oblivion.

Irish Famine Eviction

Through melancholy mists and harrowing storms, some survived
The wretchedness of ocean crossing and mountain crossing,
Only to be scattered like rain drops upon thousands of valleys,
Where they learned to hope anew, paying tribute to their homeland
In sweat and tears; toiling to the rhythm of their songs;
Whilst laying the foundations for the winding roads of your dreams.

The Jeanie Johnston Famine Ship -  at night

And when those deep-seated recollections haunt you,
Echoing from the land where your forebears sleep
Beneath enduring lunar stones, listen to the bleak cry of time.
Come wade through rain-drenched grass, in praise of summer days.
Let Ireland’s gentle breezes polish your scars, and the light of home
Illuminate the ties that bind you to a new and ancient world.

Graveyard at Myross, West Cork

To all those with Irish roots who will visit Ireland this summer, may you feel a warm welcome in your ancestral home. I wish you safe travels. May you feel a deep and meaningful connection to the land of our forefathers.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

The Rose As A Symbol Of Ireland

The rose is not widely known as a symbol of Ireland, the shamrock being more famously associated with the Emerald Isle. However, in centuries past The Black Rose was sometimes used as a code word for Ireland, when English law prohibited direct references to Ireland as a nation.

I was browsing through my albums, and came up with the idea of sharing some rose photos while examining the symbolism of the rose in Irish culture, literature, and song.

 

Big Rose Bud About To Open

Many readers may think I’m getting very mixed up, and am talking about the wrong country or the wrong flower altogether. The rose is closely associated with England, but in today’s post I’ll explore why roses may also represent Ireland.

And so, here are my top ten reasons why roses make me think of Ireland……

 

1. The Rose of Tralee:

 

I suppose the most famous of all Irish roses is The Rose of Tralee.  This international festival is a global celebration of Irish culture, with the heart of the festival being the selection of a Rose from amongst young women of Irish descent from all over the world.

The festival was inspired by an old Irish song bearing the same name.

 

“She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,

Yet ’twas not her beauty alone that won me;

Oh no, ’twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,

That made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.”

 

I’m not a supporter of beauty pageants in general, but this festival is great. Emphasis is on having a bit of fun, with personality rather than beauty being the most important factor for winning the prize. A nice smile and a warm heart goes a long way with the judges.

Red Rose

2. Joseph Mary Plunkett:

 

As a school girl in Ireland in the 1970’s I learned the words of Joseph Mary Plunkett’s poem I See His Blood Upon The Rose. To this very day the lines of the first verse reverberate through my mind, every time I see a red rose in bloom.

 

I See His Blood Upon The Rose

By Joseph Mary Plunkett

 

 

“I see His blood upon the rose

And in the stars the glory of His eyes,

His body gleams amid eternal snows,

His tears fall from the skies.”

 

An Irish Black Rose

3. Róisín Dubh or My Dark Rosaleen:

 

Use of the rose as a partiotic symbol for Ireland dates back to the 16th century.  Róisín Dubh (pronounced Ro-sheen Dove in the south of Ireland and Ro-sheen Doo in Ulster) literally means Little Black Rose, and is one of Ireland’s most widely known political ballads.

This Gaelic language song supposedly originated in the Irish soldier camps of Red Hugh O’Donnell in the late 16th century, with a Black Rose being used as a metaphor for Ireland. Here’s James Clarence Mangan’s translation from the early 19th centruy.

 

Dark Rosaleen

by James Clarence Mangan

 

“Oh my Dark Rosaleen,

Do not sigh, do not weep!

The priests are on the ocean green,

They march along the deep.

There’s wine from the royal Pope,

Upon the ocean green;

And Spanish ale shall give you hope,

My Dark Rosaleen!

My own Rosaleen!

Shall glad your heart, shall give you hope,

Shall give you health and help, and hope,

My Dark Rosaleen.”

 

White Peony Rose

4. The Druids:

In ancient Ireland the Druids held sway, ruling the country from a place called Ériu, near Brú na Bóinne.  Supposedly these Druids wore long black and red robes, embellished with a black rose.

