Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006


Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Hominy & Hash: GR=
by Constance Dunn Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Imagine! After over sixdecades of being p= roud I was born Irish in America, I discover I don't know a tinker's damn a= bout being Irish at all, and yet I can't imagine a life as anything but Iri= sh.

In whatever generation we arrived here, we all started atrock botto= m. In my house, the cobWebs in the corners of highceilings were called Iris= h Curtains. Yet the Lace Curtain Irish,as comedian Fred Allen once observed= , "were people who had fruit in the house even when no one was sick."

Former First Lady, Hillary Clinton, claims it takes avillage to rai= se a child. Well, if that's true then the villageraising me in New York in= the thirties and forties was a village of Italians, Germans, Jews, Blacks = and us, the token Irish.Our tribes increased -- all of our tribes -- and ou= r histories blended until we all thought alike, as Americans.

I know more about the Holocaust than I do about the potato famine; = more about the African-American experience than about the complex causes le= ading to one of the greatest human migrations in history when the Irish fle= d to America to escape starvation. My history began after they got here, a= fter they defied traditions and left their homes. I know individual storie= s of Irish Americans who have had impact on our ownAmerican history. But, = it's all recent history.

Three years ago, after two parts in a series of four, PBS aired the= chronicles of The Irish in America; the Long Journey Home, covering "the g= olden age" when the Irish made indeliblemarks here in theater, music, poetr= y, philosophy, religion, sports, labor, law and politics (from the policema= n on the beat to Al Smith running for President) and, of course, movies. A= nd all of these leaders were born to a Mother Macree, famous forraising chi= ldren with character and leadership, intellect andattitude ... and with the= back of her hand, a howl and a hug.

It wasn't until they reached that segment I could identify at all. = I could see myself in the faces of the Irish immigrants but not in the str= uggle -- although my own early years knew the struggle of our Great Depress= ion. I had the nature butnot the same nurturing. Built into that nature i= s a strong pride in self and family, God and country. This country -- and = thereare 40 million Americans of Irish descent.

The immigration roster is growing with people from allover the worl= d trying every which way to get here. Those who don't speak the language h= ave it toughest; those who do, melt in. Young Irish immigrants who slide in= can then go into almost any bar in New York and get a job as bartender or = part of the wait staff. Those with papers collect tolls on the New Jersey = turnpike. They're such lovable rascals, welcome anywhere, knowing what I'v= e always known: If you're lucky enough to be Irish, you're lucky enough!

There was a wave of appreciation of Irish ballads when The Clancy B= rothers and Tommy Makem toured. I think we liked their white cable-knit, s= weaters and seafarer's caps more than the lyrics of their songs. Someone c= ommented their wars were somerry and their songs are so sad. I went to the= concerts, forced my eyes to sparkle, wore green so they'd catch the reflec= tion and hoped they'd sing songs I knew. Like, "When Irish Eyes are Smilin= g," or It's a Great Day for the Irish," or "My Wild IrishRose."

They don't even know those songs. They were written by Chauncey Ol= cott, an American actor and singer born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1858. He died= in 1932, around the time I was born, and we sang his songs along with Irvi= ng Berlin's and George M.Cohan's all the years of my growing up. My first = movie was "Little Nellie Kelly," with Judy Garland and George Murphy -- now= his eyes could sparkle.

It's only now, as I finally look back to my roots, I discover I'm n= ot there. And it comes at a time when my contemporaries are studying genea= logy. All our lives we've wanted to know where we're going. It seems now = there's a rush to see where we've been. It's exciting to find something or= someone new and trace ourselves from there to here, from then to now.

A few weeks ago I went to a high school reunion, the first in 50 ye= ars. I'm still enthralled about it. I continue to hear from people I knew = then, learn the lives of people who no longer are but who knew me when. Wh= y all of a sudden, passing the sixth decade of my life, do I go back to rel= ive each moment?

Is it because looking back fifty years is easy but near impossible to= look ahead that long? Is it because old friends will neverdisappoint you. = They'll always do what they always did.

The Irish and the Irish in America are different from each other. = St. Patrick's day on the Emerald Isle is a holy day. He's the patron saint;= he rid the isle of snakes and used thelowly shamrock to teach the Holy Tri= nity: three persons in one, three leaves on one stem. He's to be revered,= and his day is not a day for raucous behavior.

Here we have the parade in New York where the whole city stops, the= white line is painted green on Fifth Avenue, everyone wears green, Irish o= r not. In my working days in New York City,I actually painted a streak in = my hair with green ink. (Taking it out later was a green nightmare: Cloro= x didn't work, peroxide didn't work, ammonia didn't work: scissors did.) =

Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes and 'Tis, said, "I think I= rish Americans are just beginning to find themselves.I think they're a bit = confused over the hyphen. They're straddling that hyphen, which confuses u= s all. Are you Irish or are you American? How can you be both? They're s= till looking across the ocean at Ireland...But until they know who they are= , they'll never have any kind of identity. It should be enough to be an Am= erican, but it isn't apparently. As long as that hyphen is there, they hav= e to learn about the achievements of their forefathers."

Whether in New York, Savannah or here on St. Simons Island, Ga., S= t. Patrick's Day is one of mingling with your own kind of people. They don= 't have to be Irish, by the way, just people who want to be -- just for the= day. People who can still laugh in the face of trouble, stand tall when t= hey must sacrifice, love God in Heaven, the angels and saints (whether they= show up at church or not), keep a shine on their shoes, a smile on their f= aces and a song in their hearts.

Who knows why I was born Irish in America? But I wish you all the = joy of knowing who you are and where you came from. I may be a'-wearing o' t= he green but I'm saluting the red, white and blue.

I'm enjoying my life and thinking of another thing Frank McCourt sa= id: "If you don't enjoy your life, what the hell is the use?"

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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