December 26th: It’s historic origins in England and Ireland

The day after Christmas Day is celebrated in many different ways around the world, and has many different names with distinct historical origins…

Boxing Day (Britain, Australia, Canada)

In 17th century Britain, it was a custom for tradesmen to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This was later to become Boxing Day.

The Demidoff Altarpiece: Saint Stephen

St.Stephen’s Day (Republic of Ireland, and various other European countries)

The Feast of St.Stephen is believed to be the first Christian martyr, stoned to death sometime around the year 33 CE having been accused of blasphemy. It is claimed that his relics were recovered on Dec. 26, 416 CE, and that is why we celebrate the feast of St. Stephen on Dec. 26.

Wren Day (Ireland)

The Republic of Ireland actually celebrates St. Stephen’s Day in another context – Lá an Dreoilín, meaning ‘Wren Day’ (pronounced as “ran” day). Wren Day is linked to St.Stephen in a variety of ways, namely the claim that he was betrayed by a wren while hiding form his enemies.  Although now a dying-out tradition, for many years it was customary for people to dress up in very old clothes, wear straw hats and travel from door to door with fake (previously: dead) wrens. 

Wren Day
Wren Day in Ireland

 

 

Random Historical Christmas Facts…

No particular order here; just some random facts about Christmas that got my attention…

JESUS WAS PROBABLY NOT BORN IN DECEMBER

Contrary to popular belief, there is actually no evidence that Jesus was born in December. In fact, most historians not only don’t believe he was born on December 25th, but we he also probably wasn’t born in 1AD, largely because we understand Jesus to have been born on the night of the census under the rule of the Roman Emperor Herod. But no census was taken under the rule of Herod.

So why, then, is Christmas celebrated in December? Well, like most traditions, it’s probably a hangover from Pagan Times. Christmas didn’t officially become a holiday until many years after Jesus was born, thus it is believed that the celebration of his birth was tied in with the pagan festival of Saturnalia, which honoured the god Saturn by celebrating and giving gifts. December 25th is also a few days after the Winter Solstice, so it’s believed the early Roman Catholic Church chose December 25th as a means to tie all the festivals together.

SAINT NICHOLAS DAY IS ACTUALLY ON 6 DECEMBER…

Following on from the post above, ever wondered why some countries celebrate the arrival of Saint Nicholas/Santa Claus on 6 December and then still observe Christmas on 25 December? Why do countries such as the Netherlands, Poland and more still celebrate the arrival of Saint Nick on 6 December?

It’s more likely another case of festivals being absorbed into one another. The American Santa Claus and the British Father Christmas likely originated from the Dutch Feast of Sinter Klaas (Saint Nick). Born in the 3rd century, Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children, and tradition holds that he had a long white beard, a red cape, rode a white horse and had a list of children who had been ‘naughty or nice’. He apparently gave away his inheritance to needy children and his feast day was 6 December.

Tradition holds that Saint Nicholas would bring gifts to children who had been well-behaved on the night of 5th/6th of December. So why then, do most Western countries observe his arrival on Christmas Day? Well, one of the main reasons we have the custom of giving and receiving presents at Christmas, is to remind us of the presents given to Jesus by the Wise Men, so that’s why Saint Nicholas is linked to Christmas. But after the reformation in northern Europe, stories and traditions about Saint Nicholas became unpopular. Reformists such as Martin Luther wanted a Protestant alternative to the feast of Saint Nicholas. So Saint Nick morphed into Father Christmas/Pére Noel/Kring Kindle (depending on where you are from). And his arrival in most countries was moved to December 25th.

NO-ONE KNOWS WHY WE USE CHRISTMAS STOCKINGS…

But there are some interesting stories behind the custom. Legend holds that in Saint Nicholas’ time, there was an old man with three daughters who couldn’t afford their marriage dowries. Saint Nicholas wanted to help, but he needed to do it discreetly, so as not to upset the old man or get the nosy neighbours talking. So one night, after dark, he threw three bags of gold through an open window, and one landed in a stocking. It is believed the tradition of putting Christmas presents in the stocking originates from this.

