Significant Irish Contributions to World Culture - No. 7641, Halloween

Halloween's Pagan Celtic Roots
Today Halloween is joyously celebrated by children across the Western world.There is a popular misconception though that Halloween is a modern American invention. Not so. Like so many other things that have brought great happiness and joy to humanity for millennia, its roots lay firmly in the culture of the Irish Celts!
(Photo- my son Dáire & 'friend'!)
Yet it has to be said that the Americans, in their re-packaging of this ancient pagan festival, have destroyed many of the fine traditions that were once such an integral part of the festivities. For instance our Celtic custom of placing human skulls with candles at entrances to domestic dwellings in order to ward off evil spirits has been replaced by lights in hollowed-out pumpkins! Likewise the visits of children dressed up in ghoulish and macabre fancy dress going door-to-door looking for gifts of sweets and fruits is a poor substitute for the former visits of the ghosts of our ancestors who used to drop in once a year on October 31st for a nice meal with their living relatives (we would prepare a place for them at the dinner table).
It was said too that live captives were placed in wicker cages above huge bonfires and burnt alive (as portrayed in the classic British 1970s cult film “The Wicker Man”). But such horror stories were originally spun by those nasty Romans when they were at war with the Celts. So it was probably nothing more than malicious enemy propaganda. After all, what do you take us Celts for? Barbarians?!

As with so many other annual family festivals, Halloween has become so commercialised by 'Americanised' popular culture that its true origins and religious aspects have long since being forgotten.
So here is the true story of 'Féile na Marbh' (Festival of the Dead'):

Christianisation of 'Samhain'
Yet modern-day Americans were not the first people to re-brand the festival. In the middle ages the Catholic Church created the Christian festival of 'All Hallows Eve' or 'All Souls Day' when people were asked to remember and pray for their dead family members.
This event was superimposed onto the ancient pagan Celtic festival of 'Samhain' which marked the end of the summer season characterised by heat & light and the coming of the dark cold barren winter months.

Celtic Festivals
Typical of many agricultural societies, the Celts had four major annual festivals based on the cyclical differences experienced in the changing seasons of nature and their corresponding weather patterns. The other three were 'Imbolc' (spring) 'Bealtane' (summer), 'Lugnasa' (autumn). The latter was associated with harvest time.

Samhain was a time when food was hoarded as people prepared for the cold season when no plants grew. While many domestic animals such as cattle were brought indoors for the winter, others were slaughtered and most of their meat salted for storage whilst the remainder was cooked for the big feast. As with all Irish festivals, communal bonfires were lit as people gathered together at warm fires to socialise and to give thanks to the deities. Bones of the slaughtered animals were thrown into the fire as symbolic gifts to the gods, an action which give rise to the term ' bone fires' or 'bonfires'. Embers from this sacred fire were taken by local people to their households to light their own domestic fires.

Antecedents to the Pumpkin & 'Trick or Treat'
But Samhain was also a time when creatures from the supernatural world could enter into the world of mortals. 'Fairies' (Irish='Sidhe' as in ‘Banshee’/‘female fairy’) and the spirits of the dead would walk the earth. Many of these beings were benevolent and the spirits of dead ancestors; so families laid out extra food and set aside a table space for their ghostly visitors. This metaphorised into the custom of today's children dressing up as demons and witches & calling to the neighbours' houses to receive presents.
But there were spirits that came on the night of Samhain that were malevolent. Candles were placed in skulls at the entrance to dwellings as light was feared by these dark foreboding creatures. This protection against evil became transformed in modern times into the positioning of hollowed-out turnips and later pumpkins with carved out faces and internal candles at windows and doorways.
Centuries-old party games of trying to eat an apple lying in a basin of water ('bobbing') or dangling on a string tied to a ceiling ('snapping') are still popular festive past-times with Irish children.
The apple is probably the most common edible fruit in Ireland. It was also strongly associated with the spirit world and the fairies (sidhe). In the Arthurian legends, the mystical island of Avalon is where King Arthur obtains his magical sword Excalibur and where he is taken at the end of his life by the Lady of the Lake and her female fairy companions (banshee). Avalon comes from the Welsh word afal or Irish aball.

Fortune Telling at Halloween
Central to the Irish Halloween is the eating of a fruit bread known as 'Barmbrack' from the Gaelic term 'Báirín Breac' (speckled or spotted top). It is still a popular festive food today.
Various symbolic pieces were placed in the dough before it was baked such as a ring, a pea and a stick. When an item was found in the slice when it was being eaten, it told of the future that awaited the recipient. For instance, the 'ring' signified marriage within a year; a 'stick' represented a bad or violent marriage; the 'coin', wealth and a 'pea', a long wait before marriage.

Irish Export Halloween to North America
The Irish emigrants of the nineteenth century introduced Halloween and its rituals to America. Within a few decades, the festival was transformed into the fun and games event of today.

