April 28, 2011

Irishtown Part 2: What's in a Surname?

For part 1, see Irishtown: How Stats Tell A Story About Woburn, Massachusetts.

On March 23, 2011,  IrishCentral published an article titled, "The ten most popular family names in Ireland."

After reading through the list of names, I realized that it could be an excerpt from Woburn High's football roster. The surnames sounded so familiar that I did a quick check to see how many Woburnites correspond with IrishCentral's top ten. Here are the results. Bear in mind that I gathered data using an online phone book at HelloWoburn.com. Numbers reflect listed individuals, not listed families/dwellings.

1. Murphy

Murphy is the most popular surname in Ireland. And while I can't say with complete certainty that it is the most popular surname in Woburn, it is definitely up there. There are over 150 Murphys living in Woburn.

Counties the Murphys likely came from: Wexford, Roscommon, Cork, Sligo or Tyron.

2. O'Connor

There are over 40 O'Connors living in Woburn, and on top of that, there are over 30 Connors.

Counties the Connors and O'Connors likely came from: Clare, Connacht, Derry, Kerry or Offaly.

3. Kelly

There are over 30 Kellys living in Woburn, as well as over 50 Kelleys.

Counties the Kellys/Kelleys likely came from: Antrim, Derry, Galway, Kilkenny, Laois, Meath, Roscommon, Sligo, Tipperary or Wicklow.

4. O'Brien

Woburn is home to over 40 O'Briens (and 1 O'Brien ice rink).

Counties the O'Briens likely came from:  Clare, Limerick, Tipperary or Waterford.

5. Ryan

If you haven't encountered a Ryan on a trip to Woburn, here's a tip: go to a Colonial liquor store. There are over 60 Ryans in Woburn.

Counties the Ryans likely came from: unsure. Please leave a comment if you have information!

6. Walsh

There are over 60 Walshes in Woburn.

Most Walshes have their ancestral roots in Wales, as the name Walsh is synonymous with "Welsh". Welshmen immigrated to Ireland in great numbers during the 12th century.

7. Byrne

There are over 10 Byrnes in Woburn, as well as over 30 Woburnites with the derivative surname, Burns.

Counties the Byrnes/Burns likely came from: Wicklow or Dublin.

8. O'Sullivan

Woburn is home to less than 10 O'Sullivans. However, drop the "O," and there are over 100 Sullivans living in Woburn.

Counties the O'Sullivans/Sullivans likely came from: Munster. 

9. McCarthy

There are over 50 McCarthys in Woburn.

Counties the McCarthys likely came from: Cork 

10. O'Neill

There are over 10 O'Neills in Woburn, over 10 O'Neils and a handful of O'Neals.

Counties the O'Neills likely came from: not sure, add a comment!

April 21, 2011

The Most Controversial Content in Celtic Music: "The Patriot Game"

While many Celtic songs describe the horrors and heartaches associated with The Troubles,  perhaps none so eloquently captures the emotional gravitas of the turbulent period as "The Patriot Game." The song tells the tale of an actual IRA volunteer, Co. Monaghan's Fergal O'Hanlon, who was killed on January 1, 1957 at the age of 20 during a New Year's Eve attack on the Brookeborough R.U.C. (Royal Ulster Constabulary) barracks. Apart from its controversial subject matter, "The Patriot Game" stirs up controversy for several other reasons.


Dominic Behan, the younger brother of Irish playwright Brendan Behan, wrote "The Patriot Game" in 1957 following the Brookeborough R.U.C. attack. As a youth, Behan had been a member of the IRA's youth organization, the Fianna √Čireann, even publishing his first works in the organization's magazine, Fianna: The Voice of Young Ireland. In 1952, the notably cantankerous Irishman was arrested for protesting the British Crown's treatment of Ireland's working class.

The Verse

Many lyrics in Behan's "The Patriot Game" are capable of raising one's eyebrows, including the very first lines of the song: "Come all ye young rebels, and list while I sing / For the love of one's country is a terrible thing." But even this bold statement concerning the value of patriotism pales in comparison to the following:

I don't mind a bit if I shoot down police
They are lackeys for war never guardians of peace
And yet at deserters I'm never let aim
The rebels who sold out the patriot game

In 1957, decades before the rap group N.W.A. would infamously proclaim, "F*** tha Police," singing about police in a negative light was incredibly controversial. Singing about killing police was, as you can imagine, even more taboo. In fact, nearly all of the Celtic/folk artists who went on to cover "The Patriot Game," including The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners, purposefully omitted the "shoot down police" verse (much to Behan's dismay).

The Bob Dylan Factor

If Dominic Behan were alive today, he would, in all likelihood, still hate Bob Dylan. The reason? Bob Dylan plagiarized Behan's folk masterpiece, "The Patriot Game," and used it as the underlying lyrical and melodic structure of his 1963-64 song, "With God on Our Side." Or at least that was Behan's point-of-view. The Irishman publicly stated that Dylan made "a complete parody" of his original work, "The Patriot Game."

Digging Deeper

A closer examination of the evidence shows that the originality of Behan's "The Patriot Game" is debatable. "The Patriot Game" is unquestionably an adaptation and reworking of an older folk song -- or perhaps more accurately, a folk song template --, which dates back to the 17th century. Over the years, this template has manifested itself as "The Grenadier And The Lady," "The Nightingale," and "Paddington Green." So while Behan may have considered Dylan a plagiarist, many Dylan fans -- and other folk music aficionados -- think of "With God on Our Side" not as a rip-off, but as the next incarnation of the original 17th century folk song template; just as "The Patriot Game," is an earlier incarnation of that template.

