Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore, by Niamh Clune

When Karen Elliott invited me to write something about ‘my country,’ the invitation gave me cause to pause. I have lived in many countries, Canada, USA, Africa, working in overseas Aid and Development, Scotland, England and Ireland. Currently, I live in the UK, but have a house in Ireland. So which of these constitutes my country?

I was born in Ireland. Not one drop of ancestral blood is anything other than Irish. Give or take Spanish or Viking invasions and various incursions between the ancient Celts, I can honestly say, I am a thoroughbred. Yet, what does that mean?

I decided to explore whether nature or culture defines our nationalism. Does my bloodline define me, or does my accent?

The reason I am asking this is because I grew up in England. I went to school here. This culture inspired me, helped shape my taste in Music, Literature, Architecture, Art, and Dance. My friends are English, my mannerisms are too, as is my accent – posh some would say.

Yet being an immigrant in 1954 post-war London defined my childhood and shaped my Psyche. At that time, to be Irish in England meant being very unpopular. Like many others, we crossed the Irish Sea, disembarked at Liverpool, travelled to Birmingham, and ended up in London. We were economic migrants fleeing the inherent poverty of a beloved country in search of the farther, gold-edged shores of America or England. When we arrived, ‘No Irish Need Apply Here,’ signs greeted us and graced the windows of the Labour Exchange.

My parents were a strange mixture. My mother was from Co, Clare, which boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. She was educated, her mother holding the then lofty title of school, head mistress. My mother was fluent in her native tongue, a champion Irish dancer, and a woman ahead of her time. She ought not to have fallen in love with my father – a musician from Donegal, and as wild as the black hills, that bred him.

Without going into details, theirs was a dysfunctional relationship to say the least. My childhood was difficult in the extreme. I grew up in London-Irish Public Houses amongst the navvies and builders of the Victoria Tube tunnels, juxtaposed with the singers, musicians, painters and ex-pat, poets looking for a home-from-home. They found it in the sparkle of my mother’s blue eyes. She had oodles of charm and was the classic Irish pub landlady: glamorous, flirtatious, witty and kind.

Apart from the violence, the rows and the drinking binges, some aspects of growing up in an Irish pub were good. For example, The Dubliners stayed with us and performed in the bar in exchange for accommodation, food, and booze. It would have been cheaper if my mother had charged them rent. In those days, the Irish were renowned for, and excelled in their capacity to drink.

As a race, the Irish are not known for openly having many enforced acts of etiquette. But, one extremely important, almost sacred courtesy was the nod and the wink to the bartender to line up a fresh round of the ‘Black Stuff.’ Pints stood in rows of creamy black and white atop the bar. They would not be touched until the last bit of froth had settled. Only then did the bartender move the glass to the table for the dark, heavy liquid to be consumed. Pints were nodded into existence long before they were needed, long before the existing pint was empty. ‘Keep ‘em coming, Michael,’ meant perhaps that twenty rounds would be lined up in a night. Sometimes, whiskey chasers followed. Obviously, as the whiskey chased the barley, the tone of the evening degenerated, as rivers of alcohol coursed through Irish veins and inspired everything from poetry recitation about the ‘auld sod’, to songs about Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore, speech-making and politicising, which often resulted in punch-ups. The pub was a political breeding ground for dissolute and disenfranchised young men forced to live off the English pound far from Irish shores. History was never far from Irish lips, hearts, or memories.

Apart from the seedy side of pub life, I met some wonderful musicians and poets. Whistle players, pipers, fiddlers, singers, and dancers made many an evening transport me back to the peat fires and the wild, empty shores of my birth. To this day, I prefer a soft rain to blistering sun, and the soft, muted autumnal colours of heather on mountains, to those bright and coquettish colours of summer. When light shift-shapes on mountain valley and casts all manner of differently coloured shadow, I am put in mind of the painter’s palette and how those colours might speak through a delicate brush. Subtle mixtures of greys, purples, and greens morph into deep blue. A shock of yellow, when sun flickers though racing clouds, seems almost incongruent with a black mountain. Just as suddenly, deep reds morph back to purple.

It is no wonder there has been a great revival in successful Irish Art. There is nothing static about an Irish landscape as rain clouds build, release, scurry away and relieve the tension for a quiet, still, gentle moment. And it is no wonder that most of the Anglo-Irish writers were inspired by local nature poets.

I have always carried the culture of the Anglo-Irish poets and writers in my heart as well as the music and love of dramatic scenery. These elements of my Irish soul live in me and influence all I write. But in truth, my mind is English. I prefer rationality to unbridled expression of passion. Discipline and minimalism are the structures on which I build my art. I guess that is why I love English architecture – the embodiment of an interaction of humans with landscapes – less wild, less lonely, shaped and tended.

