Friday, November 13, 2009

From Barry's Pen

A few pieces from my pen. Above 'An Tarbh Donn' and below my 'An Mhuc Bhán.'
My leaping Lion...

Monday, November 9, 2009

On Speaking Irish

I can speak Irish fairly well. One should say, I can speak Gaeilge or Gáidhlig, fairly well, as those are the real names of the language. Not to get too complex, but calling the language 'Irish' is a modern political phenomenon, designed to broaden the appeal of speaking Gaeilge, actually there's more to this name business, but I digress.

Speaking Irish I find very satisfying. I've never really studied the language in a formal academic manner that would lead one to a degree. I just speak it, read it, etc., as time allows each day. I have done a summer time course back in 1981, the type where you spend a month in the Gaeltacht. Most of the Irish I have I picked up from just listening and talking to people in Ireland.

Why you ask? Why would a Mississippi lad learn Gaeilge (said Gale-ga). Well, I am a Gael, in the ethnic sense, my people, the McCains, are from mid Argyll, in the Scottish Highlands. They moved to Donegal in the 1500s. There were many Scottish Gaels relocating to parts of Ulster in those years, this was part of the ebb and flow of politics and wars going on with the English. They, the McCains, clann Mhic Eáin, would have spoken Argyll Gaelic, which was not too far removed from the Ulster Gaelic that I speak. I descend from Gaeldom.

Circa anno domini 1400
Gaelic speaking areas are in blue in the map.
This map shows how widely Gaelic was spoken in Scotland, even in parts of what are now called 'the Lowlands' at this point in time. Ireland and the 'blue' areas of Scotland in the map, were all part of Gaeldom.

Scot's Gaelic and Irish Gaelic are the same language, each being a dialect of the tongue. Irish Gaelic is the western dialect and Scots Gaelic is the eastern dialect. Ulster Gaelic shares some qualities of Scots Gaelic, or one could say Ulster Gaelic has been influenced by the eastern dialect, because of the interaction of Scottish Gaels in Ulster circa 1500 onward.

I personally, do not think you can really understand Gaelic society, without speaking Gaelic at least at a minimal level. Gaelic is a door, you learn it, and the door opens. You enter the wonderful, beautiful, world of the Gael. It gives meaning and quality. Those are very good things.

It is not hard to learn Gaelic, people are doing it all over the world now, in everywhere Gaels have settled, in the Diaspora as it is called. I recommend it highly.

Gaelic is a more powerful language than is English. I would need to take many words to explain that rather strong statement. Gaelic has retained something, has retained values, that English has lost. It largely has to do with the nature of English; it is spoken by so many people and societies not connected to the history of English, that one aspect. Gaelic is still connected, by blood, to its origins, and that gives it great power. I think everyone of Gaelic ancestry should learn Gaelic, it will make your children happy, your love life improve, make you immediately interesting (that's hard to do with some of you), and could very likely land you into some pleasant predicament in your life.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I am in the final stages of writing a memoir on my 40 year odyssey to find my people in Ireland and Scotland, a successful odyssey I should add. All made possible through Y chromosome DNA testing and many hours of research in the primary source records of Argyll and Ireland. It is absolutely amazing how genetic genealogy allows one to search one's past, recover lost family history, locate your cousins on the other side of the water. My story is a Gaelic one, Gaels from Kilmichael Glassary in Argyll, who moved to Ireland in the 1500s, and then to the Colonies in 1718.

It was a long journey and a good one. I learned Gaelic along the way, have travelled many times across the sea to the homelands of the Gael. It has been very satisfying reconnected with distant cousins in Ireland and Scotland.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Beatles

Quite simply, the best musicians of the past several centuries. It is odd, as time pasts, I go back and examine their body of work, and find it many light years ahead of the rest. Let's face it, no one is in their league.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Red Wasps

Life in Oxford, Mississippi and the battles that rage in my garden.

the wee beast himself

Above you see the Red Wasp, particularly numerous around the McCain Compound. His Latin name Polistes carolina. He has a wonderful skill which I have observed many times this summer. He will kill and eat a tomato worm.

the crimminal, infamous, Tomato worm

It is like this you see, anyone or thing that will kill and eat a Tomato Worm is OK in my book. Several tomato worms can ruin a garden in a matter of days, almost as bad a deer.

