Part of growing up immersed in your Irish heritage is an inborn, potentially inbred, proclivity to celebrate humor and craic.
Craic (pronounced “crack”) is the concept of fun and laughter, particularly in a social setting. Spend a Saturday evening in the Temple Bar section of Dublin, and you will understand.
Uncle Seamus was of the firm opinion that there were degrees of craic.
“Like an onion, a good time has layers,” he would whisper to me in my crib, baby bottle of Guinness in hand.
Pressing the rubber nipple to my rapacious little lips, he would add, “More vitamins than your poor mother’s milk could ever hope to have.”
Even as a baby, that was good craic. But Seamus liked to delineate craic into very specific categories.
- The craic was mighty. Brilliant fun night out with the boys. Danced with some ladies. Drink was flowing. Everyone went home with a smile. Danny O’Hara may have hooked up.
- The craic was deadly. Debaucherously fun night out with the boys. Literally fell into some girls after too many shots of Jameson. They fell back into us, and we all had a good laugh. Everyone hooked up. Gardai was called, and we all ran away, still laughing. Except Danny O’Hara, who was arrested for pissing on a building.
- The craic was ninety. Epic fun night out with the boys. Blacked out completely. Brief memory of hooking up. Flashbacks of Caligula? Woke up in jail cell covered in piss and lipstick. Danny O’Hara may have died. Not sure.
Implied in the spirit of craic is that those great times involve someone(s) of Irish descent, since we basically wrote the book on fun. The Irish possess a uniquely lyrical wit, sly and laid back, while gregarious and friendly, especially when Guinness or Jameson is generously applied.
Throughout childhood and over the years, I have learned of so many Irish characters that are fundamental to the concept of craic. I have assembled a few of my favorite Irish personalities in the hopes that my fondness and amusement will tickle you in a loving, reasonably HR-appropriate way.
- Two Fingers Ryan. Ryan was a devout man. He attended mass every Sunday. But Ryan had a scratchy ass that plagued him relentlessly. He was often seen by my grandmother with two fingers down the back of his pants, digging his ass while waiting in line to receive holy communion. Grandma was horrified by both his sacrilegious and unhygienic public self-exploration. She claims she overheard Father Mick Herlihy once say to Ryan at the communion rail, “Body of… Christ, what’s that smell?“
- Orph & Clara. Orph was cross-eyed and loved to drive his wife Clara around the village on Sundays after mass. Neighbors were known to complain to my grandparents over pie and coffee about Orph’s car tire tracks in their front yards. Clara was born with her arms only grown to the elbows, where an assortment of fingers grew directly from the malformed nub. Grandma always said, despite her limitations, Clara could crochet the loveliest scarves. Is there any need to say anything else?
- The Goddamn Man. My grandfather tended bar for years at Jiggers in our hometown. He often spoke of The Goddamn Man. No one knew his name – he kept to himself and sipped his whiskies each night. All they ever heard him say was a single word. “Goddamn.” Grandpa spoke highly of him as a simple man with simple tastes and an economy of words.
- Ass Ache McGee. One of my grandfather’s least favorite patrons at Jiggers was Ass Ache McGee. He always had something to complain about, and grandpa could not stand it, thus the nickname was born. Grandpa exacted his revenge one day when Ass Ache McGee was complaining about the weather and his sinuses. Retrieving a canned oyster from the kitchen, my grandfather stuffed it in his handkerchief and returned to the bar to commiserate over their sinus woes. Feigning a sneeze, my grandfather covered his mouth with the rigged hankie. Lowering it from his mouth, he acted surprised, picked up the oyster, and notoriously said, “Looks too good to waste.” And tossed it in his mouth. The nauseous Ass Ache McGee ran out of the bar, never to return. On cue, The Goddamn Man winked, nodded and said, “Goddamn.”