Politically, I am liberal rather than conservative, cosmopolitan rather than nationalistic. I love differences in nationality, colour, and creed. I think it makes for a more healthy balance of views. England is such a swirling mix of colours from skin tones, clothing, foods, tastes, and accents. I am able to hide in England, maintain privacy, and be anonymous amongst the millions of nameless, faceless people. History does not link me personally and dictate my being, role, and identity. Rather, I move amongst it, always connected to great men and women of vision through England’s ancient buildings and visible structures.

Maybe I am a mixture of Anglo-Irish. Maybe that is a particular breed. I do not have to choose one or the other but am made whole by both.

Niamh Clune

Niamh is very active on the internet on Orangeberry Books Collective and blog. She is a featured author at Love a Happy Ending. Niamh has her own blog at Niamh Clune Writes and has a Facebook fan page at Niamh Clune Books. Find her on Twitter. Her novel Orange Petals in a Storm is available here. Listen to Niamh’s enchanting vocal on YouTube.

Opening photo from Photobucket.

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46 Comments

Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers, Special Events

46 responses to “Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore, by Niamh Clune

  1. Niamh, what a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing your history and experience. As an American Expat now living in Scotland, I understand questioning what constitutes your country. I will officially become a UK citizen on the 16th of December. I’m excited. I’ll be American and British and also consider myself Scottish even though my blood is not pure and my ancestors moved from Scotland to the States generations ago. Still, I have a connection with this land. That doesn’t mean I don’t still consider myself American. America is indeed my home country and therefore the closest to my heart. I would love to visit Ireland. It’s just a ferry ride away. I know I’ll love it.

  2. This was a beautiful post, Niamh! You have a real way of painting the beauty of Ireland, your growing up & the diverse cultures of England in words. I thoroughly enjoyed this!

  3. Thank You for your comments! i really enjoyed writing this and thank karen for having me!

  4. Loved the article. Who wouldn’t want to visit Irleand, now? It made me feel I was sitting in a Kilarney pub sipping a black & tan.

  5. You know what it is called then Wayne!!! Black and Tan were the colours worn by the British convicts released from Victorian prisons to go over and bring the Irish rebellion under control. Interesting that we now name a drink after them! Slainte!

  6. Karen, thank you for inviting Niamh to host your blog today. My paternal side of my family imigrated from Ireland and were (Anglo-Irish). I am always intrigued to hear stories about life in Ireland. Have never visited, but would like to. Niamh, you post was absolutely enchanting to read. I learned a great deal. I loved learning about the diversity of your country and lifestyle. Thank you so much for sharing with us! – Patricia

  7. karenselliott

    Wayne – I’m right there with you! Patricia – Niamh’s writing is like poetry. She makes it come to life for those of us (me too) who have never been there.

  8. This was just beautiful. I could almost hear the Irish accent (even though you have a British one!). Superb writing and content.
    I agree with Karen – the travel bug is going to have a field day with us all over the next week or so! Ireland is on my top five ‘must see before you die’ list. Thanks Niamh (what a lovely name too) for bringing to life. 🙂

  9. Well Thank You all for your kind words. I am grateful.

  10. This was a fascinating read Niamh, and what a contrast of information! Alcohol is a demon and is responsible for so much misery under the guise fo socialising. It can’t be easy to talk about some of the things they way they were when you were young, but your love for your mother shines through. It’s also wonderful to read that your experiences as ‘Anglo-Irish’ have made you ‘whole’. There’s a confidence in those words that is warming.

  11. 1923thebook

    What an excellent post! I really enjoyed reading it.
    Cheers,
    Harry

  12. karenselliott

    I’m glad you enjoyed Niamh’s post, Harry. Wait until you see what’s coming! More great writers and a photographer, more incredible countries, and some great photos thrown in for good measure.

  13. dougjohnson1950

    Only Niamh could write a blog about Ireland that is this insightful and honest with a sparkle in her eye and the old wink and nod. Thanks Niamh looking forward to more of your great blogs.

    Doug

  14. Aw! Thank you All for your lovely words!

  15. This is by far the best article I have ever read from a blog about an author (and the style of Niamh’s writing surely didn’t hurt either). It wasn’t about the same reviews that bloggers do about authors that over time, when enough of them have been read, can become quite mundane. On the contrary, this was completely different, a short and even shorter in depth glimpse of an author’s background, or should I say, into their interesting childhood and family however short that it was. In this case, longer would have been so much better unless of course, there is a book in here, something that would definitely be worth waiting for. Fantastic writing by Niamh and an equally fantastic job by Karen S. Elliot for posting such a interesting read. I will be back for more and I hope you give it to me right between the eyes.

  16. Wow! Brian…I am almost blushing…but loving it! Such great comments from everyone. And I am sure that Karen will deliver it straight between the eyes…She brings out the best in people! Thank You Karen so much for inviting me to write for your great blog!

  17. karenselliott

    Brian – Tape a bullseye to your forehead – four more coming. Ha, all I did was say “international week” and “ya wanna?” You did the rest. I believe that Niamh is writing a memoir/childhood book, yes, Niamh?

