My maternal and paternal great grandparents came to the US from Ireland. I have never been, but lately I’ve been taking a virtual tour of the country looking for photos of the countryside and I’m reminded of my mom’s take on Ireland.
I grew up in a house that celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with Irish music and a grand corn beef and cabbage dinner. Mom made soda bread and sent us girls off to school with a green bow in our hair and my brothers went off with a green ribbon pinned to their school uniform shirt. I know for a fact my green bow stayed on my head for the whole day, although I suspect it had a jauntier look as the day went on. My brothers, well, I’m not so sure how long those green ribbons lasted on their shirts. As my brothers grew older, there’s a strong possibility those green ribbons didn’t make it around the corner from the building where we lived.
Mom’s grandmother, who emigrated from Ireland during the potato famine, lived in the household where my mom grew up. I’ve only seen pictures of the thin austere woman but understand she could be a challenge. I suspect being a child in the same house with someone who witnessed the mass deaths and suffering caused by the Irish potato famine had an effect on mom because as proud as she was of her Irish heritage, she never felt the need to “see” Ireland. She would, in fact, temper her children’s tendency to romanticize Ireland by saying she didn’t understand people’s fantasies about Ireland, after all, millions of the Irish left that country and came to the US to live a better life.
Dad’s childhood was different. His mom died in the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 when he was 3 and he spent the next 5 years living in a children’s home. When his dad remarried and took dad and his sisters out of the home dad was already 8 years old. At 13 he left school and went to work to help support his four half-brothers, a new one arriving each year. Although dad’s ancestry was just as Irish as mom’s, I don’t think he celebrated it until he met mom.
So I am a third generation Irishwoman wandering around the land of my ancestors via the internet. As beautiful as the Irish landscape is, I can also see how difficult it would be to make a living from that harsh rocky soil.
Every now and then I get the urge to make a drastic move to another part of the world or another part of the country. As a young woman I made a few semi-drastic moves with mixed results which have left me a bit leery of following my impulses. Ten years ago I considered packing up and moving to Ireland. After all, it is the home of my ancestors, Irish blood runs through my veins and when I traveled in England and Scotland most people thought I was Irish until they heard my “American accent.” I could picture myself writing in front of a warm fire blazing in a stone fireplace in the living room of a thatched roofed cottage across the dirt road from sprawling green fields (you can see how I get myself in trouble).
Ten years ago the computer industry in Ireland was booming. Young people were no longer leaving Ireland to build a life somewhere else; prosperity no longer depended on the soil and the seasons. They were attending college elsewhere and returning to live in Ireland. My son was just out of high school and warmed to the idea of moving to Ireland but somehow life continued on and we never built up the momentum to make the move.
I suspect most of us have a wish to see the homeland of our ancestors (my mom excluded, of course) and visit the towns where they were born. I came close a few decades ago when I was in northern England and could have taken the ferry to Northern Ireland, but it was the days of the Irish Republican Army, when bombings and gunfire occurred randomly in Northern Ireland and since I was traveling alone I decided traveling solo through Northern Ireland probably wasn’t one of my better ideas.
One day I hope to visit Ireland. In the meantime, I will continue our family traditions of celebrating on St. Patrick’s Day and being a proud Irish-American.
Go n-éirí an t-ádh leat! (Good luck to ya!)