Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Toasting in the New Year

The idea of "toasting" to an occasion or a person is not a new one. Since drinking itself became a pleasantry instead of a means of survival, it is said that toasts have been made before the first sip.

The term "toast" can be traced to the 1600's when it was common to add a piece of bread or crouton to a drink to enhance it's flavor and give you sustenance beyond just liquid.

One particular evening, so the legend says, a beautiful young woman was bathing in a public bath in (of course) Bath, England. A young man walked by and was so enamored with her beauty that he filled his cup with her bathwater and drank it!

Another young man came upon the lovely woman and noted the other suitor drinking the water. Although he found the woman to be beautiful he could not bring himself to drink her bathwater.

Instead he offered to eat the "toast" or, in effect "toast to her". True? Who knows. But it is as good as any other legend concerning the origin of a word or tradition.

Couples toasting drinks on new years

The Irish have always been known for their use of the language so, of course, their toasts have become classics. Here are a few that may help you come midnight, New Year's Eve.

  • May you live to be a hundred years - with one extra year to repent!
  • May the Lord keep you in the palm of His hand, and never close his fist too tight!
  • May you live as long as you want and never want as long as you live!
  • May the best day of your past be the worst day of your future!
  • A toast to your coffin. May it be of 100 year old oak and may we plant the seed together tomorrow!
  • Here's to a long life and a merry one. A quick death and an easy one. A pretty girl and an honest one. A cold beer-and another one!
  • May your troubles be less, And your blessings be more. And nothing but happiness come through your door.
  • May your neighbors respect you, Trouble neglect you, The angels protect you, And heaven accept you.
  • Merry met, and merry part, I drink to thee with all my heart.
  • And of course, the most famous of all Irish toasts…

  • May the road rise to meet you.
    May the wind be always at your back.
    May the sun shine warm upon your face.
    And rains fall soft upon your fields.
    And until we meet again,
    May God hold you in the hollow of His hand!
  • Slainte!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Twas the Night Before Forever Friends' Christmas in Ireland

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the bus

Not a peaceful soul stirring, no one made a fuss
As Paddy was driving down tight roads with care
In hopes that St. Patrick would be in Kildare.

John and Tom were nestled all snug in their seats
While visions of Guinness set to dancing their feet
When out past the window there arose such a racket
All twenty one friends rushed to grab a warm jacket.

Now Susan! Now John! Now Kathi and Barney!
They weren’t sure but thought they might be in Killarney
On Patti! On Kathleen! On Jeannie and Pat!
Well whaddya know! Will ya listen to that?

The music they heard, such a fine jolly gig
Led Joe and Bev to do a quick Irish jig
How they all loved the tunes of the local band
Enchanted they were by charming Ireland.

The moon on the waves of the harbor so blue
Gave lustre at midnight to each sea shell’s hue
Elizabeth and Kathleen set out for a walk
But Margie and Chris did more than just talk.

They rolled up their pant legs to walk in the sea
While Lally and Wayne gave two yodels, then three
Roger and Jay hit balls with a club
While Marla and Adelle grabbed a pint at the pub.

Susan gave John a massage to his back
When some wild eyed guy ran by with a pack
A cooler of beer could it be, or who knows?
“Do you have to pay for the Stone Circle shows?”

Even though some thought it was rather odd
Chris still had visions he was in Cape Cod
Jane looked around for her roots high and low
At that fateful moment it started to snow.

They had come from all over the U.S.A.
And made their way to the Dingle Bay
To the Counties of Cork, to Kerry and Clare
But this was one sight that was really quite rare.

For never had Tom seen a Christmas of white
In all of his years either day or night
That he lived near the village of Lisdoonvarna
Is Johnsmith starting to play his guitar now?

He sang of the moon and the light that it gave
He sang of their homes, when a large tidal wave
Surprised one and all, then they had a good laugh
As some of the song’s words John knew only half.

But they stood and they sang and they sang til they cried
And they didn’t want to leave before one last ride
Still they had to brush off of their feet all the sand
Or Paddy would not think the Luxury Coach grand.

Jeannie and Pat, planning trip number four
Got interrupted by a knock at the door
The old German couple who looked to be Irish
While sitting at lunch that day eating their fried fish,

Entered and asked all to come back real soon
Maybe February, March, April, or June
But counting their Euros which now numbered seven
All decided to wait until 2011!

