Welcome (Céad Míle Fáilte!) to Small-leaved Shamrock

Monday, June 9, 2008

The many faces of Irish identity

Beyond wearing green on St. Patrick's Day...

Beyond appreciating the sound of your Irish surname as it rolls off of your tongue (or wishing that you had one)...

What does "being Irish" mean to you?

That was the question posed to the contributors of this, the 6th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture.

The answer: many things to many people.

Here are the responses of this edition's contributors, a group that includes a wide range of people: a well-traveled citizen of Ireland, a Pennsylvania town's "unofficial ambassador" for its Irish heritage, a few descendants of proud Irish grandmothers, some family historians who have just begun to learn about their Irish ancestry, and others.

You may find yourself pondering your own answer to the question as you read the responses of our contributors.

What does it mean to be Irish?

"Stubborn tenacity, undaunting hope and joy in the very simple things in life"

To be born Irish (in my experience, at least) is to be born into the family of a proud people. Whether born on Irish soil or born the child of Irish-American immigrants, the various generations on the Irish side of my family tree faced challenges, sufferings and sometimes almost insurmountable odds. Leaving Ireland did not free them from their struggles, but brought new trials along with new opportunities. In my post here at Small-leaved Shamrock entitled To be born Irish, I share my memories of time spent at my grandparents' home as a young girl and my understanding of the mixed feelings that they may have had about their Irish heritage. For an understanding of "the unmistakable tug of remembrance" of Ireland shared by those whose "roots have grown in her rich soil", see my post entitled "Are you ancestoring, dear?" over at A light that shines again.

"Pride in my ancestors for what they overcame"

Bill West (in New England) summed up his response to this edition's question with a simple title that tells it all: PRIDE. His post gives us a little background on the first Irishman on the Boston police force (way back in 1851) and the man's personal encounter with the reality of the "No Irish Need Apply" attitude. Bill goes on to share the story of his own great-grandfather's Irish-American success story in Boston and articulates his personal pride in his Irish heritage. He also expresses his own feelings about the echoes of history that he sees in the current debates on modern immigration issues and the American trend toward identifying individuals as "hyphenated Americans".

"It is often the exile who knows patriotism best"

Loretta Murphy of The Creek answers the question Do You Know What it Means to be Irish? in several ways. First, she tells us a little bit about her hometown of Girardville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Resident population with known Irish heritage: 28.5%. Loretta gives us a short list of what "being Irish" doesn't mean before sharing a poem that she wrote a few years ago after a trip to Ireland. As she states in the introduction to her poem, "it is often the exile who knows patriotism the best". (Not to mention the exile's great-grandchildren.) For more from Loretta on Girardville's population of Irish-Americans, along with a list of the American communities with the most Irish background today, see The Girardville Irish.

"A pot of shamrocks" and "a golden thread connecting generations"

Often told about her grandmother's "100% Irish" heritage, Elizabeth O'Neal of Little Bytes of Life did the math on her own Irish pedigree. Read To Be 100% Irish to learn how her Irish ancestry figures into her family tree. Although it includes only sparse family information, Elizabeth feels that the knowledge that she has about her own Irish heritage is "a golden thread connecting generations". Elizabeth also shares the beautiful story of her grandmother's pot of green shamrocks and how they kept a little bit of Ireland alive for her in her own yard, though far from the Emerald Isle.

"The map of Ireland is on your face"

It seems that Irish grandmothers often deserve the credit for successfully passing down a love for Ireland within the hearts of their grandchildren. Like Elizabeth's grandmother, Janice's wanted to be sure that her granddaughter knew that she was Irish and felt pride in her Irish roots. Janice Brown shares What My Irish Heritage Means to Me and gives us a little glimpse into the life of "Gram", who has a special place in Janice's heart and may find one in yours as well.

Janice also gives us a little American history lesson - from a different perspective than American students may receive in school. Want to know the impact that the Irish had on the settlement of New Hampshire, the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Civil War? Read Janice's The Patriotic New Hampshire Men from the "Old Sod" to learn more.

"To never forget the ancestral homeland"

Barbara Joly of Our Carroll Family Genealogy is a fourth-generation Irish-American living in France. In a way, her family has come full circle with her residency in Europe, although she has not yet visited Ireland. Barbara tells us the story of another part of her family who made the circle from Philadelphia back to Ireland and then again back to Philadelphia. The story of Mary Hansen's illness and then her recovery at the hands of family back in Ireland portrays Barbara's love for the stories of our Irish heritage, which she encourages us all to never be ashamed of or forget.

"I may never be able to feel what it means to be Irish"

It was only a few years ago that Tim Agazio, who grew up with a strong Italian-American identity, had any clue that he had Irish heritage. His discovery of his great-great-grandfather's birth in Dublin in the early 19th-century was a surprise to him, and changed his notions about his roots. As Tim shares in his post My Irish Heritage, very little obvious clues to that side of his family's heritage were passed down in the family except perhaps his family's Catholic faith. Read more about his surprise at discovering his Irish roots on his blog Genealogy Reviews Online.

"My sojourn into my Irish history has just begun"

Based on genealogical research thus far, footnoteMaven has found strong ties to Ireland, yet no definitive proof that she herself shares Irish roots. Were her ancestors just passing through Ireland from Scotland (for a century or so) before moving on to America? Read the story of the Campbell clan, and the couple who left Ireland for America circa 1790: "...a new start and a new life for them both; a life from which they would never return to County Tyrone." As their descendant, footnoteMaven is quite far removed from her Irish roots, if indeed she has any. We'll have to stay tuned as she works through her research plan to determine the truth about her possible Irish heritage.

"You can take me out of the country but you can't take the country out of me"

Born and raised in Ireland, Colm Doyle is currently residing in Estonia - his fifth country of residence. As a frequent traveler, he has looked at his Irish nationality from both the inside and the outside. In his post entitled What does it mean to be Irish he shares his perspective on his Irish identity and his thoughts on the complexities that surround the ideas that others have of "Irishness". Colm bemoans the fact that many are "perfectly comfortable in their Irishness sans the Irish language" and makes the realization that "...in essence identity is a personal matter and shouldn't be mixed up in borders, politics or passports." Read more of his thoughts on his own Irish identity at his blog Corcaighist: Musings from the Cork Republic.

As Colm stated in his post, "...at the end of the day there is no one or right way to define Irishness or test someone's Irishness. Afterall a sense of national identity is not a nationality." As we've seen by the response to this edition's question, those that feel a connection to Ireland do so on many different levels and many different ways.

I hope that you've enjoyed joining our various contributors as they've pondered the question of their own connection to Ireland and its culture and heritage.

If you liked what you read, you might enjoy the "back issues" of our Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture.

Thanks for reading this, the 6th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture. Please plan to join us for the upcoming 7th edition. See The Small-leaved Shamrock summer reading challenge! for the details. (Warning: there's homework involved!)

Thanks to Jordan McClements for the use of the beautiful photographs of the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland.

Shamrocks courtesy of Karen's Whimsy.


Barbara said...

Hi Lisa,
You have some fascinating posts participating in the Carnival !
Thank you for encouraging me, because I had put down my writer's cap with my website project .

Wiishing Lisa and everyone a Happy Cartnival.

Blessings to all.

footnoteMaven said...


Great job! Each Carnival just gets better and better. I can't wait to read all the submissions.

Hey, you even made me sound interesting!


Anonymous said...

Hi, Lisa,

What a great carnival! The posts were fantastic.


Janice said...


As usual you do a wonderful job of compiling and presenting the Carnival participants and their stories!



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