Just My Luck - I'm Not Irish After All!
Saint Patrick's Day is almost here!
I was almost Irish! Honest!
Life was so much fun back when I thought I was Irish!
St. Patrick’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays; what’s not to like about watching people get all goofy, dance Irish jigs all night and drink green beverages? Irish people believe in those cool little leprechauns, and there's a pot of gold at the end of each rainbow. I loved being Irish! I couldn't wait for the 'wearing of the green' each year.
Things are different now, though. These days, St. Patrick's Day isn't the same for me. I just don’t enjoy it the way I did when I was a kid. Everything changed the day my mom took the Irish out of my heritage. You’re probably looking at my name and thinking I’m crazy; clearly, there’s nothing particularly green about my last name.
The Irish Myth came about one day when I was quite young and I asked my mother what country her family had come from. I knew my father's side had come from Germany, but I had no idea about the other side of the family. She was very firm in her answer (although she later claimed not to remember it). Her family was Irish.
Well, as much as I'd always loved my German background, I was thrilled. I thought it was just plain amazing and lucky to be Irish. If you were German, you just couldn't sink your teeth into your heritage the same way you could if you were Irish, and luck wasn't considered a birthright.
People say, "May the luck of the Irish be with you," not "I hope you're as fortunate as all those other Germans!" Who ever heard of German Luck? The Irish have the luck; we have, what, sausage? Okay, we sink our teeth into some good schnitzel now and then, but you know what I mean.
I wholeheartedly embraced being Irish. I went downtown to see the annual St. Paddy's Day parade, and year after year, I dressed in green on March 17th. I had a green jumper, a Kelly green pleated skirt, green-trimmed blouses, a little pin with a shamrock; you name it – if it screamed "Irish!" I bought it and I wore it proudly.
I felt such a sense of belonging when March 17th came around each year, and I lived it up, every minute of the day. It was fun; you can get by with a lot if you’re Irish; if you spout off at someone, just say it’s your Irish Temper and you’ll get a free pass. If you cut up in class, heck, you’re just one of those fun Irish people – the kind everyone loves.
This could have been me in my past life
Say yes to the dress! German style, that is
Being German was fun, but it wasn't as tongue-in-cheek
Let me assure you, you can’t get by with acting up so blatantly if you’re German. If you lose your temper, you’re a hothead. If you laugh and cut up in the wrong place, you’re irresponsible.
There are many great German restaurants and beer gardens, and the folk dances are neat (still, there's something sweet about the Irish Jig). I felt that being part-Irish meant I could let loose now and then. It was a different feel than when I got in touch with my far-too-responsible German genes.
Since the majority of my knowledge about Ireland centered around a hilariously fun holiday, if I thought about being Irish, it took my mind off of business and work. Germans are responsible beyond belief; you can eat off their floors and everything is always ‘just so’ in the kitchen. I didn’t inherit that part of the DNA, by the way.
To be sure, I had a lot of explaining to do every St. Patrick's Day. How could I possibly be Irish, with my last name? You’d think nobody realized their moms had maiden names. Once I explained about my mother’s side of the family, it was all just fine; after all, everyone liked to get into the Irish act on St. Patrick's Day, and just knowing someone who was Irish could bring you good luck on Our Day.
It was confusing to learn I wasn't half Irish
Family History Time
Do you know your genealogy and heritage?
The truth hits!
Then it happened. One day, as a young adult, I was talking (well, bragging might be a better word) about ‘our’ Irish heritage, and my mom stopped me cold. “We’re not Irish," she said, her voice holding a matter-of-fact, "Whatever made you think that?" tone.
Huh? What do you mean we’re Not Irish? This was the same woman who had told me, a few decades earlier, that her side of the family was Irish. Well, sure, there was little bit of American Indian blood in there, too. But we were Irish! I was sure of it!
Nope. Not so, she said, by this time sounding a bit dismissive. Silly topic; why discuss it? I’m not sure my dear mother realized that in just a few sentences, she had literally wiped out half of my sense of identity.
Okay, I asked, if we’re not Irish, what are we? “I think English,” she said. “Yes, that's it. We're English.”
English? She'd sounded a bit uncertain, so I asked her again, a bit hopefully. But she kept insisting that was it. Not only were we English, she had no memory of telling me we were Irish (I promise I didn't make it up).
In just a few seconds, all that imagined Irish blood drained out of my system. I wasn't familiar with the new genes I'd inherited so quickly and so suddenly. English? I had to try it on for size. Nice people, but no green beer or anything. Not that I wanted to drink beer, I just liked the great sense of fun that imparted. English. Not quite as ready to laugh at anything, but a nice sense of humor.
Still, though – there’s no hugely famous and fun holiday built around being English. No offense to my great British friends here, but your holidays just don’t cut it like St. Patrick’s Day does. Wait a minute – I guess that’s our holidays, now that I know I’m half English. Or half something.
Books about Merry Old England
From Irish to English
This was earth shattering. I felt so silly for running around dressed in green all those years. I felt lost. I didn’t know who I was. Sure, I knew I was German, but aside from Oktoberfest (which we never really celebrated at home), and having sauerkraut on New Year’s Day, I didn’t know how you got giddy over being German the same way you could about being Irish. Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad I have my German heritage. But there’s not as much silly partying involved. Kind of a bummer.
As for the English side of me (whatever that might be; it still isn't part of my psyche yet, but it's growing on me), I'm working on things. I've always been a bit charmed by the Royal Family, I'd idolized Princess Di, and of course I think Kate Middleton is smashing (isn't that the word I'm supposed to use? Still learning - sorry!).
The advent of Downton Abbey has given me hope, and I love the great insults we hear on that show, or from icons like Winston Churchill.
I'm trying to form an emotional identification with the idea of my great-great-great (can't count that far back) grandparents coming from England. I've researched my genealogy, and I've learned that several direct ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War; that probably won't endear me to any Brits, but it's a nice thing to know.
It's just that these English ancestors are strangers in my imagination. During my "Almost Irish" years, I had created a fantasyland of ancestors who were all impish, fun-loving, had quick tempers and held a ready smile for everyone. My English ancestors aren't as well-formed yet in my mind. I’m sure they were every bit as as nice as those Irish ancestors I used to imagine. But somehow, they haven't been quite as much fun just yet.