Paddy sprang to his bus, to the group gave a whistle
And away they flew just as fast as a missile
But the friends all exclaimed as they drove out of sight
HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL! Don’t forget now to write!

Friday, December 18, 2009

An Irish Christmas

An Irish Christmas - Then and Now
by Bridget Haggerty

If it snowed on Christmas Eve, Irish children were told that geese were being plucked in heaven. A new moon was a lucky omen. And cold, frosty weather was welcome, because this meant a mild spring and an absence of illness. On the other hand, mild weather on Christmas Eve was cause for concern because, according to the old Irish proverb, "A green Christmas makes a fat churchyard."

Regardless of the weather on the day before or on the day itself, the weeks preceding Christmas were spent in great preparation.

In the old days, the menfolk would be responsible for cleaning everything outside of the house and the women everything else inside of it. All of the structures would receive a fresh coat of whitewash, and linens, furniture, pots and pans would be washed, scoured, scrubbed or polished until they were spotless. It was up to the children to scout the countryside for appropriate decorations to be cut and brought home on Christmas Eve. Holly was especially prized because of its bright red berries and so were long tendrils of ivy and boughs of laurel which could be made into garlands. Mistletoe was rare in Ireland, but a child lucky enough to live near Limerick or in South Co. Wicklow, might have been able to add this ancient symbol of good fortune and fertility to the gathering of the greens.

Long ago, and also in the house in which I was raised, 'bringing home the Christmas' was a day filled with excitement. In times past, several members of a family would go to the nearest town for the Margadh Mor or Christmas Market. People from the country brought butter, eggs, poultry, vegetables and other farm produce to sell, and from the money they made, they purchased special, once-a-year items such as candy and toys for the children, new clothing, and ingredients for the Christmas dinner. In addition to selling their wares, this was also the day they brought gifts to relatives and friends who lived in the town. These were reciprocated in kind with gifts of 'town goods' and children lucky enough to accompany their parents were rewarded with coins slipped into their hands or pockets. The shopkeepers were also filled with generosity; they gave 'Christmas boxes' to their customers, each gift proportionate to the business they'd received that year. And in the pubs, all was merry and bright. Since then, many of the old customs have faded into antiquity, but I do remember my brothers and I eagerly waiting for dad on the day he was to bring home the Christmas.

Sure enough, and even though, as mum said, "he'd had a few on him," he arrived just before our bedtime. Even our mother had a look of eager anticipation on her face as he opened the big sack. There was always a large slab of bacon - that was to go with the goose for Christmas dinner ; there were Kit Kat bars for us to eat immediately; a big turnip he'd carve out later for the Christ candle; sprigs of holly, a bunch of mistletoe, and, best of all, a box of Christmas crackers; these weren't edibles - they were bright foil-wrapped slender cylinders which we pulled during our Christmas dinner. There'd be this loud pop and inside would be a toy and a paper hat.

Oh, what a luxury! We didn't always have crackers*, but when we did, it was a great sign of good times. And every year, no matter what, there was always something wrapped up for our mother. As much as we begged and badgered, she'd always smile and say, "I think I'll save this one for later on." Dad would get this silly look on his face and it was just like the kissy-face part at the Saturday morning picture show.

Nowadays, especially in cities like Dublin, Christmas has become almost as commercial and glittery as just about anywhere else. But in the past, it was beautifully simple. The greenery was placed on the mantle, the holly was positioned above the holy pictures and children were put to "work" making chains out of brightly colored paper; these were strung across the ceiling. Not until relatively recently did Irish families put up a Christmas tree; even at that, the ones I remember were no more than two or three feet tall and the only decorations were foil- wrapped chocolate ornaments, paper chains, and something we used to call "lametta" which was similar to American icicles. The tree was always placed in the middle of the sideboard, and, unless Father Christmas left something really big, the gifts were placed on either side. As I recall, we didn't have a manger scene at home, but we did look forward to visiting the big one at our church on Christmas morning. It was always put up on Christmas Eve, but the only things in it were the animals and a crib or creche filled with straw. Magically, on Christmas Day, the baby Jesus was in His crib, Mary and Joseph were on either side of Him, and shepherds with their sheep looked on in adoration.