Tomato worms are huge evil beast and how the red wasp can consume one and then fly off is one of God's great mysteries, yet they do it as I've seen the lads at work.

I'd just like to say well done to them all.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Seamus O'Kane

Seamus O'Kane himself....

Murrough O'Kane

Here something for you lads and lassies. The young man on the flute is Murrough O'Kane, one of the better trad musicians in the world, also a great fellow. His dad is the very famous Seamus O'Kane, bodhrán maker and player of legend status. Murrough played a venue with my son Donovan and myself, when we did a music tour of Ireland in the autumn of 2004. He sat in with us when we played Sandino's in Derry city and we all had a great time. This is the real stuff, enjoy...

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Peregrine Falcon

Every day I see at least two Peregrine falcons circling my house. They are works of art, one of the Creators finer pieces. Lethal mind you; they are machines of death. You should see the squirrels and song birds make themselves scarce when the Peregrines patrol.

This morning on my way into Oxford town for supplies I saw one dead in the road. That's bad. As well as being beautiful, they are also very useful to Man. (I still think that sort of relationship good). They kill a lot of the things that plague farm and yard alike.

There seems to be a good supply of Peregrines around Oxford, still I hope the one I saw in the road was not one of two I often see over my house. It was only about a mile from my house where I saw the unfortunate bird.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Indigo Buntings

Well, today, as I was sitting in my backyard, I saw a Indigo Bunting. A lovely, beautiful little bird, that we are graced with every summer. It is electric blue, much more blue than a 'blue bird'.

The humming birds are doing their annual wars. Anyone that feeds them knows of what I speak. The amazing aerial combat they launch into at this stage in summer. I've had them pass not more than inches from my head going a ba-zillion miles per hour.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Manx Cats

This is Piscín, one of my two Manx cats. He found me. He was a runaway from a house were His Highness was not appreciated. To add insult, the previous owner had named him, a Manx, Pancho. Now I tell you, that is not a proper name for a Manx. Ideally the name should be in Gaelic of course. The breed comes from the Isle of Man, a island between Ireland and northern England, and one of the three Gaelic homelands. I've been there, lovely place. They rule themselves, are part of the Crown, but not part of the UK, so an odd status, like the Channel Island. It is a magical place, full of beautiful glens, moors, mountains, and lovely people, and Manx Cats.

Manx cats are odd fellows, their behaviour almost dog like. The better ones will fetch things for you, will carry things around in their mouth, etc., they love to go on walks with their owners, especially in the woods. The are keen vermin catches, un-matched. Mine take a steady toll on the vole and mouse population around my house. The other day Piscín killed a bona fide rat. Not a cotton rat, but a full blown nasty bugger of a rat. He killed it with one vicious bite to the back of its neck... clean, neat, professional.

Piscín is also adept at killing snakes. This is a vendetta, when he was younger he was bitten by a cotton mouth moccasin. His wee paw blew up to the size of a good summer sausage, he came close to death, but survived. Since that experience he presents me with four or five very dead poisonous snakes each year. What a cat.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wine With Grits

Last night I had grits with my supper. Now, we are grits eaters in this house, my two sons, wife, myself, all enjoy the bejeepers out of them. You can tell you are a very bona fide Southern family when you discuss which wine to have with grits. BTW... we chose a young, Spanish, red to go with the meal. They whole supper was comprised of grits, Southern style link sausage, tomatoes, and onions. The tomatoes homegrown, organic even; you slice them and serve with sliced raw sweet onions, absolutely lovely.

We often eat very traditional meals and enjoy grits in a variety of ways. The boys like them with a nice load of extra sharp, white Cheddar cheese in them. This done in addition to the butter already in them. I've had people over at my house to eat that tell me that I served them their first ever grits. I find that shocking myself, one wonders about the deplorable state of culture in this post modern consumer age, when you can find people born in the South that have never eaten grits.

