Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The remaking of an Irishman

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The family roots started when grandfather arrived as a young lad in Portage la Prairie in the early 1880s. He brought with him memories of hunger in Ireland and vowed that his family would not go hungry.

His family, including my father, was brought up with the "Protestant work ethic." But my father grew up as a Canadian -- hockey, baseball, curling, hunting and golf. He never had any thoughts of visiting Ireland; he was pure Canadian.

And that's the way I was raised, Canadian, with nary a thought of Ireland.

In high school, however, one of the girls told me of the meaning of the lyrics of Galway Bay.

It tweaked my interest in Ireland for the first time.

I then became involved with the Winnipeg Sports Car Club and our parties usually evolved into a singalong around the piano. I liked the comrades and songs, particularly the Irish songs. I had my first Irish coffee.

After graduating from the University of Manitoba, I took a trip over to the U.K., including a tour of Ireland. A very enjoyable holiday. I even met some relatives in Ireland.

I started listening to more Irish music.

Then a friend in the car club talked me into joining the Irish Association. I was going down to a cabin on Lake of the Woods for a couple of weeks and, not being interested in fishing, I went to the library and got a dozen books on Irish history.

As the authors were all over the political landscape, I got a good overview.

An old Irishman was teaching the Irish language, so I joined in. He interspersed the teaching with a lot of stories (some of them might even be true).

Also, there was a pub in Fort Garry that featured Irish music, and I started attending regularly.

I became aware of a teacher of Irish traditional music and started tin whistle lessons with minimal success.

The Irish association sponsored an annual whiskey-tasting, which made me very appreciative of the skill of Irish distillers. I started collecting what has become probably the best collection of Irish whiskey, certainly the best in Manitoba.

The foregoing, coupled with eight additional trips to Ireland, has made me more Irish than preceding generations.

I rarely miss a Friday craic agus ceol (good times and music) at the club.

As my missionary work, I am sponsoring a series on History of Ireland -- Mysticism to Modern.


Bill Sullivan is a retired mechanical engineer and president of the Irish Association of Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2012 J6

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