When you think of the term "gift of gab," you think of the Irish. The Blarney Stone's in Ireland, and so are those pubs where people tell tall tales into the wee hours about wee people.
According to Phyllis McGinley, a Utahn who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1961, even Ireland's patron saint - St. Patrick - could spin a pretty good yarn:\
Christie: first letter is a W
Saint Patrick was a preacher
With honey in his throat.
They say that he could charm away
A miser's dearest pence;
Could coax a feathered creature
To leave her nesting note
And fly from many a farm away
To drink his eloquence.When the Irish really get rolling, they produce the best literature in the world. You could make a case that the best modern novelist (James Joyce), best playwright (Samuel Beckett) and best poet (W.B. Yeats) were all from Erin.
Today, wonderful Irish writers can be found in every section of the country.
And that includes Utah.
Almost from the beginning, Utah journalism was fueled by Irish blood. Bob Mullins of the Deseret News remains the only staffer to win a Pulitzer; and the names Mooney, O'Brien and Gallivan are forever linked with local newspapering. Even today a glance through the paper turns up names like McKellar, Collins, Healey, Hicks and Riley.
And Irish names are just as prominent in Utah's literary circles.
Following is a quick look at three Irish-Americans who've made a mark in Utah letters: Gerald "Gary" McDonough, Kathleen Dougherty and Kate (O'Hara) Lahey.
Gary McDonough, of course, is just one of the popular "Writing McDonoughs." His brother Edward is a local columnist, and his daughter Molly writes fiction. In the '20s, Gary's mother wrote well and often for Judge magazine.
"We have a great tradition of Irish tales and storytellers in our family," he says. "Ireland is always with us. My book, `The Hogles,' is about an Irish family, I went to school in Ireland and I've written plays about Ireland - including one that always seems to get dragged out and put back on the boards this time of year. I owe a lot to my heritage."
Kathleen Dougherty may be an unfamiliar name for Utah readers, but she won't go unnoticed for long. Her new thriller, "Moth to the Flame," is getting a major push from the BerkeleyPublishing group and is expected to be a best seller. The novel should hit Utah bookstores within the month.
"I'm three-fourths Irish," she says, "and that does make a difference. My uncle Merrill was a newspaper editor in California for years. He was Irish-looking and liked to bring out his Irish brogue when strangers were around. He was always writing and was always sending his poetry to family members. He and I had a lot in common. I'm sure he would have been pleased to know I'm finally publishing."
One of Dougherty's Irish aunts claims Kathleen writes well because Mark Twain was a shirt-tail relative; but the remark is likely just one those "stretchers" that both Twain and the Irish enjoy.
As for Kate Lahey, a Salt Lake attorney and fiction writer, the Irish influence in her work actually comes more from her reading than her family history. Yes, old Irish "types" do show up in her work, and her early memories of sitting in a pub with her Irish uncles while they worked out political schemes remain an important part of her life. But it was the work of Irish fiction writer Mary Gordon that really sparked her own writing career.
"I guess Mary Gordon did for me what good writers do for us all," La-hey explains. "Reading her books and essays showed me what my extended Irish family was really like - the positive and negative things. It makes me wish I had more contact with my Irish background than I do. I hope, in the future, I can go back and find my roots. Perhaps just talking about it now will get me going."
In the end, many scholars have theories about why the Irish - more than other groups - have developed such a heritage of words.
"I think of James Joyce's novel `Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man,' " says Dr. Phil Sullivan of the University of Utah. "He talks about dealing with a language that's not really his own. There's another language behind it, Gaelic, a language full of songs and bards.
"Personally, I have a feeling that the Irish have developed such a great sense of language because that's all they've really had. The years of oppression, restriction and isolation have given them a universal language. And they certainly do it well."
Yes, they do.
If you don't believe it, ask an Irish soul to explain it all to you. But be prepared to spend the day.