Significant Irish Contributions to World Culture:
No. 7642- 'Dracula'

Considering our national passion of asking the dead to resurrect themselves & drop into the house for a late night meal & party, it should come as no surprise that the world's most well known vampire Count Dracula was the creation of an Irishman, the novelist Bram Stoker in 1887.
His inspiration though was Carmilla, a book about a lesbian vampire created naturally enough(!) by another well known Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu.

(Photos from Macnas Halloween youth parade in Ballinfoile, Galway City)

What did the Irish Ever do for Us? India/Pakistan - Part 1

An Irishman's Guide to
the History of the World
- India & Pakistan

Ireland's Seismic Impact on the Indian sub-continent
Though we Irish did not build the Taj Mahal, write the Kamasutra or can take credit for the ancient cultures of this region's medical breakthroughs in plastic surgery and dentistry, nevertheless our little island of Ireland with its minuscule population lying at the very western edge of Europe had and still continues to have a notable influence on the history and politics of the vast Indian sub-continent.
Individual Irish men/women and Ireland’s struggle for nationhood profoundly effected the Indian independence movement, its appearance onto the international stage & the forging of a pan-India identity. Our people educated many of modern India’s and Pakistan’s leadership and helped launch the indigenous women’s emancipation movement. It was an Irishman in the mid-18th century that led one of the first military campaigns to expel the British from the sub-continent. One wily Irish rogue even ousted a native prince and set himself up as a ruler of a Raj!
Furthermore, for much of the early part of the 20th century, the most famous fictional Indian literary character in the world was the son of an Irishman!
On the other side of the coin thousands of Irishmen from the 18th century onwards provided the backbone of the British army of occupation. Sorry about that! But at least we Irish dressed up in our British redcoats probably kept out of India an even nastier imperialist power, namely Tsarist Russia.

An Irish Education unites Pakistani & Indian Leaders
What has the present Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, former prime ministers Shaukat Aziz and Benazir Bhutto and former president Pervez Musharraf in common?
Well they all went to Irish-themed Catholic schools.

What is probably the only thing that unites the leaders of the two main political parties of India?

Both men got their education in Irish-inspired schools!
(Photo: St. Columba's School, Delphi)

Where did the 3 most powerful women in Pakistan obtain their schooling?
Why, where else but in Irish-founded convent schools in Rawalpindi, Karachi & Murre!

Living in the shadow of Ireland's Khyber Pass
I have a personal interest in this Irish-India connection. My childhood was spent living near the foot of the ‘Khyber Pass’ in Dalkey (photo) village, County Dublin. It was a hotel located at the top of a steep narrow rock precipice, a name probably given to it by a former British officer that served on the infamous North West Frontier of colonial India. My friendly next door neighbour for many years was an archetypal retired British colonel with a bicycle handlebars moustache, living in a rambling old mansion complete with a cricket lawn, who drove around in a beautiful old Rolls Royce and jovially reminisced about the good old days of the British Raj. Later I was taught by the Catholic Patrician Brothers who opened many famous schools in India and are led today by an Indian, Brother Jerome. One of my own brothers, Peter, worked in Mumbai, modern India’s commercial hub.

Irish Teachers Bring the Torch Of Learning to the native peoples of India
The repeal of the colonial laws forbidding the majority Irish Catholic population from receiving an education led from the early 19th century to a surge of new native religious teaching orders setting up schools throughout the country followed from the 1840s onwards in their movement with missionary zeal across the territories of the British Empire. The Christian Brothers, the Brothers of St. Patrick & the Presentation Sisters from Ireland established schools that are still recognised today as some of the finest educational institutions on the sub-continent.
Yet it was a strong sense of social justice born out of centuries of oppression that probably influenced so many young Irish to travel so far from home, many never to return, to places such as India where they devoted their lives in educating the more marginalised peoples, a tradition that still resonates with the Patrician Brothers today.

Two of Pakistan’s Prime Ministers went to St. Anthony’s High School in Lahore founded by the Irish 'Patrician Brothers' including Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Muslim League.

‘Son of St. Columba’- Gandhi!
Rahul Gandhi a President of the Indian National Congress and son of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi went to St. Columba’s School (see photo below) in Delhi, an Irish Christian Brothers’ institution named after one of Ireland’s most famous missionary saints.

When the Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern visited the school in June 2006, he was greeted by a chorus of pupils singing the Irish National Anthem in Gaelic (Irish)!

Bhutto taught by Irish Nuns!
Benazir Bhutto was educated by Irish nuns of the Jesus & Mary congregation. She attended their kindergartan in Karachi as a young child and later became a pupil at their primary school in Murre.
After completing her primary education, she attended the congregation's high school in Karachi where she completed her O levels before going to Harvard in the USA.
In 1993 when she was the country's Prime Minister, Benazir presented Sister Eugene Glass from Dublin, & former head mistress of the Karachi high school, with an award for her outstanding services to education in Pakistan.

‘Sons of St. Patrick’- Musharraf & Prime Minister Aziz!
Just as interesting is the fact that both the former President Pervez Musharraf & the Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz were pupils of St. Patrick’s High School. Belonging to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Karachi it was founded by a Jesuit Rev. J.A. Willy in 1861. Though I have yet to verify it, the fact that he named the school “St. Patrick’s” after Ireland’s patron saint and its symbol is a Shamrock, gives me the impression that Willy was probably Irish.

