Saturday, March 29, 2008

"Grada" & "Pitch the Peat"--Great Irish Bands

Last night Linda and I went to the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland and heard 2 terrific Irish bands. The first band is from Greater Cleveland (though 3 of the members were originally from Ireland). They are called "Pitch the Peat."

They are probably the best traditional Irish band in the Cleveland area. Their fiddler, Nikki Custy, is a tremendous musician and a fine composer of songs and tunes. The flute/whistle player (Pat Custy) is brilliant and I talked to him for a while. He said, "Wait till you hear the next band--'Grada.' Their whistle/flute player (Alan Doherty) is way better than me." And he was right. "Grada" was fabulous, the most ecstatic, fun Irish music I've ever heard. Their virtuoso fiddler, Mattie Mancuso, an Italian-Irish-American from Brooklyn, New York, pulled out a trumpet during one of the tunes and played fabulous jazz trumpet, in a weird fusion of Irish trad and jazz. Alan Doherty and bodhran player, Nicola Joyce, are wonderful vocalists; and Joyce's bodhran playing is simply fantastic. We had a great time at this concert.

Something that struck me as a bit odd: two members of this band are from New Zealand! Grada represents a fusion of cultures and music genres. Here's the band's web site:

Both bands have deep connections to the great city of Galway. I'd love to live in Galway for a while, close to the university, the vibrant town, the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht, and the western sea.

Friday, March 28, 2008

First Irish Poet: Aimhirgin

It is said that the first person to ever set foot in Ireland was Aimhirgin (in full, Aimhirgin Gluingheal mac Mileadh), the warrior-poet. The name would be pronounced something like /AV-ur-GEEN/. Well, that is a tall tale, in a land of tall tales, by the inventors of blarney. But such wonderful blarney! Below is Aimirgin's poem, in Irish-Gaelic and in English, as set forth in the wonderful book Aniar: Voices and Verse from the Edge of the World, by Tadhg Mac Dhonnagain, Ceara Conway, and John Ryan:

Is mé an gaoth ar muir
Is mé an tonn tréan
Is mé glór na mara
Is me seitreach daimh
Is mé seabhac na haille
Is mé an gá greine
Is mé ailleacht na luibhe
Is mé torc ar ar ghail
Is mé an bradan sa linn
Is mé an loch ar an má.

I am the wind on the ocean
I am the crashing wave
I am the song of the sea
I am the bellow of the stag
I am the ray of sunlight
I am the beauty of the herb
I am the furious boar
I am the salmon in the pool
I am the lake on the plain.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Carolan Coughlin Poetry

From time to time I'll post poems by Carolan Coughlin and some other friends. Carolan is my 22-year-old daughter, a recent graduate of Ohio University, currently tramping through New Zealand with her friend Heather Ryerson. Here's a good one:

Lost in the Martian Rivers

Climb in the car
Eyes drooping heavy with the baggage of sleep- lack.
Turn the music up.
Way up.
Shake and vibrate
Heavy bass, slide inside me, throw sleep out the window.
The falcons and buzzards will feast.
Get lost in a cloud of dust winding with the river speckled with tree shade.
Throw the map out the window.
It will float and tumble and find the sleep abandoned so many miles ago.
Examine my hands.
Trace the lines with red permanent marker
Mimicking the dried up Martian rivers.
This is the route we should have been following.
Veer off the road; follow the curves of my alien planet.
Explore my anatomical terrain.
Lean back, hand raised for reference.
Think of discarded maps and empty sleep suffering on the roadside.
My insides rattle and oscillate.
(Carolan Coughlin, 2005)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Cat Nation--Home of the Erie Indians

The French Jesuits, explorers of Canada, knew about a tribe of Indians on the south shore of Lake Erie, stretching west from what is now the city of Buffalo. They called this tribe "La Nation du Chat," or in English, "The Cat Nation." That apparently was the translation of an Indian name for the tribe. Some years ago I wrote a poem about the Cat Nation:

Cat Nation Ghosts

(--the Erie Indians, known to the French Jesuits as "La Nation du Chat," victims of genocide circa 1655 at the hands of the Iroquois Federation)

only the subtle see the signs:

panthers haunt these woods
leave titillating traces:

names, somewhat corrupted--
Geauga, Chagrin, Cuyahoga, Erie,

ambiguous forts, looking like
natural rock formations
on hills overlooking rivers
and creeks

strangely shaped rocks
chips of flint encrusted
bits of bone and antler

the remnants
haunt the sugar woods

move about on moonless nights
stealthy like the lynx
like the wildcat

we don't forget:

our blood still soaks the rocks
our bones still quicken
the clay:

these woods are full of ghosts!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mary Fitzpatrick, RIP

Yesterday I attended the funeral mass for Mary Fitzpatrick, nee Mary Finnegan. Mary suffered one of the worst blows imaginable on December 21, 1971, when her husband Jack was murdered in cold blood while standing in line at Higbees with three of his children as they waited to see Santa Claus. Mary, seven months pregnant with her fifth child, was shopping nearby with her oldest daughter Sharon when the tragedy happened. The real story of Mary's life was not the murder, as spectacular as it was. It was her triumph over tragedy as she recovered from this blow and went on to raise five wonderful children--bringing together her large extended family, friends, and the community of Euclid, Ohio. Mary died on March 19th in her Euclid home, surrounded by her family.

