Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to your Letter from Ireland. It’s a lovely Autumnal morning – a great colour in the trees, the birds are singing again and a there’s crispness in the air on either side of the day.
I do hope you are keeping well wherever you are today. I’m sticking to the water from the well this morning – seems to suit the time of year! So, I hope you’ll have a cup of whatever you fancy yourself and join me for today’s letter.
When I am travelling in Ireland and someone asks “Where are you from?” – the answer expected is almost always the county you live in or grew up in. Nowadays, we have a strong affinity to our county. It’s only when I travel abroad, I start to think of myself as Irish – do you know what I mean? How about you – do you have an Irish identity?
How Do You See Yourself?
Over on our Facebook page (facebook.com/youririshheritage), I asked the question: “How do you see yourself? Irish-American? Australian? British? Anglo-Irish? Canadian?
The reason I asked was related to an article on Irish Central with the headline “Why do people in Ireland not consider an Irish American to be Irish?” It was written by a second-generation Irish man who returned often as a boy to Ireland to be with his cousins. He saw himself as Irish – his cousins thought he was a “Yank”.
And I must admit, I do hear different versions of this question a lot! In fact, we received a lot of comments on that Facebook post including the following by our good friend Pamela Murungi:
“… reading this almost makes me feel that if that is truly how Ireland born Irish view us Irish Americans, perhaps I don’t want to see Ireland quite so badly. Seeing Ireland has been a lifelong dream, not an easy thing to consider abandoning. But you see, I’ve just enough German stubbornness to get defensive about not being considered Irish, and I’d want to enjoy my time in my ancestral country not listen to how I’m not Irish…. which would be sure to get my Irish up.”
Now, you try and tell me that that lady is not Irish! First, Pamela, when the time comes to visit Ireland – you let me know if anyone is doubting your Irishness and I will deal with them personally. However, I think you’ll be in there before me!
In Ireland, we never really had a “United” Kingdom. It was a land of different tribes (called Tuatha) and tribal lands for many centuries. That sense of being “Irish” (and proud of it) only really came to the fore with the Gaelic revival in the late 1800s.
It was the local place that you came that formed your identity – your extended family and the local landmarks said as much as you needed to know about who you were. With the rise of British dominance came an awareness that being Irish (and Irish Catholic) was quite a negative thing. It meant poor land, subsistence living and a lack of opportunity.
After the terrible time of the famine – and the subsequent decades of emigration – the Irish abroad often found that this negative view of the Irish traveled with them. It was hard to shake. Many of our ancestors embraced the fresh start that a new nation offered – if not to them, then at least for their children.
But they always carried those Irish qualities with them – and sometimes shared them freely. Down the years, accents changed, cultures intermarried and life got better – sometimes good enough to return to live in Ireland (like my own parents), or sometimes to visit cousins and relatives who met them with the full range of open arms to indifference.
I guess I would summarise by saying that “Irishness” was never about borders. This has become so true over the last 150 years as the worldwide Irish ancestry population swelled to 60 million and beyond. Irishness has always been about immediate and extended family, an attitude of never giving up, a sense of decency to those around you and a love of music, stories and sharing the simple things in life.
So, if like Pamela, you are concerned that your “Irishness” may be questioned when you meet a Irish-born native – remember to look them in the eye and show them your Irish attitude. It will happen a lot less than you imagine – but remember that it’s their “labeling” problem, not yours.
Just remember that you are – and always will be – one of our own.
That’s it for this week. As always, do leave a comment below if you want to share a story, ask a question about your Irish surname or just to say hello!
So, do you see yourself as Irish?
Slán for now – Mike : )
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