Saturday, March 17, 2012

Irish Smirish

Somewhere in Canada, a very long, long time ago, a Scottish catholic named Sarah married Thomas, an Irish protestant turned Catholic. As history would have it, they both passed way too soon, leaving two small children in the care of Thomas' brother, who moved his now-expanded family to Chicago.
My great-grandfather, Angus, was therefore raised as a stereotypical Irish, 'cept he rarely drank.
Angus married an french woman with a Metis background, and brought forth twelve children.
Angus claimed to be full Irish (how he pulled it off with a Scot first name is another question I have no answer to). He was proud of that Irish thing.
His first born, my Grandmother, who at this stretch of the gene pool was only 25% Irish blood, claimed full Irishness.
Why she even attempted to pull this off with a French speaking mother, I do not know. But she did.
She also tried to pull the same stunt on her own kids, my mother being one of them.
Mom wised up when she got old enough to realize that both of her grandmothers routinely conversed in French. With each other.
So where did the French come from?
Grandma's response was always something like: Shut up, yer Irish!
Grandpa's (full French/Metis) response was: "the Irish part of you is the dark spot below yer ass cheeks." (Direct quote. I'd heard this from his mouth many times while growing up.)

So there it is.
I am 1/32 Irish blood, depsite Grandma's insistence that I, too, am Irish (and don't you forget it). Part-Irish wasn't allowed/didn't exist, regardless of where my dad came from.
(At one point, my Dad explained that it was how peeing in the pool ruined every gallon. But not to worry, Calabrese blood worked like chlorine.)

I never quite got on with this Irish Pride thing. From when I was old enough to know better, I'd look around and see what manifested as 'Irishness', becoming less impressed the older I got. Let them have it, 'cause I don't need it.

Irish? Yeah, whatever...
On this day, I want to profess that I love St Patrick. In his honor, I did this morning what I do every year when his day rolls around: reflected upon his life, his work, and what I could do to be a better spiritual being.
He wasn't Irish, and I don't have to be either.
Then I cooked corned beef and cabbage to honor Grandma, called Mom and my kids and spoke of those who came before that I never got to know, just like I have done every St Patrick's day for as long as I can remember... and that's a mighty long time.

It's better than getting shit-faced-obnoxious in the name of Pride.


W.B. Picklesworth said...

Now that was some good readin'. Thanks for a bit more of your story.

Brian said...

St. Patrick's day is pretty much the one day of the year I can guarantee you won't find me in a pub. Fuckin' amateurs.

I wish I knew more of the stories of my "people". We have pretty good genealogical research (courtesy of the Mormons and my dad having a lot of time to kill in SLC back when he traveled a lot for work) so we know names and dates and points of origin...but almost nothing about the actual stories behind them.

The most recent immigrants I know of came over in 1820. Which in American terms is antiquity.

I think the faux-Irish pride thing among people without a strong direct tie to the island has a lot to do with white Americans who don't really have any strong immigrant ties (i.e., like me) looking for some sort of ethnic identity.

Gino said...

thanks Ben.

Brian: i got lots of stories. i try to pass them along, and hope my kids remember them. i also try to sort the wheat from chafe, not embellish, and stick to what i know is true.

as for white poeple, my earliest honest documented record is to a fur trader who established the post that is now called Chicago, Jean-Baptiste Beaubien. early 18's. He was a grandfather. but he had like 20 kids from 3 wives, so there are millions of folks who can claim him, if they only knew.

and then there is some early revolutionary guy... not sure if its documented. last i heard my cousin was getting really close, though. some guy named Revere who seems to get a lot of love in the history books.

and Indians. lots of them (Metis) but no documents beyond their pairings with whites, and nothing has been found passed Grandpa's own father.(gramps spoke only French until he was about six, despite spending all of those years just 50 miles outside of Chicago).

another about Grandma: she was full irish, of course. but always spoke of her own grandmother (whom she new well), a full indian who only spoke french. LOL

Foxfier said...

St. Patrick's day is pretty much the one day of the year I can guarantee you won't find me in a pub. Fuckin' amateurs.

A-frickin'-men. Who the heck decides to spend the cost of a bottle in washington on two drinks to honor folks who supposedly drink too much?!?!?

As an American, I figure I've got a right to take only the best parts of my ancestry-- so I get to keep the Irish pig-headedness and joy-of-battle, the Scottish *cough* thrift and work ethic, the English figure-out-a-way-ish-ness, and the Indian hey-it's-here-USE-IT-DUMMY theory.

Honestly, we're not 100% sure that the first Patrick was even from Ireland, we just know the story goes he jumped off a ship named Patrick and kept the name. Doesn't matter, I'll take Irish.

I really do wonder how many folks have Indian ancestors who have no idea... my grandfather was at LEAST 1/4 Indian, but didn't give a d*mn, and neither did his grandma. From the lady who still goes into my aunt's shop, one of the main reasons to marry a non-Indian was to get away from the "shit and giving birth in a hole, praying your baby would survive a winter." (I don't want to understand that.)

Foxfier said...

((The lady I mention was a child of the traditional Indian movement at the start of the last century; her mom said "F this" when the lady was in single digits and moved to town. I don't know if the lady's dad came or not.)

Gino said...

"I really do wonder how many folks have Indian ancestors who have no idea..."

i'm guessing is a lot. my grandfather's family just claimed a french identity. research tells me it was quite common for the indian blooded, especially among the french line, to disregard their indianhood all together and claim only french. it was later when he actually told me about the indian (and brought up the word Metis) saying they were all french, even the indians.

Foxfier said...


It makes perfect sense if you think in terms of culture instead of in terms of somehow inheriting exactly 50% of whatever you want to call the key genetics. By saying "I am half Indian," they would have been saying "I am tribal enough that you should respond as if I were fully Indian, rather than expecting me to respond like a Frenchman would." (Tribal societies are notorious for holding it's just fine to break deals with Those Outside the Tribe if it's adventitious-- part of the description of what makes a group "tribal.")

Bike Bubba said...

My first ancestor on this continent was an Englishman named Roger Mourning....came just before the Revolution, fought in it, and needed a special chair because of his wounds (saber wound to the patookie). Someone in my family still has the chair, and my eldest daughter has sat in it.

Gino said...

bubba: that is cool!