Fomer Head of India’s largest political party -another ‘Son of St. Patrick’! 
Lal Krishna Advani, former Indian Deputy Prime Minister and  leader of the nationalist Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), is also a former pupil of St. Patrick’s High School in Karachi!

Can you believe it!!

Irish Nuns educate Female Pakistani Leaders
A number of leading Pakistani women were taught at the prestigious Presentation Convent in Rawalpindi founded by an Irishwoman Sister Ignatius McDermot in 1895.
The current school principal is also Irish- Sister Julie Watson from Listowel in Co. Kerry.

Pakistan’s First Female Army General
Shahida Malik who became Pakistan’s first female general in 2002 is a former pupil.

Another former student is Nilofer Bahktiar who was forced to resign as Pakistan's former Tourism Minister after a Fatwa was issued against her by the controversial Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad. The clerics demanded she be punished & sacked when photographs appeared of her receiving a congratulatory hug from a male colleague, after successfully landing from a charity parachute jump in France, which they condemned as was "an illegitimate and forbidden act
Her resignation was not accepted though by the Prime Minister.

Irishman Leads Army to Oust British from India
From the mid-18th century the British started to expand out of their small coastal trading ports to take over large Indian territories. One of the earliest attempts to stop them was led by Thomas Arthur Lally whose father Gerard came from Tuam in Co. Galway. As French Commander in Chief in India he was initially successful. But he was decisively defeated at the Battle of Wandiwash (1760) which solidified British interests in India.

…But Defeated by a British Army led by an Irishman!
Strangely enough the commander of the victorious British forces, Lieutenant Colonel Eyre Coote was also an Irishman (born in Limerick)! Like many prominent members of the British Imperial military establishment, Coote came from the Anglo-Irish Protestant landowning class who came over to Ireland as British colonists from the late 16th century onwards. Coote had the distinction of being captain of the 39th regiment when it became the first British regiment to be sent to India in 1754 (hence its motto ‘Primus in Indus’). This regiment was first raised in Ireland in 1689 to defend British interests.

Fiery Irish Women Lead Indian Independence Movement

India’s First Magistrate- Irishwoman Margaret Cousins
-famed Radical Feminist, Nationalist & Hunger Striker
India’s first woman magistrate was Margaret ‘Gretta’ Cousins (née Gillespie) from Boyle, Co. Roscommon.
She was a life-time campaigner for women’s rights as well as for Irish & Indian independence. Her militant activism led to her imprisonment in Ireland, Britain and India.
So, how many judges do you know that have been thrown into prison in 3 different countries for campaigning against unjust laws!
In Ireland & England she was jailed for stoning & causing riots at the seats of Imperial government power in Britain (10 Downing Street) & Ireland (Dublin Castle) as part of the suffragette campaign to give women the vote. She supported Irish Independence and distrusted the moderate nationalist Irish Home Rule Party because of its opposition to universal female suffrage

Not a women to sit idly by, Margaret founded the 'Indian Women's Association in 1914 within a year of emigrating with her husband to India. In 1922 she was appointed India’s first woman magistrate. In 1928 she founded the first 'All-India Women Conference' which is still active today with over 1.5million members and over 500 branches. While still a magistrate, Margaret was sentenced in December 1932 to one year in prison for protesting against the introduction of emergency legislation curtailing free speech in India. While in Vellore Women's Jail she went on hunger-strike in support of Mahatma Gandhi who had also being imprisoned.
After her release in October, 1933 Margaret continued to campaign for women's rights and in 1938 was elected President of the All-India Women's Conference.
In 1949, the Indian government financially compensated Margaret for her imprisonment and activism on behalf of the cause of Indian independence.

India’s First International Female Celebrity
Hindu Nun ‘Sister Nivedita’ (Nationalist & Women’s Rights Campaigner) was born ‘Margaret Elizabeth Noble’ in County Tyrone, Ireland!
Highly revered today in her adopted homeland, this charismatic lady changed her name from Margaret Noble to Sister Nivedita when she was initiated into Hindu monastic life in Bengal.
This Irish woman successfully took on the role of promoting a revival in ancient Indian art, literature, religion and culture in her new homeland. In Europe and America where she undertook lecture tours, she helped to dispel the notion of India as just being a place of poverty, superstition and backwardness and that it had rich and glorious culture that had been undermined by foreign conquest and domination. The fact that she was a strong-willed white European woman made her Western audiences more receptive to her message.
But her real benefit to India was in raising the morale of native women and teaching them of their importance in a new emerging free India.
When she meet her mentor Swami Vivekananda, Margaret Noble was already a well-known educationalist, public speaker, journalist and progressive political activist.
The Swami saw her destiny lay in empowering the women of India and said to her “India cannot yet produce great women, she must borrow them from other nations. Your education, sincerity, purity, immense love, determination, and above all, the Celtic blood, make you just the woman India needs.”
It was for him her ‘Celtic Irishness’ that help mark her out as an instrument for liberation (we Irish have an ingrained rebellious streak!)
Though looked on as a saint by some, Nivedita also associated with more militant nationalist revolutionaries such as Aurobindo Ghose.

