Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans

Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans
The Celtic Cross Memorial in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Adrian McGrath. Click the image for the story about the cross.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

"No Irish Need Apply"


Original lyric sheet for the song
"No Irish Need Apply" 
Female version of the song
by Kathleen O'Neill, 1862
Photo from the Library of Congress 
and Wikipedia Commons 





By Adrian McGrath

The Irish, especially Irish Catholics, were terribly discriminated against and oppressed in their own land of Ireland when it was forcibly occupied by the British Empire for 800 years. There were a series of British laws which denied equal rights to Irish Catholics from the Statutes of Kilkenny in 1367 AD to the Penal Laws of the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries.

The British political statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke once described the Penal Laws as, " ... a machine ... of impoverishment and degradation of a people and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man."

Irish immigrants were often insulted and depicted in
"respectable" publications in 19th century England and
America as drunken apes, prone to violence
Photo from Wikipedia Commons,
by Thomas Nast from Harper's
Weekly, 1871


Then in the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell invaded Ireland. He killed many Irish civilians, forced others into homelessness and destitution, enslaved others sending them as forced labor to the Barbados in the Caribbean, and drove the rest to the less fertile lands west of the Shannon River to a region called Connacht. This was known in Irish history as "To Hell or Connacht." (See more about this at my article on the Great Hunger and oppression here.)

A representative of the Young Ireland Party,
depicted as a gorilla and called Mr. G.O'Rilla in
the English political magazine called "Punch"
from circa 1850. An example a blatant bigotry against
the Irish. Photo from Wikimedia Commons 

But the worst oppression was yet to come. From 1845 to 1850 the potato crop in Ireland failed. A fungus destroyed the only source of food available to most Irish peasants. There was an abundance of other food in Ireland, but it was controlled by the British who denied it to the starving Irish. One million Irish starved to death in their own country and another million sailed away to permanent exile to other lands, mainly to the United States.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
A starving Irish woman, Bridget O'Donnel, and her children
as depicted in 1849 in the publication Illustrated London News.
This is a scene from the Great Hunger (also know as the
Irish Potato Famine). There was plenty of food in Ireland, but it was
controlled by the British overlords who would not share it with the Irish.
One million Irish people starved to death when their only food source
-- potatoes -- became diseased and rotted away. Another one
million Irish sailed away mainly to the USA.


As a result while today there are about 5 million Irish living in all of Ireland, there are about 40 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry. The United States has become the new homeland of the Irish people. In addition to the USA, Irish emigrants also went to Canada, England and Scotland, and Australia -- where they also faced discrimination.

Today, and especially since the election of President John F. Kennedy, the Irish are fully integrated into American society. But they were not welcomed at first. There was much anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment in America in most of the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Advertisement from the New York Times, 1854, which
says, "Also, young man wanted, from 16 to 18 years of age,
able to work. No Irish need apply." Photo from
Wikimedia Commons.  


Irish immigrants were discriminated against in employment, housing, and in society in general. Signs saying "No Irish Need Apply" or "NINA" were common in many large American port cities in the 19th century.

Political cartoons in prominent newspapers depicted Irish Catholics as animals, especially as apes, and as violent drunkards. Bigoted people saw the Irish Catholics as too foreign, untrustworthy, troublesome, and followers of an alien religion. Many publications printed political cartoons and news stories that were blatantly prejudicial, insulting, and hateful against the Irish.

In response a song came about telling the story of an Irish immigrant's reaction to this prejudice. The first version was of a male immigrant, but later there was another version for a female immigrant. A male Irish immigrant was often derisively referred to as "Paddy," and a female was called "Bridget."

In the mid 1850s (the exact date is uncertain), a man named John F. Poole wrote the lyrics to a song named "No Irish Need Apply." It was published by H. De Marsan in New York. (See more at the Library of Congress.) It tells the story of an Irish immigrant, newly arrived in America and eager to go to work. But when he arrives at the place of employment, he is told by the boss, "...you are a Paddy, and no Irish need apply." The song goes on until the Irishman decides to "persuade" the boss to hire him and never say "no Irish" again.

In 1862 a new version was published but the main character was an Irish woman who emigrates to England or America. She faces the same form of discrimination as the Irish man in the original song. The author of the song was purportedly a second generation Irish American named Kathleen O'Neill, although this is not certain. It was published in 1862 in Philadelphia by J.H. Johnson.

Here are the lyrics to the first stanza of the song "No Irish Need Apply." You can find the rest at this link.

"I'm a dacint boy, just landed from the town of Ballyfad,
I want a situation: yis, I want it mighty bad.
I saw a place advartised. It's the thing for me, says I;
But the dirty spalpeen ended with: No Irish Need Apply.
Whoo! says I; but that's an insult -- though to get the place I'll try.
So, I went to see the blaggar with: No Irish need apply."

And here are the words to the first stanza of the female version of the song. Find the rest here. Also at the Library of Congress.

"I'm a simple Irish girl, and I'm looking for a place,
I've felt the grip of poverty, but sure that's no disgrace,
'Twill be long before I get one, tho' indeed it's hard I try,
For I read in each advertisement: "No Irish need apply."
Alas! For my poor country, which I never will deny,
How they insult us when they write: No Irish need apply."
Original lyric sheet to the female version
of the song "No Irish Need Apply"
Photo by the Library of Congress 

Both of these songs became popular and helped address this issue of unjust discrimination. It is no accident that they appeared around the time of the American Civil War.

Irish in the Union Army in the American Civil War, circa 1862.
Most likely the 69th New York Regiment, taken in Virginia.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons and Library of Congress. Over
150,000 Irish were in the Union Army and 30,000 were in the
Confederate Army during the war, 1861 to 1865.

Many thousands of Irish immigrants served in the Confederate and Union Armies and proved their courage and loyalty to America. About 30,000 were in the Confederate Army; and over 150,000 were in the Union Army. More than anything else, the service of Irish in the American Civil War, especially in the Union Army where most of the Irish were, set the Irish immigrants on the road to acceptance as loyal and respectable American citizens.


A final thought: The only good thing that can come from such a history of persecution and discrimination is that perhaps the Irish people, and maybe all people everywhere who care about human rights, will be more sensitive to issues of prejudice and intolerance and treat all people, regardless of their background, fairly and with justice and compassion.



Sources and Further Reading: Library of Congress "No Irish Need Apply" original manuscript song sheet; Wikipedia's article on Anti-Irish Sentiment; Georgetown University article on the song. Here is a link to Don McLean's version of "No Irish Need Apply," performed live in Ireland, at youtube.com.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Who is St. Patrick?