As with most Irish families, my parents made every effort to have a plentiful supply of fuel for the holiday season. During the 1950s in London, we had coal fires, but in Ireland they burned peat, and in the old days, they'd have a special log for the fire called a bloc na Nollag or Christmas log. It was also customary to provide for poorer neighbors and villagers would pool their resources to make sure everyone had enough food and a warm fire. One tradition that was widespread years ago was the mutton raffle; enough people would contribute to cover the cost of a sheep and then, for several evenings, they would play cards until, by process of elimination, a winner was declared. Generally, the winner would share the prize with family, friends, neighbors and the poor. "Calling the Waites" was also a well-known custom and took place two weeks before Christmas. Musicians would serenade the inhabitants of a town several hours before day-break, calling out, in intervals, the time of the morning and whether the weather was cold, wet, frosty or clear. A similar practice was that of young men and boys going to the tops of small hills, blowing salutes to the season and answering each other from hill to hill. On the morning of Christmas Day, they'd awaken the people with loud salutes and then would often accompany villagers on their way to early Mass, still blowing cheerfully but also helping the elderly and small children over any rough spots in the road.

Back then, the Christmas season in Ireland was filled with mirth, merriment and good will toward men. Much has changed over the years. But, while new customs are replacing the old, (as in eating turkey for dinner and watching Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory on the telly afterwards), an Irish Christmas is still very similar to the old days, with most families staying at home to enjoy the festivities. Since we didn't have television until I was almost a teenager, I well remember my mother tuning in Radio Eireann so we could listen to Irish music and my dad contentedly sipping a Guinness, his feet tapping in time to a jig or reel. I also recall that for tea, mum served Christmas cake - and that reminded me of the following song which I recently found again on one of my Irish forums. In my mind I can still hear my dad singing it that just wishful thinking on my part? In any event, here are the lyrics:


As I sat in my window last evening,
The letterman brought it to me
A little gilt-edged invitation sayin'
"Gilhooley come over to tea"
I knew that the Fogarties sent it.
So I went just for old friendships sake.
The first think they gave me to tackle
Was a slice of Miss Fogarty's cake.

cho: There were plums and prunes and cherries,
There were citrons and raisins and cinnamon, too
There was nutmeg, cloves and berries
And a crust that was nailed on with glue
There were caraway seeds in abundance
Such that work up a fine stomach ache
That could kill a man twice after eating a slice
Of Miss Fogarty's Christmas cake.

Miss Mulligan wanted to try it,
But really it wasn't no use
For we worked in it over an hour
And we couldn't get none of it loose
Till Murphy came in with a hatchet
And Kelly came in with a saw
That cake was enough be the powers above
For to paralyze any man's jaws

Miss Fogarty proud as a peacock,
Kept smiling and blinking away
Till she flipped over Flanagans brogans
And she spilt the homebrew in her tay
Aye Gilhooley she says you're not eatin,
Try a little bit more for me sake
And no Miss Fogarty says I,
For I've had quite enough of your cake.

Maloney was took with the colic,
O'Donald's a pain in his head
Mc'Naughton lay down on the sofa,
And he swore that he wished he was dead
Miss Bailey went into hysterics
And there she did wriggle and shake
And everyone swore they were poisoned
Just from eating Miss Fogarty's cake!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Irish Christmas Cakes

If you're thinking about baking something different for Christmas dinner dessert this year, you might want to give one of these a try. Just take Susan's advice and enjoy it even more by listening to a Johnsmith CD while you bake!

Recipes here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tom Pigott Interview

1. When did you first start singing?
2. What was the first tune you remember learning?

TP: I am going to answer Questions 1 and 2 together. I was about 4 years old and we lived in a really nice neighbourhood where every Sunday night there was a party in a different house. Everyone took their turn to hold this party. I remember being put on a chair and being instructed to sing. I sang a song called "Beautiful Isle of Somewhere" I must have learned the song from my mother. I also remember getting drunk that night also, because I got a little glass of Guinness after the song and I am not sure if I asked to sing again, but I do remember singing about 5 times and of course each time I sung, I got a glass of Guinness. I have a vivid memory of my mother picking me up from the floor and bringing me home to bed.

3. Which musicians influenced you most?

TP: My favourite ALL TIME singer/musician is an Irish Ballad Singer called Luke Kelly, who used to sing with a very famous Irish Ballad Group called The Dubliners. I learned On Raglan Road from his singing

4. Which famous musicians have you sung or performed with?

TP: Johnsmith, of course, Emmy Lou Harris, Burl Ives and John Spillane.