They are the perfect accompaniment for any meal, breakfast, dinner, or supper. Easy to prepare, just ignore the directions on the package, those are always wrong. Add more water than suggested and cook for at least 30 minutes and let them rest abit, and you will have them done correctly. Serve them with cheese, a littler cream cheese and sharp cheddar, which you put in after they cook, allow that to melt, then serve. Always put several dashes of Louisiana hot sauce in the grits. You will become a grits eater in no time.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mississippians speaking Gaelic

Mississippians speaking Gaelic…

… when pigs fly, you say. You don’t normally associate Mississippi with the Irish speaking world. I mean the words Mississippi and Gaeilge do not often appear in the same sentence. But history is full of odd misconceptions, like horns and wings on Viking helmets (they had none). Early Mississippi was settled by an assortment of mixed Celts, Irish, Hebrideans, west Highlanders, Scots-Irish, etc., and Gaelic was a language heard often in Mississippi in antebellum days.

In the mid 1840s John Claiborne, a prominent Mississippi attorney and member of the US Congress, wrote in his journal, ‘there is yet living in Greene (County) some of the original immigrants who speak nothing but the Gallic.’ By this he meant the Gaelic language. There was even a need for Gaelic speaking post masters in Mississippi in those days. The Greene County comment was of great interest to me personally, as the first McCains to enter Mississippi were in this community described by John Claiborne.

It is interesting to see Gaelic in use in Mississippi into the 1840s and 1850s. My own grandfather, who was born in 1890, used certain Gaelic works in his speech: brogan (bróga) for shoe, or slew (slua) to mean a lot of something. I found a humorous comment about language made by an English Crown official that visited the Marsh Creek Settlement in the Pennsylvania Colony, where the McCains were living in the 1740s. The Crown official complained that these settlers spoke ‘bad English and bad Irish.’ That was my immigrant, Hugh McKean, he was speaking about and it was his son, Hance Hamilton McCain, who brought my
wing on the family into Mississippi.

Now you would think that by the 21st Century we Mississippi McCains would have lost our Gaelic, wouldn’t you? Not so. Last fall you would have heard a curious conversation in Oxford, Mississippi, from two men heading into the Ajax Pub. My cousin, Rankin Sherling, a native Greenwood, his mother a McCain, and I met at the Pub to have a visit. Rankin is working on his Phd in Irish history at Queens University, Ontario, Canada and was just back from Donegal, where he had been studying Ulster Irish. My Irish is fair to middlin’ these days, and despite my caigheán oifigiúil and his bona fide Ulster dialect, we managed to greet and speak in Irish to each other there in the middle of Oxford,Mississippi. So pigs do fly.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Old Photographs

It is a wet blah day in Oxfordtown. Humid.... warm... but, at least we are not being roasted alive today. Today's missive is on the value and practice of looking at Old Photographs. I recommend the practice highly. The quantum physicists like to tell us that there are many dimensions, that time and place are not what they appear. I believe this and have always sensed this to be true. We are all but a dream and we are all but dreamers.

Leslie Harris McCain and Sarah Pearl Tweedy circa 1920 in Madison County Mississippi

When one looks at old photographs you can experience times and events past, knowing that somewhere some how, they exist now. I am in the process of digitizing many old family photographs I have. It is paranormal experience often, at least for me. My dear grandmother McCain née Tweedy was born in 1883 and passed in 1962. I only knew her some 10 years and a few months, yet I remember her like it was yesterday, and maybe it was. Sometimes when I look at photos of her that were taken when she was young I am thrown into her late Victoraian world and it is a very pleasant experience. The Tweedy family were Scots-Irish and came to the New World very early, circa 1705 so. They have a wondeful history. The family lore says they are 'fey' and this may be true as my grandmother had the Second Sight.

