On being Irish: some thoughts

Our family crest: fortitude and prudence.

The utterly impractical, never predictable,
Sometimes irascible, quite inexplicable, Irish.

Strange blend of shyness,
pride and conceit,
And stubborn refusal to bow in defeat.
He’s spoiling and ready to argue and fight,
Yet the smile of a child
fills his soul with delight.
His eyes are the quickest to well up with tears,
Yet his strength is the strongest
to banish your fears.
His hate is as fierce as his devotion is grand,
And there is no middle ground
on which he will stand.
He’s wild and he’s gentle,
he’s good and he’s bad.
He’s proud and he’s humble,
he’s happy and sad.
He’s in love with the ocean,
the earth and the skies,
He’s enamored with beauty wherever it lies.
He’s victor and victim, a star and a clod,
But mostly he’s Irish—
in love with his God.

When I was a kid, I thought the running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers was named Frank O’Harris.  I grew up in an Irish Catholic household and lived among the Harrigans with nine children, the Owens and Conways with six.  We Egans and the Fergusons were small by comparison, with just five kids in the family.  Almost all the nuns who taught me at Our Lady of Grace Elementary and Louisville High School had brogues.  Father John O’Malley’s Boston-Irish accent was so strong I couldn’t understand half of what he said.  Three of my grandparents were off the boat immigrants from Ireland, and the fourth, Loretta McCormack Callahan, was a second-generation lass.  So I’m Irish, is what I’m trying to say.

If God sends you down a stony path,
may he give you strong shoes.

Once a year, mostly in Ireland and America, everyone likes to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  For most, it’s about wearing green or getting pinched, eating stew, corned beef and cabbage, or cupcakes with green icing.  You can buy green bagels and drink green beer.  Some will head out to McDonald’s and suck up a Shamrock Shake.  For my three Irish lassies, all named after geography on the Emerald Isle, and me, it’s about feeling special.  It’s about celebrating something that makes us unique.  Some would argue the Irish haven’t always had a history to be proud of, but what country does?  C’mon, we all have our faults.

Be they kings, or poets, or farmers,
They’re a people of great worth,
They keep company with the angels,
And bring a bit of heaven here to earth

My friend Maureen Garvey, one of seven, told me once that she believed the Irish were best at producing strong women.  It struck me as a profound truth.  Thinking about my girlfriends of Irish ancestry, I wouldn’t mess with a single one of them.  I don’t know why that is so, but it seems to be.

May God give you…
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.

I have to go now.  The girls and I are working off all of the Irish soda bread we’ve consumed over the past twelve hours.  Soccer, handball, dancing.  We’ll do a jig tonight after dinner and raise our glass of beer/milk – to the Irish!

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  1. Mare says

    I LOVE this post…and thanks for our crest! I love being Irish…as do my offspring, Connor & Clare (named after County Clare in Ireland where Grandma was from.) And I especially love Maureen’s take on Irish women. I think you’re right…I wouldn’t mess with a single one!

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