5. Who are your current favorite musicians?

TP: John Spillane, Christy Moore, Johnsmith, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Susan Werner

6. Can you tell us a little about your rugby background?

TP: I was a lazy rugby player, but I had a really nice career. I played at the top level in Ireland with Ireland's No. 1 rated team. I played against some of Ireland's, (and the world's) best players on a weekly basis. Rugby was not a professional game at that time, but it is now, but I have no regrets. I truly enjoyed my career. I did have a few serious injuries though, which I feel held back my progress. I broke both ankles, my thigh, my nose and dislocated my elbow, which was by far my most painful injury.

7. How did you meet Johnsmith?

TP: I had a pub in Limerick and had John perform there a few times. That was about 9/10 years ago and we became really good friends pretty quickly.

8. What kind of things do you do to prepare for the tour season?

TP: I spend my Winter in USA meeting and greeting travellers and of course I meet every tour leader also. I then get to work on hotel bookings and last, but not least I organise the music.

9. What is the funniest thing that's ever happened to you on a tour?

TP: This incident happened to a certain tour leader. On our first tour, we thought that we should close every pub, every night, so one night in Doolin we went to the pier to see the stars. It was a wonderful night. We were standing on the pier looking at the sky when out leader needed to pee. He stood back, but did not realise that there was a sloping pier and the drop was about 6 feet and the tide was out. He got such a fright that he bounced back up again, without anyone noticing. I think it also helped that he had some Guinness on board.

10. What is your favorite thing about this country? Least favorite?

TP: The people for sure. I have met some wonderful people over here. I can honestly say that something really nice has happened to me here, every single day. My least favourite is that a lot of people are impatient.

11. What is your favorite thing about Ireland? Least favorite?

TP: My favourite thing about Ireland is our attention to the Arts. Music, culture and literature as so very important and not just the property of the rich either. I DOOOO HATE THE RAIN IN IRELAND

12. Can you tell us something surprising about yourself?

TP: I am a really shy person. I do get very uptight when there are a lot of people around who I do not know. However, for some reason it does not happen when I am on tour.

Tom, thanks for taking the time to let us learn a little more about you. I'm sure none of us will ever figure out who that *certain tour leader* from #9 could possibly be :) We've all unanimously agreed how fortunate we were to have you as our incredible guide. Let's hope to be able to do it all over again sometime. For now, we can sit back, watch and listen as once more you take us with you down Raglan Road....... (and next time you'll have to sing Beautiful Isle of Somewhere for us too!)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Interview with Johnsmith

1. When did you start singing?

JS: I was one of those kids that was always singing. I loved to rock myself in a rocker and sing, make up stuff. I always sang walking to and from school til folks started looking at me strange. When I was in High School just after the Beatles, a bunch of buddies started a garage band and needed a singer. So I volunteered. Didn't get a guitar til college.

2. What was the first tune you remember learning?

JS: On guitar the first song I learned I wrote, then I think it was a Crosby, Stills and Nash song?

3. Which musicians influenced you the most?

JS: James Taylor, Dylan, Joni Mitchell, John Prine to name a few.

4. Which famous musicians have you sung or performed with?

JS: Tim O'Brien, Darrell Scott, Pierce Pettis, Kathy Mattea

5. Who are your current favorite musicians?

JS: Darrel Scott, Patti Griffin, Mindy Smith.

6. What advice would you give to wannabe musicians?

JS: Follow your dream, be genuine.

7. How did you meet Tom Pigott?

JS: Tom owned a pub called Tim's in Limerick where I played a couple of shows about 9 years ago.

8. What kind of things do you do to keep up with your busy tour and travel schedule?

JS: I try to think "What cool places do I want to visit, and also more practical, I would like to earn x amount and need to do x amount of gigs to realize that."

9. What is the funniest thing that's ever happened to you on a tour?

JS: On one of the Ireland tours, I opened up an emergency window on a new ferry to Aran Islands and it fell into the sea. It was retrieved thankfully.

10. What is your favorite thing about Ireland?

JS: The people by far, their quick wit, poetic comments and big hearts.

Least favorite?

JS: The rain. The amount of rain.

11. What is your favorite thing about the U.S. ?

JS: The diversity on all counts, landscapes, climates, accents.

Least Favorite?

JS: Urban sprawl, especially every mall strip is the same.

12. Can you tell us something surprising about yourself.

JS: I am very yang (outgoing in the world as a performer, tour leader, song teacher, etc.) in public but am very yin (under the radar, introspective, solitary) at home.

Thank you John for inspiring our trip to Ireland, for your words and your music. We will always remember singing Safe Home with you along the enchanted way!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

An Irish Christmas This Year?