Sarah Pear Tweedy circa 1905

Treasure your ancestors as they are still here, in you, and around you.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

One Very Fast McCain...

From McCain's Corner today I present the case of Anthony McKane, one fast fellar he is...
As many of you know I have spent a lot of time in Ireland over the years. Our McCain family is still very numerous in County Donegal. McCain as a surname is an anglicised spelling of the Gaelic surname Mac Eáin, other common anglicised spellings are McKean and McKane. My own family spelled our surname McKean and McKeen for many years in fact. We know where our people are in Donegal because we did a DNA Y chromosome test to confirm our kinship with our Irish branch of our tribe. We knew who we thought they were, and our Irish branch also knew we were theirs, so to speak, but many of us left Ireland so very long ago, that we all felt the DNA would be the best way to confirm the fact. There are other McCain families, both in Ireland and Scotland, that are not connected to ours.

Last summer when I was in Donegal I met with some 2o or so McCain families. It was great meeting and talking with them and it is great having a large extended family in Ireland. The McCains are by origin Highland Scots, Gaels from mid Argyll. We are not sure of the exact date we relocated to Donegal, but records suggest it was between 1568 and 1595. We settled on clan Ó Dónaill lands, which after the flight of the earls in 1607 became the lands of James Hamilton and his family, which is when we start showing up in the written records. Later some of our McCains moved into Tyrone, Derry, and northwest Antrim, and we did well for the most part.

The account below is a news story from today concerning one of our tribe with a heavy foot, or whatever it is called on a motorcycle! BTW 260 KPH is about 161 MPH!!! Given the roads around Donegal Town, this McCain not only fast, but brave, or foolish. The state police in Ireland are called the Gardaí (plural), one policeman is called a Garda.

Saturday, July 4, 2009
Charges dismissed against bikers clocked doing 260km/h


FOUR MEN who were accused of driving their motor bikes in convoy at 260 km/h escaped a dangerous driving conviction yesterday.

The charges against them were dismissed after the prosecution evidence against one of them, Enda Connor (27), was ruled unsatisfactory by Judge Denis McLoughlin at Ballyshannon District Court.

The case was brought after south Donegal Garda traffic corps chief Sgt Iggy Larkin clocked four bikers driving at 260km/h along the Bundoran bypass in a 100km/h zone at Finner last September 27th.

Sgt Larkin and his traffic corps colleague, Garda Elaine Gordon, told the court the bikes were going too fast for them to follow.

Sgt Larkin said: “I certainly wasn’t going to risk our lives and the lives of others on the road trying to catch the bikers.”

Gardaí in Donegal more than 20km away were asked to stop them.

Sgt Larkin said when he reached the Tullyearl roundabout outside Donegal town four motor-cycles were pulled in on the left. He showed them the figure registered on his handheld speed-gun.

He said: “Some of them said they couldn’t do that speed.”

The court heard that Mr Connor admitted driving a yellow and blue Honda to Garda Gordon when she spoke to him before later arresting him for dangerous driving.

Judge McLoughlin said he was ruling that evidence inadmissible because Mr Connor had not been cautioned at the time that anything he would say could be given in evidence.

The judge also said the gardaí were unable to identify which bike was clocked at 260km/h. Sgt Larkin had admitted he was unable to read the number plate registrations.

The judge dismissed the charge against Mr Connor, of Sechelles, Rathlee, Easkey, Co Sligo.

When Insp Paul Kilcoyne, prosecuting, said the evidence would be the same in all cases the judge also dismissed dangerous driving charges against Enda McCann (31), of Dartry View, Kinlough, Co Leitrim, Anthony McKane (31), of Ashdene, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and John Donnelly (28), of Cloughfin Road, Sixmilecross, Omagh, Co Tyrone.

Mr Connor’s solicitor, Kieran Ryan, paid tribute to Sgt Larkin for the “honesty” of his evidence.

Judge McLoughlin said: “Like any garda he was extremely fair. He didn’t try to gild the lily and I’m grateful.”


