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Cleveland Irish: Irish Love

Aunt Irene would always tell me on the ride to the cemetery, “Dead is dead.” She could articulate that with a sincere somberness that conveyed the homeostatic balance of the moment but would not be misinterpreted as callous.

My Uncle would always toast that statement with his flask, just a nip. It was one of the few times his toasts went unretorted.

The Dublin Penny Journal in September of 1835 published Caoine; or Irish Death-Song. A “beautiful lament” and “for pathos, sublimity of sentiment and tenderness of feeling, can hardly be surpassed.”

Truth be told, there is not a long list of laments in my library, not to bewail me books. In Irish cultural history, the banshee foretold of death. A “banshee,”or “woman of the faires,” would mournfully wail at night as death was imminent.

It was believed that banshees limited their lamentations to Irish families. One of the first published references to a banshee was in 1830, albeit misunderstood as witchcraft.

For more recent reading, please see The Banshee: The Irish Supernatural Death Messenger (1997) by Patricia Lysaght. It is a scholarly researched study of the banshee in Irish history and folklore.

“Damp falls the dew of heaven: yet the sun shall bring joy, and the mists of the night shall pass away before his beam.” Old Gaelic cultural traditions, include the importance of folk hero Cuchulain. He was a mythological chieftain, believed to be the human manifestation of the Irish god Lugh.

Also spelled Cú Chulainn, he was known for his bravery, but is said to have sacrificed his life to allow fellow warriors to escape death. Sacrificial themes similar to Cuchulain were iterated and incorporated into the literary productions of poets and writers, including Pearse and Yeats, by the beginning of the 19s.

One of my former students, Elijah, would remind me occasionally, “You were born in the 19s.” At first, it took me a moment or two, but, “Yes, Elijah, I was born in the 1900s.” Kid could make me feel old.

Hunger Strike Origins in Ireland
Some historians have argued that this theme of sacrifice in Irish history is a milieu of Catholic and literary influences. In the 20s, or the first 25 years or so of the 20th Century, that was manifest in the Republican movement. In the years 1913-1923, there were over 50 collective hunger strikes held by Irish political prisoners in Ireland.

The first nine years of that span witnessed about 1,000 prisoners taking part in hunger strikes in opposition to the British government. In 1923, that number was nearly 8,000 hunger strikers protesting the Irish Free State. These numbers include both male and female prisoners.

The data indicates that those protests against prison conditions and prisoner treatment lasted a few days or maybe a week. The political hunger strikes lasted up to 76 days and some of those resulted in unconditional release, yet others resulted in prisoners being force fed.

Seven prisoners passed away due to their commitment to refuse food during this period of our history. There were also over 20 imprisoned women who participated in hunger strikes from 1912 to 1914. They were involved in the Irish suffrage movement, which gained the right, temporally, to vote in 1918.

That is if you were 30 or older, born in the 18s, and met the qualifications. Irish men could vote at 21 years of age without qualifications; just the facts.

Flanagan’s Wake
Tickets to Flanagan’s Wake always go quickly. If you make it to Playhouse Square for a show, please stop in to Parnell’s and enjoy a well-poured Guinness.

If you can’t make a show, Nora’s Public House in Willoughby has an Irish Wake every March and really good food. The Irish Wake has been well studied in various works. It has always denoted hospitality and community to me.

Burial records dating to 900 indicate the social aspect of funeral practices. Travel accounts were typically biased chronicles that lacked cultural relativity. They focused on wake games and the drink. An understanding of the cultural, religious and social intersections during death customs was lacking.

At funerals they have their wakes…more befitting heathens than Christians

…they spend most of the night in obscene stories and bawdy songs…

then the Priest calls on them to fall to their prayers for the soul of the dead.

There was also a ritual of a post-burial feast. That varied historically, dependent on the global economy. Some Irish even made mention in their Will to provide food and drink to those present at the funeral and occasionally included the same for the relief of the less fortunate.

Nor shalt you wander more on thy native mountains, amid the scenes of thy childhood, where first were awakened thy friendships.” Friendship, Unity and Catholic Charity is the motto of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

We had cause for more wakes and funeral dinners this past year than we would have wished. Each of our departed Brothers reflected that motto in a manner befitting who they were and how they approached life.

Regardless of funeral home and parish, each celebration of life reflected the Irish customs as they are expressed in our time. It was an honor to attend each wake, Mass and funeral dinner.

It is Hibernian tradition to pray as a group at the calling. Those are some of the most powerful moments. We also donate vestments in honor of the deceased. It is just what we do.

I try not to rate the homilies; that was always Aunt Irene’s passion. That was typically included with her “reader critique.” Not being callous, she never had a bad word to say about the readers at a funeral Mass.

Aunt Irene taught me many things, and after a lachrymose longness, it was learned: if you have Mass at the Basilica at Notre Dame, then have an Irish guy reading in Gaelic; if you have Mass at a parish with no pews, get the drummer and the piper; and if you ride all the way to All Souls, look for the guy waving the large Irish flag. The after funeral dinner at the Irish Club is a true community celebration.

There is a Hibernian Mass at 10:30 am on April 21st at the Cathedral, where Cleveland Irish have been celebrating Mass since it was built. We honor our deceased Hibernian Brothers and Sisters at the Mass and then join together for food and friendship at Chuck’s Place, 38th and St. Clair. Please feel free to join us and celebrate their lives, because “dead is dead,” but love is always love.  

Find this and Francis’s other Cleveland Irish columns and others from this month’s issue HERE!

Picture of Francis McGarry

Francis McGarry

*Francis McGarry holds undergraduate degrees from Indiana University in Anthropology, Education and History and a Masters in Social Science from the University of Chicago. He is the Executive Director of Bluestone Hibernian Charities and proprietor of McGarry Consulting. He is a past president of the Irish American Club East Side and the founder and past president of the Bluestone Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

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