I will talk about the beautiful funeral at another time. But for now I want to share a poem I wrote about Mary about a week or so before her death:

No Whining: Mary Fitzpatrick

Who has been stronger than you, Mary,
Who has suffered more?

And through it all, there’s no whining, no self-pity—
A lesson learned from your Irish mother.

When your husband Jack was murdered
Right there in Higbees, waiting with three of the kids,
Waiting to see Santa Claus,

And you, pregnant with Tommy, shopping nearby
With Sharon, your oldest daughter—

The stunning viciousness that life can turn!
I remember the awful keening at the funeral at St. William’s,
The astonished family burying Jack at All Souls on Christmas Eve.

And then you healed,
helped by family and friends.
Al and Catherine practically gave you their house on Eastbrook.
And baby Tommy was born, named after his uncle, fallen in Vietnam.

You raise five children by yourself—with the help of a village,
Some heroes who will never be named, a loving family,
The Irish-American Club of Euclid.

You form the St. William’s Bereavement Ministry—
Who has known more about bereavement? Who has learned more about Grace?
You dance on Wednesday night with dear friends at the Irish-American Club—

You create a wonderful life from the terrible ashes.

Now, in your illness, you still smile, you still don’t whine,
You still witness to the Victory and Grace
and the Victory

Of love.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

5th Anniversary of the Cruel War

Today, March 19, 2008, marks the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War--with no end in sight. There have been news reports claiming that John McCain says we could stay in Iraq fighting for a hundred years. I remember when the news announced the invasion on March 19, 2003. As a longtime Catholic, I thought, "The tragedy of it--invading a country, starting a war on the Feast of St. Joseph." It was a slap in the face to Pope John Paul II, who begged Bush not to prosecute this war; worse, it was a slap in the face to Catholics and to all people who believe in war as the absolutely last resort (a basic tenet of Just War Theory).

Think of the costs of this war--in human lives and health, in treasure, and in moral authority. Bush and his cronies have undermined the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights; they have allowed and justified human torture; they have fought the first American preemptive war of choice (think of Pearl Harbor!); and they have spent an incredible amount of American treasure, estimated right now up to a half trillion dollars (that would be $500,000,000,000)--with no end in sight. A recent article in Vanity Fair says that a conservative estimate of the cost of this war is 3 trillion dollars! Bush did this without raising taxes, an action that was extraordinarily deceptive, and one that is fueling inflation and economic chaos.

This war has lasted longer than World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. When will it end? How will our Constitution, Bill of Rights, moral authority, and US treasure ever be restored? The lives lost, the lives in ruin!

Here's a poem for the occasion. Forgive the pre-Vatican II Latin:

"On the Feast of St. Joseph, 2008"

(The 5th Anniversary of the Iraq War)

Miserere, Domine, Miserere Nobis

Spare us O Lord though
We hardly deserve your mercy.

My soul is the gloom sky, the bitter
Rain the long hunger of March.

The crucifixion clouds our minds
The scourging the mocking
The crowning with bitter

The death, the blood, white charnel house of bone
Smithereens, Our soul our country!

Parce Domine, Parce Populo Tuo!
Spare, O lord, spare your people

Bring us to peace
Though we hardly deserve it.

Miserere, Domine, Miserere Nobis.

(Robert M. Coughlin
March 19, 2008)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Being a Catholic?

My personal identity involves so many dimensions: being a husband, a father, a teacher, a Catholic, an Irish-American, and the like. I want to reflect a bit on the Catholic part of my identity [much more on this coming soon].

A great article on Catholic identity, by Regina Brett, appeared in today's Plain Dealer. Here's a link to that article:

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Approximate ponunciation of the Irish-Gaelic: LAW HAY-luh PAW-drick HUN-uh DIT
Word-for-word: day + of the feast + of Patrick + happy + to you
Idiomatically: "Happy St. Patrick's Day!"
See for more on Irish-Gaelic

American-Irish: What Does It Mean To Be?

