What does it mean to be Irish-American?
Skin cancer, for one thing. We are light-skinned, except for the Black Irish who are not so much black as black-haired and dark-eyed. My mother was Black Irish, as was her father who came over from County Roscommon. Her brother John -- my uncle -- was often mistaken for a dweller of the Mediterranean, Italian or Spanish or even Basque, or possibly French like the Norman invaders. The Basques sailed the Atlantic and visited Ireland, maybe even made landfall in North America before other Europeans. Irish DNA maps are similar to those of Spain and Portugal and Normandy. You can look it up.
My initial question is important because we are in the midst of March and St. Patrick's Day arrives next week. It's the same week that March Madness begins and gives us two good reasons for day drinking. We also take a page from Mardi Gras in New Orleans and try to celebrate the entire month, or at least for a week or two leading up to The Big Day. Many St. Patrick's Day parades will be held this weekend, including the one in Denver which I will be attending. I was birthed in Denver, surrounded by Irish Sisters of Mercy, and my Irish grandfather is buried there. That gives me some claim to Irish-Americanism, Mile High City-style.
Did I mention that I have never traveled to Ireland to look up my ancestors? This is supposed to be on every Irish-American's wish list. I have gone 66 years without checking this off on mine. What's holding me back? Nothing, especially that I am now retired. I want to experience Bloomsday in Dublin, June 16. This is on my list because I can't seem to finish Joyce's 265,000-word masterpiece, Ulysses, hard as I try. I read Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Can't finish Ulysses. This makes me a member of a large club of people who have not finished Ulysses. I decided that a trip to Joyce's Dublin will help me with this task. And I will get to drink many pints of good beer in the process. I will get to hear Irish brogues and good music for a few days. That's enough.
I will make a list of "top ten traits of every Irish-American." Online top-ten lists are the bee's knees right now. A list will be instructional for us all, me included.
Ten traits of every Irish-American:
1. We are a freckle-faced, light-skinned people except when we are not.
2. At least one of our ancestors comes from Ireland. It's helpful if all of your ancestors came from Ireland, but not everyone is perfect.
3. We are Catholic, except when we are Lutheran or Episcopalian or Buddhist or Zoroastrian or Coptic or atheist or transcendentalist or.... Maybe that should be: We were raised Catholic but came to our senses once we were adults.
4. At least one of our ancestors fled the potato famine of the 1840s. When I lived in Boston, everyone's relatives seemed to have arrived on the Mayflower. That must have been one wicked big ship. And the potato famine? It was terrible, but we can't all use this as an excuse to blog about our Irish ancestors who almost died in the famine and then crossed the ocean in a leaky ship to be told "Irish need not apply" for jobs when they arrived in the U.S.
5. We all tell tales about our Irish ancestors who almost died in the famine and then crossed the ocean in a leaky ship to be told "Irish need not apply" for jobs when they arrived in the U.S.
6. We attended Catholic school. This may be a generational thing. I attended Catholic school as did most of my eight brothers and sisters, for a little while, at least. We have stories of berserk nuns and cruel priests. Rulers across knuckles. After-school detentions where nuns smote us with cat-o'-nine-tails as we labored in the nunnery's vineyards. Our children and grandchildren think we are making up these stories because they all went to public schools.
7. We have big families. We did until some godforsaken Protestant told us about birth control. In the old days, we weren't allowed to consort with Protestants. The sixties changed all that.
8. We all have Irish names. My name is Michael Thomas Martin Shay. My wife is Christine Marie. My son is Kevin Michael Patrick. My daughter is Anne Marie. Yet, I have a nephew named Sean Martinez. America!
9. We celebrate St. Patrick's Day. It's almost mandatory to drink a green beer or a pint on March 17. We march in St. Patrick's Day parades unless we are LGBT veterans or twelve-steppers or disgruntled about the state of American politics. Everybody is Irish on this day except when they are not.
10. We are inconsistent and stubborn. Except when we are not.
That's my top ten. Perhaps you have another list?
BTW, Erin go bragh, whatever that means. And slainte -- I know what that means. I plan to use it often on St. Patrick's Day.