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Monday, July 28, 2008

Back to school for the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture!

Fall is approaching and that means the beginning of the school year is nearing once again. It is a time of fresh air, fresh starts and new beginnings. In the spirit of the season of Autumn, please join us for the Back to School edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture.

Have Irish heritage in your family history? Make a plan to further investigate the Irish side of your family tree and share your goals with us. Here are some ideas:

  • Work back a few more generations on one branch of your Irish family tree

  • Find naturalization papers that give the county of origin for an immigrant ancestor

  • Find the townland in Ireland where your immigrant ancestor was born

  • Get in touch with other relatives who share the same Irish genealogy
Instead of (or in addition to) focusing on genealogy, want to learn more about Irish heritage or culture in general? Choose a topic or task that interests you, and let us know how you plan to learn more about it this coming year. Give one of these a try:

  • Take up Irish baking

  • Learn more about and enjoy Celtic music

  • Take up or set out to watch Irish dance

  • Learn the Irish language

  • Plan a trip to Ireland or a place where Irish culture resides

Set some goals for the new school year and share them with us, whether you've begun working on them or not. Hopefully we will all inspire eachother in our quest for Irish family history and in our attempts to make the culture of Ireland more a part of our lives.

Deadline for submissions is Monday, September 22. Submit your entry here. The carnival will be published here at Small-leaved Shamrock on Thursday, September 25. Hope you'll join us! Start setting your goals now and get those school supplies ready!

If you haven't yet read the 7th edition of our carnival, Looking into the heart of Ireland, please do so. Toward the end of the carnival is a list of all past editions for you to enjoy. Happy reading!

Looking into the heart of Ireland

As the deadline for this 7th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture began to draw near, I was beginning to wonder why I'd gotten the bright idea to suggest a "reading assignment" during the lazy (yet, sometimes busy) days of summer. A few entries had trickled in, but it didn't look like the carnival would be much of a carnival at all. (After all, who ever heard of a carnival with only one or two attendees?)

It turned out that many of you, like students procrastinating on their homework assignments, were working hard to finish your reading material just in time for the due date. Thanks to all who squeaked your entries in at the last minute, we have a carnival...and quite a carnival it is!

From fiction to poetry, history to genealogy and memoir, adult reading to books for young people, the Small-leaved Shamrock summer reading challenge has resulted in a wonderful assortment of book "reviews" written by a variety of writers.

Now, without further ado, I'll share with you an assortment of reading material on Ireland and the Irish. Join with me as we "return to Ireland" through literature, poetry, history and more.

"I returned to Ireland. Ireland green and chaste and foolish. And when I wandered over my own hills and talked again to my own people I looked into the heart of this life and saw that it was good."

~ Patrick Kavanagh, The Green Fool


"There is only one admirable form of the imagination: the imagination that is so intense that it creates a new reality, that it makes things happen."

~ Sean O’Faolain

The Silence in the Garden is the name of a work of fiction introduced to us by Lori Thornton of Smoky Mountain Family Historian. It is a story set in 20th-century County Cork. The novel has a strong focus on genealogy and its plot involves a family secret, a death and a diary. According to Lori, William Trevor's book is a well-written novel and an interesting look at Ireland's religious conflict and various aspects of Irish culture.

A 7th-century nun living in Ireland? It's not too surprising to find that type of character. What about a 7th-century Irish nun who is also a detective? Bill West of West in New England shares with us The Sister Fidelma Mysteries written by Peter Tremayne. Bill shares how this series of more than twenty books gives us a look into the relationship between the Celtic and Anglo cultures along with the relatively independent role that women played in Ireland even long ago. Read his post to learn more about Sister Fidelma's adventures as a dálaigh aiding her brother, the King of Cashel.

Donna Pointkouski of What's Past is Prologue writes a nice inroduction to Pete Hamill's Forever within her post on an Irish history book (I'll describe the history book a little later in the carnival). The beginning of the story is set in 18th-century Ireland. The main character Cormac O'Connor immigrates to New York City and, fantastically, finds a secret akin to the fountain of youth.


"...quite often the kind of poem I write is just an attempt to get back."

~ Seamus Heaney

A carnival on Irish literature would not be complete without some Irish poetry. Colleen Johnson gives us a taste of one of her favorite poets (and one of Ireland's most famous), W.B. Yeats, in her post Peace by Yeats. Speaking of Yeats, you might also enjoy visiting the current online exhibition The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats presented by The National Library of Ireland.