St. Patrick Cemetery, Number 1
in New Orleans
Photo by Adrian McGrath























By Adrian McGrath

There is an old church in New Orleans on Camp Street named after St. Patrick. He is the patron saint of Ireland who converted the Irish people from paganism (Druidism) to Christianity in or about 432 AD.

There is a cemetery on Canal Street in New Orleans named St. Patrick Cemetery, Number 1. There is another cemetery, also in New Orleans and also on Canal Street, named St. Patrick Cemetery, Number 2.

St. Patrick Cemetery #2,
in New Orleans
Photo by A. McGrath


And there is still another cemetery in New Orleans named St. Patrick. This is St. Patrick Number 3, and it is on City Park Avenue.

There are numerous parades for St. Patrick's Day in New Orleans. In multicultural New Orleans everyone celebrates March 17th. Some parades go through the old neighborhood called the Irish Channel, and others go through the French Quarter and the suburbs.

Some parades are typically Irish; others are multicultural.  One includes the Italians/Sicilians -- who celebrate St. Joseph Day on March 19 -- and another includes the Islenos, who are people with an ancestry in the Canary Islands of Spain. The Islenos immigrants originally settled in fishing villages just south of New Orleans. In reality, in New Orleans, St. Patrick's Day is celebrated by people of all ethnic backgrounds and all religious beliefs.

Entrance to St. Patrick Cemetery #1
on Canal Street in New Orleans, LA, USA
Photo by A. McGrath


There is even a street in the city named St. Patrick Street -- not far from the St. Patrick cemeteries -- and a playground by that name too.


St. Patrick Cemetery, Number One
on Canal Street in New Orleans, Louisiana
Photo by Adrian McGrath


New Orleans is about 4300 miles from a place called Downpatrick in Northern Ireland (or the North of Ireland, if you prefer). There is a graveyard at a cathedral there which is said to be the final resting place for St. Patrick who died on March 17, 461 AD. The exact resting place for St. Patrick is disputed, however.

So, why is this man who lived 4300 miles away and 1557 years ago remembered in a city, New Orleans, so separated from him in time and space? And for that matter, why is St. Patrick remembered in other cities and countries around the World?

The day for St. Patrick was remarkably celebrated in Antarctica too. No kidding. See this story about a St. Patrick's Day celebration in Antarctica.

And St. Patrick's Day was even observed in outer space where an Irish American astronaut, Dr. Cady Coleman  , played an Irish tune on a flute and sent holiday greetings from the International Space Station orbiting planet Earth.

American Astronaut Dr. Cady (Catherine) Coleman
sends best wishes for St. Patrick's Day from
the International Space Station, while playing
an Irish flute and a tin whistle, given to her by
the Irish band The Chieftans. She is floating with the
musical instruments in zero gravity while orbiting planet Earth.
Photo from NASA and Wikimedia Commons


Quite amazing, yes. Although St. Patrick's Day -- his Feast Day which is actually observed on the day he died, March 17 -- had been recognized for centuries by the Church, the first officially recorded St. Patrick's Day celebration in America happened in the Spanish colony of Florida in 1600. That Spanish colony had an Irish priest or vicar named Ricardo Artur (or Richard Arthur) who made the St. Patrick's Day celebration happen. 

The largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the world today is not in Ireland but in New York City. This New York tradition began in 1762 by Irish soldiers who were then in the British Army. Not to be outdone by the British Army, George Washington celebrated St. Patrick's Day with his soldiers during the Revolutionary War. (See my article on this.)

So why has St. Patrick and his Feast Day been remembered with such affection throughout the centuries by so many people? What did St. Patrick do?

Stained glass of St. Patrick
in Cathedral of Christ the Light
in Oakland, CA, USA
Photo from Creative Commons/
Wikimedia Commons, Flickr, Sicarr


The story begins, oddly enough, not in Ireland, but in ancient Britain. His original name was Maewyn Succat, not Patrick; and he was Roman, not English, despite being born in Britain.
(Maewyn later took on the Latin name Patricius, which in English is Patrick.)

Many of the details of St. Patrick's life are uncertain today, and much remains a mystery. We do know that he came from a fairly well-to-do family of Roman citizenship and that his parents were Christians. He was born in the early 5th century AD and may have lived in his early years in Scotland. 


The river dyed green for the Irish
for St. Patrick's Day in Chicago, Illinois, 2009
Photo from Wikimedia Commons and Mike
Boehmer, Chicago/ Creative Commons


The world in those days was still dominated by the Roman Empire, but it was in decline in the West. The eastern empire thrived from Constantinople, but the West fell to barbarian invaders in 476 AD. In the time of St. Patrick, Rome still existed; but the world was changing. Rome was no longer officially a pagan state but had been Christianized under Emperor Constantine.

Nevertheless, paganism prevailed throughout much of Europe. Ireland had not been conquered by Rome, although the Romans did visit it and named it Hibernia, or the winter quarters. They could escape the harsh winters of Britannia by wintering in nearby Ireland.


US President Barack Obama and Irish Prime
Minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny celebrate
St. Patrick's Day at the White House, 2012.
Pres. Obama and Mr. Kenny both have on
green ties and green shamrocks. St. Patrick's
original color was blue, but green
eventually won favor as the symbol for Ireland.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons




Most of what we know about the life of Patrick comes from a book he wrote called Confessio. (See more about the book here.) In it St. Patrick describes his life and his work as a missionary. 

When he was only 16 years old, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken back to Ireland as a prisoner and sold as a slave. He was forced to work for a wealthy Irish chieftain as a shepherd tending to his flock of sheep. (Yes, it had an uncanny symbolism, did it not?)

Stained glass of St. Patrick
Kilbennan, County Galway,
Ireland, St. Benin's Church
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.
Creative Commons, Andreas F. Borchert


Patrick was a prisoner and slave for six years. During that time, although he had not been particularly religious prior to his enslavement, he developed a strong belief in prayer. His Christian faith sustained him during his captivity.  

He escaped somehow and made his way by ship back to Britannia and was reunited with his family. It was said that Patrick was advised by a mysterious voice during a dream on how to make his escape. Was this the voice of God?

After he was back home, Patrick decided that he would become a Catholic priest. He studied for the priesthood and became a missionary. But he had another dream. This time, in the dream, he received a letter called "The Voice of the Irish." In the dream he heard the voices of Irish people asking him to return to Ireland and teach them about Christ.


