Tag: Ireland

The Blacks, McCurdys and McFauls

| July 12, 2016 | 0 Comments
Bob chats it up with John McCurdy, who has worked the Rathlin Island Ferry for decades

Bob chats it up with John McCurdy, who has worked the Rathlin Island Ferry for decades

Back the day, there were essentially three families on the Island, the Blacks the McCurdys and the McFauls. There was much intermarriage among these families and all three names populate all three family trees. One of the challenges for Bob in building and maintaining our family tree is that there are multiple appearances of McFauls in our tree. Bob says that we might have more McFaul blood in us than Black blood. Of course, our connection to the Black Family singers and the fact that we were staying at their house, gave us special status. In any event, everyone we met with one of those names is likely a relative and knew it.

From the minute we walked onto the ferry to the island we were greeted as family even though none of us had been to the island in years.  John McCurdy knew Bob and Richard and knew the whole Black family story. He even knew we were staying at the singing Blacks homestead. They all spent the ferry ride catching up on developments on the island. There were a could of recent deaths of well-known figures on the island, people with whom Bob was very friendly. Chief among him was Augustine “Gusty” McCurdy who has written numerous books about Rathlin and ran the historical society.  We paid our respects at his grave the next day.

On to Rathlin

| July 12, 2016 | 0 Comments

Our Rathlin ferry was schedule for 6:30, so we left John’s at about 4 pm. Richard has been doing the driving and we’ve minimized the “wrong side of the road” challenge by sticking to highways as much as possible.

We did a FaceTime call with Michael Black, our host, on the way. Sadly, Michael will not be joining us on Rathilin due to a medical issue he needs to attend to in San Francisco. It will be his first summer missing his visit to Rathlin in 20 years. I learned later how significant his absence would be for the people of Rathlin.

We called Michael en route. I have never done a FaceTime call and it was pretty amazing to be driving down the highway in Belfast having a video call with Michael in San Francisco to prepare our arrival on Rathlin.  He had gone to great lengths to prepare our accommodations, including having his niece, Aiofe (Frances’s daughter), drive up from Dublin to get the house ready. Aiofe is also a musician with a strong following in Ireland. Her most popular single is Along the Wild Atlantic Way. it’s great!  But on this day, she’s our housekeeper. Only in Ireland….

Michael Black's indestructible jeep

Michael Black’s indestructible jeep

Michael also left us his jeep at the dock for use while on the island. I loved tooling around the island in the very durable vehicle. The stick shift brought me back to my early driving days.

John & Mona McGarvey

| July 11, 2016 | 0 Comments
L to R Mona, John McGarvey, Bob Black, Me. Photo by Richard Black

L to R Mona, John McGarvey, Bob Black, Me.
Photo by Richard Black

We set out for Northern Ireland at about 9:30 am on Monday morning. Our plan was to have lunch with John and Mona McGarvey.  John is a long time family friend who has been helping with the genealogy project for forty years, since he worked with my uncle, Eddie Black. John is a semi-retired college professor who teaches about some arcane scientific topic at Queens College in Belfast.

John is a delightful man, with a big family, 20 grandchildren. The conversation was lively and warm, focusing largely on family.

At lunch, however, the conversation turned to politics. I was surprised to learn that John had voted in favor of Brexit. Typical for John, it was a thoughtful decision and he explained his position persuasively. I then, explained to him that, in the U.S., many comparisons are made between Brexit and the Trump phenomenon. I suggested that, since he supported Brexit, he might be a supporter/admirer of Donald Trump.

He almost spit a mouthful of food across the table. Literally. And he assured me that he considered Trump a very dangerous man and was in no way supportive of him. We have yet to meet anyone over here who does not think that Trump is a danger to the world order and we’ve asked everyone from our taxi drivers on up. It’s unanimous. They all wondered what’s come over America?

We didn’t have a good answer.

A Poem for the Blacks

| July 10, 2016 | 0 Comments

Pat Good, our best friend in Ireland, composed a poem, in 24 hours, to commemorate our visit to Rathlin Island.  It is a wonderful and touching tribute.  The text is below the video.

Welcome Home to Rathlin


Three Blacks came to Dublin Town

Two brothers and a cousin Bill

To Peadar Brown’s they were taken down

And there they drank their fill

Pints of Guinness they lowered back

They couldn’t get back enough

And many a counter attack and raid

The three men called Black made

For more of the beautiful Black Stuff


Three Blacks came to Rathlin

Richard, Robert and Bill

They felt the pull of home as they crossed the foam

And with salt tears their eyes did fill

In the graveyard by the quay

Among the Headstones they stood — Silent.

Failte Romhat Isteach — Richard, Robert and Bill

Welcome Home to Rathlin Island

Peader Brown’s Pub

| July 10, 2016 | 0 Comments

imageMichael Black, our prospective host on Rathlin Island, encouraged us to reach out to his best friend, Pat Good, in Dublin. Pat is also a folk singer, who also worked for the Guinness brewery for 37 years. Pat was happy to hear from us to encouraged us to go to the Peadar Brown Pub at 5 pm on Saturday where he would be performing. We had a bit of trouble finding the place as Google seemed not to have heard of it. No online presence. That could be a good thing or a bad thing. It turned out to be a good thing, a very good thing.

