Being Irish

For my 8th grade graduation, my mother promised me a claddagh ring because, as she put it, it was the only way anyone would know I had any Irish ancestry. My fair mother suffered 8 long years with her only progeny looking as Sicilian as mozzarella before finally having her blue-eyed boy.

My Irish grandmother, with her namesake (who was born with a full head of brown hair).

As years have gone by her desolation at having a daughter who doesn’t look like her has passed, since I emulate her Irish characteristics in most aspects of my personality. As she puts it, “every time you open your mouth people will know you’re Irish”.

For better or worse, the gift of the gab is a gift I received in heaping portions. Readers are unlikely to be surprised to hear that my desk had to face the wall throughout most of elementary school. I still literally have to bite my lip sometimes to keep from talking out of turn. Once it is an appropriate time to chat, look out, world. I could talk the ears off a brass monkey.

As for the Irish trait of sentimentality, you can refer to most other posts on this blog to find evidence of that.

Irish and Irish-American culture definitely has its drawbacks too. [As an aside, I don’t think Boston would have been hit so hard by the sex-abuse crisis if not for the strains of clericalism and ultramontanism that swept Ireland in the 19th century. But I digress.] Excessive drinking has been unfortunately affiliated with Irish ancestry:  although I love being part of a culture that celebrates fun, I’m sick of pretending that alcoholism is funny.

Living and working where I do, I have hung my hat with Irish-American culture, and have been fascinated by living among people who sometimes forget that they’re not oppressed anymore. Our grandparents were good Irish housekeepers and Catholic schoolboys, and they worked hard and scraped and saved and prayed so that we could do whatever we want. We could earn degrees in music and theology, we could take up expensive hobbies and live in big houses, we could be anti-immigrant, we could only go to Church once in a while, and the girls who sell me my coffee in the morning could cover their freckles in the tanning booth.

I’ve never made it a formal category among my posts, but the truth is that everything on this blog is about identity. The human condition is to desire a group of which to be a part, even as our post-modern culture tells us that religious or cultural identity is dangerous and to be feared.  I believe that it doesn’t make me a bad person to know who my people are. I celebrate today because I am who I am, because my mom sends me Irish flags in the mail, because my people know how to both laugh and cry. My religious identity, so dear to me, came in part from this heritage, and from a saint who used a Shamrock to explain the Trinity.

I am deeply grateful that I was wearing my claddagh ring the day that my apartment was burgled, because to have lost that as I lost all my other jewelry would really have destroyed me. I don’t think I’ve taken it off since. I try so hard to maintain integrity, to let who I am be a part of all that I do, but I am happy to have a reminder of who I am glinting in the corner of my eye, on my left hand.

Happy St Patrick’s Day to one and all.

Christ shield me this day: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me. – from St Patrick’s Breastplate

This entry was posted in Boston, burglary, family, liturgical calendar, religion, saints. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Being Irish

  1. Jen says:

    Given the prejudice my family probably encountered being both Catholic and Irish in the mid-to-late 19th century, you’ve touched upon why I’m pissed off when people boast about not being Irish and not celebrating St. Patrick’s day. I mean, it’s cool if they don’t, but to boast that they’re not Irish on today kind of rubs salt in old wounds.

  2. I pulled out my claddagh ring today. I got in high school, though I forget where, and wore it for a few years till I lost it and found out that my sister found it and wore it herself for a few years.

    I used to really want a ring with a claddagh design on the band for a wedding ring, but alas we were poor when we got married and so got the simplest gold bands we could afford.

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