The fountain in front of the White House
in Washington DC dyed green in honor
of St. Patrick's Day, 2011. Green is the Irish color.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons and US Government


Patrick eventually became a bishop, and in 433 AD he traveled back to Ireland. In the land where he was once held as a slave and labored as a shepherd, he returned as a Catholic bishop and missionary who would lead a new flock, the Irish nation from paganism to Christ.

By using no power but his remarkable powers of persuasion, his will power, and his faith in Jesus, St. Patrick built churches and converted thousands upon thousands of the Irish people. He told the Irish about the life of Jesus and delivered the Gospel to them. 



St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City,
on 5th Avenue, 1909
Photo from Wikimedia Commons, Library of
Congress, Bain News Service Collection

St. Patrick lived and worked in Ireland as a missionary, usually in a state of poverty and with great physical hardship for almost 40 years. Although there were other Catholic missionaries to Ireland, it was Patrick who was responsible ultimately for turning the Irish away from Druidism to Christianity.

St. Patrick, it was said used the shamrock -- a three leaf clover with one stem -- to explain to the pagans the complex and seemingly contradictory concept of the Blessed Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were like the three leaves on the shamrock which were connected by one stem forming one shamrock leaf. Like the Celtic harp, the shamrock became the very symbol of Ireland, perhaps greater so because of its religious ties to St. Patrick.

There is a popular story that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. Of course, Ireland did not and does not have any snakes. What this story most likely means is that St. Patrick drove away the belief of the Irish in paganism and replaced it with a faith in Christianity.

St. Patrick truly did great things and did so in a humble and caring way. He never used force or threats to convert the pagans. He only persuaded them through the power of love -- the love of the words of Jesus.

Evidence of St. Patrick's devotion to the teachings of Jesus is this prayer which he wrote called "Christ Be With Me." There is no doubt that these were not mere words to Patrick because it was the power of Christ that sustained him when he was just a boy being held as a prisoner and worked as a slave. 

St. Patrick devoted is life to helping the very people who had enslaved him find salvation through Jesus Christ.

From "Christ Be With Me" written by St. Patrick:

"Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, 

Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,

Christ in every eye that sees me, 
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Salvation is of the Lord. 
Salvation is of the Christ.

May your salvation, Lord, be ever with us."

St. Patrick died in a place called Saul, Downpatrick, in the North of Ireland on March 17, 461 Anno Domini. 

The spirit and message of St. Patrick's live on centuries later in Ireland, in New Orleans, in Antarctica, in New York, in Washington DC, in a space station in orbit around planet Earth, and where ever and when ever people of faith travel throughout the Universe -- not just the Irish people, but any and all people who hear the healing power of the words of Christ -- or simply follow his example -- by which St. Patrick found Salvation. 

Sources and further reading:

"This Day in History: March 17, 461 Saint Patrick Dies" by the Editors at history.com; Wikipedia.com, article on St. Patrick.
For St. Patrick's prayer, "Christ Be With Me," see here and here. Wikipedia article on St. Patrick's Day in the USA 


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

What Foods did the Irish Eat in Old New Orleans?


Red Beans and Rice with Andouille and Ham
with a French Bread Pistolette
Photo by Adrian McGrath


















By Adrian McGrath

What foods did the Irish eat in New Orleans after they emigrated to that major port city on the Mississippi River? The Irish had been coming to New Orleans, Louisiana from the city's earliest days since the 1700s. But they came sporadically, and the early immigrants had some means in that city which was originally controlled by France. They were not poor and uneducated. 

The French city changed hands, going to Spain and then back to France. Napoleon Bonaparte gave it to the United States under the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 when Thomas Jefferson was president.

Unlike the rest of the American South which was mainly Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, New Orleans was Catholic -- as was south Louisiana in the French Cajun country. As a major port New Orleans attracted people from around the world. French, Spanish, African (most held as enslaved persons, although there were some Freemen-of-Color and Freewomen-of-Color), Native American Choctaws, Germans, Italians, all made up the multi-cultural gumbo that was New Orleans. 

But there was another group of immigrants who came en masse. The Irish, and mainly Irish Catholics, came again to New Orleans in the 1830s through the 1850s. These Irish were different from the few Irish who had arrived earlier. These Irish were mainly poor and uneducated. They came in the 1830s seeking political freedom from oppression in their homeland which was occupied by Britain, and they came for work to survive. 

These Irish were typically discriminated against in work with signs like "No Irish Need Apply" -- a common thing in the major cities on the US East coast.

Some of these Irish found employment, albeit very difficult and dangerous, digging the New Basin Canal from the shores of Lake Ponchartrain, north of the city, to the business district of New Orleans. Thousands of these Irish immigrants died from diseases and exploitation while digging this canal through hot, humid swamps infested with wild animals and mosquitoes which carried deadly yellow fever.  (See more about this at my article on the New Basin Canal.)

Monument for the Irish who died digging the
New Basin Canal of New Orleans in the 1830s
Photo by A. McGrath

The living conditions for these Irish workers was atrocious. They had no medical care to speak of and very poor food as they were several miles from the central city. The only supplies they got were from the company store which took advantage of them and had inadequate cooking facilities.

Another wave of Irish immigrants came during the Great Hunger or Potato Famine from 1845 to about 1850. (Read more about this at my article on Coffin Ships.)  A million Irish people starved to death when the potato blighted, despite the fact that there were other types of food in Ireland besides potatoes. But all the food and the lands were controlled by the British who let the Irish starve to death or flee Ireland, mainly for America, in dangerous and disease-filled Coffin Ships. 

We should be thankful always for the food we have today when we consider how our ancestors suffered horribly and died by the thousands upon thousands in those horrible days.

These Famine Irish immigrants were not discriminated against because of religion, as New Orleans was a Catholic city historically; but they were nevertheless considered outcasts by both the old established Creoles (descendants of the French and the Spanish) and the newer Anglo-Americans who came after the Louisiana Purchase.

By the time of the 1850s, a notorious group of bigots called the Know Nothings actively discriminated against the Irish and were involved in political movements to suppress Irish immigration.

The Union Fleet captures New Orleans
during the American Civil War, 1862
Photo from Wikipedia

With the American Civil War, Irish immigration to the city reduced and more and more Irish arrived in Northern ports like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. 

Eventually, however, the Irish made a home in New Orleans and began to assimilate. Because of their outstanding service as soldiers in the American Civil War, they gained respectability and advance up the social ladder becoming policemen, firemen, businessmen, journalists, lawyers, and politicians. (See my article on the Irish in the American Civil War, for more.)

Yes, all of this history is quite interesting; but since we are talking about New Orleans, a city where food is practically a religious experience, the question remains: What did the Irish eat? What foods did they cook at home?