Thursday, July 2, 2009

McVities and Tea

Working with the Ulster Heritage DNA Project has been fascinating. History is much different in reality than the pre-packaged often agenda driven pulp variety we are commonly asked to digest, and Ulster history is more complex than most. Now this could drive us to tears, but really it should not, as it is wonderfully rich and older than the hills. It is epic and our people have made their mark in the four corners of the world. Hard to top that.

When I started my path to study Ulster history I knew there was going to be trouble when I was reading up on the 16th Century Clann Mhic Dhónaill taoiseach named Somhairle Buí Mac Dónaill. He pretty much ran things from Coleraine east to Cushendun in his day. I read an Irish written account that described him as a ‘Scottish warlord,’ and I then read a different Irish account of him that called him a ‘Scottish pirate.’ Now which was it, lads?

Notions such as native Irish, Ulster Scots, etc., quickly become unravelled when examined through the microscope lens of Y chromosome DNA testing. A new world and more accurate history comes into focus. You will see a Donegal family that has distant kin to a family in the Hebrides, etc., reflecting the movement of clans in days gone by. One family will be quite Irish, one family quite Scottish, perhaps even different religions now, but the same family. When you get your DNA test results in, it is much like having a time machine; you see where your people were living centuries ago, even millenniums ago. A world of families and their long forgotten tribal affiliations appear.

Barry R McCain with his cousins in County Donegal Ireland, a long way for a Mississippi boy!

I created one of the early Ulster family DNA projects, the McCain DNA Project, and it was very successful. My first DNA match was to a McKane gentleman, born in north Antrim. He immigrated in 1979 to the USA. When I was over in fall of 2004, I did stop to visit his (and my) in-laws and relations in Ballyrashane Parish, County Antrim. I pulled up my rented Toyota Matrix and knocked on their door, a rural place, still a working farm. My people left in 1718, so it did take a few minutes of explanation to sort out exactly how we were kin, but I saw the very moment of their realisation. The expression on their faces changed, yes, and they knew how we were connected. Yes, you are ‘our’ McCains… It was McVities and tea and a nice chin wag then.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Irish Coffee

Irish Coffee… The Rest of the Story

Let's see, Irish whiskey, good strong black coffee, a bit of sugar, then nice thick cream, poured over the back of a spoon, so that it sits on top of the coffee, whiskey, and sugar mixture; what's not to love. When made right with good ingredients Irish Coffee is the perfect restorative. Last summer on my travels in Ireland I came upon the real story of Irish Coffee, in Ballybofey, County Donegal.

There is a common and widely held myth that Irish Coffee, that most wonderful of elixirs, was first created in the bar in Shannon Airport. It is true this luscious, Gaelic concoction, was served there at a very early date. But… it wasn’t the first place to serve this wonderful drink, it actually originated in County Donegal at Jackson’s Hotel, in Ballybofey.

There was a seaman named Joe Jackson, a Derry man, who served in the Merchant Navy during World War II. It was his misfortune to be on a ship that was torpedoed in the north Atlantic. When he was rescued he was suffering from exposure and was revived with a high proof drink made from coffee and rum, which was a Navy practice of the day. The rest of Joe Jackson’s service was in the eastern Mediterranean and there he was exposed to drinks containing cream, sugar, and spirits.

With the war over Joe returned home to Ireland and married a woman in the catering business in Ballybofey. Joe purchased a hotel in Ballybofey and calling upon his experiences during the war, began to experiment with new drinks. One of the specialties of the house was an ‘Irish Coffee’ which was made of strong black coffee, sugar, Irish whiskey, and then a layer of cream on top. This was circa late 1940s.

In the early 1950s a Scottish motoring magazine published an account of Joe Jackson’s Irish Coffee. The drink was replicated, according to lore, on 10 November 1952, in the bar of Shannon airport, but this was several years after Jackson’s Hotel served the drink. Perhaps it was a public relations coup or perhaps Donegal was in those days too distant and away, for whatever reason, the Shannon airport origin for Irish Coffee began to take root.

