I’m Irish American. It was a long unnecessary road for me to find this out for certain, but there you have it. Yeah, there are some Swiss guys in the wood pile back there and a few Scandihoovians, but the final word from Ancestry DNA is that I’m Irish, well, Irish, Scots, Welsh and so on. The vast majority of ancestral ingrediments in this little person is Celt.

It came as no surprise. I was raised to be proud of me Irish heritage, tinking der was none better, no foiner ting. I was raised wit’ a love of poetry and god knows there’ve been far too many whiskey drinkers in me family (not me by da grace of God). I’ve been in an Irish bar, a bar in San Diego frequented pretty much exclusively by Irish ex-pats, and asked by a drunken Irishman, “Aye, Martha Kennedy is it. When were you last home?” Home being the “Ould Sod.” My date was an Irishman, former student, an expert in drinking a lot and taking cabs from bar to bar. It was an interesting night, but I could drive home.

So what? Well, in the writing of The Price I learned stuff about being Irish that I hadn’t known before. Poor Irish and prisoners of war were put on ships and sold as slaves in the colonies, most often Barbadoes and Virginia. One of these was one of my ancestors, a Scots/Irishman named Ninian Beall. Who knew? Nobody teaches us this. The more recent ones came during “the starving” and lived in Canada and northern New York. My great-grandad worked on ships on the Great Lakes. It was then he met my great-grandma, an Irish/Finnish French speaking woman from Quebec.

The Last Pure Irishman in me family, Thomas Kennedy

I don’t know what this ancestry stuff means other than it’s a lot of interesting stories and some useful information about our physical beings. Early onset hip degeneration is an Irish thing. Me brother, other Irish/American friends and I had hip replacements at a comparatively young age.

But…maybe there’s more to it. I dunna’ tink dares any poetry to compare to Irish poetry and me special favorite is William Butler Yeats.

Never give all the Heart


Never give all the heart, for love 
Will hardly seem worth thinking of 
To passionate women if it seem 
Certain, and they never dream 
That it fades out from kiss to kiss; 
For everything that’s lovely is 
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight. 
O never give the heart outright, 
For they, for all smooth lips can say, 
Have given their hearts up to the play. 
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love? 
He that made this knows all the cost, 
For he gave all his heart and lost.

The Song of Wandering Aengus

BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATSI went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

And my own favorite, and the reason to continue writing books hardly anyone reads:

The Song of the Happy Shepherd

BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATSThe woods of Arcady are dead, 
And over is their antique joy; 
Of old the world on dreaming fed; 
Grey Truth is now her painted toy; 
Yet still she turns her restless head: 
But O, sick children of the world, 
Of all the many changing things 
In dreary dancing past us whirled, 
To the cracked tune that Chronos sings, 
Words alone are certain good. 
Where are now the warring kings, 
Word be-mockers? — By the Rood
Where are now the warring kings? 
An idle word is now their glory, 
By the stammering schoolboy said, 
Reading some entangled story: 
The kings of the old time are dead; 
The wandering earth herself may be 
Only a sudden flaming word, 
In clanging space a moment heard, 
Troubling the endless reverie.

Then nowise worship dusty deeds, 
Nor seek, for this is also sooth, 
To hunger fiercely after truth, 
Lest all thy toiling only breeds 
New dreams, new dreams; there is no truth 
Saving in thine own heart. Seek, then, 
No learning from the starry men, 
Who follow with the optic glass 
The whirling ways of stars that pass — 
Seek, then, for this is also sooth, 
No word of theirs — the cold star-bane 
Has cloven and rent their hearts in twain, 
And dead is all their human truth. 
Go gather by the humming sea 
Some twisted, echo-harbouring shell,
And to its lips thy story tell, 
And they thy comforters will be, 
Rewarding in melodious guile 
Thy fretful words a little while, 
Till they shall singing fade in ruth 
And die a pearly brotherhood; 
For words alone are certain good: 
Sing, then, for this is also sooth. 

I must be gone: there is a grave 
Where daffodil and lily wave, 
And I would please the hapless faun, 
Buried under the sleepy ground, 
With mirthful songs before the dawn. 
His shouting days with mirth were crowned; 
And still I dream he treads the lawn, 
Walking ghostly in the dew, 
Pierced by my glad singing through, 
My songs of old earth’s dreamy youth: 
But ah! she dreams not now; dream thou! 
For fair are poppies on the brow: 
Dream, dream, for this is also sooth.

And some fun with an Irish Band.

Erin go Bragh, from long ago and far away.

20 thoughts on “Irish

  1. Garry’s paternal grandparents were both from Sligo, Ireland, which we discovered entirely by accident while we were on our honeym60oon in Ireland. I was taking pictures of Yeats’ tombstone and it turns out, Garry’s ancestors are in the same graveyard. That’s why Garry as a kid had bright red hair with freckles.

    I, on the other hand, am not at all Irish.

    Garry is everyman. 63% Irish/English/Scots and the rest Nigerian, Central African, North African and about 10% Jewish/ Middle Eastern. There’s a bit of French in there too, but just a tickle.

    I just Jewish, apparently till the dawn of time. I’m still making corned beef because it’s cheap this time of year and I really LIKE it.

  2. I’ve got a little Irish in my ancestry somewhere — I think my maternal grandfather was part Irish. Otherwise, I’m mostly English and Scottish, with a little Portugese and a little Russian thrown in. Basically, though, I’m American!

  3. It always strikes me as odd the way Americans call themselves Irish American or German American. I was adopted when I was one year old and found out later that my birth father was Irish and my birth mother was Scottish and yet if asked I would say I’m British or English. Most people in the UK do this and never call themselves Irish British for example, I wonder why the Americans feel the need to add the other Nationality especially when it may relate to two or three previous generations.

    • We are all immigrants. Our ancestors all came from somewhere else. Many of them didn’t want to come here, or they came here and regretted it, or came here and found themselves despised by the people who were already here. Every wave of immigrants had to fight for their right to be here, creating a kind of ethnic pride. They had to give up their native languages and many aspects of their culture. The few things they brought with them, things that they would not have even considered back in the “home country,” became family treasures. They all left cultures that were comparatively homogenous and in which they had a place (even a lousy one). The question, “Where are you from?” might be answered not with the name of the next village but with the name of a city in a country several thousands of miles away that the listener had never heard of. American identity is different. We have surnames from all over the world. We even ask each other (sometimes) “Where is that name from?” It interests us.

      As for calling yourself “Irish British” plenty of people from the British Isles call themselves Scots or Irish if that’s what they are. But it’s not comparable to a country where people really did come from all over the world and try to make a nation out of often disharmonious bits of nationalities. We had a government before we had a culture. Other nations in the world generally derived their governments from their cultures.

  4. It depends how you look at things, in many respects everyone in Great Britain is an immigrant as over the years we have been over-run by all sorts of people and nations from Saxons, The French, Danes, Romans, Vikings, the list goes on and on. The Norman conquest, “careful with that bow and arrow, you’ll have someone’s eye out!” Luckily the Germans failed although ironically we have a Royal Family of German extraction. We bought slaves here from all over the world and people have migrated to our shores forever, leaving us with one of the most diverse countries in the world. Contrary to what one might see on the news sometimes Great Britain is a very integrated society, mixed race relationships are very common and the majority of people rub along together quite nicely. I think it safe to say that even within all that diversity the majority of people in this country would refer to themselves as British. I don’t mind if some of them wish to add another nation as well!

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