I looked far and wide; and much to my surprise, I found the answer in a book written under the auspices of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA) created during the Great Depression in the 1930s. It was part of a special writers' program of the WPA, Louisiana Writers' Project. (More on this book in a moment, let me finish the historical setting first.)

Most of the early Irish in New Orleans lived in a neighborhood near the Mississippi River called The Irish Channel a few miles up the river from the Vieux Carre or French Quarter which was the heart of the city. Originally, it was outside of the city limits and was a poor neighborhood or a working class neighborhood. 

No one really knows how it got its name. Some suggested when it rained, the poor drainage made the steets there resemble water channels. Others said the Irish were "channelled" into that area -- new Irish simply followed where earlier Irish immigrants stayed. Still another explanation was that as immigrants arrived by river boat on the Mississippi, they went down a side waterway, or channel, into that neighborhood. But, no one really knows.

It had shotgun houses (a unique style of small houses in New Orleans which were long and thin) and a number of rough-house bars -- one was called the "Bucket of Blood." (You get the idea.) Yes, on the waterfront, with lots a bars, drinking, and a few fist fights. Like something right out of a play by Eugene O'Neill.

The neighborhood was mainly Irish then but had people from other ethnic groups living there too. They did not always get along. Today the neighborhood is no longer mainly Irish, but is African-American and Hispanic. But the history of the Irish is remembered very well by, among other things, a popular St. Patrick's Day parade which still goes down Magazine Street.

St. Alphonsus Church, the Irish
Church in the Irish Channel
of New Orleans
Photo from Wikimedia and Nolabob


But the Irish Channel also had a very fine Catholic church called St. Alphonsus, which is still there. The Irish went to it. The German immigrants went to St. Mary's Church which was across the street (and still is), and the French went to Notre Dame church which was down the block a bit (but is no longer there).

The book I mentioned above is called "Gumbo Ya Ya: Folktales of Louisiana," complied by Lyle Saxon, et al. The name is a reference to a French Louisiana term for a type of "coffee klatch" (Kaffeeklatsch) where people get together socially, have coffee and nice conversation and everybody talks at the same time. 

There on page 61, I discovered my long-sought answer which discussed the Irish Channel neighborhood in the old days. The chapter on the Irish Channel said the Irish had large families and ate healthy but simple food. The book said that Irish in the Channel, as it is often called for short, ate "... stews, corned beef and cabbage, potato pancakes, red beans and rice ... during most of the week." The book went on to say that on Sundays, people -- if they had the money -- would eat roast chicken or turkey.  

Some pretentious people would sometimes put a turkey near the home's front window so the neighbors would notice the bird and be impressed. Other poorer people would pretend that they had enough money to buy turkey by sticking turkey feathers -- which they may have found in a garbage can or acquired somehow -- halfway into a shopping bag so that the neighbors could see the feathers as they carried the bag home (which actually contained no turkey). They had to keep up appearances.

Now as to the foods. I have earlier written about most of these. You can find my article on Irish Stew here. 

A bowl of Irish Stew
(Photo by Adrian McGrath)

You can find my article on Corned Beef and Cabbage here.  

Corned Beef and Cabbage (Photo by Adrian McGrath)

And you can find my article on Irish Potato Cakes here.
They are sort of like potato pancakes.

Irish Potato Cakes
Photo by Adrian McGrath

And, by the way, I earlier wrote about the Irishman, Lafcadio Hearn, who wrote the very first New Orleans Creole Cookbook that was ever published in the English language. The others were in French. In his book he gave recipes for Irish Stew and Stewed Irish Potatoes, which he said was a breakfast dish.

Lafcadio Hearn, 1889
Photo Wikipedia

His Irish Stew mainly consists simply of mutton or beef, potatoes, onions, stewed down with water and served with rice. (Rice is to New Orleans what potatoes are to Ireland.) See Hearn's book, La Cuisine Creole.

This leave us with just one last stone to turn over. What is traditional New Orleans Creole Red Beans and Rice?

Ah, this is the sacred cow of New Orleans food. Although the Crescent City is famous for many wonderful dishes like jambalaya, gumbo, muffulettas, fried shrimp po-boys, Crawfish Etouffee, fried catfish, Shrimp Creole, Stuffed Artichoke, and on and on ... the most essential New Orleans dish is Red Beans and Rice.

Red Beans and Rice with French Bread
Photo by Adrian McGrath

It is eaten by the wealthy, the poor, and everybody in between. There are as many ways to make it as there are cooks in New Orleans. But mainly it consists of red kidney beans; white rice; "The Trinity," which in New Orleans is green pepper, onion, and celery; garlic (of course!), and unless vegetarian, some type of meat, such as sausage, ham, or pickle meat (a type of Creole seasoned pork).

I never give precise recipes because I think people should concoct their own based on their own likes and needs, but I do give a general idea.

Here is my general idea on my version of New Orleans Red Beans and Rice, which would have been and still is a popular meal in the homes of all people from New Orleans including the Irish.

Uncooked, red kidney beans
Photo A. McGrath


Get some dry red beans and sort them, removing any foreign debris, then soak them in a bowl of water for about an hour or more, even over night if desired. This removes some of the gas. Then drain and toss out the old water.

Put the beans in a pot on the stove (or use a slow cooker) and add chopped up Trinity -- green pepper, also called bell pepper, onions, and celery. Add enough fresh water to cover this, usually about six to eight cups of water per pound of beans. Add Creole spice. If you do not have this, try mixing salt, black pepper, a little bit of cayenne (not much because it is hot), garlic powder, onion powder, parsley flakes, and paprika.

You may add some butter optionally. Then add, precooked, the meat you wish. I use chunks of ham and sliced Andouille sausage, a type of Creole French sausage. Can you add Irish sausage and Irish bacon? Yes, of course, why not? It is your recipe.

Bring it all to a boil, then set the fire on low. Cover the pot and cook for about two hours or more on low. Smash up some of the red beans with a spoon on the inside of the pot to thicken the juice. Add water as needed. Be sure to stir now and then to prevent sticking.

Serve it with chopped green onions on top in individual bowls. Have French bread on the side or corn bread. Or Irish Soda Bread. See my article on that here.

And there you have it. That is what the Irish ate in New Orleans, and they still do the same today. I eat these things on a regular basis.

Bon Appetit.