First Flag of India -Designed by an Irishwoman
Irishwoman Sister Nivedita designed the first Flag of India in 1904. It was a red flag with a yellow inset depicting a thunderbolt and a white lotus

Indian National Congress- Led by an Irishman!
The struggle for Indian self-determination has always been associated with the Indian National Congress (INC), the party of Gandhi, Nehru and Bose. Founded in 1885, it continued to be the primary political party once independence was achieved in 1947 and today forms the main bloc in India’s present government.
Yet nine years after its foundation, the Irish nationalist and MP (Westminster) for Waterford Alfred Webb became its President. A Quaker, Alfred was at the time of his election to the INC known as a committed anti-racist and anti-caste campaigner in Britain.

Close Bonds between Indian & Irish Nationalism
In fact Webb’s involvement with INC was not an aberration. For there was an understandable commonality between Ireland & India. Both countries had rich vibrant traditional cultures going back millennia who now found themselves occupied by the same Imperial power that treated subjugated races with a deep racial scorn and bigotry.
Many perceptive Irish nationalists saw the need to form alliances with other oppressed African & Asian peoples living under British colonial rule.
This was evident even before the birth of the INC.
The Irish Home Rule party at Westminster was a prime contributor to parliamentary debates on India. According to author Michael Silvestri, one of the Irish MPs F.H. O’Donnell set up a short lived ‘Home Rule for India’ movement in 1875 known as the Constitutional Society of India that consisted of Irish politicians and Indian students living in London. Silvestri even states that there was a failed attempt in 1883 to get Indian nationalist leader Dadabhai Naoroji to stand for Westminster parliament as an Irish Home Rule candidate. (He was though elected for the Liberal Party in Finsbury London at the 1892 election to become in the process Britain’s first Asian MP)

India First Independence Political Party modeled on Irish Republican Movement
The Indian National Congress(INC) was originally a debating society which met only once a year. The first full-time all-Indian political party All India Home Rule League was co-founded by Annie Besant (née Wood) in September 1916 modeled on Sinn Féin and the demands of the Irish armed rebels of the unsuccessful Easter Rising of earlier that year. It established local branches across the country which organised political demonstrations and meetings. Annie’s clarion call of ‘England’s Need is India’s Opportunity’ echoed the Irish revolutionary ‘England’s Difficulty is Ireland’s Opportunity’ as both tried to take advantage of Britain’s war (WW1) with Germany and its allies. Though born in England Annie came from an Irish family (mother Irish & father half-Irish), was extremely proud of her Irish roots and was an avid supporter of Irish self-rule all her life. When she emigrated to India, she continued her active opposition to Imperial domination and women’s rights.
Interned by the British in 1917, Annie’s ceaseless demands for self-rule led to the unification of Muslims and Hindus into one political independence party. A nationwide popular campaign led to her release and she was elected INC President (the second ‘Irish’ person to be given such an honour) which she transformed into a proper political movement.

“Had it not been for her and her enthusiasm, one could not have seen Mr. Gandhi leading the cause of Indian freedom today. It was Mrs. Besant who laid the foundation of modern India – Dr. Besant was a combination of Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati.”
Dr. Raj Kumar (Indian National Congress website)

De Valera –Hero to Indian nationalists
The Irish War of Independence inspired leaders of subjugated peoples across Asia and Africa. Eamon De Valera, Michael Collins and Dan Breen became international heroes for decades to come, admired and imitiated.
During DeValera’s 1919/1920 tour to the USA to gain support for the Irish rebellion, he addressed the Friends of Freedom in India in New York and talked of solidarity between occupied nations: “We of Ireland and you of India must each of us endeavour, both as separate peoples and in combination to rid ourselves of the vampire that is fattening on our blood and we must never allow ourselves to forget what weapon it was by which (George) Washington rid his country of the same vampire. Our cause is a common cause.”
De Valera quickly became a hero to many Indian nationalists and his words were used time and time again in their writings and speeches. However it has to be said that Gandhi himself had little time for the physical force methods of Sinn Féin and the IRA (unlike Subhas Chandra Bose and others who we will read about in the next episode).

New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade Become Platform for Free India!
Since the 19th century New York has hosted the largest St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) Parade in the world (in fact this celebration of Irishness orginated there in the 18th century). It has traditionally being used as a political expression of Irish nationhood.
As DeValera watched from the review stand, the 1920 Parade was transformed into a mass demonstration for Indian as well as Irish independence. Indian republicans carried large banners emblazoned with messages such as
'Up the Republic of India'
'315,000,000 of India with Ireland to the Last'
'President De Valera's Message to India: Our cause is a common caus
Indians also participated in other Irish freedom marches in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the United States.