Whether this is fact or fiction is beyond my knowledge. Perhaps we learned of rose wearing druids from ancient manuscripts or perhaps it is a romantic poetic creation of 19th century Gaelic scholars.

 

Yellow Rose In Full Bloom

5. Aubrey de Vere:

 

Aubrey de Vere, a Limerick born poet, once again used a black rose to represent Ireland in his 1861 work The Little Black Rose.  Despite his aristocratic, English heritage de Vere was highly influenced by Irish nationalistic sentiments. In this poem, what de Vere’s little black rose, a representation of Ireland, needs to turn red is blood sacrifice.

 

from The Little Black Rose

by Aubrey de Vere

 

“The Little Black Rose shall be red at last,

What made it black but the March wind dry,

And the tear of the widow that fell on it fast,

It shall redden the hills when June is nigh.”

 

Red Peony Rose

 

  6. William Butler Yeats:

 

Yeats, Ireland’s most famous poet, used rose symbols in his early poetry.  The Rose,  a collection of twenty-two poems, was first published in 1893.

For Yeats, the rose represented unwavering beauty, since they never go out of fashion, yet he acknowledged individual roses live for a very short time. Yeats used the rose to symbolize women and Ireland, in the same nationalistic vein as his predecessors.

  from The Rose Tree

by William Butler Yeats

 

“‘Maybe a breath of politic words

Has withered our Rose Tree;

Or maybe but a wind that blows

Across the bitter sea.’…….

 

…… ‘But where can we draw water,’

Said Pearse to Connolly,

“When all the wells are parched away?

O plain as plain can be

There’s nothing but our own red blood

Can make a right Rose Tree.'”

 

White Rose In Bloom

Yeats’ poetry is a celebration of Ireland, with the rose representing untamed Irish beauty.  These rose poems are Yeats’ homage to his homeland.

 

from The Sweet Far Thing

by W.B. Yeats

 

“Rose of all Roses, Rose of all the World!

You, too, have come where the dim tides are hurled

Upon the wharves of sorrow, and heard ring

The bell that calls us on; the sweet far thing.”

 

Orange Roses In St. Anne's Park, Raheny

from To The Rose Upon The Rood Of Time

by William Butler Yeats

 

 

“Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days!

Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways:……

 

…….But seek alone to hear the strange things said

By God to the bright hearts of those long dead,

And learn to chaunt a tongue men do not know.

Come near; I would, before my time to go,

Sing of old Eire and the ancient ways:

Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days.”

 

Wild White Roses

 

7.  The Rose As A Symbol Of Irish Beauty:

 

The traditional song Red Is The Rose was popularized by the Irish folk singer, Tommy Makem.  Some believe he wrote the song, but it was previously recorded by Josephine Beirne and George Sweetman in 1934, so it is a traditional Irish song.  However, it is sung to the same melody as the Scottish traditional air, Loch Lomand, but with different words, albeit similarly themed lyrics.

 

Red Is The Rose

 

“Red is the rose that in yonder garden grows,

Fair is the lily of the valley,

Clear is the water that flows from the Boyne,

But my love is fairer than any.”

 

Red Rose in St. Anne's Park Rose Garden, Raheny, Dublin

Black Is The Colour

by Christy Moore

 

“Black is the colour of my true love’s hair,

Her lips are like some roses fair,

She’s the sweetest smile, And the gentlest hands,

I love the ground, Whereon she stands.”

 

Red Roses Growing Together

9. Sean O’Casey:

 

Red Roses for Me, one of Sean O’Casey’s lesser known plays, was first published in 1943.  The play focuses on the 1913 labor disputes and turmoil in Dublin. The poem/song Red Roses for Me is part of the play:

 

Red Roses For Me

by Sean O’Casey

 

“A sober black shawl hides her body entirely

Touched by the sun and the salt spray of the sea

But down in the darkness a slim hand so lovely

Carries a rich bunch of red roses for me.”

 

Wild Irish Roses In Bloom

 9. My Wild Irish Rose:

 

In Ireland, roses don’t always grow in neatly pruned rows, with wild rose bushes climbing around hedgerows, over fences in rural gardens, and adorning the doorways of thatched cottages.