Sources and Further Reading:

Wikipedia article on Irish Channel, New Orleans;  La Cuisine Creole by Lafcadio Hearn, Pelican Publishing Co. 1967; Gumbo Ya Ya: Folktales of Louisiana by Lyle Saxon, Robert Tallant, et al. 1945, 1987. Pelican Publishing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Halloween: A Holiday of Irish Origins

A Halloween party from the 1800s, from
an original illustration for Robert Burns'
poem named Halloween, 1841 and
Wikimedia Common





























By Adrian McGrath

We all know what Halloween is ... or we think we do. It is a fun time for children to go around the neighborhood at early night on October 31, ring the neighbor's doorbell, say "Trick or Treat," and get some candy. Maybe the adults will join in and have a party with various Autumn foods like pumpkin pie and a perhaps a lively drink. People might watch a scary movie on television or visit a nearby "Haunted House."

But Halloween has its origins way back in time and far away from the United States, across the Atlantic Ocean to what was once Celtic Europe and specifically to ancient Ireland.

October 31 to us is Halloween, but in olden days it was the Celtic New Year. The Celtic people possibly originated in Eastern Europe or maybe farther East. Centuries before the time of Christ, they traveled to the west and settled in Central Europe and eventually to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) and to parts of France (Brittany), Britain, and Ireland. Many came to America as their descendants emigrated to the USA and Canada many centuries later.

Before St. Patrick and the Christian monks and missionaries went to Ireland, paganism or Druidism was the main religion there. The people observed certain days of the year as being especially significant as they related to the four seasons. Seasons were important because people's lives depended on the seasonal weather for the health of crops, animals, and humans. 

There were Celtic or Gaelic festivals for those days -- Imbolg (the start of Spring), Bealtaine (Summer), Lughnasadh or Lunasa (Autumn or Fall), and Samhain (Winter).

A witch and her cauldron.
In pagan times in Europe and Ireland,
witches were not "evil" but simply
followed a belief in Nature and
used the cauldron for cooking and
herbal medicine.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons 
and John William Waterhouse, 1886
called The Magic Circle


Samhain (pronounced as SOW win) began at night time on October 31 and went to night time on November 1. It was (and still is) the the start of the darkest, coldest days of the year and the Celtic New Year. It marked the day when the warm weather would leave and a more dangerous time of year would come. Food could be scarce, animals might die from the cold, and human life might be in peril.

Jack-O-lanterns from pumpkins today, originally
were made in Ireland from carved turnips and rutabagas.
Some claim they represent the poor souls in
purgatory. Photo from Wikimedia Commons  
and Mansour de Toth (Laszloen).

Samhain, therefore, became a day of great significance to the ancient Celts and Irish. It was an end and a beginning. And by its nature, with the winter chill approaching, it was a time of darkness, awe, and even fear.

On that night of Samhain bonfires were lit, and it was believed that the spirits of those people who died in the past year would once again walk the Earth. 

Jack-o-lanterns were eventually made as part of this festival day, but they were actually made at first out of turnips or rutabagas. The tradition spread to America by using the pumpkins, of course; they were plentiful in America and much larger. 

As part of the festival day, mummers became popular. Mummers were people who wore fanciful masks or costumes and roamed about town, some singing or playing musical instruments. 

In the pagan beliefs, in olden days, there were witches; but they were not scary, evil sorceresses. They were simply people, usually women, who respected Nature and the powers of the Earth. They may have understood herbs and herbal medicine. They cooked and created healing potions in big cauldrons. 

Contrary to what some people later falsely believed, the witches did not worship the Devil. The Devil, in fact, is a creature from the Christian religion and did not exist at all in the ancient Celtic pagan Old Religion. Yes, there was a belief in magic; but it was not for destructive purposes as many modern, popular movies might depict. 

Over centuries Christianity came to Europe and Ireland. Tragically, the peaceful, Nature-worshiping witches were persecuted brutally in Christian Europe during a period called The Burning Times. People -- mainly women but not always women but men and children too -- were falsely accused of witchcraft and of consorting with the Devil. Many, many innocent lives were destroyed by pseudo-religious fanatics who literally went on witch hunts. 

Witches were hunted down and burned at the stake. In early America, as in the Salem witch trials, they were hanged by the neck until dead. Some were crushed to death under heavy rocks.

A melodramatic depiction of a witch trial
A lithograph by Joseph Baker from 1892
From Wikimedia Commons
See my article on an Irish Catholic woman named
Goody Glover, falsely accused of witchcraft.

In pagan times in Europe, the Catholic Church decided that it was too difficult to suppress Samhain and many other pagan beliefs, and found it easier to simply replace pagan days of observation with Christian ones. 

This method of substituting a Christian holy day for a pagan holiday is how Halloween began. The word "Halloween" was possibly first used in the mid 18th century. "All Hallow's Eve" may have appeared in the mid 1500s. Broken down, the word "Halloween" means "Hallow" (or holy) and "Eve" (the day before). So, this meant the eve or day before a Holy Day. The Holy Day the Church set up was All Saints Day, November 1, followed by All Souls Day, November 2. So, Halloween evolved at that time on the calendar to replace Samhain.

All Saints Day was originally in May and was a day for remembering saints and martyrs. But in 835 AD, Pope Gregory IV moved the holy day to November 1, placing it on top of Samhain.

The traditions of Halloween and Samhain evolved over time and spread from Ireland to the United States as the Irish and other Celtic peoples left Europe for the USA. 

Over a million Irish left Ireland during the Great Famine (Potato Famine) from 1845 to 1850. And a million or more died of starvation and related diseases in Ireland.  They died not because of bad potatoes alone but because of centuries of political and religious oppression at the hands of Great Britain.

The Irish who came to America brought their customs and culture with them. Today in the USA almost 40 million people are of at least part Irish descent. This is many times more than the number of Irish today in Ireland itself.

Naturally, in the USA the Halloween holiday has become commercialized.  Almost everyone buys bags of candy, costumes, and food for parties. Halloween has become a very popular holiday for commerce and money-making, right behind Christmas and Thanksgiving. Today it is mainly great fun.

A black cat, today the symbol of Halloween,
was seen as a servant of the witch.
This particular image of the black cat was actually
used by a political group, Anarchists for The
Industrial Workers of the World, circa 1961. Anarchists
(and Anarcho-Syndicalists, organized labor groups)
used the color black; and the black cat represented
sabotage against an oppressive capitalist or employer.
Photo Wikimedia Commons
But ...

Before we conclude, however, let me take a moment ... to discuss cats. 

(Pardon me, I am a cat person more than a dog person. So, this is something that matters to me.) 

The insanity of the Burning Times, when witches were burned to death, was horrible not only for people accused of witchcraft but also for cats, specifically black cats. Some ignorant and hateful people foolishly believed black cats could shape shift and turn into bad people. 

Some people even believed that a black cat would do the witch's bidding and become a spy or scout for the witch upon command. (Really? Just try telling your cat to do something and see what happens.) 

