‘Sláinte’ to the Irish

April 24, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III


No man, no woman, no child is free as their god intended if their history, their inheritance, their rightful destiny are lassoed by another master. That was the Irish in the British occupation from the 12th century, in the 1800 Act of Union that merged the nation with Great Britain, in the great sadness and death of the 1916 Easter Rising 100 years ago today.

The heavens have granted gifts to the Irish in their innate love of literature, in their poetic expression, in their ability to see humor even as their wit tells truths that bite the soul. A smile for every tear.

There is loss in every Irish family today, as in generations before. The bagpipes never play just in the gaiety of a wedding but are a constant funeral dirge for those lost in oppression forever-long after.

In just three weeks’ time, it will have been an exact century, on May 15, when leaders of the Easter Rising were executed. More than 3,000 suspected of participating in the rebellion were arrested, many sent to England and prison without trial. Such punishment ended Irish complacency, led to the Irish Parliament of January 1919 in Dublin and the declaration of Ireland’s independence. More rebellion followed, there was a 1921 cease-fire, and the Irish Free State, a self-governing nation of the British Commonwealth was established.

The fully independent Republic of Ireland, the 26 counties in the south and west, was formally established on Easter Monday, April 18, 1949. Ireland’s six northern counties, including the Protestants populated by the British, opted out of the Free State and remained with the United Kingdom. The partition still smarts.

History can offer the whys and wherefores of occupation of one land by another but can never justify suppression of the natural being of a certain people. We Americans tried that in our shameful treatment of the only people who do not need a Green Card, the Native Americans. You can argue that no manifest destiny, no birth and progress of the great American republic, would have happened without supression, yet however you rationalize it, a debt is still due those original Americans who languish on sub-standard reservations.

The Irish stood up — initially just some of them but then a majority of the people — in a courageous act of rebellion 100 years ago today, and families were immediately torn asunder. Some will never forget, never forgive. Debts are still to be paid for forced assimilation, even if it did not work.

What can be said today as the unfinished story continues is “sláinte” (good health) to the Irish in the name of humanity and in the name of my mother, an Irish lass.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com


April 18, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III


Having just returned from a family trip to Germany and Austria, and immediately thrown as an American into the country I cherish, the horizon has been expanded that I cannot fully come back. One half the mindset is elsewhere.

I realized this even before I left Weiden, near Nuremberg in Bavaria, where I was staying. On a walk into the dairy and farm country that surrounds, I was cast back to my youth in the once rural county of Rockland, New York State. The landscape was so very familiar, and as I did when a child, a solitary walk took me to a spot near the rise over a meadow not unlike what I saw at age 8 near my grandfather’s house in Spring Valley. The utter quiet, the smell of just-turned soil ready for spring planting and the great horizon that is analogous to your own future journey in life were delicious. Peaceful. Reaffirming. There was an immediate bond with this part of Germany and the nation of my Gunther forebears.

While ingesting the landscape I looked at what was in two pants pockets — in the right front pocket, a few Euros, distinctly shaped money that is now the currency in much of  Europe and the equally few U.S. dollars I still carried in my back pocket. The dollars seemed odd, out of place, which they were. Before my trip, I saw dollars as the supreme way to pay bills, have security, more than get along in America. Here in Weiden, the Euros were that means. Returning to the U.S., I took out both my dollars and Euros and put the European currency aside as a souvenir and placed the dollars in my right front pocket. Yet the money now feels different.

It is American all right. So is what remains of the landscape in now suburban Rockland. But having taken a journey abroad; having meet truly wonderful people,  so  industrious and non-nonsense yet quite fun-loving; having seen the growing diversity in Munich and Salzburg and Nuremberg; having dealt with efficient and quite helpful shopkeepers; having lived a bit as a German does, I can no longer just pull the dollar out of my pocket and think as an American.

There is so much more going on in the world than my cherished  birth nation. Germany, for example, is largely off the power grid, producing powder by wind and solar. Its new homes are highly insulated, many made of fireproof concrete. The electrical and plumbing systems are built for 100 years. Drivers must pay a few thousand dollars to train for the roads, and they are very good on the highway, driving fast, as allowed, but giving way, signaling, etc. If I were to visit other nations, there would be much to learn as well, much for our own nation to consider, perhaps adopt.

Our America is a nation of immigrants, so many from Europe, and we have both protected and served as a democratic example for the world. But we are not the beginning and the end, and we should be humble about receiving from other peoples as well.

   The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.