HENRY VIII WAS THE FIRST PERSON TO EAT TURKEY ON CHRISTMAS DAY

Most people know that turkeys are not native to Europe, so how did we end up eating them for Christmas in Europe? Well, turkeys were first brought to Britain from the Americas in 1525. Prior to that, Christmas day dinner often consisted of goose, boar head, or even peacock. Even when King Henry VIII ate turkey for Christmas Dinner in the 16th century, turkey did not become a staple Christmas dinner meal in Europe. Edward VII became a big fan of turkey on Christmas Day, but was popularised as Christmas Day dinner from the 1950s onwards.

Four Irish-Australian convicts that may surprise you

 

You don’t need to be Irish to know the story in the lyrics of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ – a father being transported on a ship to serve hard labour on the other side of the world for petty crime. We all know the story of Ned Kelly, himself not a transported convict, but rather, his father John Kelly, allegedly for having stolen two pigs. Between 1788 and 1868, around 162,000 British and Irish convicts were transported to the penal colonies of Australia, often for very small crimes. Figures vary, but it’s believed that somewhere between 12 and 24 per cent of those convicts were Irish. And while the stereotypical case was that of Michael from Athenry, the profiles of some of those Irish transported may surprise you. To mark the anniversary of it being 160 years since the end of British transportation to the colonies, below are the stories of four surprising Irish convicts transported to Australia.

 

WILLIAM SMITH-O’BRIEN

Many rebels were transported to Australia in the aftermath of various famous uprisings in Ireland: the 1798 rebellion, 1803, 1848 and 1868 – 1868 being the last year of transportation to the colonies. And among them was William Smith O’Brien.

Now this convict might surprise you – he was far from the stereotype of the  impoverished farmer who stole some corn to feed his children. He was actually the son of Sir Lucius O’Brien, and was born in 1803 in Dromoland Castle, County Clare. Despite being descended from Brian Boru, the Gaelic O’Brien’s were then part of the Protestant landed elite, and William was educated in public school in England, and later Cambridge University. Taking his seat in the House of Commons in 1828, he was a strong supporter of Catholic emancipation, but not of Irish self-government. He stance changed however when the British government imprisoned his rival Daniel O’Connell. Now Deputy-Leader of O’Connell’s Repeal Association, he led the Young Irelanders out of it in 1848 when O’Connell advised against the use of force. In 1848, he led the Young Irelanders into rebellion in Tipperary.

Convicted, he was originally sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life transportation to Tasmania. But political prisoners in the colonies had a different status to most convicts. They got special ‘ticket-of-leave’ treatment, largely due to the efforts of Colonial Secretary Earl Grey who felt that the Young Ireland rebels deserved gentlemanly status. ‘Ticket-of-leave’ was a type of parole issued to convicts, who could be trusted with certain freedoms.

O’Brien initially refused the ‘ticket-of-leave’ status, because that meant he couldn’t try to escape. So he lived on Maria Island, the most remote outpost of the penal settlement. A bungled escape attempt in 1850 let to him being transferred to Port Arthur. He was fairly isolated there, and wrote lots about his experiences to his family, especially his wife Lucy.After three months at Port Arthur, he successfully applied for a ticket-of-leave.

He was to spend 2.5 years in lodgings near Hobart, and play a big role in drafting a model constitution for the Tasmanian Legislative Council.

Conditional pardon came his way in summer 1854. He departed Tasmania after five years away and lived in Brussels until his full pardon in 1856, when he returned to Ireland to a heroes welcome, passing away in 1864.

LAURENCE HYNES HALLORAN

From nationalist rebel, to unordained clergymen, the list of unusual Irish convicts just grows. Laurence Hynes Halloran was to become famous as a controversial writer and schoolteacher in Sydney, but not before leading a life of crime and false claims. Born in Co. Meath in 1765, Halloran was orphaned at a young age, so he ran away to join the Navy. Aged 17, he was jailed for stabbing a fellow midshipman in 1783 (to death). He was acquitted the next year, moving to Exeter where he married and ran a school. It was during this time that he began to make his first steps on the literary stage, publishing Odes, Poems and Translations (1790), and Poems on Various Occasions.

Claiming to be an ordained minister, he managed to re-enter the navy though as a chaplain, and was installed at the Cape of Good Hope. But after running afoul of his boss, he was removed from his position. He then published a satire Cap-abilities or South African Characteristics. Proceedings were taken against him and he was banished from Cape Town and returned to England, not before the governor of the colony had to declare valid those marriages conducted by Halloran during his time there. Back in England, and once again posing as a clergyman under various aliases, in 1818 he was convicted of forging a tenpenny frank and transported to Sydney.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Halloran’s rebellious streak had run out by then – but no. Upon his arrival, he was given a ticket-of-leave by the local governor. Despite having a wife and six children back in England, he decided that he and his niece would pose as his wife, and they are alleged to have had issue. Upon his niece’s death in 1823, he married bigamously, fathering even more children.

But that didn’t stop him getting embroiled in even more lawsuits. Bankrupt, he served a prison sentence for debt, some of which was petitioned to found a Public Free Grammar School – for which he had called for the establishment of. Upon the opening of the school, the Sydney Gazette reported that Halloran was constantly drunk, constanlty swearing, and telling student stories about fighting and his perpetual drunkenness. Halloran was jailed once more, and the responsibility of running the school passed elsewhere.

His story doesn’t stop there, however – upon his release, Halloran started his own newspaper – which failed – largely because he wrote most of the articles himself, and they were mainly about he libel suits issued against him. Upon the fail of that business, he was briefly appointed as Sydney’s coroner. He was removed from that position when he threatened to start publishing more libelous articles. He died soon after that, in 1831, having led a varied and colourful life.

 

HENRY BROWNE HAYES

William Smith O'Brien

(A big thank you to the authors of http://www.sirhenrybrownehayes.com/foreword.html for their wonderful site which helped me greatly with my research on Henry Browne Hayes).

Another breaker of the stereotype convict is Henry Browne Hayes, a captain of the South Cork Militia, a sheriff, a Freemason, and a Knight! This may be one of the most colourful of Irish convicts. Ironically, as Sheriff of Cork he processed the first shipment of Irish convicts to New South Wale. Knighted in 1790, and then widowed in 1797, and struggling to take care of his children, he decided to kidnap a wealthy Quaker heiress named Mary Pike and force her to marry him., even bringing in a man dressed as a priest to perform the ceremony. Pike was rescued by her family, and a bounty put on Haye’s head, so he had to go into hiding. Declared an outlaw, he could be shot on sight. A government reward of £200 was offered for his capture and ₤50 for each of his accomplices.

 

After three years hower, he gave himself up for trial. Knowing the price that would be awarded to whoever reported that Hayes had turned himself, Hayes offered himself up to his friend Charles Coghlan, a fellow freemason. Hayes was found guilty and was given a death sentence which was later changed to a life sentence in Australia.

 

Arriving in New South Wales in 1802, Hayes was immediately put in jail for misbehaviour on the ship, which included harassing the ship’s surgeon. He was linked to an uprising a few years later in 1804, after he successfully founded the roots of Freemasonry in Australia. Whether or not he actually had the authority to set up the Freemason’s is up for debate, but the meeting he held in Sydney in 1803 is nonetheless regarded as the founding of the Freemasons of Australia.

 

Hayes was to purchase Vancluse House, which was turned into a national monument and became known as a snake-free property thanks to an age-old Irish commodity – turf! It turns out turf was a very successful reptile repellent, and Vancluse House was surrounded with it. (You can read more about Vancluse House on this site: http://www.sirhenrybrownehayes.com/)

 

Finally pardoned in 1809, Hayes returned to Ireland in 1812, and died in 1832. In Australia, he was noted to be “a restless, troublesome character”…you can see why, in fairness.

 

GEORGE BARRINGTON

One of the earliest Irish transportees was George Barrington was transported to New South Wales in 1791, just three years after Australia became a convict colony. Barrington was infamous pickpocket with a very colourful track record.

