a friendly game of corn hole

Some friends told me their neighbors invited them over for a friendly game of corn hole. I thought swinger couples disappeared in the early ’80s, but it turns out this is an Irish bean bag game.You try to toss the bean bag through the hole. It gets its name because the “bean” bag was original filled with dry corn kernels. But it still makes it hard to keep a straight face with aged Irish men tell you about all the corn holing they’ve been up to. In Ireland, anal sex is known as “hackey sack.”

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Banger Burger

Irish pubs are usually a good stop for grub. The Celtic Harp, outside the Saranac Brewery in Utica, is a great choice. They of course serve their hometown’s brews on tap, and they make a good burger.
Sarah opted for the beef stew, which had big tender chunks of beef and creamy mashed potatoes.
I went for the Banger Burger, which comes with a grilled banger sausage on top, and cheese of course. The burger was good, but a little overdone. The sausage made up for it, with great flavor. Nice tasty bun, too. Not mushy and not sweet. The grilled onions were a great touch, too. They had Saranac pumpkin ale on tap, and it’s one of my favorite pumpkin brews- lots of flavor without weighing you down.

I wouldn’t recommend a road trip for the Harp on its own, but if you’re visiting the brewery, it’s right around the corner, and has a lively clientele. And they make a good burger.

I’m cleaning up a lot of my half-written drafts, so I’ll be playing catch-up and firing them off through the holiday season.

sometimes only an Irish pub will do

For the tail end of Septober, Milky and I took the Mini Cooper to Gettysburg and beyond. You’ve already read about Hillbilly Hotdogs, haven’t you? It was the best meal of the trip. But before the hotdoggery, we stopped for victuals and libations at one Garryowen’s Irish Pub on the main drag of Gettysburg, and had a great lunch with fresh beer. That’s the “Blue Meanie” next to a memorial of col. Doubleday, who fought in the Civil War and also invented a little sport called baseball.
We also spotted the Nanner Puss’s car on the way. We tried to stop at the Red Rabbit Drive-In for eats, but they were closed except for weekends, so we were denied our Bunny Burger! Luckily I always look up Irish pubs in towns I visit for precisely this reason. If you’re surrounded by chains and franchises, they usually have good food and beer. And Garryowen’s serves up a fine pint of Guinness and one of the best corned beef Reubens I’ve ever had.
That’s Milky and his Black Angus burger. Not huge but satisfying and tasty. Good fries too. The Reuben is below, full of tender tasty meat and lots of flavor. Now I’ve had the Carnegie’s and Katz’s, and Garryowen’s beats one of them. (It’s impossible to beat Katz’s, sorry). That’s mighty impressive. Sure Carnegie will have enough meat to choke a goat, but if it’s flavor you want, Katz’s is where it’s atzes. Unless you’re in Gettysburg. Then you go here, and you will not be disappointed one bit.
They have live music most nights, but not the night we were there. I wish we’d gone here for dinner as well, the brewpub we went to was decent but forgettable. So when you visit our national battlefield monument, honor all the Irish immigrants who fought in the Civil War with a pint of Guinness and some bangers & mash at Garryowen’s.

Frank McCourt, R.I.P.

Frank McCourt, the treasured autobiographer who painted for us the most stunning portrait of a man rising from boyhood misery to a life worth reading about, has passed away due to meningitis at the age of 78. Firecracker and I had just spoken about him; to hear a reading, or attend a book signing, or see his play A Couple of Blaguards. The next day his brother Malachy, an enjoyable writer in his own right, shared that Frank was not well, and wasn’t expected to last long. Frank’s legacy is written in his memoirs Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis, and Teacher Man.

The first was made into a well-known film that could only hope to capture the brutal poetry of the book. The thing was, the McCourts’ childhood wasn’t unique for the time. Fathers were prone to drink, and both worked and spoke with their hands. His was hardly there at all. His mother worked like mad just to keep them fed. What was unique was that Frank and Malachy not only survived such a childhood but transcended it, and became men who elevated not only their own kin, but all of us with their storytelling and lives as teachers and politicians. I recently finished Malachy’s History of Ireland, which is told through its people. Though not as detailed, it captured in short order what a huge historical tome I’ve struggled with was trying to do- give the history of Ireland from long before the Troubles to its current stage as the “Celtic Tiger,” clawing for footholds in our economic crisis. They are modern Irish bards, and we’re honored by their tales.

I haven’t read ‘Tis or the rest due to my own neurotic reading habits; I have a library’s worth of book backlog and I try not to read the same author too often. I have to read 3 books before I let myself buy a new one, and I’m still up to my neck in them. But I’ll make an exception for Mr. McCourt. My grandfather came from Bray in County Wicklow, and I visited the ancestral home a few years back. I consider myself plain old American but I’m grateful for my Irish heritage, which reading Angela’s Ashes made me want to explore. So thank you Frank, not only for sharing your own life, but making me respect those of my forebears, and the struggles they made in getting here to make me.