Sadly, black cats were often killed as a result throughout Europe. This lunacy even occurred in America where the Puritans -- who conducted the infamous Salem witch trials -- persecuted black cats and people who had them as pets. (I am not sure what was the fate of black cats in Ireland. Perhaps someone living in Ireland today can let me know? Also, see more about the persecution of an Irish Catholic woman falsely accused of witchcraft in old Massachusetts at my article on Goody Glover, here.)  

So, if you or your children go trick-or-treating this year, remember the holiday has ancient origins. Some of the history is fascinating and some is brutal. 

Halloween is a unique and popular American holiday filled with spirits and scary stories; but it has very ancient origins thanks to the Celts and to the Irish.





Friday, September 14, 2018

The Writers

James Joyce, 1915
Photo from Wikimedia
Commons, original from
Alex Ehrenzweig

By Adrian McGrath

The Irish have a way with words. They have always had a way with words. Some of the most famous and applauded authors in the world have been, and still are, Irish or of Irish descent. And the most famous Irish writers wrote in a language which was historically foreign to Ireland -- English.

The older Irish wrote in the Irish Gaelic language, but over time the newer ones wrote in English. For about 1,500 years until the 19th century, the Irish language was the main language of the people. Over time, however, English became the dominant language.

Centuries of oppression by British occupation and even British laws which suppressed the Irish language and culture made the Irish speak and write in English. Eventually, some of the Irish would become the masters of the English language.

From ancient times the Irish loved a good story. They held the bard, or the story teller, called a shanachie or seanchai, in the highest esteem. He was usually second only to the ancient Irish king in importance. Not only did he tell stories, which the Irish loved, but he recorded the history of the Irish people in verse and legend.

One of the first old Gaelic bards was a man named Amergin. He was a poet and historian for the Milesians, some of the early inhabitants of Ireland who migrated from the East.

A very old poem is attributed to him called the Song of Amergin:

"I am the wind on the sea; I am the wave of the sea; I am the bull
of seven battles; I am the eagle on the rock; I am a flash from the sun ... I am the head of the spear in battle; I am the god that puts fire in the head ... Who can tell the ages of the Moon? Who can tell the place where the sun sets?"

The Milesians are said to be the first Gaelic people to arrive in ancient Ireland, going there possibly from Eastern Europe or Spain. They were Celtic or Gaelic people.

No one knows for sure, but the Celts probably first came to Ireland during the Iron Age which started around 500 BC.

Milesian Celts coming to ancient Ireland
Photo from Wikimedia Commons,
originally Myth and Legends, 1910




In ancient times the Irish did not have a true alphabet (before the Romanized alphabet was used). The Old Irish language used the Latin language alphabet starting in the 8th century AD. Catholic monks and scholars -- who were usually literate in Latin and Greek -- took ancient Irish words and applied the scholarly Latin alphabet to them. Before the 8th century, however, a very basic non-phonetic alphabet was used.

The pagan Irish priestly class, called Druids, had a very primitive "alphabet" consisting of marks, dashes, and lines called Ogham. The Ogham alphabet was first seen in the 4th century AD, although some scholars believe it may have appeared some centuries earlier.

These marks were often made on the sides of ancient stone obelisks for religious messages. The Irish language (called Gaeilge) was the common language in Ireland then.

Today the Irish language is still used and studied in Ireland, along with English, and is often heard on the west coast region called the Gaeltacht.


A page from an old Irish book called
"The Book of Ballymote" from 1390 AD. The
book was assembled by scribes who wrote about
the history, religion, and culture of old Ireland.
The Ballymote page explains the functions
of the Ogham writing. Photo from
Wikimedia Commons.



From these ancient times, more modern Irish writers emerged. An entire body of literature was in the Irish Gaelic language, eventually giving way to English.  But the manner and the message remained always Irish.

From this ancient history, with a culture and a language evolving, great Irish writers emerged.

Here is a brief look at just a few of the most renowned Irish writers. There are many more.










Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745


Jonathan Swift
Photo from WikimediaCommons

Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin and was Anglo-Irish. He is most remembered for his essays and satires. He was greatly concerned about Irish politics, and he often made his points in clever ways by using symbolism and satirical devices. He wrote Gulliver's Travels and perhaps the greatest satire ever written in the English language called A Modest Proposal. Its full title is actually: "A modest proposal for preventing the children of poor people from being a Burthen [sic] to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the Publick [sic]."

What Swift proposed, modestly, was that Irish children of poor Irish parents could be cooked, sold, and served as meals for wealthy ladies and gentlemen to eat. This would reduce the burden of taking care of poor Irish children, give some revenue to the poor Irish parents, and make a nice and tasty meal for rich people, typically from the Ascendant Protestant class or the English. Of course, this satire was extreme and devastating, to say the least. Swift used such devices to ridicule and condemn the ruling class.

Jonathan Swift was a champion of social justice, and he used his intellect and writing skills to indict the British government for its often unjust policies.


2. William Butler Yeats


Portrait of W.B. Yeats in 1900
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

William Butler Yeats lived from 1865 to 1939. Born in Dublin, he became an acclaimed poet and playwright; he was one of the creators of the Abbey Theater, which is the National Theater of Ireland. Famous plays over the years have been performed at The Abbey. Yeats received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923.

Some of his greatest works include a powerful and moving poem about the Irish Rebellion of 1916 (The Easter Rising). The poem is called "Easter, 1916." In this poem Yeats uses a phrase which has become famous as it represents both the positive and negative aspects of the cause for Irish independence from Britain -- "A terrible beauty."  Yeats wrote, "Now and in time to be, Wherever green is worn, Are changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born."

Another renowned poem he wrote is called "Lake Isle of Innisfree." "I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there ..."  Yeats beautifully paints a picture with words describing this tranquil place called Innisfree in County Sligo, Ireland.

Yet another great poem by W.B. Yeats is "Down By the Sally Gardens." This story of lost love has been turned into a popular Irish song as well. "Down by the Sally Gardens, my love and I did meet ... She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs; But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears."



3. James Joyce



James Joyce, 1915
One of the most acclaimed writers
in world literature, of all times
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

James Joyce was born in Dublin in 1882 and died in 1941. He wrote novels, short stories, and poems. His writing style was considered modernist, and he had a great impact on world literature in the 20th century.

One modern device Joyce used, famously, was called the "stream of consciousness" wherein the writer states a multitude of thoughts all at once, simulating the thinking process a person might have in real life with many thoughts occurring simultaneously.