But cooperation between American Indian and Irish republicans went back to the pre-WW1 period. By 1915, prominent Irish-Americans were actively involved in a failed German-Indian attempt to smuggle American weapons to India for use against the British. The main protagonist in this plot was the Indian revolutionary ‘Ghadar’ (rebellion) Party founded in 1913 and headquartered at San Francisco. The founder Lala Har Dayal had close friendships with many in the Irish and Irish-American community.

‘Hindu Sinn Féiners’
Just how much Indian and Irish nationalists in the United States already saw themselves in a common struggle against British Rule can be seen in a Ghadar article written by Ram Chandra in 1916 “…India has her Sinn Feiners. . . . the Hindu Sinn Feiners today are as influential as the Irish were in the days of Robert Emmett…”

Was the Indian Flag Inspired by the Irish Tricolour?

It was in 1921 that Gandhi and designer Pingali Venkayya created a tricolour of green, white and red as the flag of India.
It was remarked at the time that it bore a strong resemblance to the ‘Irish Flag’ and the symbol then most associated with resistance to British colonial rule.
But it was not the first time that a tricolour flag appeared in the hands of an Indian nationalist. In July 1919 De Valera visited the Indian Ghadar HQ in San Francisco. He was presented with a Green-White-Orange(saffron) tricolour by Gopal Singh one of the convicted Indo-Irish-German (1915) conspirators who had been released from prison. It was in 1931 that these 3 same colours formed the official flag of India.

* Check out the Second Installment of the
The Irish Contribution to India & Pakistan *
here. Topics include- The Irish Raj-the 'gaelic-speaking' British Army in India led by Irish Generals; 'Kim'; IRA assassination of India's last Viceroy; Chandra Bose's visit to Ireland...Don't Forget to also read the previous article in this series entitled
'What did the Irish Ever do for Us? Part 1 - Austria'

Walking Poles

With an estimated 7,000-8,000 living locally, Polish people form by far the biggest non-national group in Galway city. This translates to 1 in every 7 inhabitants! Yet in spite of the arrival of such a huge number in the space of a few short years, Poles have fitted in quite well into Irish society and there has been little or no antagonism which reflects well on all sides.
However, it is felt that this large Polish population has not yet translated into an effective cohesive community.
So some locally-based Poles have set up 'The Galway Irish – Polish Association' as a national cultural and social group. They are organising a 'get-to-know you' walk in the Oranmore area on Sunday 9th Sept.
Called the 'INTEGRATIONAL WALK' the meeting point will be at the Fountain in Eyre Square at 12.30pm with the start of the walk at 14.00 at the Oranmore Church Car park.
It is an attempt by the organisers to bring their people together socially and combat a 'Poles Apart' attitude (Sorry about the pun!).
If you want to participate in the walk: send a text to 0868072217 (Marta) to confirm your attendance.
'A Popular Polish Prayer'!?
I found this witty image on the Internet!
Stowarzyszenie Polsko – Irlandzkie w Galway zaprasza na SPACER INTEGRACYJNY który odbędzie się w niedzielę, 9 września 2007 roku Jeżeli chciałbyś poznać nowych ludzi, dowiedzieć się, czym zajmuje się nasze stowarzyszenie albo po prostu milo spędzić niedziele w międzynarodowym towarzystwie, przyłącz się do nas! Punk zbiorczy: fontanna na Eyre Square, Galway, g. 12:30 Miejsce startu: parking przy kosciele w Oranmore, g. 14:00 Koszty transportu z Galway do Oranmore pokrywają uczestnicy z własnej kieszeni (ok. 5 euro)

Zgłoś swoje uczestnictwo w spacerze, wysyłając SMSa na numer 0868072217 (Marta)

Focus on Poles in Galway- No. 1
Sebastian Kruk
is a Project Manager with the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) at National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) and a leading authority on Semantic Digital Library research

Famous Irish Quotes & Sayings Part 8

Patriotism is your conviction that your country is superior to all others because you were born in it.
George Bernard Shaw

I just love that quote from Shaw; it should provide a reality check to us all.
We have no say in where we are born and our birthplace confers on us no special powers or higher intellect. No matter what our nationality, creed or race, we all bleed red blood when our arms are cut.
Though extremely proud of my Irish pedigree, nevertheless I despise those of my countrymen who feel that today they are a step above all others & that being Irish gives them a special licence to misbehave especially when abroad. It is great that Ireland's new found wealth has given our people a growing sense of national self-confidence and that we now aspire to be world leaders in so many different fields. Yet our very successes have made quite a few of us, notably those of our young folk who have never experienced poverty, ooze almost a racial arrogance which is certainly new to the Irish character.
Yet an understanding of our nation's history should have instilled a deep sense of moral humility and respect to all those that are less privileged than ourselves. It is still in living memory that the Irish were despised in countries such as USA and Britain where they are now feted. So much of the positive elements of our society's traditional caring nature, its music and literature were shaped by centuries of struggle against oppression. These have oftentimes been our greatest gifts to the world at large; we have shown that anyone can overcome adversity and even do it with a glint in the eye and a lilt in one's step!
But though we relied largely on our own efforts to climb out of the gutter, nevertheless we were often given a helping hand by others even from those we claimed were our enemies. The 'Good Samaritans' came from distant shores spurred on by their own sense of injustice- I think of courageous individuals from modern England such as Gareth Pierce, Ken Livingstone, Clare Short, Tony Benn and Chris Mullen who took up Irish-related Human Rights causes such as the 'Birmingham Six' & 'Guildford Four' when our own political leaders were too afraid to do so.
"The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But... the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?' " Martin Luther King

