The irrepressible nature of the sea has handed down seafaring lore, each one as curious as the next.
Hank Snow, the classic country music star, was born in Brooklyn, Nova Scotia, Canada situated on the east bank of the Mersey River, and as a 12-year-old boy went to sea, as young boys in his province do.
In 1926, Hank found work by joining a fishing schooner where he served as a cabin boy. The job paid him no wages; however, the enterprising youngster learned he could cut out cod tongues and sell them later in port.
Snow’s fishing trips went well until August 1930, when the schooner he was sailing on became caught in ferocious winds blowing it uncontrollably toward Sable Island. The people called the island “The Graveyard of the Atlantic” because the crews of ships that wrecked there rarely survived.
Many years later, Snow said that when they were about 14 miles from the island, “the Good Lord reached out his hand and changed the wind. Saved by the grace of God!” it truly was a miracle, learning shortly thereafter that six other vessels had been lost in the gale and 132 men had drowned. Once ashore, Snow vowed he would never return to the open sea again.
After his last trip to sea, Hank sold the fish tongues for $58 and, feeling rich, ordered a guitar for $5.95 from the T. Eaton mail order catalog. He soon taught himself to play the guitar and after years of touring Canada, he moved to Nashville, Tenn. and the Grand Ole Opry.
One doesn’t often associate Hank Snow with Irish music, but driven by his love of the sea and Ireland, he entered a recording studio in 1963 to record “Galway Bay,” a traditional Irish ballad. The lyrics are distinctive: “Just to hear again the ripple of the trout stream, the women in the meadows making hay, and to sit beside a turf fire in the cabin and watch the barefoot cousins at their play.”
Ireland and the Irish have long held a special place in the hearts of the Haley family. My dad was 100 percent Irish, on both his paternal and maternal sides of our family.
My wife, Brenda, visited Ireland two years ago and had the opportunity to call on Cobh, County Cork, the homeplace of the Haley Family. Cobh is along the water and was the final port of call for the RMS Titanic, before it met its doom in the North Atlantic on that chilly night long ago.
My sister, Rita, and I discuss our Irish ancestors from time to time, and we find the names — Eagans, Muldoons, O’Learys, Foleys, Galligers, Dwyers, Sullivans and McQinns — in our extended family tree.
A year or so ago, Rita received a Christmas gift from one of her children that warmed her heart – an Ancestry DNA Test Kit. She supplied the necessary sample and shipped the tube off to Ancestry. A few weeks later, the results came in. As Rita’s brother, she said my DNA should be the same as her’s.
A friend from Staunton, Va. and I were talking about the DNA test kits recently. He won’t send his in because he didn’t want any “surprises” from the test.
There were no surprises on Rita’s test results. She said the DNA test results showed we are 93.6 percent Irish, with just enough British and French thrown in to make tongues wag.
Sociologists agree that the Irish may have been the most successful and accomplished immigrant group in the United States. Since the Irish arrived in America in the early 1700s, the Irish have excelled in business, medicine, the law, religion, military, entertainment, construction, professional sports, politics, and law enforcement.
On the other hand, some have described Irish faces as having big chins, noses of topographical complexity, and features too big for the face — heavy and quaint like a 1954 Buick Roadmaster.
All I know is I like potatoes, the color green, Irish songs, and Irish jokes.
Once long ago my dad told about the Irishman who had been sitting in jail for a month for stealing a ham. After three weeks, his wife asks the judge to free him.
“Is he good to you?” the judge asked.
“No, sir, he isn’t,” said the wife.
“Does he treat the children well?” the judge asked.
“No, sir, he’s mean to them,” to wife replied.
“Why on Earth do you want him back again?” the judge asked.
“Well, to tell the truth, judge — we’re about to run out of ham,” the wife said.
Say goodnight, Rita.
Pat Haley is former Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.