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Navajo Traditions and Irish Clans

Updated on February 1, 2011
Beautiful country in Arizona, on way to the Grand Canyon.
Beautiful country in Arizona, on way to the Grand Canyon. | Source

Similarities in Culture, if Not Landscape

Happy Thanksgiving! This year as in years past, I skipped the usual gobble-fest and traveled with family to a beautiful spot. Our 2010 destination was Arizona. I'd never been here before, and was dazzled by the scenery.

If you've any doubt regarding the existence of some higher being, as I've often had, all you need do is glimpse the Grand Canyon to restore your faith. My family took a 12-hour tour from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon. Luckily, our tour guide had been a geography teacher at the Navajo Reservation leading into the Grand Canyon from its often forgotten eastern approach, which passes through the reservation. Driving this "road less traveled," we glimpsed the "Little Colorado Canyon," which if located anywhere else - and not a prelude to the Grand Canyon - would have been an attraction all on its own. (The red rocks of Sedona were equally spectacular and awe inspiring.)

But the Grand Canyon! How can I describe this natural wonder of the world and do it the slightest justice? Like Niagara Falls, it had been on my bucket list of places to see for a long time. (I've seen Niagara Falls and highly recommend this other natural marvel to anyone who has ever feared they've lost their childlike sense of wonder or enchantment.).

As we turned around a bend, our guide told us to keep watching for that first glimpse. And when it came, our ten fellow tourists on the tour van, people of all ages and from disparate parts of the world, gasped collectively - almost compulsively - as we spied this magnificent formation for the first time. We saw colorful striations of limestone, granite, sandstone and red rock at the base-- creating a rainbow wonder carved from the Earth that has existed long before dinosaurs wandered our planet and will probably exist long after the last star in our orbit burns out.

Navajo and Irish Clans - Similarities

A bonus of this impromptu trip was having a knowledgeable tour guide, As I am studying Irish culture and history, I found the information he imparted especially interesting. Listening to him describe Native American beliefs and culture, I found myself thinking of the Irish clans that had roamed Ireland long before the Vikings came to Ireland, settled among her people, and began establishing the coastal cities of Dublin, Cork and Belfast. Then, of course, the less benevolent Cromwell came along to finish the job, foreceably moving the Gaelic clans - my ancestors - that had for centuries called these native lands their homes to less hospitable parts of Ireland.

Unlike many European countries, and especially England, Ireland had never been invaded by the Romans. Ireland never bowed to the Roman tradition of establishing townlands and road networks. Rather, Ireland's clans lived within their own clan territories; one part of my family, the O'Sullivans, lived along the Beara Peninsula. The members of these clans put their trust (and wealth) in the hands of their chieftans, but it was understood that the chieftans ruled at the will of the people and could be as easily replaced by the people. The Irish clans valued family, clan, the land which provided sustenance, and wisdom far more than they valued material wealth and possessions.

The Navajo and many of the peaceable Native American tribes held similar beliefs. With few exceptions (e.g., the Apache), most Native Americans are shy, peaceable people who love humor and song and dance and their storytelling. I wouldn't characterize all Irish people as shy, but I will say most of those I have known tend to use few words and tend to be far more introspective than caricature would have it. To be sure, the Irish enjoy a good joke and truly love their traditional music and dance and literature.

Throughout their centuries of existence, the Irish had come to accept things that happened to them for what they were, with several fruitless rebellions, of course. This was what made it possible for the Irish to tolerate the oppression and brutal antics of the English conquerors who occupied their lands for so many centuries.

The Native Americans are equally accepting of what will be. For example, when our guide took a high school class on an outdoor field trip, they were caught up in a flash flood that delayed their return for hours. The students were perhaps fearful, but more so, thankful to receive this "gift" from Mother Earth. Their parents, who had been waiting in the school parking lot for hours, did not question their children's teacher for the late return. What mattered was that the children were back. What mattered to them was the here and now.

Again, in my experience, the Irish are quick to anger and as quick to forgive. Yes, some hold grudges, but most will forgive if their forgiveness is sought. The late Michael Collins, for instance, was always perplexed when a debate in the Irish Dail over some policy boiled over into a personal grudge. He wept over the death of those who might be considered his worst enemies.

The Irish are indeed different. They are different from the Welsh and the Scots, both of whom acquiesced with far less fuss to England's domination than did the "confounded" Irish. The Irish clung to their ways for centuries, often in secret. Indeed, not even King Henry VIII, determined to squelch the Gaelic Irish culture, was successful in his efforts to wipe out the song, dance, sports, literature and beliefs held by the Gaels over many centuries. During its occupation of Ireland lasting some 800 years, England, frustrated, was never quite able to accomplish this -- especially in the Southwest (including the counties of Cork and Kerry - later to be hotbeds of many Irish rebellions).

The English were more successful in Anglicizing northern Ireland, where the creation of rugged towns were possible. But the English did not settle as successfully here, either, as agricultural life was still rough and hardscrabble. The Scots-Irish, however, were used to living a more difficult life and took to life in northern Ireland, making it their home for many generations. Ironically, these Scots-Irish have practically as much Gaelic blood running through their veins as do those in the Southwest of Ireland (who in addition can trace Basque origins).

Perhaps this similarity explains why during the Easter 1916 'Rising, when Irish rebels fought a fruitless battle for independence and the right to live their way of life, financial support was forthcoming from another people who had known what it was to be displaced from their lands and to experience what it meant to see a foreign conquerer attempt to replace their culture with a foreign, more "civilized" one. By this I speak of the Native Americans.

Highly Recommended: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee


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    • jonihnj profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Metro New York

      Lucy, many apologies for not responding to your comment, as I only just now saw it. Thank you for sharing your observation. Your experience of living in New Mexico in a goat hut must have been amazing! I am glad that my post in some way confirmed your own observations about the connectedness of various peoples.

    • jonihnj profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Metro New York

      Lucy, many apologies for not responding to your comment, as I only just now saw it. Thank you for sharing your observation. Your experience of living in New Mexico in a goat hut must have been amazing! I am glad that my post in some way confirmed your own observations about the connectedness of various peoples.

    • profile image

      Lucy Golden 

      6 years ago

      Being of Irish decent( My Grandfather David Golden and Great Uncle Joe Leonard both were Michael Collins right hand men) I have often thought of the similarities of the American Indian and Irish. When I was younger I lived in New Mexico in a goat hut, living off the land!

      I also have always love Spanish culture, especially the music, and wondered if my people at some point were connected. You have confirmed it all.


    • jonihnj profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Metro New York

      Thank you both for your comments. I'm sorry that I just saw them today. Druid Dude, it's so interesting that your Gaelic name correlates to something from nature, as did Native American names. That's something I'll have to delve into deeper. Unalisa - so interesting that you have a bit of Irish in you. I'd say a very compatible heritage!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      It's very interesting article. I myself is part Irish. Like an 1/8th Irsh and the rest Navajo. I have yet to learn how Irish is in my heritage.

    • Druid Dude profile image

      Druid Dude 

      7 years ago from West Coast

      Wonderful hub. I have drawn correlations to native america from the gaels also. Some Irish, but mainly Scottish. My last name, Barnett, in Gaelic supposedly means Brave Bear...which has a very native sound to it. Separate cultures with similar naming conventions. Hmmmm! Good luck with your writing.

    • mio cid profile image

      mio cid 

      8 years ago from Uruguay

      beautiful hub ,nothing is more interesting than peoples,cultures their history and traditions and you thread it all very nicely.


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