A Touch of the Green

In Family, International, Writing on March 17, 2009 at 9:49 am

So today is Saint Patrick’s Day. I haven’t heard much about it this year, possibly because it’s on a Tuesday and that makes it hard to get blasted on green beer and still make it into work the next day. We obviously don’t celebrate  this day so that we can honor the Irish (unless you happen to be one). In fact, we pretty much ignore all the cultural gifts the Irish have given us. Most people have heard of Michael Collins (because he was the subject of a movie by the same name, starring Liam Neeson), although they may not have retained much of a sense of Irish history from it. And then there is the Irish conflict which few of us know anything about. And then of course there are the leprechauns and four-leaf clovers.

I am one quarter Irish–my grandmother’s maiden name was Breen (a name I used for one of my children’s middle name). As near as we can figure, her family came to America in the 1860s.  Actually, she is probably not pure Irish, because of some Welsh and Scotch ancestry in the mix. But like many people in this country, I have at least some Irish blood, just not enough so you’d notice it.

Unless you consider the term, “Shanty Irish.” According to my mother, my father was quintessential Shanty Irish, and I take after my father.

Here is an excerpt from an essay I wrote on being Shanty Irish:

“I am at least a quarter pure Irish—my paternal grandmother was full Irish and there may be other tendrils among my ancestral roots. But I am one hundred percent Shanty Irish, a fact I can’t deny: I take after my father. The two of us have felt the brunt of my mother’s frustration, she with her predominantly German and English ancestry. My father is half English himself, but he obviously did not inherit his father’s personality and views on life. He is his mother’s son, through and through, and I am my father’s daughter.

My mother called my father “Shanty Irish” quite regularly. She meant it to mean “half-assed,” as in doing things ass backwards. But Shanty Irish has much more to it than doing things in a “less than perfect” way. (If there is one thing that Shanty Irish is not about it is perfection) Obviously my mother didn’t mean it as a compliment. Nor did she when she would tell my father in disgust, “I swear, Bill, you’ll put up with any old thing.” As a matter of fact, I think it’s a positive trait, but it may take being Shanty Irish yourself to think so.”

More about being Shanty Irish in a future post…


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