It is worthwhile remembering that all nations and cultures have their brief moments of glory and a place in the Sun, but what follows can often be long periods of great loss and subjugation.
Those countries now viewed as poverty stricken and underdeveloped such as Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Guatemala, Mongolia, Peru, Sudan, Armenia, Yemen and Ethiopia were once the centres of great civilisations that contributed positive elements to world culture.
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere".
Martin Luther King

What did the Irish Ever Do For Us?

An Irishman's Guide
to the History of the World
In my travels overseas I am often accosted by locals in an Irish-themed bar -sometimes after they have consumed four pints of Guinness, two Jameson whiskies and one large glass of Bailey's Cream Liqueur before completing what seems like a never-ending rendition of 'The Irish Rover'- and asked the eternal question, "OK then, what the hell did the Irish ever do for us?"
Sadly my highly illuminating replies too often get lost in the noises and bustle of a busy pub night. So in order to solve this problem and allow me to enjoy a pint in peace and comfort in the future, I decided to publish here a 'History of the World as told by an Irishman'.

Though brutally oppressed and occupied by those nasty British for over 800 years, nevertheless we Irish managed to take time out from our own endless struggles to help raise the torch of freedom and learning amongst nations and peoples across the globe. Where ever there was conflict, revolution or famine you can be sure that there was some bright young thing from Ireland’s green shamrock shore doing their best to help bring peace, justice or much needed merriment to troubled lands.

Over the next few weeks in a spirit of global enlightenment, this website will focus in on individual countries and nations to highlight the great debt of gratitude that the world’s population owe to the Celtic Irish & Anglo-Irish. We will view the planet through ‘green-tinted’ glasses.
Countries covered will include Mexico, Romania, India, United States, Israel, Australia, Scotland, Greece, Spain, France and virtually the whole South American continent.

The History of Austria as seen through 'Green-tinted' Glasses

As the university research institute (DERI) that I work in has had a strong Austrian input over the years, I decided therefore to start our tour of the world with a focus on the ‘Jewel of the Danube’.

The image of Austria conjures up the beauty of Vienna, the famed ecclesiastical architecture of Salzburg, the economic importance of the city's salt mines, the country’s Catholic heritage, its proud tradition as a centre of learning, its once great military prowess that enabled it to withstand the constant merciless onslaught of the Turkish hordes and other nasty invaders such as Napoleon and build a great Empire that straddled across central Europe.
Well without the Irish, none of these successes might ever have occurred!

Vienna, Bertie Ahern & the Irish Government connection
The land that is now called Austria was inhabited by Celtic tribes long before the arrival of the Romans circa 2,000 years ago.
The name ‘Vienna’ is Celtic in origin and could possibly have the same roots as ‘Fianna’ a mythological elite band of warriors led by the Irish hero Fionn MacCumhaill that gave the name to today’s main Irish political party –‘Fianna Fáil (English= ‘warriors of destiny’).
However the subsequent arrivals (Romans & later Germans) could not quite get their tongues around the ‘f’ sound and mispronounced it as a ‘v’.

Irish Bring Urban Life, Business Acumen & Learning to Austria
During the ‘Dark Ages’ after the fall of the Roman Empire to marauding German tribes, Austria was left desolated, its once great cities with their libraries and manufacturing enterprises reduced to dust, its economy destroyed. The poor natives lost the ability to write, to enjoy the arts and to take part in international trade. It was a time when there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Hope, happiness and learning only returned to this God-forsaken land in the 7th century with the arrival of a merry band of brave young Irish lads and lassies. Their leader was a highly intelligent and saintly entrepreneur known to history as St. Rupert who had been sent by the Duke of Bavaria to evangelise the region after his successful efforts in Germany. As well as founding the abbey of St. Peter’s in the ruins of the old Roman town of Juvavia along the River Danube, his establishment of a salt mine nearby gave the area its new name of Salzburg.
Though the French claim Rupert as one of their own, the evidence reinforces his Irish ancestry. Rupert took on the dual title of ‘abbot’ and ‘bishop’, a feature of the Irish Celtic Church of the time.

Irish Women do their bit for Austria
Furthermore it was written that Rupert once returned from a trip home bringing with him his sister (or niece) who went by the name of Erintrude and who established Nonnberg, the world’s oldest convent. ‘Erin’ or ‘Eirinn’ is the Irish Gaeilge term for Ireland. Furthermore promoting women to positions of authority in the church was also a contemporary Irish characteristic. Female emancipation appeared early in Irish society!

