I suppose before I start, I should disclose the following: I’m not actually that Irish, I’m pretty Irish, but not very, anyone familiar with etymology could tell you “Illis” is not an Irish surname. While I’m not sure exactly how the percentages break down, I know I hail from three main areas, Hungary, Ireland, and Scotland. My maternal family’s presence on this continent predates the United States by a half-century or more. My paternal family was early 20th century immigrants for the most part. Understandably, my exact ancestry is a bit muddled underneath 300+ years of war, immigration, migration, and relocation. My skin tone and freckles alone however should attest the fact that I’ve got a little more than a touch of Irish blood in me. Regardless, today is St. Patrick’s Day, a day in which even full-blooded Italians feel a particular connection to the Emerald Isle, and I am no exception.
The Irish are in fact a quite remarkable people. British writer GK Chesterton says of the Irish,
The Irish are not only practical, but quite painfully successful. The poverty of their country, the minority of their members are simply the conditions under which they were asked to work; but no other group in the British Empire has done so much with such little. [Irish] Nationalists were the only minority that ever succeeded in twisting the whole British Parliament sharply out of its path. The Irish peasants are the only poor men in these islands who have forced their masters to disgorge. These people, whom we call priest-ridden, are the only Britons who will not be squire-ridden.
“No other group has done so much with so little”. The Irish took a rocky, damp, island, and created a culture, producing individuals who have in a very real way, dominated world events for the past 200 years. Irish-American’s have played a disproportionate role in the creation of America, as we know it today. From military leaders to politicians to writers, the Irish can be found to have at least one finger in anything quintessentially American. The Irish are as American as America is American, the two peoples are quite inseparable. It was said of Irish-American settlers in the American west that: “[The Irish] settlers were described as a fun loving, kindly people, who would give someone the shirt off their backs, but were also known for shooting anyone who meant them harm.“
I have since I was a child, loved Ireland. I love Ireland much as I love my native country, that is, I love it for reasons I cannot articulate. Ireland, more than any other place I have traveled to outside of The States, feels like home. Chesterton says this type of love is the highest form for, “The man who is most likely to ruin the place he loves is exactly the man who loves it with a reason.”, and as he goes on to say,
My acceptance … is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house …, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.
I love the Irish like I love my family. Often when I am faced with adversity or a bout of depression, I’ll return to the one place the has always felt like home no matter where I am. There are no higher highs, or lower lows, then can be expressed by the Irish. Folklore, music, literature, this is my security blanket against a world of adversity and uncertainty. As the blessing goes;
I believe in the sun when it’s not shining, I believe in love even when I feel it not, I believe in God even when he is silent.
The Irish practice of melancholy acceptance of the world as it stands is one which I have tried to imitate throughout my life, and a trait I have always much admired. A humorous Irish toast goes “Here’s to a long life and a merry one. A quick death and an easy one. A pretty girl and an honest one. A cold pint– and another one!”. The Irish themselves are a contradiction in terms. At once friendly yet pugnacious, melancholy yet cheery, pious yet fickle. The Irish culture reflects the variety of life, the struggle within all of us, and the tenacious resiliency that makes the Irish Irish.
The great Gaels of Ireland,
are the men that God made mad
For all their wars are merry,
and all their songs are sad.
Australian writer Beau Taplin said of the concept of home, “Home is not where you are from, it is where you belong. Some of us travel the whole world to find it. Others, find it in a person.” Éire is a place that lives in the heart of any man with a drop of Irish blood in his veins. I am forever blessed to carry a piece of home with me, something that no matter how dark my surroundings can never be taken from me. Even if the island itself fell off the face of the earth tomorrow, Ireland would live on. In every Irish Pub, in every glass of whiskey, in every folk song, in every green field, in every Irishman, there lives a piece of that island, and the ideals that sprung from it. I wish everyone, especially those of us with some Irish ancestry, a safe and merry St. Patrick’s Day.
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be ever at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rain fall softly on your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.
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