Ireland is a different place today than it was in my childhood in the 1940s and ’50s.
I vividly recall cold, wet winters as the blustery winds swept in from the stormy Atlantic. We had no electricity or running water. Gathering wood to keep the home warm was a constant chore of mine. Bicycles as well as horse and carts were our mode of transport. Struggle and hardship seemed to be one’s lot in life.
A curse or a blessing, you could say, depending on how you view it. For among the hardships, there were tremendous joys. There was the breathtaking beauty of the land. The good natured spirit of the Irish people was always there. No matter the challenges, smiles, laughter and humor would return without fail. If you listen to Irish music you will hear it ring through. The zest for life and the joys of living always bounced back. Tragedies are looked upon as minor distractions to the overall tremendous experience of life in the land where fancy is free.
I have untold pleasant memories of my childhood. To have been born and raised in the Emerald Isle is a true blessing for me.
It was not until sometime in the early ’80s Ireland came into the modern world. It was discovered and became a Mecca for tourists. As a nation, it had been accepted as a prominent member of the European Union. Affluence, until that time, an unknown entity to the Irish, brought its bright, shining face to the people. Many of the younger Irish had for ages been emigrating to distant lands seeking a better life. Well, they began to trickle back home. People from not-too-well off countries began coming to Ireland for employment. That was a total reversal to how things had been.
With all of its changes, Ireland today still retains its magic, splendor and wondrous beauty. If you have visited there, I’m sure you have experienced it. For even in modern times, the Irish spirit is very much alive. It’s somehow passed down through the generations. Just listen to a band play. Watch the pretty girls do a step dance. You’ll see and feel it.
I met an elderly woman in Hawaii a few years ago. She told me she was born in Dublin and came to America when she was young. She said she only retained vague memories of her homeland. However, she said after she has a few drinks, her friends later tell her she has been speaking Irish.
That’s a bit like it is with me. The older I get, the more Irish I seem to become. Of all my labels and identities, I treasure my Irish heritage. It’s only natural, of course, for one to be biased toward his home country. But when it comes to cultural quality, music, plays, poetry, folklore, etc., Ireland is seeped in it. Heroes of the past, gallant tales of yore, unsinkable, joyous spirit; it’s all there. A case in point might be national symbols, oddly enough. There was the Soviet hammer and sickle. The U.S. has its emblem of the eagle. The Chinese have their dragon. The Irish national symbol is the harp — a celestial instrument of heavenly music!
Like many other nationalities, the Irish have had quite an influence in the far-off lands they traveled. In America they were an unfavorable minority in many areas. However, Irishmen fought and died on both sides of the Civil War. In building the railroads, canals and mines, they swung the pick, shovel and sledgehammer. They gained power through unions in big-city politics. They became more accepted and intermarried in American society. Today, the number of Irish-Americans far outnumbers the population of Ireland. So St. Patrick’s Day has come to be the celebration of the Irish in America. The wearing of the green, all the parades and partying. In a humorous way, these are much more American than Irish.
Corned beef and cabbage, Irish coffee and such are all U.S. creations. I have to chuckle when I see depictions of the shamrock as a four-leaf clover.
The shamrock was said to be used by St. Patrick to illustrate the Trinity. Three in one, three leaves on one plant. The lucky symbol of the four-leaf clover is an entirely different story.
But aside from all that, sure and it’s all fine and grand. ’Tis a great day for the Irish. And we want to wish you all a fond “céad míle fáilte” (a hundred thousand welcomes).
Dan O’Connor lives in Carson City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.