So, a chairde, this is not the post I thought I would be sharing today.
For the past several weeks I’ve been working on a post on what it means to say “I’m Irish.” It’s something several friends on both sides of the question have asked me to address — why it is that Irish-Americans insist on referring to themselves as “Irish.”
It’s something that really bothers some people, and a culture clash that seemed ripe for the sharing near St. Patrick’s Day. I get it. I’ve been working on it with the goal of publishing today, and I have to say that, as of yesterday morning, I was no more than three paragraphs short of giving it a final proof and hitting “publish.”
But in the end I couldn’t do it. Because, while there are valid arguments on both sides (“My grandfather came from Ireland!” “You’re not Irish, you’re American! Deal with it!”), right now, I can’t make myself focus on things that divide us.
So much has changed
It’s hard to believe that it’s only been two weeks since the reality of the coronavirus exploded here in Northern California. Within 48 hours we went from “This is something we should maybe be worried about” to out-and-out panic. The reality of what was happening in China, Iran, and Italy suddenly became our reality (yeah…sometimes we’re a little slow on the uptake).
Now Italy is on lockdown. Ireland is on lockdown. Parts of the U.S. are “containment areas.” Our government tells us that our friends from Europe are no longer welcome here. Resorts here on the California Central Coast have turned into quarantine wards.
A little thing, but…
In the light of all this, it seems that the question of who is entitled to call themselves “Irish” is a pretty minor thing, as is the widespread cancellation of St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Parades, masses, sessions…those can be rescheduled, yes? Semantics and identity can be debated another day.
At the same time these minor things are the things that really hit us where we live, right? Somehow it’s a lot easier to accept the the Dow plummeting that it is to come to grips with the cancellation of seasonal festivities. That makes it personal.
And, while it’s undeniably an issue, let’s be honest: In the face of all this, does the question of who says “I’m Irish” really matter?
What has the Irish language ever done for you?
A few days ago, a friend asked me what value I’ve found in learning Irish. And I have to say, there’s been one heck of a lot.
There’s the satisfaction of learning a new language, which is pretty amazing, when you think of it. Another way to communicate. To a wordsmith, there is no greater joy.
There’s the connection to a culture that has drawn me from the time I was a teenager and first fell in love with Irish traditional music. I can’t begin to explain to you just how much that has meant to me. It’s a connection to my soul.
And yes…there’s the tremendous satisfaction of confounding telemarketers! (“I’m sorry ma’am. No one here speaks Chinese.” Somewhere in Connemara, Yu Ming is laughing!)
But, in the final analysis, the greatest gift Irish has given me is you.
The community I’ve found through Irish is easily the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Some of you are singers, some of you are poets or teachers, some of you are learners, some of you are fluent, or even native speakers. Some of you have no interest in learning the language at all, but have come into my life through Irish music. You come from the U.S. and Canada, from Germany and from England and from Brazil and from Japan, and, of course (where else?) from Ireland.
And in realizing this, I also realized that, in the face of this worldwide challenge, the last thing I wanted to focus on is something that divides us. It doesn’t matter what “Irish” means. What really matters is who we are, and what we have in common.
So what will you do on St. Patrick’s Day?
There’s no doubt that this year is going to be way different from other years. St. Patrick’s Day’s celebrations have been canceled from Dublin to New York!
I don’t know what you will do on March 17, but here’s what I will do:
I will reach out to my friends around the world, and rejoice in this language we share.
I will sing and make music, because that’s what I do.
I will hold my loved ones close.
I will walk outside and revel in the beauty that surrounds me.
And I will pray that next year we will look back on this time as something we got through together.
Is sibhse mo mhuintir. Is sibhse mo chroí. Is sibhse amhrán m’anama.
Le meas is le grá,
* The featured image in this post was taken in Glencolmcille, Co. Donegal, in July, 2008. Glen Head and a dramatic Donegal sunset.
In addition to being “The Geeky Gaeilgeoir,” Audrey Nickel is the author of The Irish Gaelic Tattoo Handbook,” published by Bradan Press, Nova Scotia, Canada. For information about the book, including where to buy it, please visit http://www.bradanpress.com/irish-tattoo-handbook/