from the earliest days of civilization, the Irish made it a truism. Sacrifice was the key to life on the banks of the Cuyahoga and that included one's time and consoling words, as much as it did onel s loaf of bread. If any one expression came to the fore in Irishtown, it was the simple phrase "our own kind." That said it all.
Meals. for reasons both economic and by design, were simple and as filling as possible. For a people long-accuttomed to nearstarvation diets, the overwhelming thrust of eating habits was to fill the stomach to the bursting point. The famed "Mulligan Stew" could serve as a prime example of a dish fitting the needs of a 19th-Century Irish Clevelander. It was made from the cheaper cuts of meat, potatoes, of course, and most any kind of compatible vegetable. The makings were thrown into a kettle and simmered until they took on a gelatinous form, the better to stick to one's ribs. Corned beef and cabbage became synonymous with the Irish, and fish dishes were also favored, with tea as the primary beverage. The chicory-flavored coffee wasn't too popular, milk, other than a mother's own, was rightfully suspect (Louis Pasteur was yet to make it safe), and beer was for Germans.
There was, of course, another liquid that the Irish drank often and in large amounts. Most people called it whiskey, but among the Irish it was more commonly known as "the creature." .....
That was only as it should be, for they saw in that amber-colored spiritous water an almost mystical being, one who had extraordinary power over the affairs of men. While it was true that "the creature" had a cruel streak in him, and woe to the man so foolish as to deny it, he was, in the main, jolly good company, a friend who could perform miracles with a man's soul, often sending it soaring heavenward at a moment's notice, to a far better place than most mortals knew existed.
Whiskey often has been called "the curse of the Irish" and few care to argue the point. All one need do to prove the validity of that statement is peruse the rolls of alcoholic treatment centers in major American cities. It is an experience not unlike reading a Dublin phone book and most of those unfortunate souls ended up in such centers as the result of taking just "a wee drop of the creature" once too often. Of course, a "wee drop" in Irish jargon usually means enough to drown a man of another nationality.
Indeed, the 19th-Century Irish loved their saloons. They would sit in them of many an evening and, spurred on by "the creature," dream their dreams and scheme their schemes, all the while licking physical wounds gained in their labors and mental wounds, courtesy of the Yankee establishment. They would talk of the old country and sing its songs until there wasn't a dry eye in the place. They would give Victoria Regina a roasting the likes of which she wouldn't see this side of hell and gleefully predict that her fat derrière would one day be singed by the coals of that nether .....
World. To hell with her Britannic Majesty and all the bloody Orangemen who ever lived. Up with the Pope.
That the Irish who huddled on the banks of the Cuyahoga had more than a speaking acquaintance with "the creature," can be attested to by the fact that Whiskey Island, a relatively small tract of land, boasted 13 saloons in its heyday. Toward the latter part of the century in question, the Irish supported in generous fashion 24 watering spas that dotted the hill between the docks and St. Malachi's Church, no mean achievement even for Irishmen.
While much has been made of the race's fondness for and propensity to indulge in spiritous waters, most of what has been written has told, at best, only half the story. Few historians, and oven fewer social scientists, have done any probing as to the root cause of the drinking problem of the Irish, but then few such men have taken the time to study the painful history of Ireland. The Celts were a boisterous race and they loved nothing better than to attend a feis, a festive gathering of the clans, where much celebrating and merriment ensued.
The Irish drinking problem, however, had its roots in seven centuries of oppression, the most ungodly kind of rapine ever visited upon a race. There has never been a people who suffered so much for so long who did not develop or grasp an already existent mental crutch. The Irish reached for the liquid narcotic which had the power to make any day seem bearable, even if only for a moment or two. If the truth be known, spiritous water saved .....
more Irishmen than it ever ruined, but, unfortunately, those kinds of statistics are never compiled.
It must be understood that in this country in the 19th Century, the saloon was much more than a place to go to forget ones troubles. It was everything to the Irishman, his social club, his forum to exchange philosophical thoughts, to engage in political debates, the stage on which he performed his theater magic, even his town hall platform. What better place could possibly serve him? None, of course, and the whiskey that flowed was merely a glorious fringe benefit.
Though they might be largely illiterate, the Irish in Cleveland, as in other cities in which they settled, were great writers of prose and poetry with their tongues. The saloon was an absolute necessity, because the Irish had to have someplace to let their soul feelings take wings, to prove they were capable of expressing artistic and noble thoughts. It is also quite true that the saloon also served as a dais for their collective rage and they vented their spleens in the direction of the Yankee establishment. That, it should be well noted, was about the only way an Irishman ever counted coup after a skirmish with the local natives.
It was, in fact, in the saloons that the Irish earned their reputation for being quick of mind and sharp of tongue. Some of the exchanges of wit have come down through the succeeding generations and have taken on legendary status. Of course, .....
sometimes a man's abrasive tongue would bring him back an argument in more solid form -- like a fist exploding in his face. Bejayzuz! There were some splendid rows in those quaint forums of debate and many an Irishman woke up the following morning with two very distinct kinds of headache. They didn't call police vehicles "Paddy Wagons" for nothing.
Again, it wasn't only the whiskey that made the early Irish in Cleveland a rowdy bunch, but another trait that developed during seven centuries of fending off extermination -- the need to be as devious as the given situation demanded. A young curate, who had spent years among them ministering to their spiritual needs, once observed:
Every Irishman who was ever born is two-parts saint and two-parts son of a bitch. An Irishman will finger his beads and talk ceaselessly about going to heaven, yet can never resist the temptation of scratching the nose of the Devil.
There are many who would agree with the good father's assessment of the race, for who knows better than one's own kind? Certain traits beget certain actions and over the centuries a collective national character is formed and hardened to the point of reality. It is eminently true that the Irish are not above bending a few rules of church or state, all the while being filled with pious thoughts about the Creator and all his lovely angels and saints.
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