By Arthur H. Gunther III


MUNICH, Germany — The fifth-generation descendant of a Prussian family that had an umlaut over the “u” in Gunther has returned to a sort of fatherland. I arrived here Friday to visit my son and daughter in law, who is a U.S. Army physician in Bavaria. To get to Germany, the plane from Newark, N.J., had to fly over the final resting places in Brooklyn and Long Island of several Gunthers, including Ferdinand, my great-great-grandfather and my family’s first arrival in the New World. Then in Germany, which now includes Prussia, there are the graves of his forebears. Heady stuff, to think of all those people in one’s DNA.

Once here, in Munich, the Bavarian city rebuilt 65 percent after heavy World War II bombing, I could see my late father’s face on many a street and my grandfather even more. Neither ever visited Germany, and the language was almost lost on my grandfather and beyond.

In my childhood, German recipes, such as for potato salad and “Fastnact kuggles,”  hot, lard-dipped dough covered with powdered sugar, continued, and there were references to the family past. Yet with Ferninand arriving about 1858 with his brothers, all of whom served in the U.S. Civil War, that was long ago.

I did not take German in high school, though Miss Grasser, the German language teacher, stopped me in the hall and asked why not. I really had little interest in the German family heritage, or the Irish/English ancestry either. Few of us care abiut the past as children and young adults. It would take decades for such curiosity to stir, and by then so many of the principals had died. Whom to ask?

Now, by fate, my second son and family live in the old fatherland, and I have had genealogical interest for a few years now. Perhaps as we grow older, we want to touch the past much as a child grabs a parent’s hand, so that it is easier to walk into the final future.

Here in Munich, with my son speaking pretty good German, with the grandchildren getting such fine exposure to other cultures (this is a mixed city), I have been stirred by the kindness, the friendliness, the exactness, the industry, the confidence of the Germans and others.

If it were not for my family, I would not have visited Germany. I would have continued to believe that the land is about big beer steins and laden hosen, when, of course, there is so much more beyond the stereotypes, themselves exaggerated.

No one country, no one culture, makes the world, and getting past your mindset, your own community, not only fiills you with understanding but also appreciation.

I now feel blessed by those Germans I have so far met and by the fate that gave me such ancestry and those forebears who built a life in the New World. A fresh perspective, surely.


The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com











By Arthur H. Gunther III


All periods in history have their idiosyncrasies, stylized to the individual, the mojo of the moment, the then-current trends, the arts, the music, whether there are wars or economic difficulties or actual progress of the species. If we live long enough to take the local and the express through several eras, it’s especially interesting to recall some in our own past.

For example, I was in an ordinary restaurant the other day, ordinary because they don’t let me in fancy ones for lack of palate, and I asked for water. It came in a tumbler with a straw added from the waitress’ apron. If I were in that same eatery say in 1948, my father would have asked for my water, and a fellow with a pitcher and a white towel hung over his arm would have begun pouring, first near the lip of the glass, then raising the pitcher about 12 inches as he filled the tumbler in an up-and-down option, full stream never missing the glass. Pretty cool, whether showing off for the six year old or just post-war restaurant style.

In 1955, you might have found a teenager with rolled-up cuffs on her jeans in a hallway closet, on a telephone with her boyfriend, her legs halfway up the wall as her head rested on the floor, on her ponytail. Her brother would be outside, nudging her. No smartphone clued to hand, 24/7.

(I knew a fellow  who took calls for his home-run business from a phone atop a radio console in the living room. Cigarette in one hand, phone in the other, he leaned on the radio and crossed his legs for support. A stylized 1960s on-telephone-before-cellphone action. It sure fit the character of the man.)

In the 1970s we had a bookish reporter at the original Journal-News in downtown Nyack, N.Y., who could not write his town board story until he had two donuts, a coffee and a glass of water. He laid out the bakery supply and the liquid all in a row, and as he began to organize his notes, he took a bite out of donut #1, then from #2, then a sip of coffee followed by a bit of water. He did this until he was finished with everything, and then he wrote his piece. Left us to report for a wrestling magazine. His idiosyncratic approach was for himself, not an era, though newspapers attract odd balls — like another reporter who had to sit in his car covered by a blanket to think things through before he could put a story to bed.

We also employed a lady scribe who went on to become president of a national press association, who came in at 2 one morning to drop off copy. Fine, we could edit, place it in a page and make deadline. But her delivery was unusual: She was in a frilly nightgown and quite-fluffy slippers, and she said she had to run because her boyfriend was waiting. Uh-huh. I never said a word. It was usual to expect the unusual at 53 Hudson Ave.

If any of us look back at any time or place or individual in our lives, or if we peer at today’s generation, we will see idiosyncrasies — stylized behavior — that gives us a laugh or at least makes the reflection interesting in the continually passing scene.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com