Being very familiar with the term Wild Irish Rose, I realized I had no idea why the term is so widely accepted. There are bars in Ireland with the same name, and a brand of whiskey touting the title.

After checking on the internet, I learned how an old black and white movie popularized the term.  The title of the 1947 film My Wild Irish Rose is where the term originated. The film was actually nominated for an Oscar in 1948, with the original song of the same name being nominated for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.

 

Wild Irish Roses

 My Wild Irish Rose

by Chauncey Olcott

 

“They may sing of their roses, which by other names,

Would smell just as sweetly, they say.

But I know that my Rose would never consent

To have that sweet name taken away.

Her glances are shy when e’er I pass by

The bower where my true love grows,

And my one wish has been that some day I may win

The heart of my wild Irish Rose.”

 

 

Center of a Rose

10. Thomas Moore:

 

And finally, I think of Thomas Moore’s beautiful poem The Last Rose of Summer where a single, surviving rose is a metaphor for the sadness of being left to carry on alone when loved ones pass on.

Simple yet haungingly beautiful words evoke the sadness felt by many towards the end of life. First written in 1805, this poem as a song has remained popular for over two centuries. Major artisits including Celtic Woman, Clannad and The Fureys have recorded it.

‘Tis The Last Rose Of Summer

by Thomas Moore

 

“‘Tis the last rose of summer

Left blooming alone;

All her lovely companions

Are faded and gone.

No flower of her kindred,

No rosebud is nigh,

To reflect back her blushes,

To give sigh for sigh.”

 

The Last Rose Of Summer

And so now, I hope you understand why roses make me think of Ireland.

I hope you all enjoy the beauty of roses blooming this summer.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

Dublin Sunrise

On cloudless mornings the sun rises over Dublin Bay, brilliantly illuminating the skies. Today I thought I would share some photos I took this summer, as Dublin slowly came to life, together with my poem, Dublin Sunrise. Hope you enjoy these words and images.

 

Dublin Sunrise Over Howth

An immense dark sky

Flushes in expectation,

Casting a glowing sheen

Across shimmering waves.

Dublin Bay At Sunrise

Branches glisten

With gleaming dewdrops.

Supporting an orchestra

Of chirping birds.

Sunrise over Howth

Shades of crimson deepen,

Streaking the sky,

Pulsating with knowledge

Of this day’s dawning.

Dublin Bay At Sunrise

Over Howth hill’s darkened rim

The sun rises,

Announcing its arrival

With radiating fiery stripes.

The sun rising over Howth and Dublin Bay

And as the sun continues

Its astral climb,

Dublin simply

Goes about its business.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

 

 

 

The Old Woman Of The Roads

Tonight as I write, the wind is howling and snow is falling for our first winter storm in Kentucky this year.  Every time the mercury falls way below freezing and the icy winds blow, I think of the homeless and pray they find warm shelter.

A poem I learned at school a long, long time ago comes to mind.  The Old Woman Of The Roads is the prayer of a homeless woman, longing for a little house to call her own.

http://vintagerio.com/details.php?gid=52&pid=2498Image Credit

The words of this poem will probably resonate through my head until I am old and gray.  I couldn’t remember the words of a song I heard yesterday if you paid me, but poems from my youth come easily.  Perhaps this is because I committed them to memory when I was young.  Or perhaps these simple words struck a nostalgic chord in my heart and therefore became part of me.

The Old Woman Of The Roads

 

Oh to have a little house!

To own the hearth and stool and all!

The heaped up sods upon the fire,

The pile of turf against the wall!

To have a clock with weights and chains,

And pendulum swinging up and down!

A dresser filled with shining delph,

Speckled with white and blue and brown!

I could be busy all the day

Cleaning and sweeping hearth and floor,

And fixing on their shelf again

My white and blue and speckled store!

I could be quiet there at night

Beside the fire and by myself,

Sure of a bed and loath to leave

The ticking clock and the shining delph!

Och! but I’m weary of mist and dark,

And roads where there’s never a house nor bush,

And tired I am of bog and road,

And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!

And I am praying to God on high,

And I am praying Him night and day,

For a little house – a house of my own -

Out of the wind and the rain’s way.