For a sampling of works by a couple of well-known modern Irish poets read Colm Doyle's post Mahon & Heaney at The Corcaighist. He shares with us his favorite lines from an assortment of poems. Colm writes, "These two men both speak with the same tongue, albeit in slightly separate positions, and you get an appreciation for Ireland and the Irish, whatever be their background and history."

Want to delve further back into the history of Irish poetry? Visit my post On bards and beautiful words here at Small-leaved Shamrock for an introduction to one of my favorite Irish poetry reference works. Believe it or not, it takes the reader on a journey through 1,000 years of Irish poetic history, including many types of forms written by many types of Irish poets (including the well-known writer Anonymous).


"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

~ Samuel Beckett

One of the ways to aid the discovery of elusive branches in your family history is to just dedicate yourself to the search with good old-fashioned perseverance. I enjoy Samuel Beckett's suggestion to keep trying in the hopes of "failing better". That is my experience with my search for one of my Irish family surnames in particular. My success was aided by several books written by one author that I share on Small-leaved Shamrock within the post What's in an Irish surname? If you are doing Irish genealogy and are not familiar with Edward MacLysaght, now's the time to get acquainted.

While we're on the subject of Irish genealogy, take a visit over to the Irish Family History blog's review of Tracing Your Irish Ancestors by John Grenham. The author gives a very good overview of this book that is indispensible when doing family history research in Ireland.

"When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.”

~ Edna O’Brien

Frank McCourt is one of those tenacious Irish characters whose story is one of seemingly insurmountable odds. After many years of being drawn to reading his memoir but avoiding it because she feared it was too sad to read, Elizabeth O'Neal finally decided to pick it up. Halfway through the book, she shares her observations of Angela's Ashes: A Memoir on her blog Little Bytes of Life.

Another good memoir is the story of Thomas Lynch and his search for roots in Ireland. Loretta Murphy of The Creek introduces us to Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans and makes the observation: "Climbing the branches of our family tree, we grasp the hands of those who came before us, trying to reach the top to catch a glimpse of that past from which we became the future." As Loretta shares in Never Forget..., Thomas, a descendant of Irish-American immigrants, not only "grasps the hands of those who came before [him]" but gets to know several present-day relatives still living in Ireland. Unbelievably, he eventually finds himself the custodian of the family's ancestral home back in Ireland.


"One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age."

~ James Joyce, from The Dead

Going back in time to the fall of the Roman Empire, Thomas Cahill begins to tell the story of How the Irish Saved Civilization. Donna Pointkouski enjoyed his historical look at Ireland from Roman to Medieval times. Thomas Cahill writes about the impact of the work of the Celtic monks on European history, according to Donna, in a fascinating way. Read her post to learn more about this book and others in Cahill's "Hinges of History" series. I especially like a quote that Donna chose from this book that rings true of many of our immigrant ancestors.

A Book On The History of Ireland: A Reader's Thoughts Partway Through The Book is Jessica Oswalt's post about her reading of Modern Ireland, 1600-1972 by R. F. Foster. Jessica gives a brief overview of this survey of Irish history, commenting that she feels the need for a less daunting history of Ireland in order to better understand this more complex work. A few suggestions for Jessica and others who might want another angle on Irish history:

Moving across the ocean to Boston, Bill West (of New England) shares with us an introduction to a new publication: Hidden History of the Boston Irish by Peter F. Stevens. According to Bill, this collection of historical vignettes is an interesting read. Bill comments, "If you are of Irish descent and live in Boston or your ancestors did this book will give you a better picture of the obstacles Irish-Americans faced in 19th-century America and will make you better appreciate how they overcame them with talent and determination."

For young people

"You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was."

~ Irish Proverb

Our carnival includes two great books on Irish history written for younger readers (although they are great reads for adults, too).

Miriam Midkiff of AnceStories shares The Long March, the unlikely story of the Native American Choctaw people's attempt to send aid to the starving Irish during the famine in the middle 19th-century. According to Miriam, the book is beautifully illustrated by the author and "an emotional experience" for the reader. Read Miriam's article to learn how the Irish thanked the Choctaw over a century later when "two great nations, both knowing suffering and starvation [were] bonded at a deeply emotional and spiritual level."

Also set during the time of the famine of the mid-19th-century is the story of Nory Ryan's Song by Patricia Reilly Giff. Read Song of Suffering on my blog A light that shines again for an introduction to this fictional story of the struggles of one young girl and her family to overcome starvation and survive one of the most trying times in the history of the Irish people. As I stated, this book is one of the most moving descriptions of Ireland's Great Famine that I have read.

In the mood for children's stories of Ireland that go back further into Irish history? You might enjoy an article written by Jerry Griswold, Director of San Diego State University's National Center for the Study of Children's Literature. Partly of Irish descent and having lived in Ireland for a time, Griswold shares a little background on Irish myth and legend and provides a suggested reading list for children within his article Ireland and Irish Children's Stories on the Parents' Choice website.