 

Born in Kildare, his crime sprees began early when he stabbed a fellow student with a penknife at age 16. He later robbed his schoolmaster and ran away from school. After a period with a touring theatrical company in Drogheda, he arrived in England and was to became one of London’s most colourful pickpockets in the 1770s – managian to mix with the upper classes and the elite, getting arrested numerous times, but managing to get acquitted. One of his most famous exploits was the attempted theft of a diamond studded snuff box, allegedly worth £30,000 from the Russian Prince Orlow at Covent Garden, but he pleaded his case with such a display of emotion that the prince refused to press charges.

 

He also once posed as a clergyman and removed the diamonds from the clothing of a member of the Knights of the Garter.

 

But his luck ran out in 1790, when he was sentenced to transportation for theft of a gold watch. Arriving in Sydney in September 1791, he spent a year labouring on a Toongabbie farm. He could never stay at the same thing for long, with his ‘irreproachable conduct’ gaining him an absolute pardon after just a short time. He was then trusted with the job of watching over crucial supplies for the new government. Five years after his transportation, he became a police constable in Parramatta, Sydney. Quite a turnaround!

Sadly, he was declared officially insane in 1800, and died four years later. However he did leave a major legacy on the literature of the early colonies. Credited with writing a number of texts, including a history of New South Wales, his name is attached to many others that in reality he had nothing to do with, EG texts that were actually about political items but to make them more salesworthy they became attached to the pickpocket who stole diamond-encrusted snuff-boxes!

Historic Facts I learned about the Lares Trek, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu

A trip to Peru is not complete without a visit to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. Instead of the traditional four-day Inca Trail hike, I completed the very similar Lares Trek and learned some fantastic historic snippets along the way. Here’s what they were (and you can learn more about the Lares Trek with G Adventures here)

The Inca Empire reached it’s peak just 50 years before the arrival of Columbus

Contrary to popular belief, the term ‘Inca’ refers to the ruler of the last great native Empire before the Spanish conquered South America. The civilisation arose from the highlands of Peru sometime in the early 13th century, but it was not until 1438 that the Cusco became the administrative centre of a kingdom that stretched from Colombia to Ecuador, through Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and more. It’s official language was Quechua, and incorporated millions of people, until the last Inca resistance against the Spanish in 1572.

The Spanish…

Launched a policy of oppression against the Incas for their wealth. The Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro invaded the Inca Empire in 1532. As well as massacres, many locals died from diseases brought over by the Europeans that they were hitherto never exposed to. However, of all the Spanish conquests of South America, the Incas proved to the hardest to overcome, taking 40 years of resistance before the Spanish could claim victory.

However, the Spanish are not believed to have known about the existence of Machu Picchu.

We only know about the pre-Columbian history of South America from the Spanish

Because the Inca people did not write down their history. They used word of mouth. They  did, however use a system of knotted strings known as quipu to send messages around their empire. Similar systems were used by the ancient Chinese and native Hawaiians.

A quipu was a portable device with a wooden bar, and hanging from it were a wide variety of colours and strings with knots tied in various ways and at various heights. It often had up to 1500 strings, and the way they were woven might also have indicated a meaning (or so it’s suggested).

And to ensure that nothing was forgotten, the Incas also had a body of expert, known as the khipu kamayuq, who memorised the oral account which fully explained a particular quipu. Their job was hereditary, meaning the oral tradition was passed from generation to generation.

Quechua predates the Inca Empire

The main language spoken in the region is Quechua. Quechua is the name for a family of languages that probably all derived from one common language in early times. And Quechua far predates the Incas Empire. Quechua has numerous dialects, and the although the Spanish colonials initially encouraged its use, from the middle of the reign, they suppressed it.. Yet the language survived, and today an estimated that around 10 million people speak a Quechua language. Movements are afoot to preserve the language, and in 2016 Peru made history by broadcasting the first ever Quechua language news bulletin.

Guinea Pigs are Sacred…and are eaten

One of the most common cuisines in Peru is Guinea Pig. Many restaurants will have displays outside of a plate with a whole cooked guinea pig and all the trimmings. On the Lares Trek, we visited a house which had guinea pigs roaming freely under the bed. And there are other traditions attached to the guinea pigs that illustrate their importance. For instance, a Quechua girl must skin a guinea pig to prove she is ready for marriage. Guinea Pigs were commonly used in healing and religious ceremonies, often being offered as sacrifices to the Gods.

