The Gift of Gab
The Gift of Gab
There are few traits more closely associated with those of Irish Heritage 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. Tales of mighty warriors like Cuchulain and epic battles with mythical figures, fired their imaginations. 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, that 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 sixteenth 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 1940’s in his epic “Studs Lonergan” trilogy. William Martin wrote about the Boston Irish. William Kennedy, the political Irish in Albany New York. One of my favorites is “The Last Hurrah,” by Edwin O’Connor. It is a delightful tongue in cheek look at the immigrant Irish and how they dealt with the Brahmin “upper classes” in Boston.
There are dozens of examples of this legendry vocal facility that all could share with us. They see it in their everyday lives with those redoubtable individuals who could, in the ancient saying, have the ability to “talk to a wall” if the need arose.
I remember one such individual, a second-generation Irish American, who stood up at two A.M. in a smoky urban bar, called for quiet and delivered an eloquent rendition of “A Face on the bar room floor,” by Hugh Antoine D’Arcy. It is an emotive piece that details the life of a man who had ridden high, but was now reduced to cadging drinks from fellow bar patrons. The entire crowd of roust-abouts, iron workers, and even reputedly a few gangsters, listened spell-bound. They were drawn into the verbal spell by the endearing magic of this earthy and eloquent performance. Their applause afterwards was both loud and heart felt. The poetic soul had reached them on an elemental level that only the gifted could manage. Of course, afterwards the lad sat on a bar stool, downed two shots of Corby’s, chased by a draft beer, and promptly fell asleep at the bar. It must be that the energy of the truly eloquent can be emotionally draining.
Had the lad kissed the Blarney Stone, at some point in his past, or just came by his “gift of gab” genetically. It isn’t important really. When you do encounter these rare individuals, who can spin a yarn and keep your attention, just smile and say “The lad sure does have a touch of the Blarney.”
Joseph Xavier Martin