Sunday, June 1, 2008

To be born Irish

We made frequent visits to my grandparents' houses when I was a child. Both of their homes were special places, with different types of things to see and touch, different cousins and aunts and uncles to meet there, and different wonderful places in which to play "hide and go seek".

At the home of my grandparents with Irish heritage, I don't remember much talk of the Irish or Ireland. But just as I learned later in life how very Hungarian my Hungarian grandmother was, so it took me reaching adulthood to realize the true Irish character of my other pair of grandparents.

Oh, I knew that they were Irish. With the prevalence of St. Patrick's Day celebrations each year at school, I had asked early whether or not I had any Irish in me. Each year I wore my green and proudly replied (in response to would-be pinchers) that "Yes!" I was "half Irish", thank-you!

Yet, somehow, the pride in our Irish heritage never seemed to be something that was passed down from my grandparents' generation, yet was something that my generation and the previous generation had insisted upon, possibly thanks to the modern American popularity of celebrating St. Patrick's Day as it rolled around each year.

It may have been that my grandparents were just too close generationally-speaking to those family members who had suffered somehow for being Irish.

The poor Irish coal miner who may have died in the mines, the Irish railroad engineer not always supported by the company he worked his life to serve, the immigrant Irish laborer and his wife who had survived the famine as children and never wanted to return to Ireland again...

These were my grandparents' grandparents - they knew them and they had seen some of the hardship of their lives. It wasn't always so good to be Irish. That may be why they had mixed feelings about talking too much with their own grandchildren about what it meant to be Irish. It was sometimes too painful.

My grandfather went on to graduate from Harvard business school and made a career for himself as a retail marketing executive. The grandson of two poor Irish immigrant laborers, he was the first to get a college education and the first to truly break out of the cycle of near-poverty and manual labor that had been the reality of so many generations before him.

When I wear my green today, particularly on St. Patrick's Day each year, I feel pride in my grandfather's accomplishments and in the accomplishments of those before him. The perseverance they each showed against almost insurmountable odds, the strength they exhibited by having to face situations and suffering that should not be required of a human being, this is what it means to me to be Irish.

My hope is that I have inherited at least a small portion of their stubborn tenacity, their undaunting hope and the joy in the very simple things in life that got them through the obstacles that they faced because God had ordained that they were to be born Irish.

1 comment:

barbara said...

Very lovely Lisa :))
Being Irish is also something that I could not relate to 100%. With my family also, we were proud, but no one seemed to want to pass anything down to us.
That makes that down the line, a part of me wants to return and discover something of my family in Ireland one day.
To bridge a liitle bit this gap.

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