“For slavery fled, oh glorious dead, when you fell in the Foggy Dew.”
Being of Irish heritage is a lot like Irish music; it makes you feel simultaneously triumphantly happy and devastatingly sad at the same time. It’s the feeling you have when you are flying through the air during that split second of the Slip Jig where you hold yourself in the air for but a moment and your heart has never felt more free.
The feeling you have when you listen to “Into the Mystic,” by Van Morrison in particular The Swell Season’s live cover version.
It’s because you have to carry lotion with you everywhere year round because your skin was meant to be somewhere it rains all the time, not in the dry midwestern climate. It’s also how you carry sunscreen everywhere in the summertime and try to explain how you got “slightly tan” but all your friends see are more freckles on a pale backdrop. And how you look so pale and ghostlike in the winter that you can see your veins and you startle your cousin when you accidentally end up in the background of her snapchat photo. It’s how the only thing marking you as a person and not a ghost is your dark curly hair.
It’s the smile of your soul when you hear a bit of witty humor or wordplay or a beautifully worded phrase whether spoken or written because at heart all Irish are poets.
It’s in the lovely genes you inherited that make you glad you look so young yet irked when you get carded every time you buy whiskey.
It’s the pang in your heart when you visited Kilmainham Gaol and heard Sinead O’Connor’s version of “The Foggy Dew” over and over in your head and shed a tear for those jailed or killed during the Easter Rising. It’s that same pang which rises and boils up to a fiery rage and you hear “Zombie” by the Cranberries in your head when you see a t-shirt that reads “Ireland 1916.” Or someone casually mentions Orange vs. Green or that Oliver Cromwell was an interesting man and all you see before your eyes are mists of blood and genocide and starving children and your forebears suffering. When you see how much they sacrificed to get here and so you could have the privileges you have.
And you feel for your people every time someone uses a stereotype or you see a leprechaun because they aren’t even that important in Irish mythology. Why don’t more people know about CuChulain and why don’t we read The Tain instead of Beowulf, I love Beowulf but The Tain is still better and it explains my soft spot for cows. And what’s up with all these four leaf clovers masquerading as shamrocks which actually have only three leaves because how else would St. Patrick use one to illustrate the trinity? It’s how your Irish literature professor told you you are not allowed to answer anymore questions because you know too much about the Vikings.
It’s the empathy you feel for the other cultures that come to America and get stereotyped or slandered or encouraged to forget their culture and melt into the melting pot.
It’s that feeling of warmth and comfort you feel the first time you learn to make soda bread with your mother. It’s the smell of the rick dark coffee when you finally get to participate in after dinner coffee and conversation with the adults at family gatherings. It’s the coziness of your Aran knit sweater on a cold night. And it’s when the last words your Grandmother speaks to you are praising what a great cook you have become.
It’s when you are crying while listening to “The Long Journey Home” on the plane home from Ireland partly because you have a sinus infection, but mostly because your heart belongs there and you don’t think you will ever experience anything as painfully beautiful and home-feeling as that country again.
Well, at least that’s what being Irish means to me.
Hold on to your culture. Do not let anyone take it from you, because if you lose it, what do you have left?