In Machu Picchu, the remains of Guinea Pigs were found in caves, suggesting they were used for religious purposes or sacrifices there.

Ollantaytambo is an ancient Inca settlement

If you hike the Lares Trek, you’ll spend some time in the stunning historic town of Ollantaytambo. It’s name in Quechua means ‘rest spot’, and it has a unique history, being part of the royal estate of the Emperor Pachacuti during the Inca Empire, and later conquered by the Spanish. It would become a stronghold for Manco Inca Yupanqui, leader of the Inca Resistance against the Spanish.

Sandwiched between the mountains, there are some stunning ruins to view (and hike to!). It’s paved with small cobbled streets, a beautiful open main square, and well-preserved Inca Ruins. Although damaged by the Spanish, the buildings still have the remanence of that pre-colonial era.

Tip: While in Ollantaytambo, look for houses with red plastic bags hanging outside on posts. These houses are where locals go to drink chicha, a local brew made out of corn.

Hiram Bingham, the man who ‘discovered’ the remains of Machu Picchu…Machu Picchu own

…believed he had found the Lost City of the Incas…but he hadn’t.

Hiram Bingham was a Yale University Professor who, in 1911, set off on an expedition to find the final stronghold and seat of Inca power after the Incas were forced to flee from the Spanish conquistadors – Vilcabamba having become fascinated with Inca Ruins on a previous visit to Peru. Having heard about Inca Ruins in the region from a farmer near Aguas Calientes, he climbed his way up and became one of the first white men to see the ruins of Machu Picchu for decades.

He later published a book about Machu Picchu called ‘The Lost City of the Incas’, but the city that was actually the final stronghold of the Incas was Vilcabamba, north-east of Lima.

Hiram Bingham PD
Hiram Bingham and a local guide in 1911 (image: public domain)

Hiram Bingham wasn’t the first to ‘discover’ Machu Picchu

In fact, locals in the Aguas Calientes region knew about it all along, and numerous other explorers are believed to have visited it in the 1800s, such as the British explorer Thomas Payne, a German engineer called JM von Hassel and another German called August Berns who apparently wanted to plunder the ruins in the 1860s. The site is also listed on an 1874 map, and it is claimed that it had been visited by three explorers from Cusco as early as 1901, just ten years before Hiram Bingham found the site.

More information on doing the Inca Trail with the Lares Trek is available here.

Remembering Cheiro, the Dublin man who became an infamous member of the Occult

82 years ago today, a man from Dublin passed away in Hollywood, California, having been one of the most famous figures of astrology of his time. Born in 1866, and also going by the name of Count Louis Hamon, ‘Cheiro’, as he is best known, was to become a symbol of the occult, a self-described clairvoyant and a world-renowned fortune-telling expert. Known for his ability to foresee world events, his clients are claimed to have included Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt and even Joseph Chamberlain. So how did a man from Dublin become arguably THE symbol of the occult in the early 20th century?Cheiroy

BACKGROUND

It was while travelling in India as a teenager that Cheiro met the Indian Brahmans, who was to become his Guru. Cheiro wrote in his memoirs that he was permitted by Brahmans to study an ancient book that has many studies on hands. After studying thoroughly for two years, he moved to London and started his career as a palmist, becoming popularly known as ‘Cheiro’ (taken from ‘chirology’ meaning studying the hands to tell fortunes).

PREDICTIONS

Some of the phenomenons Cheiro is purported to have predicted include the Boer War and the death of Queen Victoria. In 1925, he is alleged to have predicted the future partition of India. And he also claimed to have predicted the sinking of the Titanic, 13 years before it sank, while reading the palm of Harland and Wolff chairman William Pirrie. His office in the West End of London famously always had a queue of people waiting to hear about their future.

HIGH SOCIETY

But Cheiro’s unusual gift for the occult was not his only talent. He also befriended and read the palms some of the most eminent people of the day. Some of his clients included King Edward VII), General Kitchener, William Gladstone, Joseph Chamberlain as well as other leading military, judicial and political figures from both sides of the Atlantic.