The real story is Irish Coffee is the creation of Mr Joe Jackson and was first served at Jackson’s Hotel in Ballybofey, County Donegal, where they still serve it today, exactly as it was created by Joe Jackson in the late 1940s.

Barry R McCain ©2017

Monday, June 29, 2009

29 June 2009, Life In Oxford

Life In Oxford Mississippi

We have had some very hot days in Oxford recently. My home thermometer has been hitting 98 F for the last few days and the weather station at our wee airport very near that. But, late yesterday a front, or what passes for one this time of year, came through. We had a thunderstorm and some rain. This morning I woke to a stunning (this time of year) 64 F at my house. I opened the doors and drank coffee outside with my two Manx cats, Piscín and Pangur.

The air cool, the sunlight filtering through the trees. A slight breeze in the air.

I live only 5 miles from Ole Miss, a little less from The Square, yet woods are all around me. Such is the way of what is still a small Southern town. As I sat outside, drinking coffee, I heard a local rooster and a wild turkey exchange threatening cries to each other.

Quality lads and lassies.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

April Freeze in Oxford

April freeze in Oxford, Mississippi and my tomatoes.

Well, the Weathermen assured me there would be no frost last night. The official low was circa 36 degrees Fahrenheit. However, I live in a hollow. For those of you not familiar with Southern terms, a hollow (said 'holler'), is a bowl shaped geographic feature, surrounded by some hills. Low hills in my case.

There is a phenomenon with cool air pouring into low areas and you get a drop in the temperature in that one small area. And so it was last night.

The Weather Channel was beaming a low of 36 to 38... but when I read my thermometer when I got up in the morning, I saw a 31.8. Yikes, I did not cover my tomatoes as I believed the Weather Channel.

Casualties are two dead and two wounded tomato plants. And I remind myself, the Weather Channel is now owned by NBC and that is to say they are not to be trusted anymore.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What I Like About The South

One of pleasure of living in the Deep South is Crawfish boils... here's some we enjoyed over the weekend.

musician and songwriter Donovan McCain shows off a fine crawfishy

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Passing

Well, I've been gone for awhile. A dear, dear, friend was killed in a car wreck on the evening of 13 March, and I frankly have not been able to get over it yet. I will be back later, perhaps. Just need time to heal.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's Sleet, Not Freezing Rain

Happy to report that Oxford had a small amount of sleet and no freezing rain to speak of. There you go.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lovely Snow

There is a lovely light snow falling this morning in Oxford, Mississippi. The flakes are large and dry, not the wet snow type. Just flurries and I doubt there will be any accumulation at all, but still looks beautiful.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Father Winter Visits Oxford Mississippi

By special arrangement by his highness Al Gore, Father Winter paid a visit to Oxford, Mississippi this week. Yes, it was cold lads and lassies. Here at the McCain compound we saw a morning temperature of 11.5 F a couple days ago and it has been below freezing since Wednesday.

I produce the photograph above as evidence thereof; it was taken just off the Square here in Oxford yesterday afternoon. Yes, that lovely fountain is frozen, that is ice. Neat, eh? I think so.

Old Man Winter

I for one am very happy to see Father Winter visit us. I have hopes of fewer insects and other nasties come Spring due to the low temperatures. We have been some three days below freezing, which in my part of Dixie is something these days.

above, my two Manx cats on a much warmer day, they are optimists and like to sleep in the bird bath...

My two black Manx cats were entirely impressed. They set all time records for speed sprint bathroom brakes. Did not take the lads long to go outside, do their business, and shoot themselves back inside. They are clever, they take the chairs closest to the fireplace. Thanks to the help of my son Conar, a strong 14 year old, I have plenty of firewood and the last few days the hearth had a fine fire non stop.

I hope that Father Winter enjoyed his visit and will come back again soon. We miss him. Next visit I hope he brings snow, a good foot or more would be to my liking. I hope it hits on a weekday and the children will have the joy of missing classes and snow.

Barry R McCain
in the wooded hills of north Mississippi, just outside Oxford