Happy St. Patrick's Day
I’m proud to have Irish ancestry myself on my mother’s side of the family. One branch left as recently as the Potato Famine, the other left sooner. I know quite a lot about the more recent immigrants. They were coal miners, arriving first in Braidwood, Illinois then moving down to New Mexico where the family dug in.
Maybe it’s that Irish blood in my veins, or maybe not, but Celtic music is among my very favorite, and I feel best in the summer when I’m surrounded by green. Perhaps those roots explain the dreamer part of me.
Two years ago my husband and I spent ten glorious days rambling around the Wild Irish Roads in the southwest corner of the Emerald Isle, and what an experience that was. We soon discovered the wisom of reserving a subcompact car, with a trunk so small that it wouldn’t hold both our suitcases and carry-on luggage. Many of those roads had lanes only inches wider than that car, with stone walls along each side. Hubby is a veteran at driving on the left, but nerves were taut on those roads.
I was able to verify that Ireland really is as green as the pictures, except for the houses. Especially in older parts of towns, they are vividly painted in all colors of the rainbow, perhaps to offset the frequent grayness of the sky that provides the mists and rains to keep the Isle green. I couldn’t tangibly verify the spirits that lent mystique to the misty Cliffs of Moher, but I certainly felt them.
It was a long way, but we did get to Tipperary, and went on to kiss the Blarney stone. We stayed in the countryside rather than exploring cities. We saw sheep, sheep and more sheep, and almost that many ancient ruins of castles, churches and cottages. We attended a medieval banquet in Bunratty Castle. We saw seashore, rivers, and plants with leaves so big they made me feel leprechaun-sized. We even discovered that Ireland has something that passes for mountains! We visited a couple of “living museums” that included villages and farms demonstrating the old ways, making it easier to envision the Spartan conditions my ancestors lived in. We visited a Famine museum that helped understand why they left.
At that museum I learned that before the famine, the average male Irish peasant ate eleven pounds of potatoes per day. The women ate eight. They had a few wild berries, greens and fruit in season, and some buttermilk now and then, but their diet was potatoes. Historical studies show that those potato fed people were stronger, taller and healthier than their counterparts on the Continent who primarily ate bread and gruel made of wheat. Imagine that! My respect for the potato soared.
Yes, especially now that I’ve visited my Irish homeland, I’m proud to be as Irish as I am, and drink a toast to St. Paddy.
Write now: about your roots. Where did your ancestors come from? Has your ethnic background influenced your life in any significant way? Did your family observe ethnic traditions? Do you continue to keep those?