Thanks for joining us for this, the first Irish literature edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture. I hope that you've found some new books to place on top of your reading pile and that you have some time left in your summer to pick up and read a few of these gems on Ireland and the Irish. In the mood for a little quiz after reading? Try the Irish Literature & Folklore Quiz.

Thanks to all of our contributors including those of you who, though you have not yet found any Irish heritage within your family tree, helped to enrich our carnival with your submissions.

If you liked what you read, you might enjoy the "back issues" of our Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture.

Thanks for reading this, the 7th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture. Please plan to join us for the upcoming 8th edition. See Back to school for the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture! for the details. Get your school supplies ready now!

Images courtesy of Karen's Whimsy.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Last call for the carnival!

Submit your Irish/Ireland book reviews (or list of books you had hoped to read) A.S.A.P. to be included in the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture's Small-leaved Shamrock summer reading challenge!

The carnival will be posted on July 28 here at Small-leaved Shamrock. See you there!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On bards and beautiful words

Poetry has long been dear to my heart. If you've been reading Small-leaved Shamrock, you also know how much pride I take in my Irish heritage. It was with great joy that I received a gift a few years back from my mother (thanks, Mom) of a book of Irish poetry spanning 1,000 years.

Yes, you read that right. 1000 Years of Irish Poetry: The Gaelic and Anglo Irish Poets from Pagan Times to the Present edited by Kathleen Hoagland is a compilation of the best poetic works by Irish poets over a period of history longer than you can imagine could fit in one book. Beginning with the ancient poetic songs from pre-Christian Ireland and progressing through the centuries to the modern Irish poets of more recent times, this book is a treasure for lovers of Irish poetry and Ireland in general.

There are so many treasures in this book, from the familiar The Wearin' of the Green (from the section on Anonymous Street Ballads) to Thomas D'Arcy McGee's 19th-century poem The Celtic Cross (within Anglo-Irish poetry). The table of contents itself is a historical timeline of sorts, beginning with ancient poetry written pre-7th-century and moving through the medieval period all the way to modern times. Included are moving poetic tributes to the culture and people of Ireland, poetic laments of hardships and suffering, and of course, an assortment of humorous Irish ballads.

As stated on the book's cover, "1000 Years of Irish Poetry presents for the first time a panorama of Irish poetry as a literature, showing the many faces of the Irish poetic genius; lyrics, elegies, songs, street ballads, satires, patriotic hymns, dramatic epics, natural and contemplative poetry, odes and sonnets, and older unusual Gaelic forms of verse, which influenced the bardic poets of ancient and medieval Europe."

I can't imagine this book not being in my collection. Now, to find the time to be true to my Irish heritage and write more of my own poetic utterances...

For more on Irish poetry, try Out of What Began: A History of Irish Poetry in English by Gregory A. Schirmer.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

10 days left for the summer reading challenge at Small-leaved Shamrock!

If you feel like I do, summer is speeding past faster than you every imagined that it could. It has been over a month since I issued the Small-leaved Shamrock summer reading challenge. We now have only ten days left to do our reading before the carnival!

Just to refresh your memory, here are the details:

Ireland has a long tradition of literature, both in the Irish and English languages. In fact, after Greek and Latin, the Irish language itself has the oldest literature in Europe. The land is known for both its ancient bards and its more modern poetry and epic works of fiction. Today there are also innumerable non-fiction books touching on subjects related to Irish history and culture.

Read a book of Irish fiction, a selection of Irish poetry or a work of non-fiction about Irish history and/or culture, and share it with us for the 7th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture.

Submissions are due Friday, July 25. The carnival will be published Monday, July 28.

If you don't have a blog of your own, read along with us and share your "book reviews" by leaving a comment here.

Interested in participating in the reading challenge, but finding the lazy days of summer have gotten you behind on your reading? Or perhaps you've not had enough downtime this summer for some leisurely meandering through Irish subjects? If you haven't yet chosen a title to read, don't fret. Just choose a book of interest on Irish culture, history, literature, travel, genealogy, etc. and write what you know about it, finished reading or not. Join us for our "show and tell" of sorts on books about Ireland and the Irish.

Be sure to choose your selections soon and share your blog "book review" by Friday, July 25. Happy reading!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hard black coal and a lady in white

At the start of the new year I enjoyed taking a look back at Schuylkill County and my Cowhey ancestors one-hundred years ago in the year 1908.

