Friday, March 17, 2006

The Fighting (or Loving) Irish

Happy Saint Pat’s to all. And I do mean all.

I sent out an email earlier today wishing my friends a happy day, Erin go bragh and all that. Doesn’t everyone love a happy wish and a pinch of green? Apparently not.

I got a response back from a friend of a friend ranting about how he can’t stand being wished Happy St. Pat’s by all us American posers. After all he’s been to Belfast and though he’s not Irish, that trip makes him more Irish than many of us St. Pat’s well wishers.

“And guess what?” He says, “If you were born in America, you're not Irish, you're fucking American. Deal with it.”



Well, I tell you what, angry man. You can kiss my fat Irish-American arse.

I have been to my ancestral home in County Wicklow and studied dusty old books charting my family tree. In a small church, my aunt, the priest and I drank tea and searched though centuries-old looping Latin calligraphy. If we want to get into a dick waving contest, I'm pretty damn sure I've spent more time wandering Irish byways than you have. And I don’t even have a dick. Sure, I'll always be an outsider to the actual experience of being Irish. But I still seek to understand it as best as I can, given my limited American perspective.

Of course I'm American. But I'm proud of my Irish roots. Calling on our roots is the only way we Americans have of differentiating and identifying ourselves, just as Europeans might say what town they're from or perhaps as certain American populations distinguish themselves with hyphens. I would challenge the hater in question to go tell African-Americans to get over the fact that they weren't born in Nairobi and see how well that goes over.

Now I grant you, people claiming Irish heritage here are often ignorant of their roots or understand only glamorized, green beer versions of the hearty souls we come from. In years past, the majority of the IRA’s funding came from Irish-Americans who didn’t understand the political balance there but gave money for guns because they’d been romanced by the notion of a free Ireland and damn the British Oppressors. Like most of this world, it’s more complicated than that. And in truth, the Irish past is more “Angela’s Ashes” than “The Quiet Man” to be sure. By claiming my Irishness I’m not saying I want to live that past. Nor am I saying things are all hunky dory now. When I last visited Clare Island off the coast of County Mayo, a friend took me to a field where a lone caravan stood. One man lived here now.

“Before the famines, a village of two thousand was here,” she told me.

Maybe it’s that tragic, melancholic beauty we love. Maybe it’s the wild survivor spirit in the face of death, disease and invaders. I don’t know. But I do make an effort to look for the answers. Am I special for this? No. But I am Irish-American.

And even if I weren’t, wishing someone Happy St. Pat's is just a way of spreading happiness. Just like saying "Merry Christmas." No, I'm not Christian but it's what you say close to December 25th that's just another way of saying "hey I care about you and I hope you are well and happy right now."

I know, I know, sometimes it’s hard when people are nice to you for no reason and wish you well. Must be tough. But you have a choice to hear the friendly sentiment behind that, or be annoyed by it. If you’re one of these, remind me not to wish you a happy birthday or toss off a simple “have a nice day” when I see you.

However, if you decide you want to smile and raise a pint, knock yourself out. Even if you go so far as to claim Irishness just for today, we won’t begrudge it to you. Call it Irish hospitality

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