A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster
I know this is not the right time to be discussing my Irish heritage since St. Patrick’s Day was a month and a bit more ago, but on that glorious day I toasted old Pat with a wee dram of Bushmills Irish whiskey and the green fog that engulfed my mind just lifted about twenty minutes ago. An interesting fact here, in the Europa Hotel in downtown Belfast they serve porridge at breakfast with a shot of Bushmills poured over the top. I only tell you that so you understand why my hair turned white and I am a watch list for sending obscene notes to Maureen O’Hara.
My Granny on my father’s side was a Conley and for no particular reason one morning I decided to research the name. Well I did have an ulterior motive; I was hoping to find some long-dead hero who I could claim was the spitting image of me and somehow make some bucks out of our kinship. Alas the one ancestor who might have made it was run over by King Billy’s horse on the Twelve of July. (Why he was crawling across the road at that particular time is a bit of a mystery, although in the autopsy it was mentioned there was a special on Guinness at the pub across the street.)
Like anyone who tries to find their roots I could ramble on for hours about our family’s illustrious Irish past, the great mansions they owned before the Potato Famine wiped them out and they emigrate to Canada, Australia, and I’m sorry to say, the United States. I could study our coat of arms in hope of finding out why ours is the only one with a bottle of potcheen prominently displayed smack dab in the middle. Potcheen, by the way is Irish Moonshine and was banned from 1661 until 1997 when it was discovered to have the same qualities as Cialis, the miracle pill which enables couples to be late for the opera. I actually have a bottle in the cupboard. I offer it to friends but have had no takers since the one guy who did try it joined the I.R.A. and blew up an English fish and chip store.
Have you ever noticed that anyone who traces their family back centuries will run on for hours about Ho-lee-macrel, a great pharaoh on their father’s side and Cleopatra’s grandfather, but never seem to mention the English serf Nigel Sykes who cleaned Queen Elizabeth the First’s privy?
However I did have one famous ancestor. Granted I don’t doubt I am descended from a long line of noble Irishmen but today I will mention only William Conley. William was said to be the richest man in Ireland in the 18th century. You will be surprised to learn I don’t remember Uncle Bill all that well since he went to that great shamrock patch in the sky God knows how many years ago.
But here is where it gets interesting, he was a lawyer, and financier I’m sorry to say, who amassed his great wealth by buying and selling the lands of the old Gaelic families who were exiled after the Battle of the Boyne. Now isn’t that wonderful, instead of descending from someone fine and upstanding, I get this bozo. If he were alive today he would be the president of a Canadian bank or on the board of SNC-Lavalin. And if that isn’t bad enough, he never left me a ha-penny, the cheap b—–d. I could have been another Donald Trump and beloved by all.
Why couldn’t he have been an Irish Robin Hood who robbed the rich and gave it all to the poor and destitute? Instead he shafted the poor souls already downtrodden by backing the wrong side in a war and made a fortune.
There is a danger in looking up the family tree, you never know who or even what you will find. Sure we will talk forever about some long-dead hero or king but we never seem to say much about the shadier characters who fell from the family tree in disgrace. My friend Merv James can go for hours about P.D James, the famous author, or Harry James the band leader of the 40’s and 50’s, but he never seems to mention his great uncle Jesse. I wonder why that is.
P.D once said, “We English are good at forgiving our enemies; it releases us from the obligation of liking our friends.” (I don’t know what it means either.) All Jesse said was, “Stick ‘em up!” and everyone knows what that means.