There are so many celebrations in March, the Ides, the swallows returning to Capistrano, the Vernal Equinox and the warming of the north, but nothing beats the shear madness of St. Patrick’s day. Dad would say, “on St. Patrick’s day there are only two kinds of people in the world, those who are Irish and those who wish they were.” It’s one of those anonymous sayings, but cool nonetheless. I’ve been to that place in Ireland, saw the homestead my grandfather left as a boy. The village of Ballisekerry, the town of Ballina, the county of Mayo, Province of Connaught, Ireland.
Mayo is where in legend the Sinn Fein began as the Gaelic League. The furthest away from the English and their plantations, bordering on the cold and wild Atlantic. Where hedge schools taught children Irish history, tradition and the Irish language that was not allowed in the English schools. The most horrible book on the Irish is THE STORY OF THE IRISH RACE by Seumas MacManus, originally written in the 1940s, it has been revised and reprinted through June 1972, the year of my copy. Full of inaccuracies, still in print, it is a testament to the way the Irish looked at the world back in the beginning of the twentieth century, when the Troubles were a way of life for the Irish Catholics. Troubles that continued for the better part of a century. Where to look at someone was to know if they were Anglican or Catholic, which is stunning in and of itself.
To be Irish in America is to have a different view from those in Ireland, one that is romantic, an idealized perspective of one who has not lived it. In talking to a friend in Ireland recently, she told me they don’t even HAVE a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin. Laughing out loud. Imagine!
I understand the pride of ethnicity, the pull of what it was like for those who were there. I’m second generation on my Dad’s side, fourth on Mom’s [the Faddens being from the town of Castlereagh, county of Mayo, etc.] but I also understand that life in Ireland looked more precious, more enticing from across the Atlantic than it did close up. None of my relatives returned to Ireland, none went back to the home country. And that idealized view persisted, grew, and came into its own.
It’s a shame to boil all that is Irish into one drunken, mad day of celebration. The Irish are a spectacular people, with a history of powerful women, brave warriors, Brehons [arbitrator or mediator], never succumbing to the tyranny of the Romans, an egalitarian and open people. I think that’s the best part of being Irish for me!