He also read the hands of many literary and artistic figures such as Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde -and is alleged to have been a major source of inspiration along the way. Mark Twain included references to fingerprint identification in his novel Puddin’ Head Wilson, and Oscar Wilde is believed to have written the short story Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime based on his encounter with Cheiro. Mark Twain said of his visit: “Cheiro has exposed my character to me with humiliating accuracy. I ought not to confess this accuracy, still I am moved to do so.”

WRITER

And Cheiro was also a writer himself. He wrote numerous books on fortune-telling, some of which are still in print today. His books reveal something about his abilities. Although he undoubtedly had a gift for the occult, Cheiro was known to have ‘premonitions’ more so that actual reading things from people’s hands. In Confessions – Memoirs of a Modern Seer, it’s clear that Cheiro saw himself more as psychic than a palmist.

DEATH AND LEGACY

Moving to America is his later years, he read the palms of the Hollywood elite as the infamous neighbourhood was gathering pace. He is also alleged to have tried his hand at screenwriting. Upon his death on October 8, 1936, his widow claimed that he predicted his own death to the hour, the day before he died. Later that month, Time Magazine wrote: “On the night he died, said his nurse, the clock outside his room struck the hour of one thrice.”

CLICK ON THE LINKS BELOW TO READ MORE ABOUT CHEIRO:


2,500 year history of the Irish language

2018 marks 125 years since Conradh na Gaeilge (or the Gaelic League) was set up, marking the birth of the Irish language revival (in 1893). In the previous 300 hundred years, but largely in the 50 years since the Great Irish Famine, English had long surpassed Irish as the main language spoken on the island. Yet, the 2016 census revealed that around 37% percent of the population can speak Irish (up from 16% in 1901), so certainly, things have changed in the 125 years since Conradh na Gaeilge was founded. But where did the Irish language originate, and for how long was it prevalent in Ireland?

From the first settlers to the Celts (circa 8000-1500BC)Archaeology can trace human settlement in Ireland back to at least 8000 years before Christ (that’s 10,000 years ago!). The origin of the first Irish settlers is hotly disputed, but the most accepted view is that they originated in modern-day Spain, on the Iberian peninsula. Without any written evidence however, linguists can only rely on the modern Irish language itself for clues as to what languages it replaced. It’s been suggested that perhaps the early settlers spoke a language similar to that spoken in North Africa, but we aren’t sure what exactly they spoke. These pre-Celtic languages are thought to have some influence on what is now called the Irish language.

Common Celtic (500BC-1500 BC approx)Around 2-3,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age, Irish developed from a dialect brought to the island by the Celts. The Celts originated in central Europe, but seeing as Ireland was invaded many times in that period, we can’t be sure exactly when they arrived with their language.. What’s known, however, is that the Celts eventually succeeded in conquering the country and their language became widespread through it. The first mention of the word ‘Gaelic’ came from the Welsh, by Christian times the language was prevalent not just in Ireland, but also on the Isle of Mann (Mannish), the south-west of England (Cornish) and Scotland (Scots Gaelic).

Old-Irish (500-900 AD):The first real examples we have of the Irish language written down are from the remains of Ogham stones from around 1,500 years ago. The Irish language is the earliest known vernacular language written north of the Alps. Ogham consisted of various strokes and dots representing letters, and was usually inscribed on upright stones. Believed to have largely been memorials dedicated to warriors, hundreds of these still survive in Ireland today.  

Christianity arrived in Ireland in the 5th century, and in the succeeding years, Irish scribes would annotate Latin scripts with Old Irish. It’s from these ‘glosses’ that we known most about Old Irish.

Middle-Irish (900-1200 AD)Ireland was invaded many times in 900-1300 AD period, firstly by the Vikings, and later by the Anglo-Normans. It’s during the 900-1200 period that some Scandinavian words began to be adopted by the Irish language, and are still in use today. Words such ‘pingin’ (penny) and ‘margadh’ (market) and a number of nautical terms used in Irish today are believed to have originated with the Norse. But the syntax of the Irish language was largely unchanged by the Vikings.

