Still Waters: Emerald Isle heritage

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Thanks to some expert research on the part of my maternal uncle, I now can claim Irish ancestry on both sides. We were never sure about my maternal grandmother’s heritage since she was basically left on a doorstep as a baby. After doing some genealogical digging, my uncle discovered who the father and mother were, and it turns out the dad (although a “scoundrel”, which is another story) was Irish.

On my father’s side, my paternal grandmother was Irish. I never got to know her since she died before I was born, but my folks have told me many times I would have loved her. She was an excellent cook and had the kind of grandmotherly lap any child would love to sit upon. Someday I plan to meet her in heaven, because I’m sure she will be there.

There’s a lot about my Irish heritage I can relate to. I love the Celtic music, for example. It speaks to my soul.

When my half-Irish father sings “Mother Machree,” I can picture him singing it to his own mother who fits the lyrics so well, “the dear silver that shines in your hair and the brow that's all furrowed and wrinkled with care … the dear fingers so toil worn for me.” His mother performed much manual labor over the years, so her fingers were probably “toil worn.”

The Irish as a people have worked hard (and too many have “drunk hard” as well) but have been able to keep their sense of humor in the worst of times. In fact, it has probably helped them make it through the worst of times, and they have had some tough times, not the least of which was the potato famine that forced so many of them to cross the ocean to America. Even here in the U.S. it wasn’t that easy for many of the Irish. Some ads in newspapers and shop windows read “no Irish need apply.”

Cartoons featured regularly in Boston newspapers in the mid 1800’s did not depict the Irish in a flattering light.

During that time, many of the Irish immigrants worked as servants, which wasn’t that much different from what my Irish grandmother did a century later. Seventy percent of the servants in Boston in the mid 1800’s were Irish immigrants, most of them women. Understandably, it was difficult for them to find work, since Boston's Irish population jumped from 30,000-100,000 following the Great Famine of the 1840's in Ireland. The highest concentration of Irish immigrants was in Boston, where many of the locals weren’t too happy about the new competition for jobs.

But many of those Irish immigrants didn’t let prejudice and bigotry keep them down. Joseph Patrick Kennedy is a prime example. The Bostonian became successful in business and politics, and of course we’re all familiar with his famous progeny, which included our 35th President of the United States. (Even the Kennedys, though, had the unfortunate “luck of the Irish,” with many tragedies striking their family over the years.)

Folks like my grandparents and parents haven’t made such a national splash, but they have contributed to the world around them just the same. My grandparents were hard working people all of their lives. My parents have worked hard all of their lives, too, and it is a heritage I try to carry on.

I am proud of that heritage.

I love the Irish music, and my soul is carried away every time I get to see a “Celtic Woman” concert on PBS.

I love the Irish sense of humor, which makes light of difficulties and makes difficulties light.

I admire the handsome actor from Ireland, Liam Neeson, and I appreciate the ministry of Irish singer and songwriter Robin Mark who is not as tall or handsome as Liam Neeson but whose music reaches into my soul and lifts it to heaven.

I’m not such a fan of Irish cuisine like corned beef and cabbage, but I do love potatoes in just about every shape and fashion imaginable from mashed to hashed.

And there’s just something about the color green that is fresh and revitalizing like the Irish hills after a rain, at least as I imagine it.

No matter your ancestry, be proud of what you can and rise above what you can’t.

And wear green with me today because we’re all a bit o’ the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.


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