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Hurrah for Sweater Weather!


Fisherman Sweater with elbow and shoulder patches.

The smell of autumn is a blazing bonfire. The sight is a pile of orange pumpkins. The sound of the season is crunching leaves underfoot.

The taste of autumn is hot mulled wine or Irish coffee. The feel of autumn? The warmth and comfort of a well-made sweater wrapped around you.

After a long, hot summer it takes just one brisk day to make us cheer, “Hurrah for Sweater Weather!”

Of course in Ireland, sweater weather spans at least three-quarters of the months of the year. The reason the Irish are considered such experts on sweater design and construction is that sweaters, sometimes called jumpers in the British Isles, are far more than a fashion statement in a climate where doing anything outdoors often relies upon finding a way to stay both warm and dry.

What often comes to mind when people think of Irish sweaters are the fishman cable knits of the Aran Islands. In fact the heavy knit sweaters originated there as a way for the fishermen and farmers to combat the wet, windy weather. Knit from untreated sheep’s wool, the intact oils made the sweaters both warm and water-resistant. It also made them the iconic cream color of undyed wool.

Their popularity spread throughout Ireland when the Congested Districts Board promoted knitting as a good source of income utilizing local materials. Irish women quickly took to the project and began creating intricately-designed sweaters, scarves, hats, socks, gloves and more. As laypeople had not as much need for water resistance, the sweaters became available in treated wool, but the truly traditional remain still the well-recognized cream color.

After decades of popularity in Ireland, the designs took off in America in the 1950s when the famous Irish Kennedy family wore them for football games and sailing.

There are hundreds of different patterns knit into the traditional sweaters. Some marketing touts the myth that certain clans and families can search for their own particular design. The truth is that the designs came about in as many variations as there were different knitters.

So no matter your family name, your heritage, or your career choice, you can find a sweater just right for you. Check your forecast, pour a mug of Irish coffee, and wrap up in a bit of Irish warmth.

Come celebrate Autumn at our Applefest celebration October 3 and 4 in downtown Weston, Missouri.

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Gaeltacht fights to keep Irish thriving

Language is an undeniably important part of any culture. In Ireland, the effort to keep the Irish language thriving as fully recognizable and practiced seems to be a fight worth fighting. The Irish people faced a dying national language in the 1800s, after years of British rule and massive emigration during the Potato Famine resulted in English becoming the official language of all business and administration.

In an effort to save the language, the government in Ireland facilitated the Gaeltacht regions as places where the population still predominantly spoke Irish in its day-to-day business and education. Today these regions have more than 100,000 native speakers who continue to protect and practice Irish in schools, markets, churches, and on the streets. In these areas specifically, the evidence appears to show a gradual increase in the interest in and use of the Irish language, making many Irish language defenders optimistic about its future.

There are mixed messages, however. Just recently the Eircode was established as a nationwide postal code and it translated, needlessly many would say, more than 50,000 Irish names into English. On the other end of the spectrum is the 20-year Strategy for the Irish Language, established in 2010 by the government. The goal of the “20-Year Plan” is to establish Irish so deeply in the culture that it will never again face extinction. Critics say the plan is long on talk, and short on legitimate efforts.

In spite of all the politics, the key does seem to be maintaining the communities which are immersed in Irish. Teaching the language in each school country-wide is mandatory, but everyone agrees that the effects are weak when students only speak it at school.

“I think the education system is good at impressing upon people that they should be fluent in Irish,” says Aoife Crawford, Irish Language Officer, Trinity College, “but not successful in making them fluent.”

One hopeful sign is the interest that people of Irish heritage are showing in the native language. More and more Irish-Americans in particular are intrigued by learning at least a beginners’ level of Irish. There are many free websites offering study-on-your-own links to the language.

Those in the Gaeltacht worry about a future without Irish if the younger generations do not commit to learning, speaking and celebrating the language.

“If we do (let it go) then we are letting go of part of who we are,” said Eddie Lenihan, Irish storyteller, “If we can get that across to people, then it will survive.”

“The day we let Irish go, then we are in trouble.”P

Part 2 of 2

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Speak Up, Speak Irish!

gaeltachtNo one can ever accuse the Irish of forsaking their past or not being intensely proud of their heritage and history. What better way to remember the Ireland of old than by using the native language to speak up and speak Irish? The earliest form of the language is found in 4th century inscriptions. The most modern is in schoolrooms and online tutorials worldwide. Is Irish a dying language? Not if today’s Irish residents and hibernophiles have anything to say about it.

Sadly there was a time in Irish history when the British were strong and many considered the Irish Gaelic language as backward. Thank goodness for the few who believed the language must not be replaced. Efforts to maintain the language were sporadic and not always effective until the 1960s when presidents and prime ministers began to use the language extensively at home and at work. In an effort to further the foundation of the language, the Official Languages Act was passed in 2003. At its root, it ensures that all official documents are published in both English and Irish and that neither language is disrespected.

Today compulsory Irish is required in all publically-funded schools. The subject can be touchy for politicians as both sides feel strongly and the requirement is widely debated in Ireland. Some believe the forced focus has backfired, but slowly it seems the population is regarding the Irish language as both traditional and trendy. Young people now converse with each other in Irish Gaelic in a way that makes it seem cool and important.

So what is the difference between Irish and Gaelic? Not much, it turns out. Gaelic can refer to either Irish or Scottish as both have Celtic roots. In general, Irish Gaelic or Scottish Gaelic is the specific way to delineate between the two, but the languages are close enough to be easily understood by anyone who speaks one or the other.