- Erin Go Braghless. Uncle Colm, husband to third wife, Sky Cornflower, aka Nature (see additional reference in Nature Abhors a Vacuum blog post) had a second wife named Erin. She passed away before my siblings and I were born. But, as he would often nostalgically regale to us kids over some pints, Erin had a wonderful set of tits. She had never worn a bra in her life, and it was vividly clear when she was excited or cold. Colm was gobsmacked by them, and he wanted everyone to share in his enthusiasm. Every St Paddy’s Day, Jiggers would hold a wet t-shirt event for JUGS. Justice Under God’s Sight was a community charity developed between the local Hibernian Society, Our Bloody Martyr Catholic Church, and the Masonic Temple Association. Through their philanthropic works, JUGS would provide food, clothing and money to widows of railroad workers. Given her coveted assets and the obvious irony, Erin was often the poster-girl for the JUGS wet t-shirt contest. Colm was fiercely proud. Mayor Pug Walsh and Father Mick Herlihy faithfully judged the contest each year, and the railroad workers packed Jiggers to ensure they gave generously to this worthy cause for the families of their fallen comrades. For years, the bartenders would honor St Patrick by pouring a pitcher of beer down the front of each contestant as they danced on the bar and the menfolk cheered. Things went poorly for Erin the year Jiggers and JUGS tried to mix things up and use green beer. Turns out, Erin was allergic to the green food coloring they used, and she died hours later from anaphylaxis. To pay homage to his fallen breast friend, Colm had the epitaph Erin Go Braghless inscribed on her gravestone.
- Des Conway. My wife and I honeymooned in Ireland in November 1994. I was obsessed with finding the origin of my family name and meeting some “real” Conways. We stayed at a quaint bed and breakfast in a remote northwest corner of County Mayo, Ireland near the little fishing village of Killala. Escaping a massive November gale, we sheltered and drank all night in a local pub. It was magical. The peat fire roaring pungently all night. The people welcoming us like family. The babies napping in car seats atop the cigarette machine. The Guinness flowing along with hot toddies (a drink of boiling water, lemon, currants, and Jameson). At 11pm, the pub closed, which meant the owners placed tar paper over the inside of the windows so the Gardai could justify they were in fact ‘closed.’ The craic was mighty that night. I have always been told I “married up” as it pertains to my wife, who is a lovely lass, to be sure. And an elderly gentleman at the bar that night, who said he knew a Des Conway, thought so, too. Well, maybe that’s what he said. Not sure after all the hot toddies. Plus, he spoke more Irish than English. Maybe he was Des Conway? All I can certainly recall is that every time he said Des Conway’s name, he snapped his fingers pointed at my wife and me, then kissed my wife’s cheek smearing his runny old man nose on it. He also drooled on her shoulder a few times. My wife is a true germaphobe and was horrified that I did not intervene. I could not help but laugh more than a few times. She had the last laugh when she punched me in the nut sack on the walk back to our hotel.
- Uncle Seamus. The last remaining family member with admitted IRA affiliation, Seamus lived in South Boston, aka Southie. Family legend holds that Seamus was a hitman for the Irish mob in Southie. Dad often warned my sister that he would call Uncle Seamus to “take care of” any boy who treated her badly. Seamus died when we were teens while walking past an exploding car. Weird, right? It makes what my friend and I did for our senior Anthropology project in high school especially wrong. Tasked with interviewing a family member who best demonstrated our “ethnicity,” we convinced my dad to act as Uncle Seamus, fake Irish brogue and all. Dad slayed imitating the slain Seamus. Since Seamus lived so far away in Southie, we tape-recorded the faux-interview over the faux-phone, thereby ensuring dad maintained his veil of anonymity. It was so authentic, our teacher held it up to future classes as the epitome of what an A+-grade project looked like. That is until my brother took the same class five years later and snitched. The teacher was crestfallen from the deception. He resigned that year to a cabin deep in the woods where he ultimately died alone from alcoholism or starvation or bear attack. Or was he the Unabomber? I forget which. Regardless, my friend and I showed my brother the meaning of “snitches get stitches” that summer.
One of the best things to know about interacting with the Irish is to never take everything we say at face value. The twinkle in an Irish eye is the sun reflecting off a tear formed due to the pent-up laughter from having some sport with your gullibility.
A dear friend of mine is often known for saying, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
And so ‘tis with the Irish. Part of true craic, and why the Irish are such good storytellers, is that we nurture the ability of a speaker to capture a listener’s attention with an appropriately long-winded mix of fact, humor, emotion, and fiction. A truly deadly combination.
So, while we may be a wee bit full of shite, is it really our fault if our gift of the gab influences your beliefs or disbeliefs in our stories? Though our stories may sometimes be a load of Blarney, they are in fact a grand tease, an exaggeration of the truth meant to charm and entertain.
And what is the harm in that?
Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh! Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all!
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