By Joseph Xavier Martin
There are few traits more closely associated with those born of Irish descent than “the gift of gab.” Defined by Wikipedia as “the ability to speak easily and confidently in a way that makes people want to listen to you and believe you, to talk in such a way that grabs the attention and holds the mind of the listener.”
Many wonder how these loquacious individuals came by their inherent ability to create streams of words that are both pleasant to the ear and intriguing to the intellect. To be sure, the assistance of Mr. Jameson, and his like, have something to do with the process. But there is much more to it than the facility of ease brought on by a mere stimulant.
For thousands of years, the clannish Celts sat around their smoky peat fires, telling and retelling the legends of those who had come before them. The primitive fascination with the occult and the spiritual laced their tales with fairies and banshees roaming abroad in the night. Those who could tell the tale best were held in high esteem by their own.
In more modern times, the legend of a great talker’s ability was attributed to “the Blarney.” It is reputedly a speaking facility brought on by kissing the Blarney stone, which is lodged in part of the upper wall of Blarney Castle, just outside of Cork, Eire. The origin of this custom is unknown, though the word “blarney,” meaning to placate with soft talk or to deceive without offending, probably derives from the stream of unfulfilled promises of Cormac Mac Dermot Mac Carthy to the Lord President of Munster in the late 16th century.
A number of stories attempt to explain the origin of the stone and surrounding legend. An early story involves the goddess Clíodhna. Cormac Laidir McCarthy, the builder of Blarney Castle, being involved in a lawsuit in the 15th century, appealed to Clíodhna for her assistance. She told McCarthy to kiss the first stone he found in the morning on his way to court. He did so, with the result that he pleaded his case with great eloquence and won. Thus, the Blarney stone is said to impart “the ability to deceive without offending.” Mac Carthy then incorporated the stone into the parapet of the castle.
Whatever the truth of the legend, or indeed its efficacy thereafter, millions of tourists have made the trek to Blarney Castle. They climb the time-worn stairs to the second level of the ancient castle and, with the help of an attendant, lean back and upside down and kiss the ancient stone in hopes of being blessed with the “Blarney.”
But before that quaint tourist custom became popular, there were legions of Irish and their descendants who had been blessed with the gift of the gab. Some were poets, some playwrights and many novelists in modern day. Their descendants in America are legion. James T. Farrell chronicled the life of the Irish in Chicago during the 1940s in his epic “Studs Lonergan” trilogy. William Martin wrote about the Boston Irish. William Kennedy, the political Irish in Albany.
There are dozens of examples of this legendary vocal facility, those who possess the ability to “talk to a wall” if the need arose.
When you do encounter these rare individuals, who can spin a yarn and keep your attention, just smile and say, “They sure do have a touch of the Blarney.”
Joseph Xavier Martin, of Williamsville, admires individuals with everyday eloquence.