A 5th century cross on a skellig island off County Kerry

I thought of your book recently when Firecracker and I visited the Irish Hunger Memorial near Battery Park in New York. I remember you saying that as young children, you laughed at the idea of eating grass, like they did during the Famine; it’s part of the absurdity of poverty. It leads people to do things you can only consider absurd, and poverty is especially absurd in its own right when it exists only so that others can live in luxury beyond imagination. Malachy ran as the Green party candidate for Governor of New York, so the McCourts continue to give back to us more than they ever got. Here’s saying thanks one more time.

I raise this beer to you, Frank McCourt; we knew you were in heaven an hour before the devil knew you were dead.

Darby O’Gill and the Little People

Oh singin’s no sin, and drinkin’s no crime, if you have one drink only, just one at at a time.

As an adult, The Quiet Man (full review) is my favorite Irish fantasy, but as a kid, nothing could beat Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Sean Connery with fearsome eyebrows as a young man taking over the job of Darby as groundskeeper, because the old feller sees leprechauns a little too often. Well, being a Disney movie he ain’t drunk or crazy. And for the ’50s, the effects are pretty impressive. Enough to keep our little butts planted in front of the boob tube every St. Patrick’s Day.

Darby holdin’ court at the pub

Between this and The Gnome-Mobile (based on a book by Upton Sinclair, of all people) Disney had the short people racket cornered, and we loved it. Darby O’Gill’s story is simple- we’re thrust into a picaresque Irish village, where Darby tells tall tales at the pub every night about the faerie folk while his daughter pines away for a husband. He’s getting on in years and chews the fat more than he cuts the turf, so his employer forces him into retirement, bringing in a young and sturdy replacement as the new caretaker. That’s a job wanted by mean old lady Sugrue for her bully of a son Pony Sugrue, and she begins conniving forthwith against newcomer Michael McBride.

“Marry me, and I’ll stop singing!”

That’s Sean Connery, a few years before Bond, and a perfect catch for Katie O’Gill (cutie Janet Munro, Bertie from Swiss Family Robinson, who died far too young). She’s a bit fiery and distant until she catches him singing while swinging the scythe with his manly arms. It’s almost unfortunate that this is a Disney movie, because Connery looks like he’s barely able to contain his devilish demeanor. With his expressive eyebrows and grin, we expect a shotgun wedding any moment, but he’s a perfect gentleman.

She needs a man, she’s been churnin’ that thing all day.

The story begins in earnest when Darby tells the pub how he once caught the King of the Little People, King Brian, up at the castle ruins on the hill one evening. He even got his wish of a crock of gold, before he was tricked into making a fourth, and forfeit them all. But King Brian hasn’t forgotten him- and when he learns that he’s being put out to pasture, he puts a glamor on Darby’s horse so he knocks him down a well that leads to the land of the Little People. Down there, the King tells him he must stay forever. Thus begins the best part of the story- how the 4,000-year old king of the leprechauns and clever old gaffer Darby O’Gill, as they continually trick each other.

insert Fiddler’s fart joke here

First Darby has to trick his way out to the real world again, and once he does, he needs to keep King Brian (the perfectly cast Jimmy O’Dea) from dragging him back, so they have a whiskey-drinking and rhyming contest till dawn. Once there’s daylight, the leprechaun’s powers are gone, and Darby just needs to sic the barn cat on him to get his way. From then on he’s got the king in a sack, and the battle is on to see if he can get any of his wishes before the King can make him waste them all! It’s great fun, interspersed with the chaste romance of Katie and Michael, set on the Disney backlots with some nice matte paintings reminiscent of Ireland. Having been there, the castles and ruins stood out as unlikely, but I could imagine a ring fort instead.

“I’ll not be yer fancy feast!”

Once we’ve had all our fun with a leprechaun in a sack, it’s time for Sheelah Sugrue and Pony to start their mischief, turning Katie against Michael with chicanery, so she flees on the mountain road on the night the banshee howls. That banshee scared the shamrocks out of me as a kid. Now I have my grandfather’s shillelagh and a belt of Jameson handy to protect me, but back then it was good for a nightmare or two! The story turns true to its fairy tale roots then, as the banshee haunts poor Katie, and the Death Coach comes for her. Darby’s fight for his daughter’s life could be right from the classic deal with the devil, and not even King Brian can save him from his fate- or can he?

The banshee, source of many childhood nightmares

Sure it’s cheesy Disney, but it’s one of their best live-action fantasy films. It takes a while to take off, but it’s good clean fun. The perspective effects are quite good, and when they’re not- such as when it’s an obvious doll being thrown into Darby’s gunny sack, or a hilariously fake little arm fending off the cat- it just makes it even more endearing. The glow effects for the Death Coach and the Banshee are very dated, but work in this case- they’re used sparingly and in misty darkness. And when you see the banshee’s face, it’s still creepy 50 years later. For the adults, there’ll always be John Wayne having to prove his mettle to Maureen O’Hara- a movie with nearly as idyllic a view of Ireland as this one- but for the kids, watching Darby O’Gill play his fiddle for a roomful of leprechauns is still great fun.

Death Coach for Cutie

3 out of four leaf clovers