By Ray O’Hanlon
Ah, back to the good old days at the State Department when the Boston Tea Party was a mortal embarrassment, Mad King George was a kindly, if somewhat confused, father figure atop his chamber potty and the shot heard around the world was the last glass of vodka knocked back during the latest round of negotiations with the Russkies. Yes indeed, the Burberry coat crowd must be back in charge at the State Department given this recent little exchange between your soaraway Irish Echo and an official at State clearly on the lookout for green-tinged patriots and rabble-rousing continentals.
The powder that unleashed the musket ball was a phone call made by the Echo in the quest for a photo of Richard Haass, President Bush’s point man on Northern Ireland.
The conversation went roughly thus: "Hi, I’m so-and-so from the Irish Echo. We would like a photo… and so forth and so on.
State Department mandarin: "The Irish what?"
Echo patriot: "The Irish Echo."
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Mandarin: "The Irish Echo, what’s that?"
Patriot: "A newspaper."
Mandarin, deeply suspicious now and apparently smelling a whiff of rebellion in the air: "And why do you want the picture?"
Oh, gee, rumbled again. Another failed bid to get on the Foggy Bottom good guys list. Sorry, we’ll call again in another couple of hundred years.
Well done the Irish Tourist Board for slipping in that commercial plugging the joys of golf in Ireland just before the final round of the U.S. Masters.
As readers familiar with the tournament know, the advertising time during play is restricted to only four minutes out of every hour and those four minutes are taken up by commercials for a car company and a financial services group. So, really, the only truly prime spot for a third party is just before the final round broadcast begins.
AS for the commercial itself, well, it was a version of the familiar "Ireland, awaken to a different world" ad, which has lots of nice film shots and Delores O’Riordan of the Cranberries wailing away like an Atlantic gale. O’Riordan in high pitch works well enough for the version of the ad where dogs run in and out of pubs and the like, but "IF" was not quite convinced that her banshee-like howl quite melded with languid images of lush greens and rolling Irish fairways. Perhaps the soundtrack should have been borrowed from the Masters broadcast soundtrack, that melodic, if a little mushy, guitar-piano combo offered by none other than Derry’s Phil Coulter.
But the main thing is that BF got the blessed thing on screen and the auld golfing sod never looked better. All that grass and not a frothy-mouthed beast in sight. Fore!
Every isn’t all
A sharp-eyed and tingle-tongue reader who is fond of strong mints alerted "IF" to this little offering from the wrapping in a tin of Titanic Mints, a brand of candy that is made in England but is available for sale in the former American colonies. Under the heading "Titanic Facts," the mint eater learns that "Construction on the Titanic started March 31, 1909, in Belfast. Almost every able-bodied man in the city lent a hand." Darn, but that explains it. All the Catholics within roaring distance of the Lagan were laid up in their sick beds as the rivets were hammered into the doomed liner down at the shipyard.
Fret not, ye lads and lassies, the 2001 Northern Ireland census will come laden with explanatory notes in Ulster Scots, the language/dialect sprung upon an unsuspecting America recently in Washington, D.C. Depending on the various estimates, anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000 people in the wee North, mostly of the unionist persuasion, apparently speak Ulster Scots, dream in it and presumably, well . . .
According to a recent report in the London-published Observer, "Ulster Scots is a variant of the Scots tongue, which was the language of the Scottish state until the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when it was progressively supplanted by standard English, though it survived in a poetic and literary tradition."
According to the paper, Ulster Scots versions of census questions include: "Quhitlike ir ye fur merryin ?" which in English translates as "What is your marital status?" and "Quhit kintra wur ye boarn in?" which means, "What is the country of your birth?"
Additional questions such as "What religion, religious denomination or body were you brought up in?" translates as "Quhik releegion, kirk or releegious curn wur ye raired in?"
At the recent gathering in D.C., the language/dialect’s front man, former unionist MP John Laird — "tha Lord Laird o Airtygarvan" if you’re formally addressing him in Ulster Scots — informed those assembled that Ulster Scots was to be found in American English too. "Billie," for example, was Ulster Scots for "friend." Billie ended up in the word Hillbillie. Lord Laird eloquently explained to the throng why Ulster Scots deserved its place in the sun and why it was now being so richly financed under the "parity of esteem" principles enshrined in the Good Friday agreement.
His lairdship, who explained everything in the queen’s English because he doesn’t actually speak Ulster Scots himself, wants the Ulster Scots speakers of the wee Republic — apparently there are 20,000 of them hiding in the heather — treated with equal respect, a desire that roughly translates into "we want more government money."
"IF" was wondering what the Ulster Scots translation of "Do you take me for an eejit?" might be, but fair play all the same to Lord Laird and his ghostly legions of Ulster Scots speakers. Anyone who can take the Sasanach government in London for an almost $2 million ride deserves a paat oun tha baack.
€ "He (UN Secretary General Kofi Annan) prevailed on me to change my mind. . . . I am prepared to give it another year because I’ve been overwhelmed. It’s the calls and letters from human rights defenders that really in the end tipped the balance." Mary Robinson on why she will stay on as United Nations high commissioner for human rights, despite her earlier pledge to quit the job this fall.
€ "It describes 198 community newspapers and magazines, from such long-established papers as the Irish Echo and the Forward to nine Indian publications begun in the last 25 years." Paul D. Colford in his "Hot Copy" column in the Daily News writing about "Many Voices, One City," a newly published guide to ethnic and community newspapers published in New York City.