Henry's Songbook: The Patriot Game
Chords & Lyrics

P.S. Hey there! If you liked this post, I have a hunch you'll love NEON DRUID: An Anthology of Urban Celtic Fantasy. It's a collection of 17 short stories all rooted in Celtic mythology.

P.P.S. You can also check out my new blog, Irish Myths, where I unveil the secrets of Celtic mythology, Irish mythology, and Irish folklore.

April 12, 2011

Top 10 New Englandisms

Talk to a hahdcore New Englandah for long enough and you’ll inevitably hear a New Englandism, or a distinctively New England expression. Apaht from dropping our ‘R’s, we New Englandahs commonly use words and phrases which, to outsidahs, may sound like a bunch of gahbage. But to us, all of these New Englandisms make perfect sense and our conversations -- and culture -- would be a lot less colorful without them. 

10. Where’s the Clickah?

A clicker is an ultimate source of power in a New England home, as the clicker-holder gets to control the television. Yes, a clicker is a TV remote control. Back in the day, before all of those fancy, rubbery buttons began appearing on clickers, clickers had big, plastic buttons that would click when you pressed them. Hence, the clicker.

9. Down Cellah

New England homes do not have basements: they have cellars. Down cellar is where you keep your old golf clubs, your camping gear and your grandfather’s century-old collection of baseball caps.

8. Drink a Frappe

No, not a frapp√©, which is some type of fancy, foamy coffee drink: a frappe. A frappe is like a milkshake, only it’s way better. This is due both to its higher ratio of ice cream to other ingredients and to the fact that it’s made in New England.

7. Eat a Hoodsie

A Hoodsie is one of those small cups of ice cream that the Massachusetts-based Hood milk company produces. You know, HOOD, like the blimp. A typical Hoodsie comes with a flat wooden spoon/stick and is either chocolate, vanilla or - the best option - a combination of both.

6. Add Some Jimmies

If you really feel like pigging out, you can add some jimmies to the top of your Hoodsie. Jimmies are sprinkles, the popular sugary ice cream topping, however, not all sprinkles qualify as jimmies. In New England, "jimmies" refer specifically to the brown, chocolate sprinkles, while "sprinkles" refer to multi-colored sprinkles.

5. Bang a Left

Making a left turn is way too boring for fast-paced, quick-talking New Englanders. Instead, we bang lefts and - if travel requires it - we bang rights as well. You would commonly hear this expression when a person is giving directions, as in “bang a left at the second set of lights,” or “bang a right when you pass the gas station.”

4. Go to the Packie

What’s a packie? Why it’s just a short term for a package store, of course. What’s a package store? Wow, you really aren’t from New England. A package store is a liquor store, where we New Englanders can stock up on beer, wine, whiskey and other delights that our Puritan forefathers would disapprove of.

3. Turn on your Blinkahs

All New England drivers hate when the cars in front of them make sharp turns without first putting on their blinkers…you know, those lights that blink on and off...directional signals.

2. Drink from the Bubblah

True New Englanders have a strict policy of never drinking from water fountains. Instead, we only drink from bubblers. A fountain is a thing out in the yard.

1. Wicked

Put simply, "wicked" is the most powerful adjective in a New Englander's vocabulary. If you're down cellar and you can see your breath, you might say that it's "wicked cold!" Alternatively, if you're eating a Hoodsie that is loaded with jimmies, you might say that it's "wicked good!"

Similar Posts:
Picking Up My R's: The End Of A Boston Accent?

April 5, 2011

Irishtown: How Stats Tell a Story About Woburn, Massachusetts

Woburn, Massachusetts was an English village, founded by a bunch of Englishmen in 1640, who named Woburn after the original Woburn village/abbey in Bedfordshire, England. 

For the first two centuries of its existence, Woburn -- like Boston -- was a predominantly English community, dominated -- for better or worse -- by English Protestantism, English politics and English accents. When waves of Irish immigrants began pouring in to the quiet, English town of Woburn during the 1850s, a cultural and civic transformation began. This transformation would contribute to Woburn attaining its "city" status in 1889. 

Today, Woburn is a stronghold for Irish-American culture and -- if you know where to look -- you can see and hear signs of it everywhere: green shamrocks painted on a home's window shutters; a flag of the Republic of Ireland rustling in the wind just beneath the Stars and Stripes; families singing Celtic songs together over the holidays; the Shamrock Elementary School, my Alma mater. In addition to the places and the people of Woburn, the population statistics -- both from the distant and recent past -- led me to labeling Woburn "Irishtown."

The Woburn Irish American Club on Main Street

In 1855,  986 Irish lived in Woburn.

They represented 18% of the total population.

In 1864-1865, 110 of the 181children born in Woburn had fathers who were born in Ireland. In comparison, 46 had fathers who were born elsewhere in the country, 16 had fathers who were born in Woburn and 7 had fathers born in foreign countries other than Ireland.

This means that during 1864-1865, just over 60% of the total number of children born in Woburn were born to Irish fathers.

Today, about 36% of Woburn residents claim Irish ancestry, making Irish-Americans the most dominant cultural group in the city. The next two highest ancestry percentages in Woburn are Italian, at 25.6% and English, at 10.0%.

In comparison, 24% of Massachusetts residents overall claim Irish ancestry. Based on ancestry percentage, Massachusetts is the "most Irish" state in the country.

14,440 was the approximate number of Irish-Americans living in Woburn in 2009.

In comparison, 350,000 is the approximate number of Irish-Americans living in Middlesex County, of which Woburn is a part. Based on ancestry percentage,  Middlesex is the "most Irish" county not only in the state, but in the entire country.

For more information on the Irish in Woburn, check out my post, Picking Up My R's: The End Of A Boston Accent?


McElhiney, John D. Woburn: A Past Observed; Sonrel Press; Woburn, MA; 1999.
City-Data.com: Woburn, Massachusetts