HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!
The day has arrived for dyeing beer and rivers green, singing Danny Boy and enjoying ice cold Guinness in a frosted glass–which is not how it’s served in Ireland, BTW.
Like many of you, I have Irish DNA, at least one-quarter. My maternal grandfather was born in the U.S. to Irish immigrant parents. I know very little about the Kelleys, who were adamant that they spelled their name with an “ey,” and for some reason that mattered. My mother always said my grandfather claimed it was better not to look too closely at their ancestors. I’m hoping when he shook his head and said “horse thieves” that was just his Irish wit–which my mother inherited.
An uncle told me that the Kelleys originated in County Cork, and 23andMe shows my DNA has deep roots there, along with County Mayo, a fact I didn’t know when I traveled to Mayo twice to research Whiskey Island and The Parting Glass. I suspect there are more than a few Kelleys left in County Cork, but I’m sure the Irish are tired of sentimental Americans claiming they’re related somehow, somewhere, way, way back… I do know my great-grandmother, Mary Kelley, a widow, ran a boarding house on State Street in Auburn, NY. I found a census online with the names of her boarders. Irish down to their toenails. I hope to visit Auburn this summer to see what I can find.
So other than a few Irish curses and superstitions that my mother kept alive, I know very little about my heritage. But here’s what I do know about the Irish from observation and research.
- They are masters of the tall tale: Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde and James Joyce. Frank McCourt, Seamus Heaney, Maeve Binchy. Plus so many more novelists and poets whose genius has contributed to the literary canon.
- The Irish are generous and welcoming. Céad míle fáilte, which you see in so many places, means one-hundred-thousand welcomes. Making strangers and guests feel at home is part of the culture. I’m certain this is behind a quirk we noticed when asking for directions on the Emerald Isle. Everyone tried to help us, whether they knew where to send us or not. Thanks to their generosity of time and spirit we saw lots of their beautiful countryside we were never slated to see.
- For a country that historically was so steeped in poverty, famine and misery , the Irish emerged from all three with their sharp wit and sense of fun intact. The Irish know how to celebrate. St. Paddy’s Day is a prime example.
Corned beef and cabbage? It’s unlikely you’ll find it in Ireland. Corned beef was cheap from Jewish delis in the U.S. urban neighborhoods where the Irish emigrated during and after the famine. (And that’s where we’ll get ours today.) Cabbage was and still is cheap and filling. Allegedly St. Paddy himself was born Maewyn Succat in Britain in the 4th Century and enslaved by Irish slave traders as a young man. After his escape back to England he returned to Ireland to introduce Christianity, which he and his followers did with amazing efficiency. The snakes he drove out of Ireland were probably the Druids.
Wherever we or our families come from, whether we eat our annual plate of corned beef today or raise a Guinness in celebration while we carefully socially distance, let’s be grateful for all the wit and wisdom of Ireland and celebrate the Irish.
For each petal on the shamrock. This brings a wish your way. Good health, good luck and happiness. Today and every day.