Early Modern / Classical Modern Irish (1200-1600 AD)The Normans arrived in Ireland around 1169 and a started a period of multilingualism in Ireland. The vast majority of the Normans spoke French, but gradually, began to speak Irish as their main language, and it was to remain the main language of the country for a few hundred years. However there is significant evidence today of the French influence on Irish. Words such as cóta (coat/cloak), gáirdín (garden), seomra (room, chamber) and séípéal (chapel) are all words that are understood to have their roots in the Norman language. Additionally, the language itself went through many changes during the period 1200-1600, with many dialects emerging.

But although Irish was the most common language spoken by the ordinary people, it was during this period of English administration that English became more widespread, as it was necessary for administrative and legal affairs.

1600-presentThroughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish continued as the language of the greater part of the rural population, particularly in the West of Ireland. However English became the predominant language among the more prosperous members of the Irish-speaking community, and this increased greatly in the 19th century due a number of factors: after the Great Famine of the 1840s – English was adopted to prepare children for emigration to England, America and Australia in later life. The National Schools system, the first state system of primary education, was introduced in the 1830s, but one of it’s main aims was to teach Irish to children. Children wore a “tally stick” (the “bata scoir”) in the classroom, and a notch was carved into the stick if they spoke Irish. At the end of the day, they would be punished if they had notches carved on their tally stick.

And so, by the late 1900s, the Irish language was almost extinct. The 1901 census revealed that only around 16% of the population could speak Irish. With this in mind, some scholars became interested in preserving and reviving the language, and this was something that was to tie in greatly with the Irish Independence movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. A sort of renaissance of the Irish language ensued. Organisations such as the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language (1876) advocated the need for the Irish language to be taught in schools. And as noted above, in 1893 Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League) was established to gather support or the resurgence of the language and to bring written and spoken Irish in line with each other.

The Official Standard (Caighdáin) Gaeilge was declared by the government in 1958. In 2016, 1.76 million people stated on the census that they could speak Irish, amounting to around 37% of the population. A sharp rise from 16% in 1901! And with more and more Irish language festivals taking place across the country from Belfast to Carlow to Donegal, with ‘meet-up’ groups such as Pop-Up Gaeltacht gathering ever more numbers, will Irish become a mainstream language once more?

Harriet Jacobs and the amazing story of her escape from slavery

On a reHarriet Jacobscent trip to New Orleans, I made my second visit in as many years to the Whitney Plantation (http://whitneyplantation.com/) and once again felt compelled to read as many true accounts of slavery as I possibly could. That same day, on a random trip into a cute little second-hand bookstore, I came across the perfect one – Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. And I was hooked.

The book is an account of a former slave’s life under the rigid slavery laws of North Carolina in the 1800s. Born in Edenton, NC in 1813, Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery. She had some white blood in her, and her maternal grandmother (who became her closest family member when she was orphaned) was half-white and had been freed from slavery, and even owned her own house (something slaves were not permitted to do).

Harriet bounced around through various ‘owners’ in her childhood – some kind, some not so. When her owner began making sexual advances towards her as a teenager, coupled with refusing her permission to marry the man she love, she retaliated, becoming pregnant by a local white man and fathering two mixed-race children with him while still in her teens. But soon Harriet’s domestic situation became unbearable, prompting her to make her escape (not seeing her children for many years). She disappeared and living in horrifically isolated, solitary conditions before escaping to the North in 1842, settling in New York where slaves were free.

Reunited with her children years later, Jacobs worked as a nursemaid in New York before beginning a lifelong friendship with the Quaker reformer Amy Post. Upon being officially granted her freedom upon the death of her owner, Harriet was encouraged by Post to write an account of her experiences as a slave – and Incidents was published in 1861.

Harriet’s story is captivating – both in terms of her heroic escape from a life of slavery but also in terms of her stoicism and an insight into how female slaves had to cope with sexual advances among everything else attached to being in slavery. It was largely forgotten about for over 100 years, before being discovered during the civil rights movement.

A highly recommended read: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Incidents-Slave-Dover-Thrift-Editions/dp/0486419312