Monday, December 20, 2010

Carrying on

I am happy to report that I have discovered another opportunity to use the word recusant. You may recall I learned the word doing research for the unfortunate Guy Fawkes incident. I feel if one doesn't use new words, one quickly forgets them. Unfortunately, recusant isn't a word often used in my country, since people here could care less about someone's religion. Couldn't care less, I mean. Unless they are Muslim, I guess, but that is quite another story.

Recusant, I'm sure you remember, means Roman Catholic. Well, actually it means refusing to be Church of England, but Catholic is the main alternate choice that used to piss off Henry VIII, good queen Bess, James six-one (or is it one-six?), et al. Et tu. Et eggs.

"What did you have for breakfast, Tommy?"

"Teacher, I et six eggs for breakfast."


"Maybe it WAS eight I et."


It all started when I was doing research on the Order of the Garter. I think that part started when I Googled the Princess Royal by mistake, and I'm not sure the connection. I am even less sure how that led to another opportunity to use recusant. Wait... now I remember. That Parker-Bowes fellow was Anne's first boyfriend.

It's all rather circular: sir Humphrey de Trafford, millionaire multimillionaire racehorse owner, who came by his fortune through sacrifice and hard work and not through being connected to the right people, had a daughter who was the mother of the aforementioned Andrew Parker-Bowes, the guy who had the brief "relationship" with the Princess Royal whose brother quite liked one Camilla Rosemary Shand (whom I refuse to call Rosie) who later became the Dutchess of Cornwall (unless you are of the Scottish persuasion, then she's the Dutchess of Rothesay.) Well, Andrew didn't marry Anne, whom he was dating, and neither did her brother marry Camilla, whom he was more than infatuated with, so the sordid story goes. No, indeed. Andrew married Camilla right out from under him. In a manner of speaking. Then, though Andrew did marry Camilla, he, Andrew, took up with one Rosemary Pitman, descendent of the famous inventor of the Pitman system of shorthand writing, Andrew seemingly having a weakness for women named Rosemary, while the aforementioned brother of the Princess Royal never really let his affection for the Andrew-wife Camilla stay what you would call unrequited, if you get my drift. Now, if this slippery hole is still not quite deep enough for you, let me mention also that the aforementioned inventor of the famous shorthand system was a brother-in-law to an uncle of Diana, Princess of Wales. My GOD do these people have no shame!

And yet, I find I have drifted somewhat off the point in my righteous indignation. The de Traffords (racehorse guy, and so forth) are notable historical RECUSANTS. That means Andrew, who actually presumably TOUCHED the Princess Royal, was a gol-derned Catholic, same as Guy Fawkes. So was Camilla. JesusJosephandMary. And Diana? Who knows. She learned shorthand and took up with a Muslim, but she wasn't reCUsant by a long shot.

Just don't get me wound up about Camilla's ancestor, a mistress of Edward VII. Circular indeed. I know you won't.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day of Reconciliation

Today [December 16] is a public holiday in South Africa.

The Day of Reconciliation holiday came about in 1994 following the end of apartheid, and is intended to foster a spirt of reconciliation and national unity.

However, the date chosen comes from a much earlier event.

On December 16, in 1838, was fought the Battle of Blood River. On the bank of the Ncome River on that date, king Dingane, with an army of close to 15,000 men, attacked 470 Voortrekkers. The Voortrekkers, under the command of Andries Pretorius, of course had provoked the attack, though they hadn't counted on quite that large of an opposing army.

The Zulus attacked the Voortrekkers in waves, with only spears for weapons. The Dutch soldiers had muskets and cannon. By the end of the day, the river by the hippo pool had actually changed color.

In the ignoble (some say) carnage on that killing field, over 3000 Zulu warriors were slaughtered. The Trekkers had 3 slightly wounded, including Pretorius himself.

The Zulus lived to fight another day, and with much greater success.

Read more about the Battle of Blood River, its causes and its aftermath here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This blog was born of my interest - curiosity, really - about words and language. I am an analyst first and foremost, with an emphasis on the architecture of information. This leads me down many paths, but primarily my overriding goal is to clarify; I find ways to simplify the complex, extract the essence of things, restate and restructure into more understandable terms. This activity isn't limited to only written things, but this post is about the interpretation of written things.

Charles Dickens was a 19th century British writer - he would say English writer, I'm sure - who mostly wrote about life in the early part of that century. He wrote fiction, to be sure, but fiction that was set against the background of the reality of the times in which he lived. One can learn a lot about what life was like for those who lived back then by reading Dickens' descriptions - descriptions of the sometimes squalid lives of the poor or common people of the first part of that century.

I have loved reading since I was a child. I can't remember a time when I wasn't reading some book or other, and I can't remember when I first discovered Charles Dickens. I remember studying David Copperfield as a requirement in school, but that wasn't the first.

Like many others in this age of instant communication, I have fallen into the lazy trap of watching "books" in the cinema, or on TV. For example, every Christmas I watch the TV versions of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," with the Alastair Sim version being my favorite I think. After many times of watching it, one gets to almost be able to say the dialog by heart.

Although I watch it on TV every Christmas, in its many renditions, it has been years and years since I actually read the words Charles Dickens wrote. I did dig it out the other day and began reading it, and was immediately reminded of how the movie versions don't do Dickens' writing justice. If you have been guilty of this lazy habit of watching instead of reading, I would recommend you pick up the book again.

What makes an author successful? Famous? We've talked about what makes certain books "classics," but, in my mind, it is almost totally the author's powers of description that make him good, great, or classically great. Of course, one needs an interesting story to begin with, but the telling of that story will determine mediocrity or greatness, in my opinion. Nobody describes better than Charles Dickens.

When I was a child, I always read books far over my head, so to speak. Books written for children never interested me. Of course that meant I needed to always have a dictionary nearby, and it had to be used with nearly every paragraph. Today, I am older and perhaps even wiser, but I still need my dictionary when I read Dickens. I don't mind.

We all know the story of Dickens' A Christmas Carol by heart. It is the story of the meaning of Christmas and how an old man lost his way by forgetting what life is really all about. And then, as Paul Simon might say, he was given another shot at redemption.

To watch the old story unfold on TV is one thing. But to read Dickens describe the story, well... that is something else again.

Part of the reason I still need my dictionary to read Dickens in the flesh is because the story was written a long time ago and people spoke differently in the 19th century. Another reason is because Dickens was British and used British phrases and idioms, some foreign to an American eye. But, mainly, I need a dictionary because Dickens' vocabulary is simply so much more extensive than mine.

I know some of you reading this are also analysts, and I know some of you are also interested in literature. As I began reading A Christmas Carol, and looking up words, just as I had done as a child, and trying to sort out his underlying meanings, it occurred to me that perhaps you would enjoy doing some of that right along with me. If so, what follows might even be a little bit fun for some of you. Let's do some together.
A Christmas Carol
Stave I: Marley's Ghost

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Marley was dead. Got that. But 'Change? I don't get that. "Exchange"? Hmmm. Dictionary no help here. Well, the meaning was clear that Scrooge's name carried considerable weight. And that Scrooge knew for sure that Marley was dead. Dead as a doornail? I'm surprised that expression is so old that Dickens used it, but I know what it means.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don't know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain. The mention of Marley's funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot -- say Saint Paul's Churchyard for instance -- literally to astonish his son's weak mind.

Scrooge was Marley's sole residuary legatee. My dictionary says "residuary" means an estate and "legatee" is a person who is the beneficiary of such. I take this to mean that Scrooge inherited all of his partner's estate when he died. His part of the business. His house. The movie versions don't tell you that. We further glean, in Dickens' rather roundabout manner of speaking, that Scrooge didn't take the day off when Marley died, but conducted business as usual and even closed a nice transaction that day. Do you agree with my interpretation? But why the lengthy reference to Hamlet? Why, to warn the reader that he, Dickens the writer, is also about to set up a scene with a ghost and wants to make sure you agree the guy is dead. That's the gist of it, I think. Still, I don't understand the reference to St. Paul's in this context, or the part about his son's weak mind. Maybe some of you who are up on your Hamlet can explain it better than I. And I'm trying. Help.

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley's name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

Hard and sharp as a flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire. I like that, don't you? Elegant. So is the Oyster simile. "Rime", I learned long ago in the Air force, is thin ice that forms on wings and causes planes to crash. Must be deiced. But on Scrooge's head? Well, Dickens never saw an airplane, so we are talking about a hoary frost on his thin hair and eyebrows. But not literally; Scrooge was a cold character even in the summer, so Dickens isn't referring to the winter air causing Scrooge to be cold - he was simply cold-hearted, period. Indeed, Dickens goes on to clarify this by saying Scrooge was a cold character even in the dogdays. Dogdays meaning the hottest part of summer. I think.


Well, maybe this analysis isn't so much fun for you as it is me after all.

Try the following all by yourself. I mean, rewrite it into modern simple English if you can:

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often `came down' handsomely, and Scrooge never did.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, `My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?' No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, `No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!'

But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call `nuts' to Scrooge.

Once upon a time -- of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve -- old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already -- it had not been light all day -- and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.


I HATE multiple-choice tests; all of mine are essay. Do translate. For the fun of it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A little Gilbert and Sullivan

Some of you know that one of my major hobbies is collecting music. I collect just about all genres if I like it, and I like a lot.

This post is not really about the lives or professional careers of Gilbert and Sullivan, except to say briefly, for those who may not be familiar with the names, that they wrote words and music for operettas (short, light, operas) and that they were mostly active in the last quarter of the 19th century, in Great Britain.

These men collaborated on 14 comic operas, geared for Victorian audiences. Of these 14, three were more popular than the others: H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado.

Their business was parody. For the most part, their operettas poked fun at the Victorian establishment, the hypocrisy, the incompetence at high levels. Their stuff is fun to watch. It is very witty and it goes by really fast; you can see the same one several times and pick up more and more each time that you didn't get the first time.

My personal favorite Gilbert and Sullivan happens to be The Pirates of Penzance. I won't go into a summary of the "plot" because if you know Gilbert and Sullivan then you already know what it is about. What I want to talk about is a particular performance of Pirates. Bear in mind that if one sings opera, even if that opera is light comedy, one must have the kind of voice that can sing opera. Well, I guess that is obvious.

Linda Ronstadt is of Hispanic origins through her father, though there was (obviously) a German ancestor somewhere in his family history. His ancestors were wagon makers and came up from Mexico to Arizona way back when. Her mother is of German, Dutch and English heritage. Linda was born in Tucson, Arizona. Her father was a successful machinery merchant.

Linda Ronstadt came onto the music scene in late 1967. The name of the group was The Stone Poneys; the name of the hit song was "Different Drum" and in small print on the record under Stone Poneys were the words, "Featuring Linda Ronstadt." To my knowledge, that was the only record she cut with The Stone Poneys. She has been a single artist since then, though she has appeared on many collaboration albums with other singing stars. Since 1967 she has become an international star in several musical genres, famous enough that you don't need me to tell you who she is. She sings rock and roll and Folk Rock, became a big-time Country singer, and has released albums in Jazz, Latin American (Canciones de mi Padre), Rhythm and Blues, Big Band, Pop, and one more. Well, you know.

I can't tell you how many theater companies and college drama classes have staged The Pirates of Penzance over the past 130 years, much less how many millions of people have fallen in love with the songs and mouth the words along with the singers, much like the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Except that The Pirates of Penzance was written in 1880.

There really is a town called Penzance in England. It's in Cornwall. I don't think there are any pirates there, though.

In my music collecting, I came accross a video tape of an old TV special of a live production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. As I say, I like Pirates, so I watched the tape. A live performance, as I say, but both the male and female leads were rock and country singers, not opera people. That disappointed me, I must say, knowing they were going to screw up one of my favorite operettas.

Linda Ronstadt was cast in the female lead (Mabel, one of the Modern Major General's many daughters.) The Pirate King is sung by Kevin Kline, a comedic actor, but with a great singing voice, and Little Ruthie is sung by Angela Landsbury (Murder, She Wrote), who, of course, has a professionally trained voice as well. The other principal singers and chorus are just dandy. But Linda Ronstadt can't sing opera, right? No way. Well, I watched the TV production of Pirates anyway, and let me be frank: when Linda applied her pipes to Gilbert and Sullivan, she just blew me away!

Go, ye heroes, go to glory,

Though you die in combat gory,

Ye shall live in song and story.

Go to immortality!

Go to death, and go to slaughter;

Die, and every Cornish daughter

With her tears your grave shall water.

Go, ye heroes, go and die!

See if you agree with me that the lass can sing opera too. At least Gilbert and Sullivan. Let me know what you thought. Were you as surprised as I?

Note: this was posted on BritishSpeak blog because Gilbert and Sullivan were British.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Rerun Australian omelette recipe

When I first started the BritishSpeak blog, I used to stay up all night and stalk Australian blogs. Some were pretty amazing. Aussies can be pretty irreverent.

I can think A. for reminding me (by proxy) of this old post I did back in March of 2008, because A. ran a recipe of a delicious chocolate cake on her blog today. Of course, A. would never speak as the Aussies speak.

A.'s recipe for chocolate cake is very precise, with measurements down to half an ounce. That's what you need for perfection. Aussies are not always so precise with their ingredients, as evidenced by the omelette recipe below.

Warning - please don't continue reading if you are easily offended; Aussie humor is not cutesy double-entendre.

Recipe for Australian omelette:


2 fucking eggs
some fucking salt and pepper
fucking chives
1 fucking knob (?) of fucking butter


Heat the fucking butter in a fucking omelette pan.
Fucking break the fucking eggs into a fucking bowl.
Fucking whisk the fuckers and add some fucking salt and fucking pepper to taste.
When the fucking butter is hot, add the fucking mixture to the pan.
When cooked, take the fucking thing out.
Eat the fucker.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Guy Fawkes Day (That's today)

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up King and Parliament.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

I must tell you that on the day I started this blog a couple years back, all that I knew about Guy Fawkes was... um... nothing, actually.

Today, I know a little bit more about the holiday, though I still don't know why you would want to have a holiday for such a man. It is as if we in the U.S. were to have a Benedict Arnold Day, or, more to the point of bombing government buildings, a Bill Ayers Day. Now, if you were to have a "Burning Guy Fawkes in Effigy Day," that I would understand. I am going to use this space today to tell you what I've learned about Guy Fawkes.

First, a couple of really cool words I have added to my vocabulary:

1. Recusant

2. Undercroft

Recusant: a person who refuses to submit to an authority or to comply with a regulation. Primarily refers to historic Roman Catholics in England who refused to attend the Church of England.

Undercroft: a basement or cellar under a building, often bricked and with vaulted ceilings. Used for storage, of, say, gunpower or like that.

Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) was born in York. His father died when he was eight years old and his mother then married a recusant Catholic. Fawkes himself converted to Catholicism and emigrated to Spain. Where there were a LOT of Catholic folk.

As often happens with religion, Spain fought the 80 Years War with the Protestant Dutch just because, and Guy (called "Guido" by the Spanish) took part and became a fairly knowledgeable soldier. I don't know how long the war lasted. I'm guessing Guido was a demolition man, but I don't know that for sure. Somewhere along the way I'll bet he learned to speak Spanish. According to another unreliable source (Wikipedia being the first) it is said that when he was about to be drawn and quartered, he shouted, "Ole! Ole!" just before he jumped. Only this source had two upside down exclamation marks and mine doesn't.

Sometime after his military discharge, Guido, having fallen in with a bad crowd, thought it would be a good idea to return to England and kill King James I. As you do.

Security being not quite what it is today in our airports, the conspirators were able to rent some storage space in the undercroft under Parliament. "Hire," I mean. They have since installed motion detectors and retired security guards down there. But, back then, it didn't occur to anyone that renting out space under Parliament to people who frothed at the mouth was anything unusual.

Quickly, the protestant-hating renegades moved in a couple megatons of explosives and chose Guido F. to guard the stuff until D-Day.

Someone who either loved James or hated Guido sent an anonymous letter to the authorities, though, and in the early morning of 5 November, 1605, the coppers came arrestingly, and read the hapless G.F. his rights.

"You have the right to be tortured until you confess." And, before long, Guido broke. As you do.

Yes, Guido broke from the torture (no pun intended) and the hanging/quarter-drawing was scheduled for January next.

Well, getting more or less right to the point, on 31 January 1606, standing on the gallows and a-waitin' his hanging, no doubt freezing his treasonous arse in the January breeze, contemplating the agony that was awaiting him at the drawing and quartering party which was scheduled after the half-hanging (partial strangulation, actually) and came to the obvious conclusion: "Fuck this!" and jumped off the scaffold and broke his neck. By breaking his neck, he thus avoided hanging and... um... breaking his neck. He showed them.

But, truly - and there is no real reason not to throw in a tidbit of truth here - back then they didn't hang you like we think of hanging. No, when that many people show up for the show, they drug it out more. So instead of dropping you with a rope around your neck, they slowly RAISED you with a rope around your neck. When you turned purple enough, they took the rope off and brought you back to consciousness, then they had four horses yank your arms and legs off your torso. Then you just sort of lay there looking up at the sky, blinking rapidly, yearning for some pain killers. I assume. Piking your head was then optional. This was supposed to act as a deterrent for any would-be traitors in the viewing audience. It probably did.

Since Guy Fawkes was to be hanged and then drawn and quartered, of course the British celebrate this event with bonfires and fireworks. Go figure.

You'd think they'd hold horse-pulling contests or something.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rail disaster at Quintinshill

In the spring of 1915, the Great War was underway. Troops were being mobilized and shipped to various battle sites. Back in those days, the railways were used to transport troops. On May 22 of 1915, two such trains were transporting soldiers of the Royal Scots 7th Battalion to a troop transport ship at Liverpool, bound for the war in Gallipoli. The second train didn't make it.

Quintinshill Junction is/was a railway switch point just outside Gretna, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. There were two main through-tracks and, above and below the main lines, two sidings (passing loops.) Shortly after 6 a.m. that morning, due to railway workers negligence, there was a terrible train crash which involved five trains. 226 people lost their lives, the worst UK train disaster in history, in terms of loss of life.

Due to wartime censorship, the event was not widely reported at the time. Click here to view a diagram of the railway switch at that point.

On the top (up) running line was parked a local train waiting for an express train to pass on the other (down) running line. This was done because both sidings were already occupied: On the top siding was parked an empty coal train returning to Wales, and on the bottom siding was a waiting goods train.

It was during a shift change where replacement workers were arriving. The switch worker responsible "forgot" that he had just shunted the local train onto the upper main line and left it sitting there in the path of oncoming traffic. At approximately 6:47 a.m. the troop train arrived as expected and collided with the stationary local. Within seconds of the collision, the express arrived on the down main line from the other direction and collided with the wreckage which had blocked that track too.

The troop train carriages were obsolete wood ones. The lighting was gas. The oil-gas reservoirs were slung under the passenger cars and had just been charged (filled.) The wreckage began to burn with the troops still inside. Red hot coals from the crashed locomotive fire boxes ignited. The two trains on the sidings became involved in the fire and wreckage.

Of the 500 members of the 7th Battalion, only 60 were able to answer roll call the next day. 214 soldiers dead, 246 injured. Certainly the fires caused more deaths than the crash. Due to the remoteness of the crash site, it took four hours for the fire engines to arrive, traveling the last mile over an open field. The bodies of three children were found burned in the wreckage, presumed stowaways on the train. The rest of the dead were engineers and other train employees.

See an animation of the crash on Wikipedia.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nurdling (not to be confused with nerding, which is different altogether)

According to Wikipedia, the Jackson Stops Inn at Stretton hosts the World Nurdling Championships evey Late May Bank Holiday (so there is also a bank in Rutland?) in which 13 old pennies (I'm guessing they mean pennies of the old money, not aged coins) are hurled into a hole drilled into the seat of an oaken settle. (Guessing a settle is a bench or big chair.)

Sounds like really great fun. They claim the traditional game of Nurdling dates back to the Middle Ages.

The champion is called the "Best Tosser".

This has got to be a joke. (Having me on, they are. Well. we'll just see about that.)

(more) Observations, from an American viewpoint:

1. I would want to know how big the drilled hole is. Here I am assuming a "settle" is not an outdoor loo. If it is, then I guess the holes would be standardized and pretty easy to "hurl" pennies into, even if drunk. Plus you wouldn't have to bother retrieving the pennies, I suppose.

2. I think the word "hurl" is not apt. Not if the contestants are called tossers.

3. Is a new settle drilled every year? Or is there a royal and ancient settle from the middle ages?

Come to think of it, we used to toss pennies for sport too. As 12 year olds, not grown tossers. We didn't know it was an ancient game so we used an ashtray on a table instead of drilling holes in the furniture.

Am I talking to myself? Hello? Is this thing on? I feel alone right now. Perhaps the topic of this post has something to do with the lonely feeling. Or maybe it is the stigma of trying to make Rutland sound interesting. Sort of a weird feeling. Jenny say kwah, you know? (That's American for je ne sais quoi.) But it is almost Halloween, so that might be it.

What else? I think there are no extra points for tactical awareness (being awake) as in cricket. (And in the final analysis nurdling IS a cricket term.) I'm also pretty sure the rules said you have to bleat when you hurl, but don't quote me because I don't want to go back and look it up again. Bleating might be a whole different game, knowing the English. And something about Eric Idle, but I am fuzzy on that part. Maybe not Nurdling. Maybe just Rutland in general. I know he's not from Rutland, but I'm pretty sure he probably made fun of Rutland.

Did you know there are no cars allowed in Rutland? (Perhaps an urban legend) but for sure no trains to London until recently.)

There is a school, I'm told, in Uppingham. But apparently they don't teach about London since you can't get there from Rutland. I'm told it is a public school, which, of course, means it is a private school in the British language. Am I right?

Please don't confuse the Dorset Variation of nurdling to be connected to this post.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Multum In Parvo

They laugh at us. They say Oakam Castle is not even a castle at all, but nothing more than a great hall with a very large horseshoe collection, but they are wrong. Let them laugh.

One of the guys that fought at the battle of Bosworth Field has his balls stuck in a tree somewhere around here. So TWO tourist attractions.

Tomorrow I'll tell you what nurdling is.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Twitter: World news in less than 140 characters

The following was just too darn good for only Soubriquet's eyes. Sorry. I am an ace tweeter and MUST share my masterpiece with the world. Eat your heart out Shakespeare lady:

Berserk senate stabs consul in Ides forum fiasco! Julius croaked! Final words: “Et tu, Brute? Dammit, man!” Antony to speak at 11.

Go Max!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Outline IDs

Can you identify the state by the outline?
Can you identify the county by the outline?
Answers may be forthcoming. Stay tuned. :)

Saturday, October 9, 2010


A Roundhead was a person who supported Parliament back during the English Civil War. Obviously.

But the reason Roundheads got their name may have escaped your memory. Back in those days it was usual for a man to have long hair. A man with short-clipped hair was an oddity. With short hair, his head looked round. At least it looked round to people who had long hair.

The counterpart of the Roundhead (also known as Parliamentarians) was the Cavalier, who were Royalists. That is, they supported Charles I. Charles I had long hair. Guess whether Cavaliers had long hair or short hair? Well, no matter, since they would shortly be losing their heads anyway, right?

Roundheads were mostly Puritans or Presbyterians, although not ALL Puritans had short hair. Come to think of it, not ALL Puritans were against the crown either. And not all Puritans with short hair supported republicanism. Ah, well. There were also other factions that were included in the Roundhead realm, like the Diggers. We'll talk about the Diggers some other time, though.

Henrietta Maria was mainly known by the odd way she carried her hands when she walked. Almost like a ballerina who was about to FLING her arms out at any second. Passersby beware. Some say [citation needed] that she had carpel tunnel syndrome from holding curling irons for extended periods of time. I don't know. It's hard to speculate about something like that. But she sure was Catholic and Mr. Stuart sure did believe in the divine right to rule and lost his head over it.
Well, after the restoration, Charles II resumed, restored as it were, with a FIRM grasp of what the term "Constitutional Monarchy" meant. And on and on it went. The Stuarts are best known in history as the snappiest dressers of all British monarchs. No citation needed, just a fact.

The thing that has always puzzled me, though - and this is probably off the Roundhead topic, though perhaps not - is WHY would a future monarch, having the full 20/20 hindsight of history, still go ahead and name her heir Charles? Have you ever thought of that? Don't any of these people believe in bad luck? I am now visualizing the proud parents, beaming down at their new, rather large-eared infant, and suddenly she says, "I know, Phil, let's call it Charles."

Ah, well. Charles III may never come to pass anyhow. Unlikely he'll outlive her. I'm guessing we may be looking at a William V instead. Or, if he does get to the throne for a year or two, he'll have enough historical sense to call himself King Arthur. Either way, I wish him well, and that's a fact.

(He's the one holding his knees tightly together, not the one picking its teeth.)

You are supposed to already know who Henrietta Maria of France was.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wars and Battles: The Wars of the Roses

You may wonder what a post about about a ficticious Indiana divorce case narrated by actor-lawyer Danny Devito is doing on a blog called BritishSpeak. Well you may.

This post is about different wars fought by different roses, but I couldn't find any suitable pictures. In fact, the only pictures I could find of Richard III looked like a cross between Picasso on a bad day with both eyes on the same side of his face and something out of a deck of playing cards. I considered using Charles Laughton's Quasimoto, but figured you'd be on to me.

No, the Wars of the Roses that this post is about were fought in the 15th century and lasted about 50 years (1435-1485 for those who have a thing about accuracy) though there was considerable pushing and shoving before and after these dates.

The wars were fought over the throne of England and Wales, so the stakes were high.

No, I'm not REALLY going to try to tell the entire story of the Wars of the Roses here in a blog post. I'll just try to give the headlines.

The Duke of G:
"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that low'r'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried."

"Dicky, please stop speaking like that and wash up for supper, K?"

The above is one of only 4 or 5 passages of Shakespeare that I can actually quote. Please be kind enough not to look it up in case I got it wrong. Some versions of the play don't include this Dick's mother's lines.

If you would prefer to learn about the entirety of the Wars of the Roses simply by reading words that are hard to understand, then I refer you to Shakespeare's Henry VI (all three plays) and cap it off with Richard III. But I assure you MY version is much more entertaining and plausible (if not more coherent) than Shakespeare's, especially since I may tell you about some things Shakespeare forgot to put in his plays. My version may be a bit longer than those 4 plays, though.

"This above all, to thine own self be true..."

The above line represents another figment fragment of my quotable knowledge of The Bard. Although it has nothing at all to do with the War of the Roses, I DID learn it in another Danny Devito movie. Thus, while not exactly pertinent to this post, it is at least obliquely relevant. Some say I am The Bard's pard. Not many, though. Most simply say, "He's a poet 'n don't knowit but his feet showit. They're Longfellows." Children can be cruel.

::takes deep breath and plunges forward::

The house of York (white rose, I think) and the House of Lancaster (that would then be the red rose on the coat of arms and battle flags) were bickering [read: "killing each other"] about who would finish off the last gasp of the Plantagenet dynasty. But of course you knew that. Here will follow a lot of Henrys and Richards and Edwards, so your close attention is requested for two minutes.

Long story short: (as if)

The infant Henry VI becomes king upon the death of Henry V, Henry the IV having dispatched Richard II sometime prior. I know it is not politically correct to use the term feeble-minded, especially when you are talking about infants, but my mind is churning for a synonym without success. So we will just call Henry VI feeble-minded. No, wait. NOT feeble-minded, as in licking the windows; more like DEE ranged, as in marrying a camel and then jumping off the castle parapet wearing nothing but a superman cape. Oh Christ. That doesn't capture Henry VI, either. How about... and this is PC, too... "mentally unstable." Hey? Can I get you another beer?

Anyway, Henry VI was a Lancaster dude, to be sure. The Lancastrian claim to the throne (after Richard II... um.... retired) was through the fourth son of Edward III, whom the history books never mention by name. Wait. John of Gaunt. I guess the history books DO mention him. Nevertheless, this is only a hysterical historical side-trip and you will not be tested on this.

The point is, Henry VI's inability to rule all that well because of his mental challenges and his general desire to be doing something else for a living resulted in a challenge to his throneship by his relatives the Yorkites. Yorkians. Old Yorkers. (Picture Foster Brooks succumbing onstage to one-too-many alcoholic beverages and sinking loudly to his knees with a final frustrated moan: THE HOUSE OF YORK GODDAMITT!!!)

Enter the Wars of the Roses.

Hurry, you say?

Ok. Moving right along. The House of York successfully (for a while) asserts their claim to the throne and Edward IV becomes king. Then back to Henry VI again, then back to Edward IV. Then Edward V, who is just a kid and stongly dominated by the ever-present uncle Dick. Finally this last Dick becomes king as Richard III, hump and all, despite enduring a winter of discontent and despite Shakespeare putting far too many allegorical fantasies in his mouth - it is not possible to bury clouds in the ocean, which has no bosom to begin with; c'mon Will, the guy was a real Dick but holy cow, huh? - but not for very long. Two years. That's right, two lousy years. I swear. All of that for two years on the throne for Dick III.

Well, Richard III is killed in the almost-last battle of the Roses, as you know, and so that's why he only got 2 years on the throne. Now enter Henry Tudor, a remote Lancastrian, sort of, relative ('cause there's only girls left, I think. A bit foggy here. And don't you DARE start talking about France.) And Henry becomes Henry VII but marries a Yorkian chick lady by the name of Elizabeth of York, and so the two dynasties are untied united and they lived happily ever after. The end.

P.S. And Henry VII and Elizabeth begat Henry VIII who coveted Ireland, and his older sister whose name I can't remember, but who went to live in Scotland because of marriage and by all that's holy here comes the house of Stuart lurking in the wings and I am more than finished now.

Richard Nixon: Golly, Molly, old Max is starting to actually make sense in a semi-surreal way, doncha think? He's almost tying all this togeth.... ::walks toward helicopter::

In point of fact, the era of the Wars of the Roses was a very important time in England, and affected the future of the kingdom for many, many years. Richard III was killed in the penultimate battle of those wars, the Battle of Bosworth Field. Historians consider the Battle of Bosworth Field to be the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, a distinct turning point in English history. It ushered in the House of Tudor. Other kings killed in prior battles of the Wars of the Roses were Henry VI and Edward IV.

The Battle of Bosworth Field lasted about 2 hours. Richard III was the last English king to die in battle. Henry VII was crowned king immediately after the battle, on crown hill (using Richard's circlet.) The exact location of the battle is in dispute today, though they know within a couple of miles. Bosworth is approximately in the center of England as you look at a map.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wars and Battles: The Boer War

I'm not sure how much space in British history schoolbooks is devoted to the Boer War. I'm not even sure the British even attempt to teach all their history, come to think of it. One thing I'm sure about though, there is even less space in American history books devoted to the Boer War. So, read this little blog post, and the next time the British equivalent of Jay Leno stops you on the street and sticks a microphone in your face and asks you who was PM during WWII, tell him, "First, tell me who were the participants in the Boer War." I'm sure the pest will leave you alone.

Actually, there were two Boer Wars. There was a short one in 1880 and a longer, bloodier, one 20 years later.

The Boer Wars took place in Africa.

The Boer Wars were connected to something called "Colonialism." That means if you want to understand the Boer Wars, you must first understand what Colonialism was. Is.

The little movie "Stuff" sort of explains it. First, you have stuff in your own country which you use and abuse until it is mostly gone; then you begin to think of the stuff that is located in OTHER countries as if it were yours and then you just go get it at will, as if that country were just your warehouse. This works best when you have guns and the other people only have spears.

And so it came to pass, over time, that several countries began to visit Africa and draw boundary lines and start carting the stuff back home. One of those Colonizers was NOT the USA, I hasten to add. Not in Africa. That I know of. Later the USA played the popular "Cold War Bidding-For-Temporary-Fair-Weather-Friends Game," but that was after the Boer Wars.

Many of the boundary lines for countries in Africa got drawn by these colonizing countries. Before that, all of the people on the African continent were just one big family and sort of just milled around as they pleased, loving and helping their brothers and sisters as they pleased, building pyramids and weaving baskets and like that. With the Europeans came boundary lines. And plantations. Mustn't forget plantations. And illegal immigration - don't forget the squatter-farmers. "Boer," incidentally, is the Afrikaans word for "farmer."

Well, the point is that many of these boundary lines between African countries have remained, even though many of the names of cities and countries have been Africanized and the colonialists pretty much bounced from power. Other words you should know:

Vaal. This is a river in South Africa. Land above that river is the Transvaal. There was a British colony called Transvaal, and other things were and are also called Transvaal. Even the South African Republic is often called the Transvaal Republic.

The first Anglo-Boer war (1880-1881) was between the Boers (descendants of earlier Dutch "settlers") and the British, who were also settled there to take stuff. This short first war resulted in the Boers winning their independence from the British in that area, and being allowed to keep their Dutch/Boer stuff.

Sadly (for the colonialists, at least) the African people who lived in the area didn't agree that all the stuff belonged to the newcomers. Quite the opposite, you might say.

Okay, the SECOND Anglo-Boer War, the one that is in the movies and history books, lasted from 1899 to 1902 and was very very bloody and contentious, and didn't end NEARLY as well for the Dutch folk. Farmers. Boers. Whatever. Their "Boer Republics" suddenly became known as "British Colonies." British troops were brought in from other colonies and possessions. The British suffered great loss from disease, as they were largely untrained and unaccustomed to the climate and terrain, but they did eventually squash the semi-huns after a few years. But the bloodletting was fearful and so were the British concentration camps for the Boers, but we'll save that story for another post.

Trivia: Afrikaans still is spoken and is in fact one of the eleven official languages of South Africa today. If you would like to try your hand at reading Afrikaans, my friend Frosty Girl posted in that language in her last blog entry.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Scots Slang

Tanks and a tip o' the tam to Adullamite for pointing me towards a basic Scotslang primer.

The very first one was enough to throw ME fer a loop laddie...
I'm not sure I agree this is really slang as much as it is just a phonetic writing of the accent. Anyway...

"ABC Minors"

Give up?

I did.

Apparently there is a movie chain called ABC Cinemas in Scotland. Apparently they show movies on Saturdays where mostly children and preteens attend.

So far so, good. Same as in the States.

Anyway, let's see if we can get this interpreted. I won't be able to do it by myself, although I think I know what most of it means. Again, the question is "What is/are ABC Minors".
Saturday mornin' movies for weans at ABC cinemas. Show consisted of a shite children's film, usually wi Haley Mills in it. some cartoons, an a crap serial like "Attack o' the unconvincing robots." Ye went tae fling sooked jooblies at the screen and generally run aboot tae see if the man wid pit ye oot. If ye goat pit oot yer pals wid let ye back in through the fire exit.
Ok, I'm going to take an American stab at this.

Weems is 'tweens, right?

You want to fling soaked (?) JuJu Beans at the screen... to see if the usher will put you out (throw you out.) If you got put out, your pals would let you back in through the exit door (later, after the man stopped waching.)

How'd I do?

I really didn't get the "minors" part. I guess a kiddie matinee.
Now. Here are some Scottish sayings that I found on my own. I'll just give ye a few fer right now. See if you can tell what they mean. I mean in regular English. Heh.

1. Gonnae no' dae that!

2. Pure dead brilliant!

3. Yer bum's oot the windae!

4. Am pure done in.

5. Ma heid's mince.

6. Yer oot yer face!

7. Yer aff yer heid.

(Tell what they mean, not just translate word for word.)
Some actual words. Can you tell what these words mean?


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sweet and Low


Sweet and low, sweet and low,

Wind of the western sea,

Low, low, breathe and blow,

Wind of the western sea!

Over the rolling waters go,

Come from the dying moon and blow,

Blow him again to me;

While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.

Sleep and rest, sleep and rest,

Father will come to thee soon,

Rest, rest, on mother's breast,

Father will come to thee soon;

Father will come to his babe in the nest,

Silver sails all out of the west

Under the silver moon;

Sleep my little one, sleep my pretty one, sleep.



Barnes Readers, Illustrations by Mabel D. Hill, copyright 1916 and thus now in the public domain. The works of Lord Tennyson are in the public domain.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

An overview of the famine, and Irish in America

I'm starting to realize what an overwhelming project this is, trying to blog about such a large event in history. I'm not one to just gloss over important details because I feel the actual story lies in those details. I'm sure not enough of you are interested to follow what would need to be ten posts probably - I haven't really even started properly, really - so I think I will just summarize as best I can and hope those of you who are indeed interested will follow up and do some research on your own.

I wanted to go into more detail about the land system in Ireland, touch on Plantation Ireland set up by those British who followed Henry VIII's Church of England; touch on how some of those things were the seeds of the division in Ireland we see today.

I wanted to talk about the important people and the politicians that were in power during the famine. The relief efforts. The work houses. The road projects where three-quarters of a million people were put on public works. I wanted to tell how the people didn't know about the strange foods being given to them through the government's programs to relieve their hunger; how, as my friend mentioned in an earlier comment, the Indian corn purchased from America was totally strange to these people and they didn't even have the proper mills to mill the hard kernals fine enough to make porridge of it, so, finally, a lot of it was brought over from America already milled. They still didn't know how to cook it or what to make with it.

I wanted to talk about the gradual weakening and the dying of the children; how people were found next to roads and in the fields and on their farms, just lying there. The death carts, reminiscent of the Black Plague or of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. But I probably couldn't describe that adequately anyway.

And I wanted to try and explain the fearful emigration to unknown lands, that vast diaspora of the Irish people. I wanted to convey how fearful they were as they left Ireland forever, how terrible were the ships and the voyage, almost like slave ships, packed with people not used to the sea, fearful, still not fed, dying still from hunger and disease on those ships. How they must have wanted to return to their homeland even to face starvation there instead of those terrible ships!

I wanted to try and describe how they were received like animals, placed in quarantine, taken advantage of, made fun of, made to live in dungeon-like tenements in filthy New York City in double basement tenements that were below the water and sewer level.

I wanted to try and tell of their humiliation and how they were ridiculed and discriminated against in their new land of opportunity.
But I also wanted to try and tell the story of human survival, and how America was made so much better because of the arrival of the Irish (as well as many sons and daughters of Scotland - Scots like Andrew Carnegie who would build his enormous steel empire in Pittsburgh. Incidentally, Pittsburgh doesn't rhyme with Edinburgh.)

These things are not for a small blog, but for several books. I hope you will investigate some of these things on your own. I think few of you realize, even Americans, the incredible impact these people, these survivors, had on America. The Irish cleaned our toilets and built our railroads. They tended our children and became maids and worked in our mines. They fought our wars, some taken right off the ships into the army.

The story of the Irish in America is truly the real story of America herself. A story of survival. A story of renewal. A story, eventually, of redemption.

Finally, in January of 1961, a descendent of those exiles walked into the Oval Office of the White house and became our president.

In the U.S. today, 11.9% of the population (36,278,332) self-identifies itself as being of Irish descent. I don't know how many of them have been back to Ireland to visit the land of their ancestors, and I know most non-Americans reading this don't consider them Irish at all, and put them in the same category, or even further removed, as today's Irish who have voluntarily left Ireland to live in Great Britain or Europe due to hardship and living conditions in modern Ireland. But, in America, these people are Irish still. You see, they didn't leave Ireland because they didn't like Ireland, or because they wanted to live somewhere else and morn for Ireland like today's transplants in England. These left Ireland because to stay in Ireland was to die.

John F. Kennedy; Maureen Ohara; George M. Cohen

James Braddock; Michael McGivney; Ronald Reagan

Victor Herbert; Eugene O'Neil; Ed Sullivan

Grace Kelly; F. Scott Fitzgerald


"It is that quality of the Irish--that remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination--that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not. It matters not how small a nation is that seeks world peace and freedom, for, to paraphrase a citizen of my country, 'The humblest nation of all the world, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of Error.'" —President Kennedy's address to the Irish Parliament, June 1963.

All 8 of John F. Kennedy's great-grandparents emigrated from Ireland during the general time period of the Great Famine. On his mother's side, the Fitzgeralds were from rural County Limerick (Bruff.) His father's line, the Kennedys, were from County Wexford (Duganstown.)

Friday, August 27, 2010

A bit of potato talk

I could get hopelessly bogged down by delving into things like the folly that brought on the famine and righteous indignation against who should be blamed, but I really would prefer now to do a simple post talking about the center of attraction in this saga, the potato itself.

First, it should be noted that the potato is not a plant indigenous to the island of Ireland. It was introduced there and elsewhere during the reign of Elizabeth I, supposedly by Sir Walter Raleigh.

Before the potato came, other crops were grown, obviously. Grains were grown after the arrival of the potato, too. Remember, we talked about the difference between the larger farms, run as joint enterprises by the mainstream tenet farmers and the landowners. Remember also that the landlords were often nobility who had perhaps come into the land by way of grants from the crown, or bought as investments by their wealthy ancestors, and sometimes these landlord-owners were absentee. Remember also that the potatoes were grown as the main or sometimes only crop by the lowly farm laborers. Not everyone ate only potatoes by any means.