He is famous for several works including DublinersA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Finnegan's Wake. Joyce was taught by the Christian Brothers and the Jesuits; and he studied at University College Dublin.

His writings became famous and were extremely progressive in a literary sense. Joyce usually focused on life in Dublin; but he spent much of his life abroad, especially in Paris, France and Zurich, Switzerland. His writings, though brilliant, were often controversial and were denounced by some conservative authorities.

His great work called Ulysses, written in the early 1920swas not published in the USA until the 1930s because a controversy arose resulting in charges of obscenity. The book was banned in some places, and it was first published in its entirety in English by a bookstore on the Left Bank of Paris in 1922, at Shakespeare and Company. The novel focuses on the adventures of a character named Leopold Bloom who ventures around Dublin city on what has come to be called "Bloomsday," June 16, 1904.

Today Ulysses is seen as one of the most significant novels in the history of the world. James Joyce is seen as one of the greatest writers of all times.


4. Eugene O'Neill


Eugene O'Neill
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
and US Library of Congress

Only one American has ever received the Nobel Prize for Literature as a playwright, and it was the Irish-American writer Eugene O'Neill.

O'Neill changed the face of drama and theater in America and worldwide by using the concept of realism. O'Neill's characters were often tragic and sometimes suffered from terrible emotional troubles and personal conflicts. (The concept of realism had it origins in plays by the Russian writer Anton Chekhov.)

Born in New York City, O'Neill was well aware of his Irish heritage and the impact it had on him personally and on his work.
He once commented in 1946: "The one thing that explains more than anything about me is the fact that I'm Irish. And, strangely enough, it is something that all the writers who have attempted to explain me and my work have overlooked."

Some of Eugene O'Neill's plays are among the most famous in world literature: The Iceman Cometh, A Moon for the Misbegotten, and Mourning Becomes Electra -- to name a few.

But his greatest work, which was actually not first performed publicly until after his death, is Long Day's Journey Into Night. In many ways, the play is autobiographical.

(See more about Eugene O'Neill at my earlier article on him.)


5. Oscar Wilde


Oscar Wilde, 1882
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

If you look up the word "wit" in the dictionary, you will probably find the name of Oscar Wilde next to it. Wilde was one of the most clever writers ever with the use of satirical phrases and witty statements (called epigrams), which came to him seemingly with ease.

He wrote poems, plays, and even a novel.  Born in 1854 in Dublin, Ireland, he died in 1900. His life, filled with wit and even comedy, was eventually one of great literary success, infamous scandal, high drama, and finally tragedy.

Some of his best known works are The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Importance of Being Earnest, and The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Oscar Wilde did not plan on being an LGBT rights activist, but his life made him that by default. Wilde was involved in a complex legal action against the Marquess of Queensberry for criminal libel (a form of defamation). During the legal process, evidence emerged that Wilde allegedly had a consensual gay affair with the son of the Marquess.

Gay relationships were illegal at that time, and Wilde was brought to trial for "gross indecency." (The famous expression "the love that dare not speak its name" came from this legal process involving Oscar Wilde and the son of the Marquess, Alfred Douglas.)

After much legal maneuvering, Wilde was convicted and sentenced to two years of hard labor. After he did his time in jail, Wilde in effect went into exile to France, where he eventually died impoverished. It was the tragic end to a once brilliant literary carrier. It was also a terrible injustice.

No doubt from the hardships he faced in public disgrace and hard labor in jail, Oscar Wilde died in Paris at the young age of only 46.


 The authors above are just five of the Irish writers who have greatly influenced the world of literature. There are many more. Bram Stoker, who wrote the great horror story Dracula, was Irish. The creator of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Arthur Conan Doyle, was Irish -- though born in Scotland, both of Doyle's parents were Irish Catholic. Even the great American writer and poet Edgar Allen Poe was partly of Irish descent.

The list could go on and on. And probably there will be many more famous Irish writers in the future too ... because the Irish have a way with words.


Thursday, August 23, 2018

What Were the Penal Laws?

An English court dispensing
"justice" in the 19th century?
Photo from Wikimedia Commons





























By Adrian McGrath

Who remembers? Were you taught about this in school? If you live in Ireland, perhaps someone told you about this. But if you live in the United States, where most people who are of Irish descent live today, you probably did not learn this in school, unless you deliberately took a special course in Irish history. 

The Penal Laws were blatantly brutal and discriminatory laws which targeted primarily Irish Catholics. To some extent the laws also persecuted non-Anglican Protestants like Scots Irish Presbyterians (also called Dissenters) and members of other religions such as Judaism. 

The Anglican Church was officially sanctioned and supported by the British government and included the Church of England and the related Church of Ireland. But Roman Catholics were deprived of all fundamental human rights under the Penal Laws. In this sense the Penal Laws were comparable to the Apartheid laws in South Africa or the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany. The focus of oppression, however, was on religion not race.

All people who are interested in the cause of justice, whether Irish or not, should want to learn about these prejudicial Penal Laws which existed in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in British-controlled Ireland. Yes, people should want to learn about them for the sake of learning history. But they should also want to learn about the evils of the Penal Laws so that such a persecution of a select group never happens again -- to anyone, anywhere. 

It is noteworthy that the United States Constitution in addition to its safeguard of freedom of religion in the First Amendment, specifically outlaws the persecution of a select group of people without due process of law under the legal term "bill of attainder." The American Founding Fathers understood what British tyranny was too. See Article I, secs. 9 and 10 of the US Constitution which forbid bills of attainder.



The Battle of the Boyne, 1690



The Battle of the Boyne, 1690.
The Protestant Dutch/English leader William of Orange
defeated the Catholic English king, James II, securing
Protestant rule in Ireland for centuries to come.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons, original
painting from 1693

The last time two rival English kings fought each other for the crown of Great Britain was at the Battle of the Boyne, a river north of Dublin in Ireland, in 1690. This battle was part of a larger power struggle over control of Britain where religion, Catholic versus Protestant, was a key factor. The Catholic English king, James II lost the battle to the Protestant English king, William of Orange, who was really Dutch and not English. William and his wife Mary would then rule over the British Isles including Ireland. 

The Treaty of Limerick which ended this so-called Williamite War was supposed to guarantee equal rights for Catholics; but as time passed, those protections disappeared.

The victorious group, eventually known as the Protestant Ascendancy, wanted to make certain that it remained in a position of power and privilege and that any opposition, mainly from Catholics, never again threatened their status. So, a series of discriminatory laws were passed by the pro-British and Protestant Irish parliament to suppress Catholics in Ireland, a land where the vast majority of the populace was in fact Catholic. 

