My mother was Irish. She had some German mixed in from her mother, but her heritage, her way of being, was pure Irish American. Despite having Russian and Polish lineage from our dad, we were raised in the Irish tradition, which means we were devout Catholics, we heard a lot of quaint sayings, were imbued with a strong sense of superstition, and were taught to hate the English.
I wasn’t aware of how strong the last part was until I married a man from Toronto. Oh, the revulsion I felt every time we visited the “Veddy British” province of Ontario.
Tim likes to tease me for clinging so firmly to my Irish. In his mind, since I’m not 100% Irish, I’m a pretender, a bandwagoner. For him, only those who are more than half Irish can claim this heritage. Or something.
But here’s the thing. I wasn’t raised with any German traditions. Because of my father’s purposeful distance from his family, I didn’t learn anything about our Russian or Polish lineage either. All I knew growing up was that we were Irish, and Irish was the thing to be. Probably reinforced by our attendance at St. Patrick’s Elementary School, with its leprechaun mascot and black and green (Black Watch Plaid) uniforms, my childhood was firmly rooted in being an Irish American.
Sure, I’ve never been to Ireland. Maybe some day. And sure, I’m not 100% Irish. I think we’ve figured that I’m 3/8 Irish. But being Irish was critically important to my mother, with her red hair and blue eyes aflame, with her anti-Imperialist stance on England, her lilting voice and the song that rose constantly and beautifully from her throat. She gave me one history to love, that of the kind and gentle people, the intelligent and funny Irish, those of books and music and wild rocky cliffs, of passionate fighters and clever debaters, of hearty appetites and sweet smiles.
Today, at least, I’ll enjoy my Irish ways. I’ll wear green and listen to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, as my mother did, and sing along with the sorrowful voices. And I’ll dream of visiting Ireland.
This is for you, Mom.
your Margaret Kathleen
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