By Padraic Colum

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gracesmith/3717598113/in/photostream/Image Credit

Every time I hear these words I think of my Granny’s house in County Cork.  It was everything the old woman of the roads ever prayed for.  Blue and white willow pattern plates adorned the dresser, a cuckoo clock ticked and chimed, echoing through the warm cottage.  The air was tinged with the sweet smell of a turf fire, and an ever-boiling kettle hung on a blackened hook above the lapping flames.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/irishfireside/1695872685/in/photostream/Image Credit

My Granny lived the simple life this old woman yearned for.  Perhaps, because I knew every corner of her dream house, this old woman’s unfulfilled prayer made me sad as a little girl.  Now that I am a grown woman, I am thankful for her lesson.  It has made me more aware of the plight of so many homeless people here in America and around the world.

Tonight as the wind blows, and the ice sheets form, I pray that my fellow Kentuckians, who are homeless on this bitter night, may find a place to lay down and rest, out of the wind and the snow’s way.

 

Slan agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

 

What I Miss About Ireland – Swans

 

Galway SwanPhoto Credit

Crisp October days bring back memories of swans. Each and every autumn flocks of wild swans arrive in Ireland, to escape the harsh winters of their northerly, summer homes.

Yeats was inspired by The Wild Swans at Coole:

“The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty Swans.”

Mother swan and baby

Swans inhabit America as well as Ireland, so why do I miss Irish swans? The answer lies in their numbers. You never know where you may spot wild swans in Ireland, especially in the autumn and winter months!

Swan in GalwayPhoto Credit

Ireland’s rivers and canals are filled with mute swans, her year-round residents. Swan numbers grow exponentially in autumn upon the arrival of wild swans from colder, northern climes. Ireland’s swan visitors arrive from Russia and Iceland. The loud, bugling calls of whooper swans echo through the air, amongst the rushes and reeds of Ireland’s numerous lakes.

 

Swan on nest - Co. KildarePhoto Credit

Wild swans love lonely enclaves, on secluded lakes and waterways. The western counties of Ireland boast many perfect spots for these shy, wild birds.

 

Swan in the rushesPhoto Credit

Swans are without doubt, the most beautiful of all waterfowl. Gracefully curved long necks, accentuate pure white plumage on their large contoured bodies. Despite a distinctive big-footed waddle on land, the moment they slide into water, their majestic surface glide is mesmerizing. Standing beneath flying swans, Yeats watched their slow, rhythmic wing-beats and outstretched necks as they “climbed the air.”

 

Swan nestingPhoto Credit

Swans are famous for forming mongamous bonds that last for years or sometimes life. Both male and female work together, helping build their nest on ground near water’s edge.

 

Cygnets on the CorribPhoto Credit

How swan cygnets were ever called ugly ducklings amazes me!

Unlike their fowl cousins (chickens, ducks and geese), swans have been spared a kitchen table fate.  Swans are revered in Ireland and the answer to why they avoided our dinner menu, may lie in Irish mythology.

An ancient Irish tale tells the story of the Children of Lir. His daughter Finnoula, and three sons, Fiachra, Aodh, and Conn, were turned into swans by their evil stepmother.  They spent 300 years on Lough Derravarra, 300 more years on Inishglora and finally 300 years in exile on the Sea of Moyle. Nobody in Ireland would dream of harming one of these poor children.

Below is a sculpture of the famous mythical quartet in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin.  I ate my lunch beside them many afternoons, when I worked at the Mater Hospital in Dublin.

 

Garden of RemembrancePhoto Credit

In England swans were once hunted to such an extent, they came close to extinction. Therefore. they were declared property of the crown. As sovereign property, killing a swan may warrant an archaic punishment. Nobody wants to be locked up in the Tower, or worse!!!!

Swan preening his neckPhoto Credit

And so, in parting I leave you with a few more lines from Yeats, to turn your thoughts towards swans.

“But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?”

Sligo swan on nestPhoto Credit

My swans are in Ireland.  Hopefully one day I will visit in fall or winter, to see all of Ireland’s migratory and permanent resident swans.

 

Slan agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom