Jim Cahillane: The old sod and tales of other St. Patrick’s Day celebrations

  • A scene at County Kerry's Puck Fair.

Published: 3/16/2016 6:28:39 PM

What a bunch of Blarney! I can’t speak for you, but when I read serious local newspaper accounts about a non-Irish event in Amherst called the Blarney Blowout I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’m half Irish by birth, with the other half Vermont Yankee, permitting me to wear green with double pride.

A long held March 17 Irish holiday to honor Saint Patrick for his role of converting the Irish people to Christianity has been annually hijacked by University of Massachusetts students and local pubs, though in tamer form in recent years.

Hey, any excuse for a party, because “it must be five-o-clock somewhere.”

But why pick on Saint Patrick?

I’m not the only one looking askance at this stupidity. The Amherst Irish Association, which promotes appreciation for Irish culture, history, language and politics, was formed in part as a thoughtful answer to past Blarney ugly publicity. I admit that when it comes to my Irish heritage I’m definitely old school, and I don’t just mean my old university.

To be counted as related in some distant DNA way to James Joyce, Eugene O’Neill, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Brendan Behan and my all-time favorite, Oscar Wilde, is more than enough proof that the Irish are a talent-blessed race embedded in world culture.

To be counted as belonging to a land of saints and scholars is a source of honest pride in peoples who one hundred years ago took the fate of their occupied nation into their hands.

That Easter revolt failed in the short term, but it lit a flame of freedom that burned until the Irish Free State was formed in 1922.

I will always have questions because my dad’s 1930 passport and his immigrant I.D. card lists his birthplace as Irish Free State, March 19, 1910.

Western Massachusetts owes much to generations of Irish women and men who emigrated in thousands to the new world.

My father and his County Kerry relatives and friends called themselves Kerrymen with a deep pride in their western corner of the old sod.

Springfield boasts of being the home for some of the last of County Kerry’s Blasket islanders. The islands were ordered abandoned in 1953 due to hard conditions.

In a small world coincidence, I met author Cole Moreton at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature in the early 1990s. Moreton read from his new Blasket Island book, “Hungry for Home,” and introduced two fair women who sang Blasket island folk songs.

Among the former islanders that Cole Moreton interviewed was the late Eileen Cahillane of Springfield. Her son, Sean, is the president of the Irish Cultural Center of Western New England.

To be sure, Sean doesn’t claim me nor I him, but we share beginnings in County Kerry and its traditions.

Which, it turns out, provides a nice bridge to Kerry’s Puck Fair. Puck begins every year on Aug. 10. The thousand-year-old fair is pre-Christian. It involves a Puck (male) goat captured by a committee of townsmen on the black hills called Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. King Puck is crowned by a virgin of Killorglin town and set high on a three-story bandstand to reign for three busy days of dancing, cattle trading and partying that would shame our Amherst revelers for good and all.

The difference is found in remembering and toasting Saint Patrick with an appreciation of not only himself, but that the Irish have survived by sharing in good times and hard times. I like the soft lilt of an Irish voice whether in a song of joy or telling a tall tale to bring out laughter.

O the days of the Kerry dancing,

O the ring of the piper’s tune!

O for one of those hours of gladness,

Gone, Alas! Like our youth, too soon.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Writer Jim Cahillane, a regular contributor, lives in Williamsburg. 

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy