The seventeenth of March, 2011: a too-ry-ay, for diddly-ay, a too-ry, oo-ry, oo-ry-ay

It’s Saint Patrick‘s day (“One of the world’s most popular saints” – Catholic Online). So I need to post something Irish, I suppose. I can’t post Joyce, because I’m saving him for Bloomsday. I posted the Pogues a few weeks back, for Australia Day. That’s two clichés ruled out.

So here’s a little bit about my favourite Irishman, Gurtuchrane-born Tom Crean (1877-1938), who travelled to the Antarctic with both Scott and Shackleton.

[W]hen Shackleton undertook a second, infinitely more perilous journey to South Georgia, over 800 miles away, Crean was in his crew of five. The James Caird endured sixteen days ‘of supreme strife amid heaving waters’ before making land on the uninhabited west coast of South Georgia on 10 May (Shackleton, 167). The memory of Crean singing at the tiller stayed with Shackleton always: ‘nobody ever discovered what the song was. It was devoid of tune and as monotonous as the chanting of a Buddhist monk at his prayers; yet somehow it was cheerful’ (ibid., 176). In moments of inspiration he would attempt ‘The Wearing of the Green’.

With Frank Worsley, Crean accompanied Shackleton on the epic trek over the previously unexplored interior of the island to the Norwegian whaling station at Stromness, 19–20 May, and when ‘the Boss’ finally returned to Elephant Island to rescue his men on 30 August 1916, Crean was at his side.

Like a retired footballer, Crean opened a pub when he returned to Ireland: the South Polar Inn.

Elsewhere in Irish trivia, here’s a nice line from The Departed (Scorsese, 2006):

I’m Irish. I’ll deal with something being wrong for the rest of my life.

Here’s a little passage from my novel Salt Pie Alley (I’m slightly Irish on my father’s side, so this counts):

In Stanley House Mrs Margaret Gillray sat up in bed propped by pillows and read Tender Is The Night. She’d read anything. A voracious appetite for the printed word.

America, she thought. A high old life they make it sound like. This feller Fitzgerald. An Irishman himself was he? Well there was no high life for some of Toby’s lot I understand. Tenements. Lord all the wickedness in the world, although not that there isn’t plenty of that over here never mind back home.

Wickedness, though: listen to yourself. Margaret you sound like a bloody reverend.

From the city station and across the Westgate rail bridge a late train clanked and lowed as it made its heavy way southward and Danny hearing it wondered where it was off to and why it was leaving.

More than a little bit pissed, truth be told.

“Toby, don’t go. Please I’m asking.”

“Too late now. It’s all booked and paid for.”

“I’ve changed my mind, Toby. I want you here.”



“No, I’ll not. Mind. My train.”

Like a folk-song or summat. Oh, Toby, don’t go… But then listen to enough of the stuff and before you know it everything’s a folk-song. Oh, pull us a pint of the Best, please Joe

Balls to it.

The first English Gillray tapped out a little tune with his teeth as he turned into Charlotte Street and shambled on towards Stanley House. A light in the top-left window.

Ought to be proud of all these paddy generations, he thought. Four or five Gillrays American-born, too – brave emigrant experiment. But didn’t one or two of them Tobias said come to grief?

The old doctor the first to chance his arm across the Irish sea.

“Why d’you want to go there, for God’s sake Toby?” granny Gillray said to him. Tobias used to tell this story. Impersonating his old ma, stooped, a chin like a cow-catcher. He’d regale them with this convivial anecdote.

“Why d’you want to go there?” he’d say, in broadest Belfast jaw-ache.

Never said what his answer was, though.

Suppose it was self-evident to this doctor with his big house. Tobias, the last Irish Gillray. Would he have liked the title? Makes him a bit of a patriarch really. God, yes, he’d have liked that.

The wellmade lock on the front door rolled noisily open under Danny’s key.


He shut the door behind him and eased the lock closed and rubbed his hands together and took off his jacket. He was careful going up the stairs to keep close to the wall or else the damn planks’d creak: oughtn’t to wake his ma.

He went into his bedroom and kicked off his shoes and fell on to the bed and gathered the blanket about himself and dropped off to sleep just like that.

Elsewhere in Tobias Gillray’s big house, through which draughts scampered on cold mouse’s feet, Mrs Margaret Gillray set down Tender Is The Night.

“Wouldn’t surprise me were he to be an Irishman,” she said to herself. “All the same.”

She turned off the lamp with a tug on the switch-cord and heard, in the next room, the sound of Danny snoring.

“Good lad Daniel.”

Before sleep she thought of the ramshackle Gillray diaspora. The ones Toby told her about: Patrick? Diarmaid? Siobhan and Conn? Maire and Colm and Seamus was it? All good names for the Gillrays.

That poem by the poofter. Tip of Mrs Margaret Gillray’s tongue.

We cannot go there now, my dear. We cannot go there now.

Preoccupied by the Gillray diaspora but in any case tired from reading Mrs Gillray fell asleep at two-fifteen, and then all the house was asleep. The snores of the two ruffled the feathers of the starlings in the attic.

And I’ll finish, because I feel like I ought, with a song (sung by an American, recorded for UK television: live with it). Happy Patrick’s day.



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