So what’s the real true difference? Accent, of course. Any Amadán could tell you that though they both bellow, “Slàinte!” at the bar, you can spot the difference between an Irishman and a Scot by the kilt and by the accent. Brothers they are, but do not mistake one for the other.

Part 1 of 2


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What’s the Story?

storyteller A common greeting on the streets of Ireland is, “Hey bud, what’s the story?” Because there is always a story, especially with the Irish. The lilting dialect, the twinkling eyes, the perfectly-timed humor all combine to create an intangible quality in the storytelling that keeps listeners entranced.

One of the more famous recent Irish storytellers, or seanchaí (and Irish Gaelic word pronounced shawn-shee) as they have been known from ancient Celtic times, was Eamon Kelly. He was very well-known throughout the world for his soft humor and sharp wit that entertained and educated his listeners without fail. Today the art of seanchaí is still cultivated in Ireland. In the age of the instant digital written word, there is something perhaps more intriguing than ever about gathering around a single storyteller to hear a tale that unites us in history, humor and humanity.

Thousands of years ago, seanchaí were a vital key to preserving the history of the Celtic people. Very few of the population could read or write so the important stories of their history were entrusted to these traveling storytellers to spread throughout the countryside. Seanchaí were nurtured by the culture and supported by the people whom they visited. They roamed the nation telling the same stories again and again until they were thoroughly woven into the memories and souls of the Irish people.

The Battle of Kinsale in 1601 is considered the official end of the seanchaí era as Irish life changed dramatically when they were conquered by the British. The patrons of the seanchaí were largely displaced and destitute. Somehow, however, the stories remained and survived. Today there are storytelling contests in Ireland that seek to reward the best modern seanchaí. There are also centers throughout the country that are dedicated to preserving the art of the written and spoken word. One, in County Kerry, is called The Seanchaí-Kerry Writers’ Museum and it hosts tours of storytelling artifacts and history, contests for young and old, and events to entertain listeners of all ages.

The seanchaí tell important stories and are themselves an important story. And as Eamon Kelly said, “The man without a story to tell was about as welcome as a drop of holy water in the Devil’s whiskey”.

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Pack Your Bags and Head to Ireland

cimg0052_copyNow might be the best time ever for making plans to pack your bags and head to Ireland. September ends the high travel season and autumn in Ireland has a multitude of special charms besides just the cheaper rates and sparser crowds.

The Emerald Isle has always been a dreamy location for travelers. Whether researching ancestry at the National Library of Ireland, enjoying important sites of European history like Brú na Bóinne, or crawling through the pubs of Dublin, Ireland embraces its visitors with a hearty pint and a slap on the back.

Tourism to Ireland increased to more than 1.2 million visitors last year, a jump of 100,000 from the year before. Just this summer the nation was ranked #11 in a poll conducted by the Reputation Institute. The survey measured the public’s perception based on effective government, appealing environment, and advanced economy. People seem to love the Ireland of lore, but very much respect the Ireland of today as well.

What to do when you get there? You can hit the main tourist attractions (kiss the Blarney Stone and have a pint at the Guinness Storehouse, anyone?), but you’ll enjoy a more authentic Ireland if you pack your boots and seek out some villages and their people off the typical tourist path.

There are plenty of attractions where you will wait in line and drop a pretty Euro just to get in, but there are also dozens of free attractions all over the island if you know where to look. offers a great list of places to go–from the well-worn favorites to the quieter, quainter stops that may give you memories that few other tourists in Ireland take home.

Go see the dolphin in Dingle.

Grab your jacket and seek high adventure in Donegal.

Saddle up to ride a Connemara pony.

Try to figure out the mystery of the standing stones in County Tipperary.

Kayak down the Blackwater for a completely unique view of the countryside.

Visit Huntington Castle’s dungeon where the Temple of Isis celebrates the female aspect of divinity.

What are you waiting for? Write your own list, pack your bag, and enjoy your own taste of Ireland.








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Back to School

irish classroomWith the end of summer looming, everyone’s thoughts turn to going back to school. While some traditions vary widely, others are as familiar to all as yellow #2 pencils, new shoes, and the smell of a primary school gymnasium.

In Ireland, most school children have three months of holiday during the summer just like their American cousins. Older students may face exams during June, but with all of July and August to relax, the snap of September’s autumn breezes gives Irish students the same thrill (or dread) as those here in the States feel.

Education at all levels in Ireland, including university, is free. There are some service fees for the higher learning, but a post-secondary education is more of an assumed right on the island nation than many other first-world countries. Those not wishing to pursue college are guided in their other options, to include vocational school and studying for the “Leaving Certificate Applied“, which is to prepare students for either college or the adult demands of the workforce.

Children in Primary School (typically ages 4 – 13) have the choice of which school to attend, but all follow the same national curriculum. Though more than 90% of schools are Catholic, other religions are also represented. Gaelscoileanna is a relatively new Irish education movement that seeks to educate in the Irish language in order to protect and foster the national history and community.

In fact, all students in a school that accepts public funds (there are a handful of private schools), are required by law to teach students the Irish language. As a result, nearly a third of the population now speak the native language.

As for back to school traditions, shopping is limited to school uniforms. Plaid skirts, knee socks, neckties, and wool sweaters are the norm, as they have been for decades. But many school day struggles are the same. Lunchtime may mean not enough choices and not enough time to eat. How much homework is too much is a hotly-debated topic. And whether or not the local rugby team is going to win is the subject of many conversations as lockers slam, school buses idle outside, and parents wait at home to hear all about their students’ adventures at school.

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