We were typical American kids with Atari, cable tv, McDonalds and Nike sneakers, and going to the Galway countryside was like visiting a different world. I’d play outside with my cousins from morning ’til night, wading through streams in wellies, having picnics in green fields and making mud pies decorated with stones and wildflowers. My aunts would have us dig potatoes and fill baskets with beans in the garden, collect eggs, teach us to milk cows, and my uncles would put my brothers to work bringing turf in from the bog.
We had wonderful summers there, away from the reality of home where my mother struggled to raise four kids on her own. Ireland to me is such a special and beautiful place.
Our trips there became much fewer and farther between as we got older, but after I married Mark I always wanted to bring him to Ireland. The country is a huge part of me – born and raised outside of Boston but always feeling like a piece of me was there. When we had kids I dreamed that one day we’d go as a family, and my dream came true in 2006 when all five of us went over for a wedding, along with my mother and Mark’s parents. We rented a house in the village my family lives in and my kids spent their days there not going to amusement or water parks, but playing on my family’s farms with the cats and dogs, calling to the cows, and collecting blackberries from the bushes. It was glorious and I spent half the time fighting back tears of joy that we were all there together.
I love that so many Americans are proud of their Irish heritage and even those that aren’t Irish at all celebrate St. Patrick’s Day just for the fun of it. But I also find it peculiar that in the states so many associate St. Paddy’s Day just with crazy drinking. The Irish are known for celebrating life in song and story and enjoying a great craic, but when I think of the Irish that I know, here and across the sea, I would also describe the culture as God-centered, family-oriented, humorous, sentimental and hardworking.
I think of words of wisdom such as
To avoid toothaches never shave on Sunday and never comb your hair on Friday.
A dieting girleen named Flynn
Reduced until she was thin.
She’s no more, I’m afraid,
For she sipped lemonade,
And slipped through the straw and fell in.
I think of being in my grandmother’s house in Ireland in the summer and the entire family gathering around to say the rosary together before going to bed. I think of the Irish community in Boston that look out for one another.
Books by authors like the McCourt Brothers (Frank & Malachy) describe a poor, gritty life and there certainly was and is that too….Ireland has had it’s fair share of economic struggles. If you like historical fiction, I highly recommend the Gracelin O’Malley trilogy by Ann Moore, a story that starts in Ireland during the potato famine and continues with the heroine immigrating to the U.S. The stories are laced with facts of Ireland’s history and for me, were hard to put down.
I hope that if you have not already been, you someday have the chance to visit this fair land. Yes, it is a rainy place to visit, but the rain gives way to sunshine and drapes an emerald blanket all over the countryside. When the sun is shining Ireland is a golfer’s dream, and when it isn’t there are castles to explore and stories to be told in the morning, tea and treats to be enjoyed in the afternoon and a pint of Guinness and live Irish music to be had in the eve.
I hope you enjoy this Saint Patrick’s Day, and whether you’re Irish or not…….