Our three hours at Peadar Brown’s were like entering a mythical Ireland that I didn’t believe really existed. This was a truly local pub in every sense of the term. I knew we weren’t in the kind of bar I’m used to when one of the patrons demanded quiet so they could hear remarks from a representative of the local hospice thanking the bar and its customers for their support. It was also striking to see a group of beautiful young girls of about 10 years old running around the bar like it was a playground. But most of all was the music. It turns out Pat had invited us to a “Trad Session” where musicians, both professional and amateur, are invited to gather to play and sing. In addition to Pat on the guitar, there were 6 or 7 other players. Fiddles, pipes, a banjo, mandolins and a Bodhrán (Irish drum). Patrons of the bar would wander by and ask to sing. The players would play the song of their choice and they would belt it out.

This led to the single most Irish moment of my life. Seriously. Probably enhanced by the 5 or 10 pints I had had by then.

The bar was quieted with the announcement that a grandfather would like to sing a song with his granddaughter. Up stepped a friendly, young looking Irish grandfather with a young red-haired Irish girl who looked like she stepped off a cloud of Irish Angels. Truly stunning.

They then sang the song, Grace, which recounts the heart-breaking story of the Irish rebel, Joe Plunkett, who got married in Kilmainham prison the night before he was executed in 1916. Oh. My. God. The sight of that beautiful girl singing that song with her grandfather was almost more than I could bear.  A picture is below.  I hope to figure out how to post a video soon.

In preparation for the trip, Cousin Bob encouraged both Richard and me to be prepared for some kind of performance, since visitors are often required to “stand and deliver” at social events. Sure enough, the leader of the musicians asked for a performance from the three visiting Blacks. I had memorized an Irish blessing by Irish poet/philosopher John O’Donohue called Beannacht. It’s a touching poem that can be found here. Since I was prepared, I didn’t mind going first. Since there was a lot of ambient noise, I figured the stakes were not that high. Who’s going to notice if a screwed up the poem in a noisy bar. So, I stood up. But as I began to speak, the musicians yelled for quiet and the whole bar obeyed. So, everyone was paying rapt attention. That’s when my knees started wobbling. I started off strong, but lost steam as I went along and was making up lines by the end of the poem. But they were kind and got a good round of applause, supplemented, I suspect, with a bit of pity.

Of course, I was the first and last of the Blacks to perform.

Pictures and video from this amazing evening are below. Be sure to enlarge the pictures to get the full experience.

Pat Good is on the far left. The bearded guy next him demanded my performance.

Pat Good is on the far left. The bearded guy next him demanded my performance.

Pat at rest

Pat at rest

Grandfather with his little angel

Grandfather with his little angel

David the plumber on the guitar. Didn't get the other guy's but he's got passion.

David the plumber on the guitar. Didn’t get the other guy’s name but he’s got passion.

Are these girls from Central Casting, or what?

Are these girls from Central Casting, or what?

A Wedding in Dublin

| July 10, 2016 | 0 Comments

After the 1916 Tour, we attended the wedding of Cyril and Margaret. Margaret is cousin to Bob and Richard on their mother’s side, obviously unrelated to me. None of us, however, was invited to the wedding. Apparently, the Irish term for us is “plate lickers.” You can probably figure out the derivation.

Nevertheless, we were welcomed enthusiastically. The Matriarch of the family was thrilled to see Bob and Richard and they were able to connect to a number of cousins who they hadn’t seen in a while.

I ended up with the husbands of the women who constituted the bride’s posse. They were at the bar having a boisterous good time. They seemed to recognize me as a plate licker once removed and invited me over to join the party. The picture is below.

L to R Liam, Me, Charles, Michael Winter and Joe Photo by Richard Black

L to R Liam, Me, Charles, Michael Winter and Joe
Photo by Richard Black

I explained to Michael, the fella next to me, that my mother would have said, “He’s got the map of Ireland on his face.” The group was intent on convincing me that Michael was a famous man. Despite his very distinctive face, I didn’t buy it. Then, they told me to Google his name. Sure enough, he’s a walking stereotype. The grizzled horse trainer who almost beat the Queen’s horse at the Royal Ascot with his horse Missunited. The horse only lost by a nose.

Here’s Michael hoisting the Powers Gold Cup.


And here’s a short video documentary on Michael and his horse Rebel Fitz.

Fair warning: If you like listening to an Irish brogue, you’ll love this video.  However, it probably needs subtitles, particularly when Michael speaks.

The Amazing Murphys

| July 9, 2016 | 0 Comments

We visited the Murphy Clan in Dublin for an extraordinary evening of excellent food, plentiful drink and extraordinary good cheer. We got to know the family after son Liam stayed at our house in DC during his internship in 2011.

L to R Ray Murphy, Richard Black, Liam Murphy, Bill Black, Bob Black, Sheila Murphy

L to R Ray Murphy, Richard Black, Liam Murphy, Bill Black, Bob Black, Sheila Murphy

Liam’s parents are Ray and Sheila and they are unusually delightful people, even by Irish standards. Continue Reading