Richard McIntyre and his wife, Olga, along with two-year-old daughter Donna, arrived in Brandon from Ireland in 1966. McIntyre, called Mr. Mac by many of his students, taught primarily math at Vincent Massey school for three decades before retiring. During those years, the family welcomed two more children, sons Mike and Brent. And in 1990, along with the late William Moore, McIntyre co-founded The Irish Society of Western Manitoba, an organization of which he is currently past-president, and that is still going strong to this day. » Colin Corneau / Brandon Sun (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
What was the reason for needing to — for wanting to — set up an Irish association in the first place?
Well, Bill Moore and I were both first-generation Irish, and we felt that there was the Scottish (Burns’ Night) there was the Ukrainian, there was the German, and where’s the Irish? I mean, we’ve got a fairly strong cultural background right here. So why don’t we tap into it?
One is never so aware of one’s cultural roots or heritage ’til one is away from home. I’m never more proudly Canadian than I am when I’m in other countries. Were you feeling a bit of a pang for the homeland?
Absolutely. We did. We felt we were Irish and we wanted to continue to be Irish in a way, although now I’m Canadian Irish. But at that time we were Irish, and first-generation. And there had been an Irish organization in Brandon, but just about 1966 when we arrived, it kind of dispersed and things didn’t work out for them, I guess. But there was a lapse from the late 1960s to about 1990. So the timing was just luckily right for us. The luck of the Irish!
Certainly everybody knows the Irish Pavilion at the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival. But you initially started out just having an Irish night on St. Patrick’s Day, right?
Yes. Bill and I were at a conference in Medicine Hat, and on the way back, we talked Irish. And we said, ‘We should have a go at this, you know!’ So we came home and we talked a little more about it, and about three weeks before St. Patrick’s, Olga and I got on the phone, and we called the people who we knew that were first-generation Irish, and they in turn phoned people that they knew, and we had 34 people come out for dinner.
So we had a fairly basic get-together — we called it as Ceilidhe. We got some memorabilia, which we displayed, and we had, as I say, 34 people. And they weren’t just all from Brandon. Dr. Owen O’Shea — he came and he played his penny whistle for us. And we had a bit of a talk. And we thought, ‘This has worked out pretty well — maybe we should have another one next year.’
And we had 64 the next year. So it kind of doubled. And that’s when people like second-generation, third- and fourth-generation, had heard a little more about it and they’d gotten on board. And we had a little bit more entertainment then.
Over the years we had Ann Germani and her harp, the Dust Rhinos, of course Milliken McGuire, and the Crocus Plains Kerry Minstrels. ARD-RI. And lots more.
What are some of the things you missed about Ireland? What were some of the things you tried to recreate over here?
Well, we couldn’t recreate family. Olga doesn’t have brothers and sisters, and neither do I. So we have our own family here. And with the formation of the Irish Society, it means sort of an adopted family, plus it meant that we had a lot of things in common we could discuss. Like Drew Mills (current Irish Society president) and I can talk about the villages Larne or Carnlough or the Irish rugby team or whatever. And at that time, of course, there were a lot of political problems in the north of Ireland particularly, and so everybody had concerns.
Let’s turn to stereotypes for a minute. I mean, we think about leprechauns, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the banshees — legend and folklore, of course, but most cultures have that. And it’s just sort of fun, common ground, isn’t it?
Well in the past, I would think, it was fairly seriously considered. I mean, people believed in fairies. My grandfather said he saw fairies. So fairies and ghosts and banshees and so on — that’s folklore, as you say. And every culture has its own thoughts about things like that — the afterlife and so on.
In terms of legitimate traits, we often struggle with whether we have a Canadian identity or not, and if we do, what that is. Is there an Irish identity and what do you think it is?
Well, you know that the Irish are reputed to be fond of a glass of Guinness, so they’re reputed to be fond of alcohol. And I don’t think that’s a true accusation — most people like to socialize and have a drink. But brews like Guinness and Harp Lager and Jameson Whiskey and Bushmills Whiskey — they’re well known around the world.
But the thing that I think is the biggest export from Ireland is the people.
And what are the characteristics of the people, do you think?
I think they’re great talkers — great storytellers. And they’ve got a bit of the Blarney in them! I’ve kissed the Blarney Stone — my wife maintains I didn’t need to — but I don’t have any qualms about getting up and talking.
(laugh) Turning to today, St. Patrick’s Day, can we talk a little bit about the legend — or the truth, I suppose, depending on where you come from? He drove the snakes out of Ireland?
Supposedly. There weren’t any snakes there, but he’s supposed to have driven out the snakes. ‘The snakes’ might have been a metaphorical way of saying he drove the undesirables out of Ireland.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated all over the world, but in Ireland, there’s much more support for it than there used to be. The view of society’s changing. The younger people are coming on board and they’re accepting more things, and because of this tolerance, I think that’s bringing things closer together for the people who live there. Meaning that they all, Catholics and Protestants alike, celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
It’s said that everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Most of us like to party a little bit, but nobody seems to have the corner on partying like the Irish do! Does it bring you some measure of joy that this seems to be an occasion that the world acknowledges?
As I say, the biggest export from Ireland was the people. And this is a celebration of the people. You go to Adelaide, Sydney, wherever — they’ve got a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. They don’t all make it a national holiday, but it’s there.
There are a lot of Irish sayings, like ‘May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back’ and so forth, and, of course, ‘May you be half an hour in heaven before the Devil knows you’re dead.’ But for those of us who are planning on marking St. Patrick’s Day tonight, is there a toast you like that we might use this evening?
There’s one that comes to mind that may or may not be appropriate, but it’s ‘May the best day of your past be like the worst day of your future.’ And that would be a blessing indeed!
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 17, 2012