My Grandfather, Lawrence Hickey, inspired a great respect for the power majesty and magically entertaining value of words in me and all of my cousins.
He was a genuine County Kerry Bogman - a Culchie.* Despite the many years here in America he never lost a bit of the Kerry Mountain Bog. A Culchie is said to be any rural rube in Ireland. There is a town in Mayo called Coillte Mach( Culchie Ma) that means woodlands or forest. Some hold that to be the root of Culchie. I believe that it comes from another Irish phrase meaning the "back door." In Irish the term cúl na tí mean 'back of the house' as friends and loved ones did and continue to enter one's home using the back door. My grandmother was cúl na tí girl when she arrived here in Chicago in 1912 speaking only Irish. Nora Sullivan worked as a cook's helper and cook for the wealthy on Prairie Avenue in Chicago. She entered the homes of the Rich Yanks by the back door.
Thus; cúl na tí culture is a paradox - friends and family are associated with the back door and servitude/humility/social class as well.
South Side Irish in my neighborhood of Beverly/Morgan Park/Mount Greenwood continue the cúl na tí culture. No one comes to my front door but deliverymen, precinct captains, and African American Church Folks.
Yesterday, was the Feast of the Holy Family and it put me in mind of the cúl na tí culture and Granpa Hickey. One of my earliest memories is the sound of his Kerry Yowl intensifying with each step closer to our Georgian at 75th & Wood as he marched across the unpaved alley from Marshfield and 75th Street - "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!! Jesus, Mary and Joseph!!!! Mrs. Hickey ( he never called my Mom Virginia or Ginny) Mrs. Hickey Your Bastard of a Husband!!! Is He Home??????" These shouts and imprecations were repeated like monastic plain-song until he tossed open the alley gate and thundered into our yard. The Man had issues - he was a Rage-a-holic before it got on the map. Thirteen children might have had some factor in that issue.
My father had been accused, no doubt by one of his six brothers, to have 'borrowed' a push wheel lawn mower. pipe wrench, assortment of batteries, or good nails from his FATHER's personal horde of items that he had stolen from the Sanitary District.
My Dad worked three jobs and was often absent during Grandpa Hickey's wildly colorful visits to my mother.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph were not so much the Holy Family to us all as they were elements of a malediction poured down on the head of my father. "That Little Bastard!!! Mrs. Hickey!!!! Has My Shtep Ladder from Cook County Hospital!!!! I am painting my sills!!! I am not painting my sills, because that Little Bastard has my Shtep Ladder!!!! Jesus Mary and Joseph open the garage!!!"
No Shtep Ladder ( Step ladder in common vernacular). Our Sameday Visitor would eventually calm down, have tea, and tease the spalpeens ( my brother and I),and then head off to pull the tongue out of the son ( Bart, Jack, Donny, or Sy) who had falsely accused my father - who had in fact taken the shtep ladder, used it and given it to another brother.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph reminds me of the Holy Family and also of the odd cúl na tí culture we Chicago Irish possess - one that somehow soothes with a shout. It is a paradox and fun to watch.
Roman Catholic religious festival falling on the first Sunday after Christmas. Although major feast days dedicated to each member of the Holy Family—Jesus, Mary, and Joseph—also exist, the Feast of the Holy Family commemorates their life together and the celebration focuses on religious family life. Because of the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, a feast for the Holy Family has been observed by the Copts from early times. In Western Christianity, however, a cult of veneration for the Holy Family as a group, rather than as individuals, did not arise until the 17th century and was not officially recognized until the feast day was instituted in 1921. Originally celebrated on the Sunday after Epiphany (January 6), the Feast of the Holy Family was moved to the Sunday after Christmas in 1969, bringing it within the Christmas season.
* culchie is a term sometimes used to describe a person from rural Ireland. It usually has the pejorative sense of "country bumpkin", but is also reclaimed by some proud of their rural origin, and may be used by either side in banter between town and country people. However it is often derogatory, used by those living in Dublin for anyone who lives "outside of the pale" or "down the country". In large cities such as Cork, Limerick and Galway, the term may be sometimes allocated to anybody who comes from outside an urban area. The same is true for Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland, where the term is also popular. Generally the term is more humorous than abusive in rural areas, as opposed to the more offensive term "muck-savage". Culchies are seen as simple people who have a fairly direct manner, physical strength, limited social skills, and a rich accent.