Builder of
Salzburg Cathedral was an Irishman
Over 50 yrs after Rupert's death, the city’s bishopric was granted to another Irish man Saint Virgil (trans. ‘Fergal’ in Gaeilge Irish). Fergal O’Neill laid the foundations of Salzburg Cathedral (where his statue and that of St. Rupert still stands at the entrance) and is reputed to have transported the bones of two famous Irish female saints(St. Brigit & St. Samthana) to its hallowed grounds. Just goes to show that few Irishmen, even celibate saints, can survive without their womenfolk (dead or alive)!
Nicknamed ‘the Geometer’, Virgil was a clever lad and renowned scientist who was vehemently condemned by his contemporary St. Boniface (an Englishman of course!) for his statements on the Earth being round and on the existence of other worlds! A man well ahead of this time.

Austria's First Patron Saint: Murdered Irish Tourist
Sometimes the Austrians could be a xenophobic lot taking their frustrations out on innocent foreign tourists. One such unlucky traveller was an Irishman by the name of Colman passing through the country in 1012 on pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Palestine. Unfortunately some hostile locals at Stockerau near Vienna accused him of being a spy. He was tortured and hanged. The fact that he couldn't speak German and hadn't a clue about what he was being accused of didn't help his survival chances! His accusers soon learned they had made a big mistake and had killed an innocent man. Mortified, impressed by the Irishman's bravery under torture and noticing that people were being miraculously healed from disease whilst praying at his graveside they soon had Colman (or Koloman) declared the country's first patron saint.
Colman became the patron saint for hanged men.
Sadly the incident didn't improve Austrians' attitudes towards tourists. In the next century the great warrior Richard the Lionheart, after fighting wars in France, Sicily, Cyprus and the Holy Land as well as surviving shipwreck, was kidnapped by Duke Leopold and his troops near Vienna and held until a king's ransom was paid by his mother.

‘Sound of Music’ & how the Irish Taught the Austrians to Sing
(& probably how to Dance!)
(...The Hills were Alive with the Sound of Irish Music...)
The internationally acclaimed Roger and Hammerstein musical ‘The Sound of Music’ is based on the true life story of the Austrian ‘Von Trap’ family. The story’s main protagonist is Maria Kutschera who, while a novice at a convent, was asked to teach the children of the widowed war hero Commandant Georg Ludwig von Trap. Her great gift was singing. Ludwig was so enamoured with Maria that he later married her. The rest as they say is history.
The convent that Maria came from was in fact Nonnberg founded by the Irish woman Erintrude in the early 8th century. The chanting of daily evening vespers by Erintrude and her female companions was obviously the beginning of the (Austrian) hills coming alive with the sound of music.
Jolly Group of Dancing Irish Nuns?

Austrian Navy- an Irish invention!
Yes, landlocked Austria once had a large powerful navy whose founder was an Irishman. Up until 1918, Austria controlled a vast empire stretching from the southern Poland to the Adriatic coast along what is now Croatia and Italy.
George Forbes from Granard in Co. Longford was made Vice-Admiral by Emperor Charles VI in 1719 and established the first Austrian Habsburg naval force in the Adriatic waters.

Austrian's Most Decorated War Hero- had Irish ancestry
Known as the ‘Eagle of Trieste’, Gottfried von Banfield was one of World War One’s most famous flying aces. A naval officer and founder of the Austrian air force, he was the last recipient of the Austria-Hungarian Empire’s Order of Maria Theresa. Gottfried was a member of a well-known Irish-Austrian military family, his grandfather being a Banfield from Castle Lyons in Co. Cork.

“The more Irish in the Austrian (military) service the better…”
On the principle of the ‘enemy of my enemy is by friend’, hundreds of thousands of Irish during the 16th, 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries served as soldiers in the armies of European powers at war with an English state that was occupying their homeland. Their departure from Ireland was looked on with great sorrow by the families they left behind who romanticised them as wild geese flying across the seas to distant lands many never to return. Hence the popular term for these Irishmen - 'The Wild Geese'. They found though a hearty welcome in the armies of the continental empires of their Catholic coreligionists where their military prowess was much valued. This was especially true in the Austrian Habsburg Empire where many Irishmen reached the ranks of field marshals, generals and military governors and whose descendants continued to serve the monarchy until its collapse in 1918.
The Irish American writer Brian McGinn, who has written extensively of the Irish that served in foreign armies, gave details of a letter written by Emperor Francis 1 (husband of Maria Theresa) in 1765 which summarised the esteem that they they were held in by the Habsburgs: "The more Irish officers in the Austrian service the better; our troops will always be disciplined; an Irish coward is an uncommon character; and what the natives of Ireland even dislike from principle, they generally will perform through a desire for glory."

