TRAVEL Danny does the American South

Rebel flag
The Confederate Flag, also known as the rebel or Dixie flag.

Danny does the American South

Danny does
Daniel Carey

MANY years ago, a little American boy wrote a letter to God seeking $100 for his widowed mother. The request ended up on the desk of the US Postmaster General who, taking pity on the boy and his mum, sent an envelope containing $20.
A few weeks later, the boy wrote a second letter, thanking God for His generosity but saying the family needed another $100. And he asked God not to route the envelope through Washington DC on this occasion – “because last time they deducted 80 per cent!”
I heard that story while visiting the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin, Texas. The tale was one of five illustrating the humour of LBJ, and involved listening to a recording of his voice while watching a moving, talking, animatronic version of the former president. I laughed my head off.
Touring the State Capitol building, I learned that Texas has been governed by Spain, France, Mexico, the US and the Confederacy, and was independent for a decade in the 19th century. I committed a schoolboy error in a nearby café by ordering ‘chips’, which are what Europeans call crisps.
From Austin I took a bus to San Antonio. The city is best known for the Alamo, a former Spanish Mission church which, in 1836, hosted a major siege during the Texan war of independence against Mexico.
“It was our 1916,” a man with knowledge of Irish history told me ruefully. Among those who died defending the Alamo were nine Irishmen, and a tricolour stands just inside the door of the church. Irish involvement in faraway conflicts is also evident in Charleston, South Carolina, my last stop in the American South.
Fort Sumter, a short ferry ride from Charleston, was the site of the first battle of the American Civil War. Nobody died in the bombardment itself, but the first casualty of the Civil War – an Irishman named Daniel, worryingly enough – was killed while loading guns during a surrender ceremony afterwards. Thankfully, I did not go the same way as my Tipperary namesake, though I later had a lucky escape on a traffic island.
Perhaps in honour of my arrival, the rain bucketed down as we stepped into the fort. The tour guide told us that at the end of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was invited to attend a flag-raising ceremony on Fort Sumter, but decided against it. It was thought to be too dangerous for him to go into the heart of the pro-slavery Confederacy (South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union). In any case, he had been invited to Ford’s Theatre that night. Unfortunately, Lincoln’s assassin was also headed there.

Daniel Carey, a Mayo News reporter, has taken a year out to travel the world. His addiction to the keyboard remains, however, and this column will carry his reports from life on the outside.