For those who are thinking of adding an Irish twist to Christmas this year, the following links have some great recipes and ideas to start you out. How does Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding or Roast Goose with Potato Stuffing sound?

And here's one more reminder of the land of Ireland for added inspiration.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Visit To County Clare Inn

While in Milwaukee for Thanksgiving with my dad and Jay, we made a special trip to the County Clare Inn, located downtown and just off of Lake Michigan. It's an authentic Irish Pub and Inn featuring 30 guest suites with double whirlpools and four poster beds. We only had time to look around and take some pictures but it was very worthwhile to stop in if only to see the beautiful stained glass windows. You will recognize on them the names of places we visited.

For anyone traveling to Milwaukee, this is one special place to keep in mind. It's certainly noteworthy to mention that the staff was there that day, volunteering their time to prepare and serve a very impressive Thanksgiving feast to the local homeless population. We talked to a number of people and everyone was thoroughly enjoying the food as well as the cozy and inviting atmosphere!

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St. Patrick

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Here's To You

This week our group has been sharing thoughts of Thanksgiving, what it means to us, how we will spend it, as well as some favorite memories of our trip together. As we've learned, each of us has our own unique and often touching way of celebrating this holiday. Here are the now familiar faces we are thankful for having come to know and which we will never forget. Happy Thanksgiving to all our Forever Friends!

Monday, November 23, 2009

All the Ways You Wander

After returning in September from the trip of a lifetime to Counties Cork, Kerry and Clare in Ireland along with 23 wonderful people who became dear friends, I wrote the following letter to the group.

Dear Wild Irish Rose Women and Men,

I'm struggling with returning to reality. Listening to the music in particular still seems otherworldly, like it was all a beautiful dream. What a priceless journey it was, as we discovered we were in the best of hands with John, Tom and Paddy. Thanks to you three fine men for immersing us so completely in the history and people, land and sea, culture, music and cuisine. Our senses were fully engaged in all things Ireland! There was nothing lacking and we could not ask for more. In contrast, it exceeded expectations in every way. You are dearly loved by 21 grateful new friends.

I have made a slideshow, trying to capture my impressions of Ireland. I set it to John Spillane's All The Ways You Wander which seemed fitting. The final weekend I spent in County Meath is included at the end. It shows the Longwood church and cemetery of my ancestors as well as a wonderful family who helped me find my way to the old Hewson (Huston) farm nearby. As best as we could determine, the current owner and I located the original farm and he showed me a house that was 300 years old and could have belonged to my family at one time. I felt the strongest connection at the church as I knew I was standing in the footsteps of my ancestors. The portrait that I brought along shows my great great grandfather, John Huston, seated to the right, with my great grandmother, Sarah Jane, standing behind him, her hands on his shoulders. I was alone in the church the entire time, bought a rosary there, lit candles for the family and said prayers amid tears. I was so very moved by the experience. You'll also see Annemarie, my friend from Switzerland, who flew into Dublin to meet me for the first time, having only emailed each other prior to that. Finally, you'll see the last glimpse from my plane of the Irish landscape below, disappearing beneath the white clouds. A bittersweet moment.

Up until now, I was still riding the high but today I am grieving the loss of leaving it all behind. It was like no other experience I've ever known before in my life. Though each of us can try to share what it meant, only those of us who were there together will ever truly feel how deep it runs. Whether we return or not, we'll always remember the finest place on earth and when people ask and we find ourselves at a loss for words, we can just remember what Tom told us. He said simply tell them what we Irish say, and that would be, "It was grand!".

With Much Love,


All the ways you wander,
all the ways you roam

All across great oceans,
all across the foam

Through the faraway houses,
through the sunsets on fire

Searching for the island
of your heart's desire

Where the sun is always shining
and the oranges grow on the trees

You only have to wait two seconds there
for every thing you please

In a garden of daisies,
in a circle of light

Searching for the island
of your heart's delight

I'll wait for you, like a true friend

I'll wait for you, till the very end

And if you take the long way,
if you take the long way home

Down where the magicians
and the dreamers roam

Through the mountains of morning,
through the valleys of night

Searching for the island of your hearts delight

I'll wait for you, like a true friend
I'll wait for you, till the very end

All the ways you wander,
all the ways you roam

All across great oceans,
all across the foam

Through the faraway houses,
through the sunsets on fire

Searching for the island
of your heart's desire