I never realized how much I didn’t know about Irish culture until I went to Ireland last year. Leprechauns, Shamrocks, Top o’ the Morning, Carol O’Connor, Bing Crosby, Riverdance…. that was about the extent. What I learned has given me a great respect for the Irish people and their history. It’s a truly tragic history. Their small island has been ravaged by war and famine in a way I don’t think we have ever experienced as Anglo-Saxons here in America.
It’s no wonder that they cling to their heritage so strongly, like teaching Gaelic in the public schools. It’s no wonder many of them reject established religion when so many wars have been fought on Irish soil in the name of God. It’s no wonder they drink their Guinness like water when a century and a half ago the entire Irish population was cut in half because of the potato famine.
I found them to be a genuinely warm and hospitable people. They laugh, oftentimes at themselves, celebrating the shamrock as the “national weed.” They dislike the British as much as they love their rugby. They drive on the left side of the road and pedestrians do not have the right-of-way.
Ireland is an interesting mix of remote rural sheep farms and thriving, forward-thinking cities. Stone fences dissect the landscape. Modern homes surround remnants of medieval castles and guard towers. As I traveled across the Irish countryside, I was reminded that our 500-600 year history since the discovery of North America is nothing compared to theirs.
I also learned that no one says, Top o’ the Mornin’ over there. That’s an American saying. The biggest St. Patrick’s Day parade is not in Dublin, it’s in New York City. And there really are no snakes in Ireland.
So, I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day a little differently this year…. with a love and a better understanding of the culture and people of Ireland, my ancestors.
Lift a pint with me, won’t you? To your health! Slàinte!