I am many things (yeah, yeah!), among them, Irish.
And German and probably Swedish and French and possibly Polish and likely a smattering of other northern and western European tribes.
Nationality wasn’t much on my radar growing up, probably because the area in which I grew up was so dominated by Germans and, to a (much) lesser extent, Irish; the one group which stood out were the Dutch, who in their enclaves were (in)famously insular. I don’t know what it was like not to be a part of the ethnic majority—although, not being Catholic, my Irish bona fides were sometimes called into question. (But my grandfather was! I’d protest. Shees.)
Anyway, St. Patrick’s day wasn’t a big deal there. Sure, we wore green and when we old enough we used the day as an excuse to down a few, but, really, any celebration was a kind of sentimental feint toward history.
I’ve since lived in three Irish-saturated cities: Montreal, Bostonish (okay, Somerville), and New York. St. Paddy’s is done up in these joints.
Since I’m rather “eh” on parades and my heavy-drinking days are well in the past, the most I may do is wear green when I teach tonight, and really, probably not even that. Some of my ancestors may have come from Eire, but any sense of Irishness I may have is constructed, not inborn; I’m an American, full stop.
And that’s fine: One of the delights of being an American is the ability to construct and deconstruct and reconstruct identities. If I want to follow a family line back to County Cork and bring that connection to the 20th or 21st century, then let’s raise a pint and drink to the Auld Sod.
I did in fact go through an Irish-intense period some years ago, laying claim to the 19th century immigrants (Hoy and Ducey and the lot) who left before or maybe were just born before (my recollections of my mom’s genealogical research are fuzzy) before the great calamity, the Famine. And I still get sniffy about the British in Ireland and am quick to note that food was exported from Ireland while people were dying in the streets and the fields.
Still, leave it to the Pogues to strip me of the romance:
We celebrate the land that made us refugees.
I don’t know if that line is original to the Pogues or they swiped it, but it’s a right proper astringent to the mythification of Irish history—although, given the hold of myth and mist on the Irish-American imagination, probably not enough.
Not even for me: Even my heart jumps at that kick of the drums.