The potato caught on because it grew well in Ireland's mild and damp climate, grew well on marginal land (which Ireland had an abundance of), were tasty, nourishing, pigs liked potato peelings (still do) and, perhaps most importantly, one didn't need to be a rocket scientist to learn how to grow them successfully.

Of course, the very poor were not the only group of people who liked to eat potatoes, so they were also grown on the main farms as cash crops and for local food. However, potatoes weren't the only crop grown on the main farms by any means.

The farmers grew enough potato acreage to use horse-drawn farm implements for the planting and harrowing, and the farm laborers were there to weed and dig them in the fall. The laborers on their small plots of land, however, grew only enough to feed their families and perhaps enough to sell to buy a pig now and then or to purchase supplemental food for the hungry summer between potato crops. Because of the much smaller plots, the potatoes were planted by spade. That is to say, they pushed a spade a few inches into the ground, pushed it forward and dropped a seed potato piece behind the spade, then simply pulled the spade out of the ground leaving the seed buried. Fertilizer was simply farm manure and/or perhaps seaweed, depending on where they lived. Life was not exactly good, but there was survival and Ireland's population managed to double from 4 million to 8 million, largely because of the potato. Well, not ONLY because of the potato, but you get my drift.

Obviously they had experienced blights to their crops before over the years, but these had been localized and didn't happen every year, and didn't affect entire crops. These blights happened frequently enough so that none of the peasants ever got rich or overweight. In retrospect, one would have thought that the landowners would have done a bit more research into investigating these warning blights, but since the crops were mostly always better the next year, apparently they didn't bother thinking about it too much. Some men did, but were not paid much attention. If it's not raining, you don't worry about fixing your roof.

Potato blight is caused by a fungus. Fungi are propagated, often, by wind-borne spores. These spores attach to and begin "infecting" the potato plant's stalk and the tubers themselves. Since these parts are underground, the farmers didn't know (at least at first) until they began the harvest and saw the blighted tubers when they dug them. It didn't take the farmers long to identify the blight by the leaves discoloration and the mold on the underside, but since this is a symptom of the disease and not the cause, that was too late.

Here we should point out that potato blight is common worldwide, right up to the present day, a drawback of a moist climate, mostly. It was sad, though, that it wasn't until 1880 that agricultural scientists discovered that a simple solution containing copper sulfate sprayed on the stalks effectively repels the spores.

Another reason for the large failure was the continual growing of the same variety of potato over and over each year. In the plant kingdom, as in the animal kingdom. interbreeding is never conducive to good genes, and the plants' natural resistance to disease was lowered. They DID know about other varieties of potato, but grew the one which produced the largest yield.

Most historians believe that the blight came from the American continent, probably from diseased potatoes in ships from South America also carrying cargoes of guano. Guano (bird manure) had recently been discovered to be, and was prized as, a superlative fertilizer. I don't know where they got the guano. The only guano in any quantity I know of is "mined" from caves where bats live. Another fine job, I'm thinking.

The blight showed up first in Belgium, they say, then to the Isle of Wight (air-borne spores) and very soon thereafter to southern England proper. This happened in only a matter of months, of course, and it was in September of 1845 the the disease was verified in Ireland.

The first year of blight, 1845, saw a third of the crop unfit; later years were much worse. In 1846 only a quarter of the normal crop size came in edible, and the next 2 years saw only about a third of the normal crop. People on the edge quickly began to starve. The relief response by Britain and the rest of the world was eventually pretty massive, but not immediate.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Great Hunger

In the early 1840s, the population of Ireland was something over 8 million people.

Then came famine, starvation, and the attendant mass emigration. That population figure has never been equaled since. Today, after 170 years, the Irish population has recovered to about 6.2 million (4.5 million in the republic and something under 1.8 million in Northern Ireland.)

This subject is very interesting to me because the exodus of the Irish to many parts of the world, including my own country, had such a dramatic affect on our history.

This story will take more than one post. The main source for most of my facts is the collected newspaper stories, recorded oral histories, and official documents of the time which have been collected by the National Library of Ireland, Dublin, in a rather startling book called The Irish Famine: A Documentary History. To read this book and look at the reproductions of the old documents and read the first-person accounts is to almost hear voices speaking from a century long past.

I will keep this first post confined to the introduction of the circumstances that led to the Great Potato Famine in Ireland.

"The Irish famine of 1845-52 was the greatest catastrophe in recorded Irish history. It was caused by the repeated failure of the potato crop, the main food source of the poorer classes. The failure resulted in hunger, starvation, and ultimately death or emigration for a quarter of the population. One million died and over a million emigrated. The emigrants formed the main basis for the Irish diaspora, in Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia." [From the above mentioned book, The Irish Famine.] (Diaspora means the dispersion of large numbers of people from their homeland.)

Irish society in the early 1840s was mostly rural and agricultural, with 7 of the 8 million inhabitants living in rural areas, largely sharecroppers on tiny plots, growing their own sustenance, living on the very edge.

In rural Ireland were three classes or categories of people. First were the landlords who owned the often hereditary estates; second were the tenet farmers who grew the crops and paid a share to the landlords; third, the farm laborers. This last were most often living at a bare subsistence level. Their main staple food was the potato. They were given a plot of land on the main farm to grow their potatoes. Potatoes were the mainstay of their diet and often the ONLY item on their diet for some time until they could slaughter a pig or the like. Potatoes were mostly stored in lofts over the main room of their small house. Potatoes would last until June, having been harvested in the previous September. So there were a couple months when they subsisted on mostly Indian Corn (maize) and what other vegetables or meat they could obtain. Summer was a time of hunger for the "peasant" farm laborers. There was nothing held in reserve. They lived from hand to mouth from one crop to the next. If the potato crop were ever to fail, the result would be catastrophic on this class.

In 1845, the potato crop failed.


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