Working back to one-hundred years before that date, none of my family had arrived yet in Pennsylvania, but an important event occurred there that would eventually draw them to the area and impact the rest of their lives.

1808 was the year that anthracite coal was first substituted for wood by a prominent citizen: Judge Jesse Fell of Wilkes-Barre. Since the discovery of the anthracite coal fields in Eastern Pennsylvania in the 1790s, there had been a push to mine and sell it. It was slow to be received by the public until Judge Fell's example showed that it was cheaper and cleaner-burning than wood. It was a decade later before serious marketing and the building of canals would bring anthracite coal to its glory in the industrial age.

Another individual who did her part to encourage the use of anthracite as a fuel was the fictional Phoebe Snow. Created in 1903 by the Lackawanna Railroad to advertise the use of anthracite coal to power their trains, Phoebe Snow introduced would-be passengers to the cleaner rides on the rails thanks to anthracite.

According to William White's The Lackawanna: The Route of Phoebe Snow published in 1951:

"Rail travel around the year 1900 was a messy business. After a long trip on a coal-powered train, travellers would frequently emerge covered in black soot. The exception to that rule were locomotives powered by anthracite, a clean-burning form of coal. The Lackawanna owned vast anthracite mines in Pennsylvania, and could legitimately claim that their passengers' clothes would still look clean after a long trip. To promote this fact, their advertising department created Phoebe Snow, a young New York socialite, and a frequent passenger of the Lackawanna. For reasons never explained, Miss Snow often travelled to Buffalo, New York, always wearing a white dress. The first ad featured the image of Phoebe and a short poem:

Says Phoebe Snow about to go
Upon a trip to Buffalo
'My gown stays white from morn till night
Upon the Road of Anthracite'

The campaign became a popular one, and soon Phoebe began to enjoy all the benefits offered by DL&W: Gourmet food, courteous attendants, an observation deck, even on-board electric lights:

Now Phoebe may by night or day
Enjoy her book upon the way
Electric light dispels the night
Upon the Road of Anthracite

Phoebe soon became one of the United States' most recognized advertising mascots. During World War I, anthracite was needed for the war effort, and its use on railroads was prohibited, thus ending her career, but her legend remained alive among railroad fans."

Phoebe Snow would eventually appear again (she would even one day have trains named for her), but never would she acquire her previous glory.

For more on the history of anthracite coal see the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's website for the article Who Are These Anthracite People? by Valerie A. Zehl, originally published in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine's Winter 1997 edition. (Phoebe Snow appears on page 5 of the article.)

For more on Phoebe Snow, see The 100 Greatest Advertisements 1852-1958: Who Wrote Them and What They Did published by Julian Lewis Watkins in 1959.

Thanks to the 24-7 Family History Circle blog for the look back at the year 1808 and their mention of Judge Fell's use of anthracite coal in his home furnace two-hundred years ago.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What's in an Irish surname?

If you have Irish surnames in your family tree and are interested in your heritage, there is one 20th-century Irishman's work that you absolutely must know about. Although born in England, Edward MacLysaght (1887-1986) eventually came to Ireland where he developed a deep love for his Irish heritage. Eventually elected to the Senate of the Irish Free State, elected to the Royal Irish Academy, and appointed Chief Herald of Ireland, he was busy within the Irish government for many years, including time spent as Keeper of Manuscripts at the National Library of Ireland and Chairman of the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

In his role as one of the foremost genealogists of twentieth century Ireland, he expanded upon the work of Patrick Woulfe published in 1923 (Irish Names and Surnames - click on the link to read it within Google Book Search). MacLysaght's resulting compilations of the history of surnames in Ireland are a treasure for any Irish family historian. His book The Surnames of Ireland is a detailed guide to over 4,000 Gaelic, Norman and Anglo-Irish surnames and serves also as a type of index to two of his other works: Irish Families: Their Names, Arms & Origins and More Irish Families.

It was on a used book sale table at a genealogical library where I found my 1957 copy of Irish Families. Heading out the door that day, I couldn't pass by the little table without just a quick look. I spotted the title Irish Families and thought it looked interesting enough to justifying paying a few dollars in order to take it home to read. What a treasure I had found!

Read my post entitled Victorious! to learn the story of my long search for the uncommon Cowhey surname and my discovery of its origins within MacLysaght's Irish Families book thanks to that used book table.

Anxious to research your own Irish family surname within MacLysaght's books? Check out the genealogical collection at your local library or purchase a copy for yourself. You can also check out the Irish Family History blog's ongoing series on Irish surnames. The author is in the process of highlighting the top twenty most common surnames of Ireland using MacLysaght's surname histories. Odds are one branch of your family tree may be there!


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