St. Patrick's Day is coming in a few days, and it's interesting to reflect on what it means to be Irish (or Irish-American). If you go by how many Americans claim Irish heritage, you begin to think that Irish blood is very powerful indeed! You apparently can claim to be Irish if you only have a small percentage of Irish DNA; it's almost like being an African-American. One drop and you qualify! I'd like to take it even further than that: If you want to claim to be Irish (or Jewish, Indian, Black), then that's enough for me! Science has certainly shown that all humans are very very closely and recently related. The surface accidents of race have been shown by science to be no big deal. I'm Black and I'm proud! I'm a Jew and I'm proud! I'm Irish and I'm proud! I'm an Indian and I'm proud! That's good enough for me.

Is there anything special, anything unique about being an Irish-American? [more on this later]

Maggie Brock sent me an interesting article on the "True Irish"; the article appeared recently in the New York Times. Click on this link to see the article:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Poem for Eliot Sptizer; A Way Out of Hell

Four hundred years ago, William Shakespeare wrote a poem that Eliot Spitzer needs to read. Here it is:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee—and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

William Shakespeare (Sonnet 29)

I don't know if there is anyone left to whom Eliot Spitzer can say, "Haply I think on thee . . ." Maybe his wife, maybe his children, maybe the Good Lord. There can be redemption after disgrace--but it doesn't come cheaply! I remember a scene from the movie Gandhi, which appeared in the 1980's. A man who had murdered many people in the ethnic and religious strife of India confesses to Gandhi and says he is in hell. Gandhi says back to him," I know a way out of hell . . . ." and the way involved service to those who had been so gravely offended.

There is a way out of hell, Eliot Spitzer, and there is redemption. but the way is very difficult!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

St. Patrick Statue at St. Mary's Church

Above is the statue of St. Patrick at St. Mary's church in Painesville, Ohio.

Monday, March 10, 2008

March Blizzard; Sunday Mass at St. Mary's in Painesville

Two feet of snow fell over most of Ohio from Friday to Sunday. Saturday was "all blizzard, all the time." For the first time in recent memory, I didn't leave the house. There wouldn't have been anywhere to get to anyway because malls closed, restaurants closed, and many roads were impassable. It was glorious--the only flaw is that the timing was not right for snow days, so the school teachers and school children didn't get their most fervent wish.

Sunday morning I got up early and cranked up my snowblower and got to work. I had left my car near the end of my driveway, but it still took tremendous effort to clear a path to get out to the road. We were finally able to get the car out and headed to Sunday mass. Catholics go to Sunday mass no matter what; there are no excuses. Masses are never cancelled and real Catholics go under almost every circumstance.

It was a glorious Sunday morning, sun shining, snow deep, gleaming, pure white. We navigated our way to St. Mary's Church in Painesville (not our regular church), where the parking area was mostly cleared and gigantic piles of snow lined the edges of the lot.

Fr. Vellenga had the mass. Linda and I sat in our usual corner, what I call the "cult corner" of the church. There you find the infant of Prague statue, the painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and an impossibly ugly plaster statue of St. Patrick, holding the bishop's staff, day-glow green misshapen shamrock in another hand, and three snakes being crushed under his foot, their mouths open, fangs exposed. We love this little corner of the church, and gloried in the March 9th sun pouring in through the ancient stained-glass windows. At the communion, the choir began to sing "I am the Bread of Life," with its magnificent chorus, "And I will raise you up, I will raise you up, I will raise you up on the last day." The soaring chorus brought tears to my eyes as I remembered this song being sung at my Mom's funeral in this very church in December of 2003, and at my father's funeral at St. William's Church in April of 1997.

We don't exactly understand the mysteries of Heaven and of Resurrection. but we believe in them, believe in a time of being reunited with our parents, family, and friends.

If you arent't familiar with the hymn "I am the Bread of Life," here are some links:

Friday, March 7, 2008

Ireland and Galway Bay

When my brothers, sister, and I were little, my Dad used to sing a song to put us to sleep called "Galway Bay." The song was first sung, as far as I know, by Bing Crosby in 1948, and Dad sang it to us. It's a sentimental and beautiful song, filled with a longing to go back to Ireland and "watch the sun go down on Galway Bay." The song has some interesting elements to it, including a couple of Gaelic words, somewhat anglicized (Garsoons, boys; and praties, potatoes) and a reference to the hated English landlords ("The strangers came and tried to teach us their ways/ They scorned us just for being what we are . . ."). Dad never set foot on Irish soil, though courtesy of the U.S. Navy he traveled much of the world during World War II. But like his own father, Connie Coughlin, he loved his Irish heritage. In the photo above, Linda, Carolan, and I "watch the sun go down on Galway Bay" [truth be told, it was coming up!] on a chilly late November day in 2005. We said a prayer for Dad and Mom, for all the exiles and "Wild Geese" who never had a chance to come back to the ancestral home. "Go n-Éirí an Bóthar leat!"

Here's a link to Frank Patterson singing "Galway Bay":

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Serles: Great Mountain Guarding the Wipptal & Brenner

The image to the left is of the great mountain called "Serles," which lies just to the south of Innsbruck, Austria, and "guards," so to speak, the entrance to the Stubai Valley (Stubaital) and the Wipp Valley (Wipptal) and the Brenner Pass. About 20 miles to the south of Serles is the Italian-Austrian frontier.

Serles can be climbed without great difficulty, though the last stretch to the peak is a bit challenging. I climbed this mountain on Sonnwendtag (Summer Solstice) in June of 1968 with my Austrian friend Caecilia Werth and some of her companions from the neighboring village of Matrei-am-Brenner. The view from the peak of Serles is truly "herrlich," awesome. One can see the Inn River Valley, the city of Innsbruck, as well as the peaks of the Kalkkoegel, the fantastic limestone mountains by Axamer-Lizum, the ski area featured in the Innsbruck Olympics.

Austrian Mountains: 2 Great Ones

This is a view of the mountain at the end of Stubaital (in the province of Tirol) called "Zuckerhuetl," which means something like "sugar shack" or "sugar hut." To get to the horn or peak of this mountain, you need to cross a glacier--something Tim Forward and I did on skis in May or June 1968 (thanks to Caecilia Werth and Liselotte Schartner, who lent us skis and the animal skins put on the skis that allowed us to climb uphill).The backside of the mountain descends into northern Italy, the area Austrians call "Sued-Tirol," a German speaking area that once was part of Austria. When we were there, there were occasional acts of terrorism (not committed by us!) and graffiti that read "Sued Tirol Bleibt Deutsch," that is "South Tirol Remains German." In the next post I'll talk about another great mountain, "Serles."

Monday, March 3, 2008

Innsbruck, Austria & Notre Dame

This past year four of my old friends (and their spouses) came to Chardon to help celebrate my daughter Julia's wedding: Tom Heinen, Tim Forward, Chris Cotter, and Mike Gerrity. They joined Coughlin and Kleppel family members and friends for a joyous wedding celebration.

These dear friends and I studied together at the University of Notre Dame in 1966-67, and then in Salzburg and Innsbruck, Austria the following year. We have enough stories to blackmail everyone but Heinen.

The Notre Dame Innsbruck program was an incredible blessing for all of us. We still have many close friends from those years (36 guys in total studied in Innsbruck in '67-'68). I will write about them from time to time (and the blackmail stories are safe with me and will never see the light of day, especially the story about Tim Forward in Obergurgl--unless I am waterboarded).

Early Spring? Tomorrow's Primary Election

This morning it felt like early spring in Chardon, Ohio. The sun was shining, the birds were singing up a storm (more on that later), and it was 55 degrees. And there was a foot or more of snow on the ground. The maple syrup farmers are putting their sap buckets on the sugar maple trees--and we are getting ready for a roller coaster ride! Today the high will be 60 degrees; tonight we will get high winds, rain, freezing rain, sleet, snow--weeping, and chattering of teeth. In other words, a normal March day in Northeast Ohio.

Tomorrow is a huge day in the history of Ohio--and maybe in the history of the United States. Almost everyone I talk to is ready to throw the Wicked Witch of the West out of office. The eagerness for change is palpable, an unstoppable force. Tomorrow, Ohio Democrats will choose either Hillary Clinton, the first viable female candidate for the presidency, or Barack Obama, the first viable African-American candidate. I believe they are both very bright, articulate, and capable candidates, whatever their race or gender. One of these will be the next President of the United States.

I will vote for Barack Obama. He has the energy and ideals that I saw in John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. Our country and world deserve someone better than what we have suffered through these past 7 years. Go Barrack!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Skiing in Colorado

About six weeks ago we visited our daughter Carolan in Frisco, Colorado, and skied with her at Copper Mountain. This was the first skiing I did on a large mountain since 1968, when I was a "student" in Innsbruck, Austria. I wondered if I could still ski and also wondered if the altitude would affect me. Luckily, I could indeed still ski, and wasn't too affected by the incredible altitude--the peaks at Copper Mountain are nearly 11,000 feet. The last time I was at this elevation was in May or June of 1968, when Tim Forward and I climbed the glacier on the Austrian Mountain called Zuckerhuettl ("Sugar Shack"). Tim and I climbed the mountain glacier on skis; the last hundred yards or so, we took off our skis and climbed by foot up the steep "horn" of this great mountain on the Austrian-Italian border in the Stubai Valley (Stubaital). Tim got terribly sunburned in this adventure. Luckily, he did wear sunglasses, so there was no eye damage.

During our 4-day visit to Colorado, we visited towns like Leadville, Breckenridge, Vail, and Boulder. I was impressed by all the wonderful public art in these places. Posted above is a photo of a sculpture of jackasses we encountered in Breckenridge. I will be on the right in this photo; the jackasses on the left.