  18. Keep blushing, Naimh! That was beautifully written. A great post. I love your way with words! 🙂 … I can relate the your statement: “Does my bloodline define me, or does my accent?” … I speak with a mostly American accent with a slight Canadian accent that betrays me at times, though I was raised by my very Welsh-sounding parents! I am a citizen of three countries: the U.K., Canada, and the U.S.A., but also lived in Venezuela for 18 years. So, what does that make me? Who am I? I liked your answer. I don’t have to choose. I am made whole by the parts, even if that makes me a bit of an eclectic blend! 🙂

    • karenselliott

      I’m Welsh/Irish and a little Scandinavian by ancestry, American-born. I tend to lean into my Welsh ancestors most. I think because of my Mom – she studied Welsh and did a lot of genealogical research. We are made whole by all our parts, as Niamh so eloquently stated.

  19. Great article Niamh. Very poetic and inspirational.

  20. In a smoky pub, the lass waxes poetic. To the sounds of her voice and the magic of her words, one sits back, swirls whiskey in the glass, smiles, takes a belt and smiles to words heartfelt.

  21. karenselliott

    Rich and John – A poetic, inspirational, and magical lass. Agree!

  22. This week is also giving me the travel bug. Thanks for sharing your experience. Reading this, sparked an idea. Off to write.

  23. I am glad it has been an inspiration, Stacy!

  24. An awesome post, Niamh (no surprise there!)! My wife read it, too, and she was enthralled. She believes that in another life she was born and raised in the UK! She loves the weather, the music, the literature, the history, and is particularly enchanted by stories about the Tudors, the Stewarts, and all the conflict in leadership among the “isles”. Thank you for sharing your history with us, and keep writing. You’re excellent!

  25. karenselliott

    Joseph – time to go talk to a travel agent and give a ticket-gift for Valentine’s Day…?

    • Some day – that is definitely in the plan. I was fortunate enough to be able to travel a great deal with my family in the UK and Europe as a young person, and I wish I could make that happen for her, too. SOME DAY! 🙂
      Thanks for hosting Niamh on your blog. We both enjoyed the post immensely!

  26. What a wonderful post. I find it fascinating how each of our childhoods are different and how through one means or another they shape our personalities and beliefs. I have never visited Ireland, it’s on my to visit list, and hope I shall get there one day. My thanks to Niamh for sharing a glimpse into her world and to you for hosting.

  27. Pingback: An American Thanksgiving | Karen S. Elliott's Blog

  28. What a colourful and thoughtful post Niamh – I loved it!

  29. I echo all of these comments. Absolutely beautiful in every way. Thank you for this gift, Niamh.

  30. What lovely comments! Thank You, All!

  31. I always had a romantic view of Ireland and the Irish, their generosity and flamboyance. You have taken us, not only to the corners of Irish shores but to the recesses of the Irish mind.Thank you, Niamh.

  32. Beautiful post by an amazingly talented writer, singer, activist and general polymath. Her latest book “Orange Petals is a Storm” is a must-read – now available on amazon.com or kindle edition. I’m giving it to my friends for Christmas.

  33. OOOH! What lovely comments…I especially love it when People are interested enough to give my book to their friends as a present. What more could any author ask?

  34. This article blew my mind, Niamh. You certainly have a wonderful way of describing your love of Ireland and of England. I particularly enjoyed this passage: “I have always carried the culture of the Anglo-Irish poets and writers in my heart as well as the music and love of dramatic scenery. These elements of my Irish soul live in me and influence all I write. But in truth, my mind is English. I prefer rationality to unbridled expression of passion. Discipline and minimalism are the structures on which I build my art. I guess that is why I love English architecture – the embodiment of an interaction of humans with landscapes – less wild, less lonely, shaped and tended.”

    Well written, my friend. My family has been in the States since the 1700s (as far as I can figure) but my mother is Irish/English (her family names: Crawford and Hurley) and my father is Scottish/German… Whatever that’s worth…

    I am captivated by your family background and your personal history as well. You certainly made the most of it all; talented in so many areas.

    No wonder we all love and respect you so much,

    Hugs – Betty Dravis

  35. Oh! Betty! Thank You so much for visiting! I love your comments! Gracious, as ever!

  36. Such a lovely article reminding me so of my very favorite holiday spent on two working farms in England…one in Helmsley, another in Tunbridge Wells followed by a stay in an old old rickety house in the village of Longborough. Here we went to the old school-house with the villagers and ate Shepard’s pie and bet on taped horse races watched on old TV’s. It was totally awesome! You have such a way with words Niamh – you just put me right there again! 🙂
    DiAnne
    P.S. This time I got my comment on the right blog/article! lol!

  37. karenselliott

    DiAnne…we don’t care when you visit or where you post your comments – just visit! 🙂

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