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Thursday, March 17, 2005

St. Patrick's Day

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I am half Irish by heritage, a fact that I end up contemplating every March 17th. Actually, I’m not quite half Irish; to claim so would be a falsehood. My mother was the Irish-American descendent of Irish-American parents. Her father was the first member of his family to be born in the United States, his older brother and sister having been brought to fruition in the Old Sod. Her mother’s family had been in the U.S. since before the Revolution, apparently (and I mean the American Revolution, not the one the Irish call The ‘17), and a small amount of miscegenation had allegedly occurred along the way. My great-grandmother is quoted as saying, “I have some English blood in me, and if I knew which vein it was in, I’d open it up and let it out.”

Also, judging from the jet-black hair my mother had in her youth, we are what you call “Black Irish.” That means that one of the Spanish survivors of the defeated and destroyed Armada who washed up on the Irish side of the Irish Sea wound up falling for some fair Colleen among whose descendents I count myself.

You don’t have to be Irish to write a sentence like that last, but it doesn’t hurt.

My grandfather’s family came from a town called Arva in County Cavan. Cavan is in the Republic despite being part of the Province of Ulster, due to it having a Catholic majority of its population back when the partition was made in the ‘20s. I am an Ulsterman, no doubt descended on a line from Cúchulainn himself, and proud of it, despite The Troubles, despite the IRA, despite their Protestant counterparts. Were an Orangeman to approach me, I would gladly offer my hand in friendship, not a fist in anger. It’s the only answer.

For many years, I refused to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. When someone would inevitably come up to me and ask, “Where’s your green?” I’d point to the veins in my wrist and say, “In there.”

I do not drink green beer, although there might be a Guinness in my future. I have been known to occasionally taste Irish whiskey, whiskey being an Irish word meaning, I think, “waters of life.” My grandmother cooked with an Irish flair, which means that everything was cooked into submission and served hot and inedible. The Army used to use her pork chops to line armored vehicles and her vegetables looked like they had been on the Bataan Death March. This is why you rarely hear people say, “Let’s get Irish tonight.”

It is a grand culture, and one about which I know too little. I’ve picked up bits here and there and spent some wonderful times in the company of the Rhode Island Irish Drama Society. And that’s one thing you have to say about them Micks. They know how to throw a great party. And so, on this St. Patrick’s Day, let me offer you the Irish toast: Sláinte!

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