Ever since the Reformation and the rule of Henry VIII, Great Britain feared powerful foreign countries which were predominately Catholic, such as France and Spain. Britain historically feared that foreign Catholic nations might attack British interests directly and might aid Irish Catholic rebels who resisted British rule in Ireland. 


A scene depicting Irish
peasants during the 1845
famine. The Penal Laws were
largely repealed by 1829,
but the after-effects remained.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons


When did the Penal Laws begin in Ireland, we might ask. The answer is rather complicated. There had been anti-Catholic Penal Laws prior to 1691 in the British Isles, which included Ireland then. Indeed, some discriminatory laws began from the time of Henry VIII. Certainly during the time of Oliver Cromwell, Catholics in Ireland were brutally persecuted. But the time period after the Williamite War and the Battle of the Boyne saw anti-Catholic Penal Laws which were much more inclusive, permanent, and harsh. 





The Penal Laws

Starting after 1695 and for over a century to come until Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the laws of the land persecuted Catholics and non-Anglicans. (See Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829. )


A political cartoon from 1790 making fun of an
attempt by progressives to repeal the Test Act,
a Penal Law which required a candidate for public office be a
member of the Church of England and not a Catholic
Photo by Wikimedia Commons 


In fact, it could be argued that the discrimination against Catholics did not fully end in Ireland until the Irish won their partial independence in the 1920s, although the North (Ulster) remained under British control. 

Here are some of the things the Penal Laws did in Ireland:

Catholics could not hold public office, i.e. be elected as a member of government.
Irish Catholics could not practice their own religion.
Catholics could not be educated in schools.
Catholics could not become part of a profession, like being a doctor or a lawyer.
Catholics were limited in what trade or commerce they could engage in.
Catholics could not buy or sell land. They also could not lease land.
Catholics could not own a horse over the price of five pounds.
Catholics could not vote.
Catholics could not keep and bear arms. Catholics could not own a gun, a sword, or any type of weapon. 
Catholics could not have an annuity, and they were limited in undertaking financial matters.
A Catholic could not legally marry a Protestant. Any offspring from such a relationship had to be raised as Protestant.
Catholics could not buy land from a Protestant or receive land as a gift. Additional laws made it illegal for Catholics to buy or sell any land in any way. (So, this meant Irish Catholics, who made up over 90% or more of Ireland, could not legally own any land in their own country.)
Catholics could not inherit any land or movable property from a Protestant. (So, if a family member converted to Protestantism, he or she could not will property to a Catholic relative.)

A Catholic who might be in the process of dying could not leave his or her child into the guardianship of another Catholic. The child fell under the control of a Protestant only. (Yes, this is shockingly true. See Seamus MacManus book "The Story of the Irish Race," Devin Adair Co. New York, 1921, 1975 edition, on page 459, esp. footnote 11.)
Catholics were not allowed to educate their children by themselves or send them to another Catholic to teach them.

And there were many other restrictions. Violations of these laws could result in severe penalties including prison, torture, or death. 

As an example of an attempt to purge Ireland of Catholic leadership, a law was made in 1698 which stated, " All Popish Archbishops, Bishops, Vicars General, Deans, Jesuits, Monks, Friars, and all other Popish clergy shall depart out of this kingdom before the first of May, 1698 ..." (See MacManus p. 456. Interestingly, the law specified the Jesuits by name.)

If a Catholic clergyman attempted to return to Ireland after that date in 1698, he was subject to execution by being hanged, drawn, and quartered. (In this horrible form of execution, a person was partially hanged but not killed, then disemboweled or cut open, and then chopped into pieces with an ax.)

The Irish sometimes clandestinely broke these terrible laws by having "hedge teachers"  or "hedge school masters" who taught children while hiding behind trees or large hedgerow plants. Catholic religious services were also held in secret behind hedgerows or anywhere the British soldiers or officials could not find them. 


Catholic priest saying a Mass in secret in Ireland.
Original painting by Aloysius Kelly, 1883
"Mass in a Connemara Cabin"
Photo from Wikimedia Commons


A certain type of very small rosary called a Penal Law Rosary was devised which could be quickly hidden in case the British police came by. The Irish, thereby, attempted many ways to circumvent these unjust laws and follow their own religious faith.

The political statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke said of the Penal Laws, "... there was not a single right of nature or benefit of society which had not been either totally taken away, or considerably impaired." Edmund Burke became famous as an Anglo-Irish member of the British parliament who was overtly sympathetic to the American cause during the American Revolutionary War, supporting colonists' rights but opposing American independence. He also supported Catholic Emancipation or Catholic rights in Ireland. See Edmund Burke.



Edmund Burke, statesman
and political philosopher
who denounced the Penal Laws and supported
the rights of American colonists
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Edmund Burke went on to say about the Penal Laws imposed on the Irish, "a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment, and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man ..." 

There was a legal scholar from France named Montesquieu who lived in the early 18th century, during the time of the Penal Laws. He is noted for advancing the concept of "Separation of Powers," where no one person or part of the government has absolute power. We see this principle in the US Constitution where we have equal powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. It is a device to prevent tyranny, an evil with which he was gravely concerned. 



The French philosopher
Montesquieu
Photo from
Wikimedia Commons

Here is what the political philosopher Montesquieu said about the Penal Laws which tyrannized Irish Catholics in their own country: " [The Penal Laws were] conceived by demons, written in blood, and registered in Hell." (See MacManus p. 455.)


Why We Remember the Penal Laws

This then is what the Penal Laws were which sent Irish Catholics to Hell on Earth in their own country at the hands of British invaders. Indeed, one English judge, Lord Chancellor John Bowes, once remarked in an official capacity, "The law does not suppose any such person to exist as an Irish Roman Catholic." (See Mac Manus p.460.)

We should all learn more about the Penal Laws if we are interested in Irish history. They happened long ago, but they had profound affects on the people of Ireland to this day and on the Irish who sailed away to America long ago. 

The horrible story of the Penal Laws, however, is not just for a study of Irish history, but for all of human history. The story of the Penal Laws teaches us one clear lesson above all others: Persecution and tyranny anywhere and everywhere are always wrong and must always be opposed.  

(Note: This article is dedicated to the late professor of law 
Frederick Swaim of Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans. He was my teacher, my brother-in-law, and my friend.)


Sources and further reading:
The Story of the Irish Race by Seumas MacManus, 1921, 1975. Devin Adair Co. New York;  Ireland: A Terrible Beauty by Leon Uris. History of the Penal Laws, Yale University. Penal Laws (Ireland) from Wikipedia. Irish Penal Law from the University of Minnesota Law Library. Library Ireland Article on Penal Laws.