SUMMER 2010 / VOL. 10 ISSUE 2
Writer Silverman Reflects on the Auld Sod

Special to The Irish American Post

Not to be overlooked are the contributions made to Irish tourism by J. Herbert Silverman, a journalist from New York State who has written hundreds of newspaper and magazines about the "real" Ireland.

The writer has made dozens of trips both North and South since he was first assigned to cover tourism by a travel trade magazine, Travel Weekly, and went on to write for such consumer and diverse publications as Travel & Leisure, the Boston Herald, the Los Angeles Times, the Toronto Star, The Irish Times, the Limerick Leader and Aer Lingus' inflight magazine.

Silverman is known for his Irish whiskey history, and he declaims, "There's no such a potion as wonderful as a large Paddy with one piece of ice."

The WW II veteran was offered the last rites of the Catholic Church in 1944 through a misunderstanding that his name was actually Sullivan.

Back to Ireland, he narrowly avoided injury or possible death in Inniskillin during a terrorist bombing 20 years ago when by chance his news assignment was canceled at the last moment.

Silverman wrote more than 30 years ago, "Praise be to God, as the Irish say, there are still such institutions as St. Patrick's Cathedral, where Jonathan Swift held sway and wooed his beloved Stella, the National Gallery of Ireland, one of the loveliest art museums in the world and, of course, The Brazen Head, the country's oldest pub in the Liberties (once the worse slum in Europe and now mildly gentrified).

Among his pleasant memories, "Sitting at lunch with my friend Dermot Walsh in the turn-of-the century Old Ground Hotel in Ennis in the West of Ireland, I asked why Irish road signs are posted in both English and Gaelic.

"You mean Irish," said the writer, somewhat sternly. "Gaelic refers to that tongue, with its varied dialects, spoken not only in Ireland but also in such distant places as Scotland and Britain, even Nova Scotia. Our official language is properly referred to as Irish or Gaeilge. therefore, all public signs are in Irish as well as English."

Having cleared up that faux pas, Silverman writes, "I might point out that the dual language signs do lend a touch of the times long past to the roads cutting through the scenery of Kildare, Kerry, and Clare. Chances are, however, that only one in a hundred visitors traveling about the countryside could actually depend on the Irish signs alone to reach a destination without relying on the English translation close at hand."

Who would be churlish enough to question that Corcaigh (Marshy Place) has a more dramatic ring than simply Cork City, or that the rugged village of Glengarriff is more poeticallly known as Gleann Garbh in Irish? One might also consider the translation of Macroom from Maghcromtha (Sloping Field) as another plesantry. And could anyone improve on Cluyain Meala (Honey Meadow), the name for Clonmel.

While Irish is indeed the official language of the country, on a day-to-day basis it is the linqua franca only of the Gaeltacht, those parts of western Ireland which cling to an early heritage with a fierce loyalty and respect for the past.

Actually there's Ulster Irish, Munster Irish, Leinster and Connaught Irish. Then there's another language, that of the tinkers, those landless gypsies of Ireland known as travellers or itinerants, called Shelta which has its own mysteries. In fact, some years ago a playwright, Bryan MacMahon, wrote about the tinkers using Shelta phrases in his drama. The tinkers immediately changed their language eliminating those phrases that had become public "to frustrate outsiders."

The Irish language has limited words which do double duty, a syntax that seems absolutely backward to Americans and such oddities as no word for "expect."

In translation, Gaeilge provides some lilting phrases as evidenced by the playwright, Synge, who brought to life in English the vivid imagery of the Aran Islanders. No prosaic phrase such as "my boat is sailing on the water" appears but rather, "Oh my little craft that swimming on the cover."

As Synge found out, there's no way to say that the wind was simply blowing. The Aran Islanders would say that the wind was crying, that it was wailing or it was purring but never that it was blowing.

Similarly there is no way to express the past easily. The result - if you are in the country and someone comments about the weather, you might hear, "It was just after raining." Questions provide some equally colorful responses. "Are you going to Dublin tomorrow, are you? Or along the same vein, "Is it going to church are you?" Then there is that distinctive Irish greeting, "What way are you?" a direct translation of the Irish "How are you?" And, of course, there is no more pleasant good morning than "How's himself, today?" 

If Ireland didn't invent the castle or cathedral, it might as well get the credit. County Clare alone has about three hundred of the latter, but then it also has another kind of monument, the Shannon Free Port.

The thousands of tourists who pour through Shannon and Dublin aboard Aer Lingus, and Ryan Air will find, however, that historical artifacts today are only a fraction of natural resources.

Ireland has clearly established a balance, fragile though it may between the poet's Dark Rosaleen and the jet age. Irish-Americans will probably reinforce their notions of a country of "the little people" and purple heather. Others, particularly younger travelers, will find it, in addition to a land of enchantment, contemporary in every sense from sports and outdoor hymn to clubs, pubs and plumbing.

Today, Ireland is lovely, distinctive, friendly beyond belief and still reasonable. Gas is expensive but then the cars are small. Institutional culture still dots the landscape with museums and those ubiquitous castles and cathedrals. But farm and rent-a-cottage vacations, caravan tours and River Shannon cruises invented and refined by 20th century man produce a happy blend of 16th century pastoral living with modern day conveniences.

Silverman knows, he's been there.


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