Everyone is honorarily Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. And that alone is reason to celebrate. But lately we’re clicking our heels a little higher at the discovery that, we are legitimately IRISH. 15% anyway. And there’s a one in 10 chance you are too.
It all makes sense… the lingering suspicion our universe is moved by magical power beyond mortal understanding. And that ‘little people’ actually make mischief that messes with my plans from time to time. (ha!) I remember in high school spending one long night converting an AP English essay into rhymed couplets – no extra credit … I just couldn’t help myself. And now I know why. I’m Irish.
Four full blooded Irish lines through my Grandma Lerona fled the green isle in the 1850’s due to extreme famine and longstanding oppression under English rule. They were James Nathaniel Walker of Newry County Down and Jane Lynn Patterson of County Down, William Richmond Scott of Ballyreagh Antrim, and Mary Jane Maginess from Gilford Down.
To get a feel for who these people are, I took a brisk walk through Ireland’s history and yikes. “Luck O the Irish” is the kind of luck you don’t want to have.
Nicknamed the “Land of Happy Wars”, after centuries of invasion and enslavement first by the Romans (until 500 AD), then Celts, then Vikings (we’re at 700 AD now), blending until frothy when the Norman invasion in 1100 rolled in, the people of Ireland had a whole lot of ugly still coming up ahead. The 12 century marked the beginning of some really creepy direct English and later British control of Ireland.
By creepy I mean, as the Tudor Monarchs sorted out their succession issues, each shift from Catholic to Protestant triggered another blood bath over Ireland that left an indelible mark.
Example: When Henry VIII (6 wives guy) went Protestant in order to obtain his first divorce, Irish Catholics were slaughtered by the thousands and fled northward. When Catholic “Bloody Mary”(Henry’s first child) slipped into her crown after little stepbrother Edward VI died, she had 300 Protestants burned at the stake and Irish Catholics breathed easier again.
They began to move back Southward slaying Irish Protestants in revenge… until, 5 years later when Mary dies, her half sister Queen Elizabeth I jumps in to swing the pendulum back in favor of Protestantism and for the next 50 years, there we go again. Another 100 years of Irish revolts, English squelching, then Irish rebellion. AntiCatholic Cromwellian Wars, oppressive English laws and confiscation of large amounts of Irish lands…buh.
So many times the Irish came within inches of emancipation from England, to be thrown back to their former cycle of prejudice and oppression. Unlucky indeed.
Potato Blight and Prejudice
When you see what’s known of the history of this rocky, green island half the size of Oregon, you get a flavor for the comprehensive irrelevance of the soul of man to the political powers that moved Western civilization back then.
During the Great Potato Blight in 1845, a key English government administrator over relief efforts to the Irish, Sir Charles Trevelyan described the famine as an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” as well as “the judgement of God” and felt England shouldn’t interfere. By his influence government subsidy was cut off, leaving a million Irish people who’d paid long lives of servitude to the crown to die of starvation, while Englishman gorged themselves on corpulent multi-course meals several times a day.
Another stroke of “the luck of the Irish.”
That dark past combined with the devastating Potato Blight prepared millions of Irish to flee elsewhere for a new start. As a million Irish died of starvation, another million five fled to the United States, Europe, Australia and Argentina. By 1856 there were more Irish people in NYC than in Dublin.
One happy result of all that very bad luck was the massive dispersion, BOOM, in the 1850’s that brought my Irish grandpeople to America. Now, over 150 years later, nearly 12% of Americans claim an Irish ancestry. And the world is now filled with some pretty awesome Irishness.
So, if corned beef and cabbage sound magically delicious to you too, you’re among some fairly high profile friends. The Irish are wordsmiths, musicians and entertainers with an inclination toward the ‘Blarney’ that also makes their storytelling so irresistable.
Four Irishmen have won the Nobel prize for Literature; William B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney and George Bernard Shaw. That’s a tiny piece of real estate to spawn such a way with words.
Ireland is thought by some to be the most musical country in the world. Harp, wood flute, fiddle, Uilleann pipes (a kind of bagpipe pumped with the elbow) and guitar, all sing the poetic songs of sadness and love lost. Maybe it’s because sometimes music was the only weapon the Irish people had.
U2, Van Morrison, and 3 of the 4 Beatles; John, Paul and George all are 10-25% Irish. The list of American singers with Irish in their blood might surprise you too, Kelly Clarkson, the Jonas Brothers, Christina Aguilera, even Beyoncé and Rihanna.
The art of storymaking, dancing and entertaining is also an Irish trait: John Wayne, Gene Kelly, Gregory Peck, Bing Crosby, Errol Flynn, Judy Garland, Robert De Niro, Ryan O’Neal, Harrison Ford, John Travolta, Robyn Williams, George Clooney, Mel Gibson.
Yep, even Bill Murray, Rosie O’Donnel, Chris Farley, Will Ferrell, Matthew McConaughey, Robert Downey Jr, Paul Giamatti, Tom Cruise, Bonnie Hunt, Josh Hartnett, Ben Affleck. The ladies: Jennifer Aniston, Anne Hathaway, Lindsey Lohan, Hilary Duff, Amanda Bynes, and Drew Barrymore. Oh, and NOT surprisingly.. Brian Regan. “Say 8, say 8.”
At least twenty-five presidents of the United States have Irish ancestral origins, including George Washington and since John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, every American President has had at least 10% Irish blood, until Obama that is. Even the White House was designed by an Irish-American and the US Navy founded by irishmen.
You know you’re Irish when…you don’t know how to make a long story short.
So, kick up your heels lads and lassies. Don’t be a bogger, raise your glass to the beloved Irishness in us all!
And… as you slide down the banisters of life, may the splinters never point the wrong way.
#WholeHealthChallenge: Learn about your roots. It’s priceless finding out your unique traits are shared with you by generations past. Connect with your ancestry and discover you’re not as alone as you may have thought. Feeling connection is essential to your physical and mental wellbeing, to thwarting addictive behaviors, and to simply feeling good. Go ahead. Shake up your family tree and see what nuts fall out of it 😉
“What the next generation will value most is not what we owned, but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we loved. In the end, it’s the family stories that are worth the storage.”
-Ellen Goodman, The Boston Globe
Look Who’s Irish
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