“Athair Éireannach” ( The Irish Father)


“Real friends stab you in the front.”

-Oscar Wilde

Beneath the mead, ferns, and sedges, the land of the Celts bounds and plummets across the island, hemmed only by the undulating stone walls which divide, but do nothing to suppress  Ireland. The briar will crack granite. This is also in the people…a natural force of irrepressible nature…uncontrollable, but heartfelt, and brutally honest. I grew up with a stout shillelagh of caustic wit bandied about by many brothers, uncles and barnacle laden friends. It cut straight to the heart of any pretense and brought you down to earth with a resounding thud…but the hurt was made soft by the creeping realization that there was a laugh in there somewhere. The telling and retelling of the stories made for epic adventures, filled with predictable hilarity. They are a fierce and funny folk, and the country has jealously guarded the right to lighten their hearts with humor.

So…I am for the Irish.


I went to Ireland with someone I hardly knew…in an effort to get to know her better. A make it or break it trip that was wild, impulsive, and unforgettable. It is meaningful that my companion was a New Yorker… attractive and vibrant, who normally talked in a string of excited chatter which bubbled like a boiling pot. We were visiting some mutual friends, on the East coast of the Island in a town called Killybegs, and for the event, the parents and relatives had come to examine the Americans.

Through the early evening we ate and drank with polite restraint, and conversation was conveyed across two rooms with a fluid ease. The entire family were warm and welcoming, each of them having unique personalities that filled the room with life. We talked at length about the traceable roots of my family, and I felt at home. The father of the hostess was a doppleganger of my Uncle Al…a gruff, hard bitten ironworker who was always on the edge of a joke or a fight.

My companion was in full form, holding forth on our recent visit to Dublin. She was sitting at one end of a row of five or six chairs lined up along the wall. Sitting opposite while she expounded, I watched her face and hands as she grew more animated. It came naturally that the narrator had to stop for breath; as she did, at the other end of the row, the patriarch of the family, who had been waiting for her to finish and was accustomed to having his say, opened his mouth to speak. Well…my lovely companion wasn’t quite done…only whetting her whistle with a sip of wine…and immediately she began another excited description of our week. After a long set of sentences, she stopped for breath again and as she did, the old man opened his mouth again…only to sit like a fish gasping for breath as her monologue continued on a tangent. I watched him tilt his head in exasperation, until she paused a third time and a third time he opened his mouth to speak, only to be cut-off yet again by her filibuster. This time he glared at her, but she was oblivious in her excitement, and well……still not done, until finally in a moment of silence between her last and next breath, the old boy took full advantage of the momentary interlude, and bellowed:

“For God’s sake woman…will ya SHUT UP!!!!!!”


Somewhere in the distance, the wind whistled through an abandoned barn…and you could hear the dog in the next house breathing softly.

Mouths hung open for what seemed like an eternity, accompanied by that wide-eyed look of one who has just seen the ghost of Charles Parnell. Struck by the memory of my brash Irish uncles, I began to laugh in amazement that he would say such a thing…out loud…to a perfect stranger…and a pretty one, at that. The rest of the room tittered nervously, while my chastened companion went ashen white…her mouth frozen with the first word of her next long sentence.

At last, his wife, the matriarch, spoke up, her voice dripping with rebuke:

”Well…John…what is it that you’ve got to say?”

He replied,

“Nothin’, I’ve got nothin’ to say.”

And that is exactly what he said for the rest of the evening.



~ by theoxherd on September 28, 2013.

3 Responses to ““Athair Éireannach” ( The Irish Father)”

  1. Could that woman be who I think it is…starts with C? Great story! I was married to a man who similarly monopolized conversation at social gatherings. One evening I became so frustrated with him I left the room in the middle of one of his tales only to be severely reprimanded on our way home about how I had embarrassed him terribly by leaving while he was expounding about something I had already heard several times and didn’t particularly find interesting the first time. Ahhh…the freedom and pleasures of singleness!

  2. Great story. And what an absolutely fantastic piece of writing. I’m normally wary of writing about the Irish, being Irish myself, and a “Celt-skeptic”, (just made that one up, but you know what i mean) I think there’s enough self- mythologizing here and we big-ourselves-up enough and without additional support. Yet I found myself nodding along to parts of your pen sketch, beautifully written and observed, and much to recognize here alright. Anyhow, great work. Really enjoyed this.

    • Thank you for your kind words…and yes, I do know what you mean by “Celt-skeptic”…a balloon filled with Irish helium needs no upward push.

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