What does Irish mean?Posted: March 14, 2013
An op-ed from Sunday’s New York Times (“The Darkness of an Irish Morning”) speaks to my family’s Irish and Irish-American identity as all of my grandparents were from Ireland. The author, John Patrick Shanley, explains how the Irish (as in European – not American) have the gift of gab since they had to get along on an island. They live where it rains quite a bit and there is a lot of drink. Many Irish faced financial hardship. Shanley says, “They learn to say awful things. With charm.” The author says he may have inherited this gift of gab from his father. I never knew my maternal grandfather, but know he had that gift, which he passed onto my Mom who can genuinely talk to everyone and make them feel special.
The sometimes bleak context of Irish daily life bore rich literature and music as an escape. My Mom and her Dad also share a wonderful gift of writing. My Dad tells stories about how his uncles did Irish dancing at his grandparents’ house around Celtic swords while another played the accordion and his Aunt Margaret sang. They were much better at Irish dancing than myself. Speaking of Aunt Margaret, every Irish family has at least one Aunt Margaret. We have them on every side including my sister, Meg.
Shanley describes his own colorful and circumspect Irish family. It reminds me of the weekly Sunday dinners my maternal Grandmother used to host full of several simultaneous rowdy stories and political banter. Most everyone (myself excluded as I tell-all) were circumspect to say the least. My sister and I refer to it as hedging.
The Irish (other side of the pond) and perhaps the older generation are generally more stoic than Irish-Americans. Photos of our relations reveal very somber faced ancestors as opposed to our Irish-American kin who put on a good face no matter what. I can’t help, but think of the famous song, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” It reminds us to “smile every chance we get.”
What does Irish mean to you?