St. Patrick’s Day Palace Party , Vienna 1766
How influential these Irish became in Austria can be shown by a review of the attendees at the world’s first recorded St. Patrick’s Day house (well actually palace!) party that took place on March 17th 1766 in Vienna hosted by the Spanish ambassador to the Imperial court.
First of all the host himself, Ambassador Count Demetrio O’Mahony, was the son of the Irish war-hero Daniel O’Mahony who won international acclaim for his bravery fighting with the Irish Brigade at the Battle of Cremona in 1702.
The guest list included Count Francis Maurice Lacy, President of the Imperial Council of War, along with generals O'Kelly, O'Donnell, Browne, Maguire, McElligott, and Plunkett as well as dozens of other Irish serving as governors, privy counsellors and army.
It must have been one hell of an ex-pats party!

Loss of Irish Soldiery Leads to Collapse of Austrian Empire
This tradition of Irish men attaining positions of high military authority continued into the next century. Lavall Nugent and Thomas Brady, two Irish officers in the Austrian Army who served with distinction during the Napoleonic Wars were both conferred with the rank of Field-Marshal.
Another Irish Field-Marshal, Andreas von O'Reilly, was Governor of Vienna in 1809 when he was left with no choice but to surrender the city to the more powerful French Army of Napoleon.
However by the middle of the 19th century, the flow of Irish to the armies of Austria had dried up as they emigrated instead to the Americas and parts of the British Empire. This loss of talented Celtic warrior talent may explain why the Austrians were defeated in World War One and their Empire crumbled- Just a theory!

Popular Nationalist Support of Catholic Empress Visits to Ireland Scares British Regime. Leads to Government Banning her from country

Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) was the ‘Princess Diana’ celebrity of her day. Beautiful and stylish, she abhorred court convention, became an international fashion icon, loved equestrian pursuits, travelled continuously and in the process made many of her holiday destinations ‘must see’ tourist locations.

Not surprisingly, she was intensely disliked by her husband's old-fashioned conservative royal family but was adored by many of the ordinary people of the Habsburg empire.

In 1879, she spent a month hunting in Ireland staying at Lord Longford’s residency of Summerhill House in county Meath. In spite of the agrarian unrest caused by bad harvests, the increasing evictions of tenants by a hated Anglo-Irish aristocracy and the beginnings of a Land League campaign for a revolution in land ownership, crowds enthusiastically greeted Elisabeth wherever she travelled in the country. According to historian Tony Canavan, she had a horse called St. Patrick, owned an Irish wolfhound and wore a sprig of shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day.
Empress Elisabeth with her Irish wolfhound 'Shadow'
As the Empress of the greatest Catholic power in the world, the British regime feared that public support for her from a largely downtrodden Catholic, nationalist and angry peasantry could translate into calls for a Habsburg Catholic monarchy in Ireland as a way of ending foreign British Protestant rule. It was well known that Elisabeth was a sympathiser of the Hungarian rebellion that led in 1867 to the loss of sole Austrian hegemony and the establishment of the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy.

Elisabeth returned to Ireland for another month of hunting in 1880 but was prevented from doing so the following year by the British authorities.

Irishman Saves Emperor’s Life

Except for Louis XIV, Franz Josef had the longest reign (68 yrs) of any European monarch. But his time on the throne would have been one of the shortest of any Habsburg Emperor where it not for the fact that his life was saved by an Irishman. On 18 February 1853, an Imperial officer Maximilian Karl Lamoral O’Donnell was out walking with the Emperor when he foiled an assassination attempt by a Hungarian nationalist Janos Libenyi.

O'Donnell was a descendent of a distinguished family who had served as high ranking Imperial officers for decades and were part of the Irish soldiery known as the Wild Geese who, throughout the 17th and 18th century, escaped repressive English rule in Ireland in their tens of thousands (even hundreds of thousands) to serve in the armies of Spain, France, Portugal and Austria.

As a result of his endeavours, Maximilian was made an Imperial Count, conferred with the Commander's Cross of the Royal Order of Leopold, and the O'Donnell coat-of-arms was augmented by the initials and shield of the ducal House of Austria and the double-headed eagle of the Empire. These arms are still emblazoned on the portico of his residency at No. 2 Mirabel Platz in Salzburg.

Galwayman Secures Global Stardom for Austrian’s Most Popular Composer

In a country that is famed for its music composers, Johan Strauss Jr. can rightly claim to be its most popular due to the public appetite across the world for his waltzes that included such classics as The Blue Danube and Tales from the Vienna Woods. It was Johann who made the city of Vienna synonymous with dance music.

But it was an Irishman, Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore from Ballygar in County Galway, who made him an international star by bringing him to the United States of America to take part in the Boston International Music Festival where crowds of up to 120,000 watch performances in an outdoor coliseum. It began the trend that is still with us today of European musicians having to perform and ‘make it’ in the US in order to become global icons.

Gilmore himself was a composer who is recognised as the principal figure in 19th century American music. Among his many achievements was the revamping of US military band music, the writing of the marching song When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ (adopted from an old Irish song) , setting up Gilmore's Concert Garden in New York which became the Madison Square Garden and introducing the tradition of seeing in the New Year in Times Square.