Irish Humor

Performed by William H. Taft
Recorded August 5, 1908

I am a great lover of humor, however little I have of it, and believe in it as a panacea. In these days of nervous prostration, of brain fag and of the strenuous life, there is nothing that so much contributes to a survival of the trials and sufferings of the day as a sense of humor. It is like the buffers in the solid train, like the air cushion of a modern field gun. It saves the jolt; it takes up the recoil. It seems to me that this trade of humor, so fully developed in the Irish character, has had much to do with the persistence of the race and with its growth of numbers and power and influence the world over, in spite of the burdens and disadvantages under which it has labored. In the Irish faith, the smiles and tears chase each other fast. As John Boyle O’Reilly said, "I wrote down my troubles every day, and after a few short years, when I turned to the heartaches past away, I read them with smiles, not tears." In his poem, "An American," Kipling speaks of the ancient humor as likely to save the American nation from the dangers to which it is exposed:

But, through the shifts of mood and mood,
Mine ancient humor saves him whole --
The cynic devil in his blood
That bids him mock his hurrying soul
That checks him foolish-hot and fond,
That chuckles through his deepest ire,
That glids the slough of his despond
But dims the goal of his desire.

If this humor be the safety of our race, then it is due largely to the infusion into the American people of the Irish brain. It is now 25 years since I had the pleasure of visiting the Emerald Isle, and I remember its beauties well. We landed at Queen Sound very early in the morning of a July day and it seemed to me that nothing was ever greener, nothing was ever sweeter, nothing was ever more attractive than the surroundings of Queen Sound harbor at that hour. Thence we went to Cork and there in the suburbs that historic city we visited Blarney Castle and kissed the stone with all its mellifluous consequences. While in Cork there crowded up in our memories that musical verse the Shandon Bell:

With deep affection and recollection
I often think on those Shandon Bells
Whose sounds so wild would, in my days of childhood
Fling round my cradle their magic spells
On this I ponder where’er I wander
And thus grow fonder sweet Cork of thee
With thy bells of Shandon that sound so grand on
The pleasant waters of the River Lee